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ANALYSIS: The Hijab Controversy; Pointer To Religion Bigotry And Timidity


By Tajudeen Balogun, Head, African Examiner, Nigeria Bureau

BALTIMORE, MD (AFRICAN EXAMINER) – Giving the sensitive nature of the issue, I am conscious of the fact that I am treading on a thorny terrain. Not only that, I am very much aware that I have a very heavy burden on me to sound reasonable to many – to be convinced on my position on the matter in question. Ordinarily, the issue involved should not have be taken this far. But pitiably, this is Nigeria, RELIGION, unfortunately has been politicized. Recall, the embattled Nigerian Reggae star – the Rainmaker, our own Majekodunmi Fashekun (Majek Fashek) sang about this in the late 80’s.

Regrettably, by my assessment, so many Nigerians seem deliberately or ignorantly fail to assimilate or appreciate the imports of the message being sent across then, by the Edo-born talented singer.

Without mincing words, the situation with us in Nigeria as far as religion is concerned is erratic and disturbing. It is against this background I urge readers to read this piece with an independent and open mind. I must also counsel that trying to link the faith of the writer with the contents will yield no good result, rather, complicate issues.

In actual fact, there is no reason why the State of Osun residents should not leave harmoniously with one another. I say this because the State is communal. Painfully, Osun had lost its cohesive nature since Friday, June 3, 2016, when Justice Saka Oyejide Falola of the State High Court ruled against opposition to the use of Hijab by female Muslim students in the State’s public schools.

The reactions that have trailed the ruling confirmed that some Osun Christians, acting under the State’s Chapter of Christians Association of Nigeria (CAN), were enraged therefore rejected it. The body subsequently threatened in a communiqué issued and signed by its Chairman, Rev. Elisha Ogundiya that if the State Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola allowed the implementation of the court’s ruling, the Christian students would begin to wear Church garments to schools.

The issue here whether we like it or not is about religion, law and human rights. And the worrisome aspect of it to me is the inconsistence (approach) of many Nigerians to the so called rule of law. For instance, we are all conscious of, and agreed to the provisions under the fundamental human rights of every citizen.

In administration of the rule of law in this country, many Nigerians agree to the fact that our laws are ‘respecters’ of certain people. We all complain and lament that the claws of laws only catch the ‘lows’, while the same laws indulge the ‘highs’. The clamour to follow the rule of law in some of the alleged corrupt cases involving immediate former political office holders, now hit the country as if it was just enshrined in our laws.

On Osun Hijab controversy, it is very key to establish that it is the Nigerian law which gives right of education to every child that makes him to study various subjects, including the religion studies – Christian and Islamic. It is also the same fundamental human rights (law) that gives every citizen to practice his/her religion without restriction and without trampling on others’ right, to practice religion of their choice.

Hijab in Islam is not a fashion, rather, part of the fundamentals of the faith. The implication of this is that when a Muslim female who wishes to use it (Hijab) is disallowed, her religion right is being infringed upon. The same goes to the non-Muslims, who is being impeded in any form, to practice the demand of his/her religion doctrine.

Approaching the court of law on issues parties differ is a matter of right and choice. Also, appealing the rulings of a court, is the right enjoyed by every citizen under the law. Therefore, what is baffling in the Osun Hijab debate is the appeal by CAN against Justice Falola’s ruling and the non-compliant threat that followed. CAN’s stand as at present, amounts to confusing issues. Or what type of perception does the body wish the public to ascribe to it on the matter – on its contradictory position?

I am convinced that CAN cannot claim to be fighting for the right of Christians and at the same time, impinge against the same law which it is using in court to argue its suit and fight for the right of its members.

I have listened to debate that the use of Hijab in public schools is an incursion; that such trend never existed in the 70’s and 80’s in Nigeria. Those with this position must be told again, that Hijab wearing is not a ‘sudden practice in Islam. To this end, the difference in its use in schools now and then, does not necessarily mean the Muslims of today are better. Also, it does not necessarily suggest that the Muslims then were weak types. The fact is that every issue, (including religion practice) in human life will continue to draw different approaches (not necessarily against the basics). Information and communication techniques before and today might make a good example here.

Again, I have heard some, justifying the CAN directive on wearing of church garments, saying the Muslims Hijab demand called for this in the first place. As for me, this thought is nothing, but mere logic. I say this because the Osun CAN’s action is ‘sudden’ and conditional. But I wish to state that there is difference between an action provoked by a fundamental demand and the one propelled by pettiness. The ‘life spans’ of the two are different, so also, matter.

