Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Unveiling The Hijab

By Ray Ekpu  
Hijab, the veil that Moslem women wear which covers the head and the chest, is being gradually unveiled in Osun State with an immense potential for katakata. Here are the facts: Recently the Osun State Moslem community filed a case against the state government urging it to allow Moslem female students to use the hijab in public schools. Justice Jide Falola of the Osun State High Court on June 3 this year gave a verdict that Moslem female students should be allowed to wear hijab in all public schools in the state because it is their fundamental human right. The Moslems gave the verdict a storm of applause.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the state says it will do two things: appeal against the judgment and mobilise Christian students to turn up in schools in their full religious regalia which will include choir robes and full white garment ensemble, the trademarks of some of the feuding mainstream and Pentecostal churches.

The State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola, who has been in the trenches with his workers over nonpayment of their salaries, is now in the eye of a different tornado. The state government fully aware that the state may explode in a rage of religious combat is now fretting like a fuzzy storm. The truth is that even though the governor is a Moslem the state is almost evenly divided in population between moslems and Christians and the invocation of the hijab as the ultimate expression of fundamental human rights for female moslem students has convulsed the state because the Christians suspect rightly or wrongly that this may be a first step towards the Islamisation of schools in the state.
 The security agencies have invited the Moslem and Christian leaders for a meeting to avoid a breakdown of law and order. The twist in the tale is that, truly speaking, these public schools are not public schools. They are schools that were founded and funded by Christian missionaries which were forcibly taken over by military governments when they ruled the roost. In some states, these schools have been handed over back to their original owners but that is not the case in Osun State. That is perhaps the meat of the matter.
The hijab is gradually becoming a major subject of public discourse in Nigeria. It is perhaps time to fully address or undress it. In December last year, a group of Moslem youths under the aegis of Moslem Youths in Da’wab wanted the hijab introduced into the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme. They went to the headquarters of the NYSC to protest against the ban of the use of the hijab for female Moslem corps members during the orientation period. They said that the rights of the female corps members were being infringed upon if they were not allowed to use the hijab. The then Director General , Brigadier General Johnson Olawumi, told them that he was a respecter of the rights of all corps members but that the ban was for security reasons.
It did not apparently occur to these youths that the NYSC is a national institution that had been in existence since 1973 with its rules, regulations and a nationally identifiable uniform used throughout all the states of the federation. It didn’t also occur to them that since terrorists had made the hijab an instrument for suicide bombing something had to give if people’s lives were to be guaranteed by the NYSC authorities. It did not also dawn on them that in the hierarchy of rights the right to life is the pre-eminent right that stands atop other rights or freedoms. However, the Director General gave them a reason that was difficult to counter. They may not have been satisfied but they have been quiet since then.

*Gov Aregbesola 
Hijab is an Arabic word that means “a screen or curtain,” according to Wikipedia. Three scholars, Karem Armstrong, Reza Ashan and Leila Ahmed, have stated that actually “the stipulations of the hijab were originally meant only for Prophet Muhammad’s wives and were intended to maintain their inviolability. This was because Muhammad conducted all religious and civic affairs in the mosque adjacent to his home." The three scholars maintain that during the Prophet’s life time no other Moslem woman wore the hijab. Aslon says that Moslem women started to wear the hijab simply to emulate Muhammad’s wives who were revered as “Mothers of the Believers” in Islam. She also states that there was no tradition of veiling until around 627c in the Moslem community.
Some Moslems seem to rely on the provision in Sura 33:53 as their authority on the wearing of the hijab or veil: “And when you ask (his wives) for something, ask them from behind a partition. That is purer for your hearts and their hearts.” The three experts, Armstrong, Ashan and Ahmed, explain that this verse was not addressed to women generally but to Muhammad’s wives specifically.
 The reason for this was that the Prophet received and entertained lots of visitors in the mosque which was then his home and he wanted to shield his wives from these strangers. It is apparent that the Prophet considered privacy as the most important attribute in relationships with the female gender, but he did not seem to make it a prescription for all female Moslems.
The hijab has been a source of controversy in contemporary times especially where the authorities have enacted sharia laws. In Afghanistan, the Taliban scrupulously enforced the wearing of the hijab. In their own case, they wanted the women to cover their heads and faces fully because as they said the “face of a woman is a source of corruption” for men not related to them. Weird, you would say.
However, in some of the more liberal Moslem countries there is a sensible moderation of the hijab culture. In Tunisia, Turkey and Tajikistan, all of them countries with huge Moslem populations, the wearing of the hijab is prohibited in government buildings, schools and universities. In 2008, the Turkish government tried to lift the ban on Moslem headscarves at universities but the constitutional court overruled it.
In France where there is a sizeable population of Moslems from north Africa, the French parliament had to enact a law to restrict the use of the headscarves or other “symbols or clothes through which students conspicuously display their religious affiliation” in public primary schools, middle schools and secondary schools.
The pro-hijab fraternity in France kept pushing for recognition of their fundamental rights but on July 13, 2010 the French Lower House of Parliament passed a bill into law by 335 votes to one banning the wearing of the full hijab in public. This arose from the increasing security concerns that the country was exposed to by some Moslem extremists.
The Osun and NYSC cases in Nigeria are indications that the pro-sharia titans are determined to push their agenda to the limit despite the perils posed by blood thirsty insurgents. They are also unmindful of the traditions of the public institutions that they seek to invade with the hijab as the banner of religious freedom and fundamental human rights.
 The truth is that certain institutions have from time immemorial been arranged for discipline and orderly conduct of affairs. These institutions include the Armed Forces, the Police, NYSC, Customs, Immigration, Road Safety, schools and several others. The uniformisation of these institutions is for the purpose of discipline and exemplary conduct as well as an easy identification of the brand. If the hijab proponents have their way, the women Moslems in our armed forces will not wear their prescribed army uniforms but the hijab.
The situation in Osun is a test case. If the various religious groups in the state carry out their threats to send their children to school in uniforms of many colours, then we will have a riot of school gears which will be an epitome of indiscipline.
Nigeria has been walking through fire in the Northeast. We do not need to add more woes to our woes. The political sharia that some politicians started some years ago is still haunting us today like an inscrutable mystery. Violence has convulsed the country and the hijab has become a handy tool. We have recorded a sordid diary of disaster.If we want to stop the gathering storm, we must seek to practise our religion with sensitivity.
*Ray Ekpu, a veteran journalist, is former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Newswatch Communications 

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