MURIC PETITIONS LAGOS STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY ON
THE USE OF HIJAB IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
The Chairman, 26th March, 2013
Ad Hoc Committee on Muslim Sisters,
Lagos State House of Assembly,
HARRASSMENT OF FEMALE MUSLIM STUDENTS IN HIJAB:
THREAT TO PEACE IN LAGOS STATE AND
CALL FOR REVIEW OF SCHOOL UNIFORMS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
We write to call your attention to the persecution, torture and dehumanization of female Muslim students in Lagos State public schools. This phenomenon has been on for decades but it assumed a frightening proportion recently when more teachers and principals in public schools grew bolder and more intolerant.
An example is the celebrated case of the principal of Kadara Junior Grammar School, Ebute Metta, Mrs. Ukpaka, who personally administered 43 strokes of the cane on a female Muslim student by name Aisha Alabi who is in JSS 2D. The principal's grouse was that the student wore hijab at the time. In an effort to use civilized and peaceful means to resolve the issue and in recognition and due respect for the Governor of Lagos State who has been performing so wonderfully well that we do not wish to do anything that could cause distraction, our organization, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), wrote a petition on this case to the Commissioner for Education dated 25th February, 2013 (copy attached). We received a response dated 1st March, 2013 from the Permanent Secretary in which we were assured that the Ministry was looking into the matter (copy attached).
We also have reports of overzealous Muslim-haters posing as school teachers who forcefully remove the hijab from the heads of female Muslim students inside commercial buses and at bus stops outside the school premises and beat up the students. In Ajangbadi, around May 2012, the Director of MURIC had to appeal to Muslim parents who had mobilized to match on a government secondary school where one of the teachers had forcefully removed the hijab from the head of a female Muslim student before beating her mercilessly at a bus stop!
In line with the motto of MURIC, 'Dialogue, Not Violence', we are submitting this memorandum to this hallowed House of Assembly with the hope that:
1. Muslims in Lagos State will get justice for the traumatized female Muslim students;
2. The persecution and intimidation of our daughters and sisters will stop and
3. Lagos State House of Assembly will pass a bill officially recognizing the hijab as part of the school uniform of any willing female Muslim pupil or student.
CALL FOR REVIEW OF SCHOOL UNIFORMS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS:
Public schools belong to the government and government belongs to the people. It therefore follows that the policies of government in those schools will be in consonance with the wishes and aspirations of the people. At least this is how it should be in a true democracy. There is also no gainsaying the fact that participatory democracy enhances good governance.
Yet the truth of the matter as far as school uniform in public schools is concerned is that the interest of Muslim parents have been ignored for decades. The colonialists who introduced Western education in Nigeria did not consider the interest of other religions when they introduced the school uniforms. The issue of school uniform should have been reviewed along with some other things in post-colonial Nigeria but this was not done.
But where does that leave the Muslims? In spite of the fact that Islam predated Christianity in Lagos by decades, the Muslims remain marginalized on the issue of the design of school uniforms. Records affirm that there were more than fifty Islamic schools in Lagos State by the year 1775 whereas Christianity was first preached in Badagry under the Agacia tree by Reverend Henry Townsend in 1832. To date, Muslims are not a minority group in Lagos as they form a formidable proportion of the population of Lagos State. What is not in doubt, however, is that non-Muslims in the State form a powerful and vocal elitist group.
Nigerian elites assumed a priori that it is normal to impose colonial uniforms on all. Without prejudice to our Christian neighbours, that colonial uniform is still suitable for Christians because the colonialists themselves were Christians and they designed a uniform which suited their religion. We therefore assert clearly, categorically and unequivocally that the current school uniform being used by female students in Lagos State public schools is a Christian uniform. This is the uniform imposed on our daughters and sisters. With due respect to this Hallowed House, MURIC rejects this neo-colonisation and religious apartheid and calls for an immediate review.
Perhaps we should also call your attention to the fact that the stigmatization of females in hijab is not limited to female Muslim students. Muslim women in hijab, the mothers of the students who are harassed in school, are also coerced and intimidated outside their homes, particularly by employers of labour and where the issue of identity is concerned. They are forced to remove their hijab to pose for pictures for driving licence. They are harassed by officials issuing government identity cards who ask them to remove their hijabs before taking pictures. Interestingly, this hostility is extended to Muslim males who wear caps or turbans. Many are deprived of their civic rights if they refuse to remove their hijabs, caps or turbans.
