Dear Lawmakers, As-Salaam Alaykum. I addressed a letter to Yoruba governors last week over the issue of hijab for Muslim pupils in public schools. Reactions to the letter coming from the articulate though minority elite who have been wielding conscienceless power over the large majority of Muslims who constitute the powerless conscience block have been shockingly rude, uncivilized and generally carefree.
For daring to make a demand for Muslims in the South-West, I was called unprintable names. Name-calling, however, will not make me lose my temper. I will not call anyone names in retaliation. I will insult nobody. I will maintain a language that is parliamentarian. I wonder though if some 'elites' could go this far with an ordinary class teacher like me, what will they not do when the governors start reacting positively to the issues raised in my letter. Perhaps I should, at this juncture, refer you to my letter to the governors which was published simultaneously in my weekly column in the Nigerian Compass of Friday, 6th May, 2012, page 17 and the National Mirror of the same day, page 30.
This is what informed my decision to write another letter to you as the representatives of the people. You have a crucial role to play in the unfolding scenario and posterity will be there to judge you. Destiny has placed you on a platform imbued with the right mechanism for a microscopic and analytical approach to the question at stake.
As the debate on hijab rages on, our lawmakers can make their presence felt in a positive way by raising this matter in the houses of assembly in Yorubaland. We have a tradition of peaceful coexistence among people of different faiths throughout the region. We are not used to killing, maiming, burning and looting over religious differences. This tradition can further be strengthened with a skillful resolution of the hijab affair on the floors of the state parliaments.
Distinguished parliamentarians, Muslim parents in the region are feeling the heat of religious repression particularly in the public schools. The point of focus is the current school uniform whose design violates all known norms of Islam. They are demanding that the uniforms to be used by Muslim children should respect their faith. This may not necessarily be a coat of many colours or bring sharp contradictions between the present uniform and the design which they are suggesting. The only difference will be the hijab or head cover which Muslim girls will have on top of their present uniform. The colour and stuff of the material used for the uniform will be the same.
Muslim parents believe that all their efforts to inculcate the culture of Islam in their children are being truncated by the public schools who disallow the children from using the hijab. It is tempting to consider this as trivial but it is very fundamental. Anyone with a good understanding of Muslims and the way they hold the Islamic culture will easily see the point I am trying to make.
Discordant tunes are already coming from several parts of the region. Muslim parents have gone out to the streets to demonstrate openly against the current school uniform. We do not want to wait until violent-prone elements and enemies of peace hijack the situation. I am therefore urging members of the houses of assembly in the region to take a dispassionate look at the matter. A bill is all it takes to douse tension in the region.
Teachers who beat up Muslim children for wearing hijab outside the school compound (not within the school premises), to my mind, have acted ultra vires. This action is capable of setting off a crisis of unimaginable proportion, the type we have never seen in Yorubaland. I pray the day never comes. But it may be a disaster waiting to happen. What shall we all say then? Can we say nobody warned us?
This is the purpose of this letter. A stitch in time saves more than nine. Some of us happen to be in a position to feel the pulse of Muslims in general. The best we can do for this country and for the region is to let you know if and when we notice that something is just not right. We do not have to wait until things start happening.
Of course I do not need to point out your responsibilities as lawmakers in a democratic dispensation. Muslims are complaining that the system being run in the land has failed to carry them along. They feel marginalized. I belong to an Islamic school of thought which is allergic to violent agitation. We believe that dialogue can resolve a lot of issues. Lives and properties will be saved. Peace, progress and prosperity will be guaranteed.
I urge you all, honourable lawmakers, to take a very objective stand on this case. If the Muslims are part of this country and this region, the system should embrace them. It must be inclusive, not exclusive. Democracy is all about participation and involvement of all parties. It is high time we started giving the Muslims what we have given their Christian counterparts. Hijab is for the Muslims. Let us give them.
It is didactic to know that Muslim children use the hijab in all private schools established by the Muslims in Yorubaland. Of course government cannot take that from them. But the message here is that it means this is what the Muslims want. It is also disturbing to note that hijab is used in all public schools in the North. Whenever this point is raised, opponents ask the Muslims in Yorubaland to pack their bags and baggages and go to the North. This sends a wrong signal, namely, Muslims are free to enjoy the dividends of democracy in the North but they must be denied in Yorubaland. Does this promote the ideals of peaceful coexistence? We reserve the right to demand that we all sit down to discuss matters which affect us. I sincerely hope that our honourable lawmakers in the hallowed chambers in Yorubaland will allow justice, fairness and equity to prevail.
Allah bless you all as you deliberate. May peace continue to reign in Yorubaland and may Allah bring the state of insecurity in Nigeria to an end.
Professor Is-haq Akintola,
Lagos State University,
P.O. Box 10211,
LASU Post Office,
HO 102 101,
I remain oppressed untill the hungry are fed, the naked clothed,
the sick healed and the homeless sheltered