Hijab Imbroglio: Soyinka Goofed

Wole Soyinka


Professor Wole Soyinka on Sunday 26th June 2016 waded into the hijab controversy in the State of Osun. In an article titled ‘To Everything, Its Place’, the much respected Nobel Laureate descended heavily on Muslims for daring to seek approval for the use of hijab.

The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) is fully aware of Soyinka’s great contribution to the attainment of democratic rule which we are all enjoying in Nigeria today. We also acknowledge his role in the uplifting of Nigeria’s image particularly in the circle of intellectuals worldwide.

Nonetheless, we are amused that our intellectual guru deployed all the Weapons of Faith Destruction (WFD) in his arsenal to his Islam-bashing combat field but saw nothing wrong with the way leaders of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Osun chapter incited Christian students in their rejection of the court judgemnet which was favourable to the Muslims.

Nothing was said about CAN’s gross disrespect for the rule of law. Could he have forgotten that CAN’s attitude constitutes serious threat to democracy and the rule of law which Soyinka himself fought hard to enthrone?

Professor Soyinka contended that the issue of hijab was never raised “for several decades” after independence and assumed that the Christian uniform is the conventional or, in his own words ‘common dress code’. We beg to disagree sir. We assert that the revered Nobel Laureate is not only taking too much for granted but also taking liberty for license.

MURIC affirms that Professor Soyinka still needs to do his homework very well before going to press. Contrary to his claim that hijab was not mentioned for decades, Muslims in Yorubaland have been agitating for civil rights right from independence and the files of governments at both federal and state levels are full of petitions forwarded on issues of the Allah-given fundamental rights of Muslims. Those petitions were repeatedly submitted on a regular basis by Muslim communities and Islamic organizations. Of course Soyinka is not expected to know this but it goes to show the limitations of human knowledge even among nobel laureates.

To assume that the current school uniform used in public schools should be the dress code is to commit gross injustice to a large section of the populace. We have heard activists complaining that the authors of the Nigerian constitution did not consult the Nigerian people before writing it yet they ‘fraudulently’ claimed that “We, the Nigerian people…”

The colonialists committed the same fraud against Nigerian Muslims when they replaced Islamic landmarks with Christo-British practices and this includes the school uniform. Islam was in Nigeria for 800 years and in Yorubaland for 200 years before the advent of Christianity but British sense of fairness could not go beyond uprooting what it met on ground.

Islamic schools in Lagos alone were more than fifty by the year 1775 and they used hijab as part of their uniform. This was long before the arrival of the British in Nigeria and the advent of Western schools with their Christian school uniform. What was imposed by colonial fiat cannot be called ‘common dress code’ by any common sense.

Let us reiterate for the umpteenth time and for the avoidance of doubts that to us as Muslims the present uniform is Christian uniform unless Soyinka can convince us that the British were not Christians. Justice, equity and fairness demands that this should have been revisited immediately after independence.

Yet what the Muslims are asking for is not more than a slight adjustment from the head to the bosom to be made of the same stuff and colour with the school uniform. We are not asking for any different uniform for Muslim students who are males. It is only for the girls.

Professor Wole Soyinka sir, with all due respect, you are well known for your atheistic propensities and you do not hide it. We respect you for that. But you cannot sit in judgement over religious matters since you do not believe in religion. You cannot give what you do not have. We even expected that you would ask both Christians and Muslims in Yorubaland to go back to their culture thereby using ‘buba, sokoto, iro, gele and iborun’. MURIC would have welcomed such a suggestion because all we want is decent dresses for our daughters.

Soyinka’s vilification of Nigerian Muslims is legendary. It would have been normal if he had once taken up the Christian folks but we cannot remember when last he did that. We also cannot forget so soon how he lampooned the late Dr. Lateef Adegbite (leader of Yoruba Muslims) severally during his life time. This lopsided trend is quite disturbing because we see it as deliberate. A little balancing will give more credibility to our revered Nobel Laureate.

It is high time Professor Soyinka picked another pastime instead of bullying Muslims. The way Soyinka and Femi Falana took up the Ese Oruru brouhaha earlier this year was astounding. The prejudice was crystal clear. Whereas CAN was the first to raise the issue of religion in the matter by pointing accusing fingers at Nigerian Muslims and MURIC merely reacted, Soyinka and Falana called a press conference just because of MURIC. It was an unprecedented albeit unnecessary bullying. They lambasted MURIC for “turning a personal issue into a religious one”. We simply ignored the duo at the time to avoid heating up the polity.

On a final note, we assure Professor Wole Soyinka of our greatest regard for his person. However, we advise him to commence a balancing reengineering of his views about Muslims. We are not asking him not to criticize us, but he needs to balance it sometimes if not all the time. His credibility will be greatly shaken if he continues to bully and vilify Muslims. If Soyinka really believes in his ‘To Everything, Its Place’, we most respectfully remind him that ‘To every group, its due.’

Professor Ishaq Akintola,
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC)

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