Yet no one attempts such things with Muslims in the North. The question is, why is the hijab acceptable to government officials in the Northern states but becomes a taboo in Lagos State? This is where the issue of Islamophobia or instinctive hatred for Muslims and lack of tolerance for the Muslim culture comes in (the type exhibited by the principal who gave 43 lashes to a female student). Our daughters are intimated in the schools. Their mothers are coerced in town. Our daughters, wives and mothers have become endangered species. Child abuse, ridicule, contemptuous cohabitation, coercion and intimidation are their lot day after day. We call on the good government of Lagos State to protect these law-abiding but weak female citizens.
The Fashola administration and this revered House must however be exonerated from any discrimination in this regard because the problem is an inherited one. Nonetheless, visionary leaders and true democrats use the machinery of governance and legislation at their disposal to right wrongs, douse tension and heal wounds. We expect no less from His Excellency, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) and the Honourable Members of the Lagos State House of Assembly.
The current agitation is about how to right the wrong and we have no doubt that the Honourable gentlemen and women in the House will stand up to be counted on the side of justice, equality and fair play. True democracy must not ostracize. It must not be selective. The current design of school uniforms for female students in public schools has totally ignored the interest of female Muslim students. Our daughters are categorically marginalized. If there is democracy in Lagos State and if Lagos State belongs to both Muslims and Christians as well as any other faith, the design of this current uniform must be reviewed to meet best democratic practices. Only thus can this Honourable House bring the dividends of democracy to the footstep of the Muslims of Lagos State.
Muslims have grown highly sensitive to the current design of school uniforms as some of those uniforms are, at best, suitable only for beauty pageants. To Muslims, the current uniforms, particularly the uniforms used by female students, ignite sexual passion in men and fall short of decent dressing. Any government that is serious about eliminating the HIV and AIDS pandemic will not hesitate to review the design of our present school uniform particularly that of the female students.
We Muslims of Lagos State have lived peacefully for a long time with our Christian neighbours and we are still willing to coexist peacefully with all elements within the State. But we demand respect for the dignity of the Muslim person, including our daughters who wear the hijab. The only way to guaranty this is for this honourable House to enact a bill stipulating the use of hijab by willing female Muslim students in Lagos State public schools.
The question or fear of imposition of hijab on a few unwilling and uninformed female Muslim students does not arise as only willing female Muslims will have to use it when approved. Neither will non-Muslim students in Muslim schools be compelled to use it.
We are deeply concerned that different yardsticks are being applied on the issue of hijab in different parts of Nigeria. To date, hijab is part and parcel of the official school uniform of female students in Northern Nigeria. That proves beyond reasonable doubt that there is no law that prevents the use of hijab with the school uniform. In fact the law is silent on the design of school uniforms. What is clear is that Section 38 (i) and (ii) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees freedom of religion, the right to practice and manifest ones religion. With due respect to Honourable Members of this Hallowed House, use of hijab on school uniform falls in the category of MANIFESTING one's religion and it should be allowed without let or hinderance.
What we are saying in essence is that female Muslim students should be allowed to wear such hijab that fits the stuff and colour of their school uniform both within and outside the school. Our daughters were being tortured even when they were timidly wearing the hijab from home, removing it at the school gate and putting it on again once they get out of the school compound. But that is all due to lack of proper education about the citizen's right. Every Nigerian is equal before the law. Equal rights and justice are the basis of democracy.
Our daughters and sisters are bona fide citizens of this country. They will no longer be treated like third class citizens. This Honourable House must put a stop to the George Orwell scenario that has been created from the past and inherited by the present administration. There is no law that prohibits the wearing of hijab. In the name of democracy, the rule of law, equal rights and justice and in the interest of lasting peace, our daughters must be allowed to wear their hijabs on their school uniform from home and into the classrooms without any form of molestation.
Those who raise false alarm over the possibility of Islamisation are merely crying wolf where there is none. If you say don't allow Muslim children to use hijab because they will Islamise Lagos State, we ask if Muslim children must remain enslaved in Christian uniforms? The desire of those in the anti-hijab camp is to continue the status quo which is essentially anti-Islam. We are calling for the status quo ante, a situation whereby all are free to practice and to manifest. The Christian students will continue to wear Christian uniforms while Muslim students will go back to using Islamic uniforms. We believe that subjecting all to wearing the Christian uniform is parochial, unjust, undemocratic and therefore unacceptable. Let the Muslims go. Set our daughters and sisters free. We appeal to you in the name of everything that is noble, decent and dignifying.
