Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Hijab Ban in Lagos - MPAC, MURIC, Others Hit Back at Govt

Muslim Public Affairs Centre, MPAC, has said it will engage all lawful means to frustrate the decision of the Lagos State Ministry of Education with respect to the recent ban on hijab, adding that it will continue to actively work with other Islamic organizations and stakeholders towards expanding the coalition to achieve reversal of the ban in the quickest possible time.

In a similar vein, the Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC, called the attention of senior citizens in Lagos, men of goodwill, the Nigerian security agencies, human rights organizations and the international community to wade into the matter immediately.

MURIC in its statement said: "Muslims are peace-loving people. They go their own ways until authorities push them to the wall. The Allah-given and fundamental rights of Lagos Muslims are being flagrantly denied today by the Lagos State government."

"Muslims are civilized and cultured people. We issue no threats, but let nobody make a mistake about our resolve to ensure that justice is done. Already, MURIC has reported this hijab case to some international and local human rights bodies so that the whole world will know what is happening here.

Letters have been forwarded to Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, The Islamic Human Rights Commission, National Human Rights Commission as well as the House of Representatives' Committee on Human Rights in Abuja. This is just the beginning. All available legitimate options are on the table."

MURIC however urged the Lagos State House of Assembly to re-open dialogue on the demand of Muslims in the state on the use of hijab in public schools; and to put in place a public hearing on the matter that will be well publicised and attended by Islamic organizations. It also demand for investigation and sanction against the principal of Kadara High School who was reported to have caned Aishat Alabi, a JSS I student for wearing hijab.

In a seperate statement signed by the chairman of MPAC, Disu Kamor, the group expressed shock that the Lagos State Ministry of Education will prevent students in public schools in the state from using the hijab (the obligatory female Muslim head covering). The Commissioner for Education Mrs. Olayinka Oladunjoye had said last week at a press briefing in Ikeja that "usage of Hijab and other religious materials in public schools was against government's policy".

According to MPAC; "it is in flagrant violation of the religious and civic rights of the pupils. MPAC is shocked that rather than speak on behalf of the Constitution she swore an oath to defend, Mrs. Oladunjoye is taking the State in a course of confrontation and down the dead end of religious intolerance.

The Lagos State government should have seen the use of hijab in public schools in the state as an opportunity to reinforce common public perception of Lagos State as a melting-pot and a good example where diverse groups and ideas co-exist peacefully, thus upholding the democratic ideals of inclusion and diversity."

Reacting further, the association said this decision is capable of bringing Muslims who desire to obey the Qur'anic injunction of adorning the hijab in all public places into confrontation with the school authority as the hijab will continue to be used in schools and workplaces.

"One thing is certain, the decision of the Lagos State Ministry of Education, although shocking, will not prevent the use of hijab in public schools, or anywhere else. Rather it will strengthen the resolve to fulfil aspiration to obey the divine injunction, at all costs.

Everyone who holds dear the values of freedom and equality that the people of Nigeria have struggled so hard to establish over the years should also find the decision shocking- to witness the Ministry blatantly subscribing to this discriminatory policy and use of state power as a means of implementing tyranny emphasises the need to deepen our democracy through active political participation."

MPAC however stated that it awaits the position of the State House of Assembly on the issue just as it hopes that the lawmakers will show honour and courage to act on the side of justice and fairness. "Ultimately, it is the decision at the grassroots level for millions of Muslim women to wear the Hijab in all public schools and places of work which will prove official discriminatory policy not only unnecessary and ignorant, but also simply unworkable. MPAC will intensify campaigns for the rights of female Muslims to freely make their choices concerning hijab and their rights to implement that decision without threat of intimidation or persecution.

UNIFEMGA reacts

The Obafemi Awolowo University Muslim Graduates Association (UNIFEMGA) has also condemned the ban on the use of hijab by Muslim female students in all Lagos Public schools.

In a statement signed by its National President, Prof. Wahab Egbewole and Abdur-Rahman Balogun, National Public Relations officer, said such ban was a breach of the fundamental rights of the students to practice their religion.

Oladunjoye rather claimed in her press briefing that wearing hijab would cause confusion and break down of the law.

UNIFEMGA argued that hijab is part religious obligation of a Muslim woman that cannot be detached from her work or studies.

"If the Lagos state Government, or the Ministry knows that the affected students need to wear hijab when they go for prayers or read Quran, why would it be restricted," the group queried.

"It is unacceptable and laughable that wearing of hijab will create confusion and break down of law as claimed by the commissioner during her press conference."

"We want to say categorically that even in advanced democracy, this right is guaranteed to Muslim female students to dress in accordance with their faith".

As a Muslim alumni body, we have not heard of any state or public schools where wearing of hijab causes confusion or led to break down of law and order".

"It is actually an affront on our faith system to equate hijab with confusion or break down of law. It is also insulting to the collectivity of our faith to say that Muslims should send their daughters to private school if they want them to wear hijab," the group stated.

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