Your Excellencies, Ogbeni, Omoluabi, As-Salaam Alaykum, may Allah
bless you all. May your tenures be peaceful and fruitful. I am writing
this letter to you in pursuit of dialogue, an essential ingredient of
peaceful coexistence. I am motivated by my passion for peaceful
coexistence. I urge the close aides of the governors to bring this
message to their notice if they do not read it by themselves. I know
that governance is a very difficult task and you work round the clock.
You may not notice this article coming from an inconsequential
classroom teacher. But I am aware that the crop of governors we now
have in this region are God-fearing. What they need is information and
sound reasoning from whoever has a case.
I hereby put the case of Muslims of this region before Your
Excellencies. Yorubaland has stood out for its 'tolerance' and 'mutual
co-existence'. Christians, Muslims and traditionalists live peacefully
among themselves. There has never been any serious breach of the peace
arising from religious misunderstanding. My prayer is that this
situation should subsist. Yet the signals coming from certain recent
incidents in the region are symptomatic of the existence of a sword of
Damocles hanging over our heads and something needs to be done
urgently to arrest the situation before extremists from outside
capitalize on it to foment trouble.
I am referring to the ongoing debate on the use of hijab by female
Muslim students in public schools. This imbroglio may escalate if not
properly handled. Already, Muslims in the region are alleging
Islamophobia on the part of school administrators. When leaving home,
Muslim parents train their female children to use hijab on top of the
school uniform and to remove them only at the school gate. The
children are expected to put on their hijab once they are on their way
Unfortunately school administrators appear to have been high-handed in
their reactions to the hijab saga. In an obviously overzealous move,
the school principals instructed teachers to beat up students who wear
the hijab outside the school premises. Anxious to out-Herod Herod, the
teachers have been carrying out this Draconian order. The result has
been near-catastrophic as clashes have been reported in Surulere,
Lagos Island, Agege, and as far away as Iwo in Oshun State. Astounded
at the sight of 'strangers' bullying their children on the streets and
in public buses, parents have pounced on some of the teachers. I
personally intervened to stop a planned demonstration of Muslim
parents in Ajangbadi area of Lagos about two months ago. I advised
them to write the school authorities instead.
The hijab episode in Iwo snowballed into open demonstration by Muslim
parents, school children and many Islamic organizations. It took the
skilled diplomacy and personal involvement of the state governor to
douse tensions. Yet the last may not have been heard of the Iwo
experience. What is interesting here is the insistence of Christian
leaders that Muslim children should not be allowed to wear hijab.
Such a development compels an historical analysis. Today was born from
the wombs of yesterday. If we do not know where we are going, at least
we should know where we came from. Islam arrived in Nigeria in 1085
and had penetrated most parts of Yorubaland by the 17th century, about
two hundred years before the advent of British colonialists. Though
Muslims in Yorubaland were already accustomed to doing things the
Islamic way, the colonialists forcefully reversed this trend.
Your Excellencies, permit me to assert that the school uniform which
is in use in public schools in the South-West today is one of the
legacies of the British. What the Muslims are saying today is that
fifty-two years after independence, they are still being compelled to
wear Christian colonialist school uniforms. It is high time we sat
down to discuss what type of uniform we want. That is what is done in
civilized societies. It is alright if the uniform suits Muslim norms
but the reverse is the case. Muslims regard colonialist uniform as an
assault on moral decency, particularly on female students. Puritanists
in the campaign for decent dressing camp find it contradictory that
our society retains a uniform fit only for night clubs while at the
same time we claim to be fighting HIV and AIDS, early pregnancy,
juvenile delinquency, etc.
Democracy thrives where the method is participatory, not exclusive.
The Muslims in the South-West are saying they have never been allowed
to make their choice since independence. The present school uniform
was designed by the British colonialists. The designers were
Christians. They did not consider the values of the Muslims while
introducing the design. Now that they have been gone for fifty-two
years and the Muslims are asking for a uniform which respects their
value system, why don't we listen to them?
It is natural and quite understandable that Christians in the
South-West are comfortable with the uniform designed by the Christian
colonialists. But there is a moral question where they pressure
government not to accede to the demand of Muslims for a design that
suits Islam. Peaceful coexistence flourishes where people live and let
live, where people wish for themselves what they wish for others,
where no group enslaves the other, where there is mutual respect.
What is in a school uniform? Muslims strongly suspect that a
cut-throat game of numbers lies behind the opposition of Christians to
Muslim demand for use of hijab in schools. This needs explanation.
People know how important it is to 'catch them young'. If children are
trained to do something they are likely to stick to it in future. The
reverse is the case if they are robbed of the opportunity to do
certain things in childhood. They are most likely to drift to other
things they are used to. Simply put: if Muslim children are allowed to
use hijab they will remain devoted Muslims whereas if they are
disallowed they become easy targets for another religion. In essence,
Muslim children are being rendered useless for their parents by
denying them the use of hijab. Muslim parents cannot convince their
children to use hijab after their long stay in school without it. You
can only bend a sapling, you cannot bend a tree.
Christian opposition in this regard is therefore a strategy to
debilitate Muslim population in the region at the expense of
Christianity. But should state governments allow the use of state
machinery and funds to promote such a parochial agenda? Can this
We want to continue living in peace with our Christian neighbours. We
want to do everything in our power to banish religious violence from
the region. We want to banish Boko Haram propensities from Yorubaland
but we need the political will of Your Excellencies: the will to
ensure that the dividends of democracy are extended to Muslims in the
region. The right to use hijab with school uniform is part of our
dividend of democracy. Section 38 (i) and (ii) of the 1979
constitution guarantees religious freedom, including the 'right to
manifest' that freedom. That is why all the court cases involving this
hijab palaver have ended in favour of Muslim litigants.
Is it not curious that female Muslim students use hijab in public
schools in the North? Is it not the same Nigeria? Why is it that all
private schools established by Muslims in the South-West use the
hijab? It proves without any iota of doubt that this is what the
Muslims want. The Muslims will fully support Christians in their
choice of what they want as design of their own uniform. If they are
satisfied with the status quo, they should, in the interest of peace,
equal right and justice, hold their peace and allow the Muslims to
have what they want.
For the avoidance of doubt, the ideal school uniform of a female
Muslim student is a three-piece affair: a loose gown reaching below
the knees, a trouser underneath that matches the uniform's colour and
a hijab on top of the head. This is the type of uniform used in public
schools in the North. Nonetheless, this is not a campaign that can be
forced down anybody's throat via violent protests or by attacking one
another. I therefore urge Muslim parents and the youths to remain calm
and law-abiding. Let us wait for our governors. We cannot afford to
destroy properties belonging to our relations and neighbours all in
the name of religion. That will be a disservice to the cause of Allah.
Finally, I respectfully request that Your Excellencies initiate a
dialogue session on this issue before long. This can only be done
state by state. The first state to initiate this, to my mind, is the
best in good governance. I expect that both Christians and Muslims
will be invited. Thank you for listening. Allah bless you all.
Professor Is-haq Akintola,
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC),
Yahoo Group: groups.yahoo.com/group/muslimrights
Be just. Justice is the soul of peace.
No one can deny one and have the other.
Neither can violence or naked force bring lasting peace.