It is those who hate the sight of Muslims who must be educated to change their mindset and learn to live with people of other cultures. There is a strong angle of aggressive proselytisation to the hijab saga. Our Christian neighbours are using the instrumentality of Western education to influence, control and convert Muslim children. To them the hijab constitutes a strange identity and a cog in the wheel of firebrand evangelism. The idea is to 'catch them young'. Muslim children will be easier to convert if they can be kept away from their culture, their Qur'an and their hijab.
On the other hand, the Muslims are keen on protecting their children from the negative influence of Western education as many have fallen victims in the past. So they set out to ensure that their children imbibe the culture of Islam from their young days; That is why the Yorubas say, 'Kekere ni Musulumi ti nko omo re laso', i.e. 'Muslims train their children from childhood'. They train their children to use hijab from childhood but school authorities whom the Muslims strongly suspect have Christian sentiments disallow these children and subject them to untold psychological trauma and physical torture.
It has always been a fishing outing, a game of numbers. Muslims are jealously guarding their children from falling into the fishermen's nets. Unfortunately these fishermen have always used government's resources to achieve their ends. MURIC is appealing to the Lagos State Government not to allow its schools to be used as a tool for this grand ploy any longer.
Well, it is easy to bend a sapling but no single homo sapien can bend a tree. It is easy to train a young child to use hijab so that she can get used to it as she grows up. The story becomes different if she is not allowed to imbibe that training until she leaves secondary school. Ceteris paribus, she may never use it again. This is what is happening to Muslim children and their parents in Lagos schools. Lagos Muslims strongly suspect that it is a deliberate design to create a cultural dichotomy between Muslim children and their parents. Adolescents and adults remain loyal to what they are accustomed to as children. Lagos State school authorities ensure that this happens. On the contrary, the Christian parent finds it easy to train his or her child along Christian teachings since the Lagos school environment is Christian-compliant.
WHAT DO MUSLIMS REALLY WANT?
If there are doubts concerning what the Muslims want as school uniform, MURIC invites this Honourable House to visit any private Muslim nursery, primary or secondary school to see what their school uniforms look like. The fact that all Muslim private schools use hijab on top of the uniforms of female students cements our position. It must also be noted that all madrasahs (Islamic schools) use the hijab, e.g. Markaz at Agege and Dar Ad-Da'wah in Isolo. It is hoped that Lagos Muslims will not have to withdraw their children from public schools to Muslim private schools before justice is done.
THE IDEAL MUSLIM UNIFORM:
The ideal Muslim uniform for female students consists of a gown that reaches beyond the knees, a pair of trousers underneath with a matching hijab on top. The school cap and badge can still be used where applicable. As for the male students, a pair of trousers is preferred to the short knicker which is now in vogue, coupled with a shirt and, where applicable, like in Muslim schools, a cap to match.
Muslims in Lagos State love their neighbours and are prepared to coexist peacefully with all. We have written our memorandum to this Hallowed House to demonstrate our commitment to dialogue, peace, law and order and as a mark of respect for the active Governor of Lagos State whose attention we do not wish to distract. Nonetheless, we demand justice, equal rights and fair play on the issue of harrassment of our daughters and sisters in hijab. As a way forward, we also demand:
1. That the Ministry of Education must investigate the school principal involved in the case of 43 lashes and do justice.
2. That the same Ministry of Education must issue a circular warning all school authorities to desist from punishing female Muslim students using hijab;
3. That the Lagos State Government issues a public statement warning officials of public agencies and institutions operating in the State against forcing Muslim females to remove their hijabs or compelling Muslim males to remove their caps and turbans and finally
4. That the Lagos State House of Assembly passes a bill officially recognizing the hijab as part of the school uniform of any willing female Muslim pupil or student, to be worn both inside and outside the classrooms.
We thank Members of this Honourable House for the opportunity given us to contribute to this debate on the hijab question.
Allah bless Lagos State. Allah bless Nigeria. Allah bless you all.
Eko o ni baje o. Obaje ti!
Professor Is-haq Akintola Abdul Razaq Uthman
Director Public Relations Officer
1. The Honourable Speaker,
Lagos State House of Assembly
2. The Secretary to the State Government