Nigeria according to the constitution is described as a multi-religion country. Nigeria is a country I know that despite the inconvenience caused to one another, Muslims will call fellow faithful via the public address system to five daily prayers – everyday of the week; it is a country the Christians will engage in a frequent vigil; weekday and Sunday services with as many as possible number of churches virtually in every street. Still in the name of being a religion conscious country, Nigeria is where the residents of a community will be told and warned to stay indoors for particular number of days; prevented from going out early or return home, just because a particular Monarch is dead; or an Oro (masquerade) festival is to holding; about to commence or certain traditional rites or rituals are to be carried out.

All of these are the bitter realities which go with our definition of the entity we live in. Still, it baffles me and I always wonder when we claim and pretend at some levels or under certain circumstances that we are in a secular state. Whenever the trick is being deployed, we attempt to rubbish or downplay religion, whereas, a good number of us are religion conscious.

There is a clear distinct between a theocratic and secular state. Some of the western nations are secular. Therefore, they do not pretend to be as religious as we do in this part of the world. Despite being secular, they appreciate and allow everybody to enjoy free right to religion of his/her choice. In fact, their philosophy is that ‘if you are truly religion, you must be just and fair to one another’. No doubt, the mentality is working for them, except the infiltration of some misled folks and terrorists who in the name of religion cause mayhem and disturb the peaceful co-existence in their societies.

Osun’s CAN and others who share its sentiment must please hear this. UK is an example of a secular nation. But despite this, Muslim female students who wished to, are allowed to put on their Hijab in public and private schools. The only attached condition is that it must be a particular colour.

If that instance seems too far, right here in Nigeria, in Ekiti, South West, a former Governor of the State (2011-2014), Dr. Kayode Fayemi, now a Federal Minister, assented into law a bill which allowed the use of Hijab by the Muslim female students in the State’s public schools. Dr. Fayemi is a Christian, yet, one wonders why he and his lawmakers had no difficulty in allowing the passage of the bill. Is it not surprising too, that the law did not prompt any uproar as being witnessed now in Osun as well as generated needless, heated debate?
Another shocking variable which has been added to the present controversy is that why the Hijab wearing should be allowed in a Christian missionary school? But the particular school has since been taken over by the Osun State Government. Then, why the claim of ownership by the Baptist again?

The fact of the matter is that in Nigeria, many, (among the Christians and Muslims) shy away from the reality as far as religion practice; rights and constitutional provisions are concerned. In this country, we fake; frame-up; pretend when it comes to individuals rights to his religion. Most of the time, we deceive and pretend to be fair to others on religion faith, even to corner some favours sometimes. This is what I consider spiritual arrogance and religion timidity.

In Nigeria, Muslims and Christians are so intolerant of one another when it comes to religion issues, to the extent that those who claim to be religious use the same, as a tool for division; of confrontation and violence, which often claim many lives. The fact remains that many of the bloody sectarian crises which had occurred in the past were largely due to religion bigotry.

The raging Hijab debate and drama in Osun will never stop until the religion faithful stop the pretention and suspicion. To this end, Nigerians must discourage shying away from the reality – that we are prominently religious conscious people, thus the rhetoric about the secularity must be played down and ultimately be rested. Otherwise, we must begin to call for a constitutional re-definition of Nigeria State. If we failed in these regard, it is certain we shall still bear with more pointers to religion apprehension and intolerance in the future.

Similarly, if the needless Hijab controversy with the Osun CAN as an arrowhead must abate, it is time Nigerians begin to objectively link and separate issues, where and when necessary as well as base on the merits and demerits of every issue involved, without emotion and temperament.

Finally, Osun Governor as the Chief Security Officer of that State must ensure that everything is done to involve every stakeholder with a view to comprehensively and sincerely engage each other, so as to avoid breach of law and order. The onus of effectively managing the sensitive issue and situation lies on him and will say a lot about Aregbesola; his Government; his party as a whole, especially in protecting lives and properties in the State. Governor Aregbesola must remember that he has a timeline – he will vacate office when his tenure lapses, but how he manages the State; its people and the level he leaves them matter most.

E-Mail: tjaysuccess10@gmail.com; Facebook: Tajudeen Balogun; Twitter: @tjaysuccess10

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