by Professor Ishaq Akintola,
The Nigerian press has been agog with the debate on a possible ban on hijab for the past two weeks. They hinge the focus on the preponderance of female bombers who wear hijab. Chad, Niger, Cameroon, Gabon and Congo-Brazaville have also allegedly banned the hijab. So the argument is why shouldn’t Nigeria?
The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) condemns the idea of placing a ban on hijab. It is as laughable as it is preposterous. It is the height of provocation. It is an attempt to ridicule Muslims in public. It is nothing but a hidden crusade against Muslims.
The proponents are simply intolerant, parochial and fanatical Muslim-haters who have drowned themselves in the ocean of Islamophobia. Above all, it proves that in spite of so many religious riots which occurred in this country, some Nigerians have not learnt their lessons as they are still reluctant to live and let live. We assert that this crude attempt will definitely fail.
It is widely known that anti-Muslim elements within the country have tried on several occasions to mislead gullible Nigerians that this country is a secular state. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Nigeria is a multi-religious state where freedom of religion should be enjoyed by Christians, Muslims and traditionalists.
Any attempt therefore to ban hijab in Nigeria will tantamount to a brutal assault on Allah-given fundamental rights of Muslims. It will be a contravention of Section 38 (ii) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
MURIC asserts that the idea of placing a ban on hijab was floated by anti-Muslim elements in the society who had, in the past, vainly sought to deny Muslim women of the right to use hijab. The same bigots have been opposing the use of hijab by female Muslim children in Nigerian public schools.
The same overzealous extremists have always treated Muslim women in hijab with disdain even in government offices. They ask Muslim women to remove their hijab while following procedures for obtaining international passports and driving licences.
This is clearly an attempt to get in the bends what the enemies of Islam could not get in the straight. Having failed to achieve their sinister objective in peace times, they have decided to float it in Nigeria’s trying period believing that such infantile pontification will becloud the Federal Government’s reasoning. But they have failed woefully.
MURIC asserts clearly, unequivocally and unambiguously that Nigerian Muslims are not slaves in this country. We are neither servants nor second class citizens but bona fideNigerians and equal partners in the task of building a virile and united country. We will not allow anyone to blackmail us into submission over the Boko Haram imbroglio.
Anybody who compares Nigerian Muslims to their Chadian, Nigerian or Cameroonian counterparts is living in a fool’s paradise. How many Muslims are in Congo-Brazaville for instance? What applies in those five countries where hijab was allegedly banned does not apply here. How many religious riots have you heard of in those countries? How dare you compare them to Nigeria in this context?
Sentiments apart, the Nigerian society is a very volatile one and religion is particularly explosive in this country. The Nigerian Muslim community is sophisticated and cannot be brushed aside by any minority elitist group brandishing a rustic and myopic idea. We know our rights and our rights are our rights.
They even got it all wrong. Ordinary hijab was not banned in those five countries. What was allegedly banned is the burka or full-face veil and the niqab (face veil with an opening for the eyes). But hatred nursed for fellow Muslim compatriots informed the exaggeration. They believe this is ample opportunity to embarrass Islamdom.
Is it not in this same Nigeria that armed robbers often disguise in police uniform to rob, maim and kill innocent people. Has anyone ever suggested that police uniform should be banned? Where were those calling for a ban on hijab when Boko Haram insurgents were using Nigerian Army uniform to carry out their nefarious activities? Why didn’t they call for a ban on army uniform because of that? Assassins have struck on many occasions donning suit-up (trousers, shirt, tie and coat), why haven’t they call for a ban on suit-up?
By the way, are these Muslim haters unaware that there are hundreds of non-Muslims among Boko Haram insurgents? Our security forces know better. There have been many cases of non-Muslims disguising as Muslims to launch attacks. It is indubitable that some people are eager to give Muslims a bad name in order to smear our religion. It is man’s inhumanity to man.
MURIC advises these Muslim-haters to drop their poisonous and divisive garbs. Let us all come together, Christians, Muslims and traditionalists to fight these heartless and unscrupulous Boko Haram marauders to a standstill. Any call for a ban on hijab is a call to divide Nigerians once again along religious lines. Any such call is an invitation to chaos.
Nigerian Muslims reject any attempt from any quarter to treat them with disdain. Respect begets respect. We will not stand akimbo while conscienceless elements dehumanize our mothers, our daughters and our wives. Hijab is a divine commandment, a religious duty and a civic right.Any community or country that bans hijab has committed religious apartheid. Even South Africa has dropped the garb of discrimination.
It is not only a matter of faith but also a matter of dignity. What kind of son will look on while his mother is being de-robed? No man worth being called a husband will allow his wife to be molested unchallenged. Neither will parental instinct allow a father to stand by while his daughter is treated with ignominy. We refuse to be oppressed.
For the avoidance of doubts, any attempt to enforce a ban on hijab in present-day Nigeria will polarize the country and throw it into another religious crisis. It will turn the war against Boko Haram into a war against Islam. Please stop it right now. Don’t even think about it. Nigeria has enough trouble on its hands already. It should not even be contemplated in the North East where the attacks are preponderant otherwise it will turn the population against our security agents.
Where are the human rights activists? What have they got to say about the unfolding scenario? Where are the defenders of women’s rights? Why are these groups always silent when the rights of Muslims are being violated or about to be infringed? What of all their claims that they are the ones defending the rights of Muslim women? They should speak up now or forever remain silent on any issue concerning Muslims.
Enough of this double standard. Are Muslims not also human beings? Is it objective by any standard to look the other way when Muslims are being oppressed? It is all so illogical. How can you love our daughters, our wives and our mothers more than we do? How can you cry louder than the bereaved? But why are you silent today when open injustice is about to be done?
MURIC challenges activists to open up. Only objectivity can save rights activists from cells of bias and the time is now. We appeal to the Federal Government to ignore the rantings of rebellious subjects and enemies of peace who are calling for a ban on hijab. They are an infinitesimally tiny cell of oppressive elitists who wish to throw Nigeria into a general pandemonium.
Instead of stigmatizing Muslim women, Nigerian security agents should be more professional. They should be proactive. Intelligence gathering and forward-looking anti-crime tactics is the in-thing in serious security outfits everywhere in the world today. We have agenda for security agencies. They should go after Boko Haram’s bomb-makers or are they ghosts? Nip Boko Haram bombing plots in the bud. Destroy their laboratories of evil. Leave our women alone. Let the Muslims go!
Using every peaceful and constitutional means, Nigerian Muslims will resist any attempt to ban hijab. We can assure Nigerians that if this happens there will be massive peaceful protests by hitherto docile Muslim groups, particularly women. We will make so much noise that even the deaf will beg to be allowed to sleep. We spent the whole of Ramadan praying for peace in Nigeria. What else do you want? You will hear from our lawyers. Whoever tramples on the rights of law-abiding Muslims in this country should be ready for our curses. Nigerians should stop fishing in troubled waters.
Finally, we appeal to Muslims to remain calm and law-abiding. Those who are in the corridor of power in the country are more intelligent than the rabble-rousers think. Their plot will not work. We charge the National Assembly to sink its differences and address this issue. We call on the Nigerian press to publish for the progress of Nigeria and to avoid all pressures at publishing to divide the country either on religious or ethnic lines. The print and electronic media should refrain from inciting the public against Muslim women.
Professor Ishaq Akintola,
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC)