The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), an Islamic human rights advocacy group, has disagreed with Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka on the issue of hijab as part of school uniform.
However, the group agreed with Soyinka on the acceptability of the Muslim-Muslim ticket. On hijab, MURIC insists that uniformity should not lead to the annihilation of any culture.
The faith-based human rights group spoke through its director, Professor Ishaq Akintola, on Monday, 8th August, 2022.
“Nigeria’s Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, spoke about Muslim-Muslim ticket and the use of hijab on Tuesday, 2nd August, 2022. He saw nothing wrong with the former but frowned at the latter. While we agree with him on the former, we find his hypothesis on the latter full of holes.
“The respected Nobel Laureate had said, ‘There is one other thing going on in my mind. And I think we have the experts here who will talk about it. There are some school children over there. And one wonderful thing about them for me is that they are in uniform. In other words I cannot tell which one is a Christian, which one is a Muslim, which one is an Orisa worshipper, which one is a Zoroastrian, which one is a Buddhist. They are school children.’
“We beg to disagree sir. The children may be in uniform, but what type of uniform? That is what the respected Nobel Laureate did not see. He could not see what we see everyday. We see humiliation everyday. We see intimidation everyday. We see stereotyping, stigmatization and harassment everyday. Muslim children come home everyday with tales of derision and ostracization in the hands of school principals and teachers. Our hearts bleed.
“The students Professor Soyinka saw were in Christian uniform but of course Prof did not see that. Anytime female Muslim children are denied the right to use hijab, they are forced to use Christian uniform. Any female Muslim student who wears her uniform without hijab is wearing Christian uniform. Hijab is our garment of spirituality. It is our symbol of freedom from neo-imperialism.
“A school uniform for Muslim female students without hijab is alien to Muslim culture. What Muslims accept as school uniform for their girls is one with a head covering. It is Christians who do not mind uncovering their heads in public. We do, and our value system should be respected if there is tolerance in society. Why are educated Nigerians unwilling to tolerate hijab? Who did this to Nigeria?
“If people gather in a hall in Britain or America with Africans among them, should the whites compel the blacks to dress like them? Must we all be in suits? Should one culture dominate the other? God created us in different shapes and colours. We have different cultures attesting to our heterogeneity. No attempt should be made to force everyone to adopt a particular culture.
“By the way, female Muslim students who are demanding hijab are not asking to use uniforms different from what other students are using. They will wear the same uniform but they will add a head cover of the same stuff and colour with the uniform.
“Anyway, Nigerian schools will do better with African dresses as school uniform instead of this colonial design. What is wrong with using ‘adire’, ‘buba’, ‘sokoto’, ‘iro’ and ‘gele’ as a way of discarding colonial mentality? It will also be the ‘secular’ uniform since Nigeria’s adoption of Christian uniform has necessitated the agitation for hijab as an Islamic identity.
“It was Lyndon B. Johnson who said ‘If we are to live in peace, we must know each other better’. What opponents of hijab need to do is to get to understand why Muslims want hijab and once they know that it is a divine instruction (Glorious Qur’an 24:30-31) there should be no more objection. Any opposition after that must be understood as a desire to stop Muslims from obeying their Lord and Creator. It becomes religious repression and Muslims have every right to resist it.
“The school uniform of a Muslim girl is incomplete without hijab. The Christian girl is comfortable with the ‘conventional’ uniform because it is a Christian uniform. It must be noted that the uniform used in Nigerian schools today was designed by the British colonial master who was, essentially, a Christian.
“The ideal school uniform for a Muslim girl is a pair of trousers with a gown that goes beyond the knees and hijab on her head. Her male counterpart should also use trousers with a shirt on top and a cap. But the cap is not mandatory because it is not part of the directive in the Glorious Qur’an.
“That is why the Nobel Laureate needs to know that there is more than just one uniform. All he needs to do is to open his kind and large heart to accept the ‘other’ uniform as well. That is what the British and the Americans have done by allowing Muslim school girls to use hijab. In contrast, the authorities in Southern Nigeria appear to have established schools exclusively for Christians. All the Muslims are asking for is inclusiveness, a sense of belonging and an end to marginalization.
“The Nobel Laureate is the face of education and intellectualism not only in Nigeria but in Africa as a whole and we are all (Muslims and Christians) proud of him. Helen Keller said the highest result of education is tolerance. We want the revered professor of English to set the pace in the integration of Muslims in our society. Muslims are looked upon in Southern Nigeria as outcasts whose way of life should be rejected. That is what refusal to accept hijab means to us. Soyinka should lead the way.
“The Nobel Laureate is a widely travelled person. He must be familiar with Liverpool in the United Kingdom. Several Muslim children use Hijab on top of their school uniforms in Archbishop Blanche College (along Smithdan road), King David’s College, Blue Coat in Wavertree Belvedere Girls’ School, Toxteth, St Hildas and Holly Lodge Girls’ School (on Queen’s Drive), all in Liverpool City Council. Ditto in Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford, London, Manchester and Rochdale.
“This is the problem with Nigeria. Our political leaders and scholars take breakfast in London, lunch in Virginia, dinner in Scotland. They see trams, trolleys, subways and other modern systems of transportation. But they never think of replicating it in their own country. They see freedom of religion in form of school children using hijab but they will come to Nigeria and oppose hijab because they think Nigerian Muslims are destined to die in colonial bondage.
“Professor Soyinka also said concerning use of hijab in schools, ‘They are equal and they are being encouraged to see one another as human beings, not as separate creatures.
“Soyinka’s ‘equal’ status among students is unacceptable to us. Muslim children cannot be ‘equal’ in Christian uniform. This is a subtle way of completing the identity robbery of Muslims in Nigeria. It was Dr. James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey who said, ‘You can play a tune of sorts on the white keys, and you can play a tune of sorts on the black keys. But for harmony you must use both the black and the white.’
“So why can’t we have Christian and Muslim children using the same uniforms with matching hijab on the heads of the female Muslim children? Why can’t Muslim children be accepted as Muslims? Why must they appear like Christians before they are warmly received? Why must whole schools be paraded as Christian learning centres?
“The picture of Barrack Obama sitting with an American school girl wearing hijab went viral during his administration. There were other students in hijab in the same classroom. That picture sent a strong message to the world. It is only in Southern Nigeria that we want to perpetuate French assimilation method. The rest of the world has moved on. But Nigerians, particularly Southerners, remain glued to colonial mentality.
“Even the United Nations condemned French ban on hijab in 2018. The UN committee ruled that France violated an international rights treaty when it banned a woman from wearing hijab while she studied at a school. The UN Human Rights Committee said the ban broke the International Covenant on Civil and Political. Now, is Nigeria not part of the UN? Professor Soyinka is known for his stand on human rights in this country. Is he saying Muslim children should not enjoy human rights?
“Soyinka does not want Muslim children to use hijab so that children would not ‘look at one another as different’. Did God create them equal? Do they have same height, same complexion, same tribal marks? Why don’t the teachers send out the fair-complexioned children and retain only the black ones in the class if we want uniformity? Why is it that the Muslim identity alone is Soyinka’s problem
“These children know themselves and hijab is no problem among them. Children who use hijab and those who do not use it have mixed together singing and laughing. There has never been any report of a clash among students on the issue of hijab.
“The Nobel Laureate also added, ‘And I want to be informed if it is against democracy that schools insist that uniforms be worn by children so that they are not distinguished in a very dramatic way. So that they do not look at one another as different.’
“Our response to this is capital YES. What is democracy if there is no individual freedom? Kainz defines American form of democracy as a form of government which prides itself on its recognition of and commitment to individual freedoms and personal property rights. The demand for hijab is a civil liberty struggle. But the irony here is that no single human rights lawyer or activist who is a non-Muslim has deemed it fit to add his or her voice to the cries of these innocent little girls. Not even the so-called women liberation groups.
“What did Margoli have in mind when he defined democracy as ‘equal opportunity to participate’? Why, then, are Muslims being denied that ‘equal opportunity to participate’ even in the ordinary choice of what our children will wear to school? We should be carried along in matters that affect the morality and dignity of our children. Democracy must be participatory, not exclusive.
“Democracy is not about allowing every man and woman to vote alone. It also has to do with allowing those who want to go to the church or mosque to do so while those who do not want to use Christian uniform are given the freedom to use hijab. Our understanding of the concept of democracy is therefore fraudulent until we widen the scope to include freedom to use hijab in ALL schools, including the so-called Christian schools. You cannot force Christian uniform on Muslim children and claim you are practicing democracy.
“That is why Otwin Marenin said democracy exists when the institutions and politics of the society represent the consent and interests of all citizens. Hijab is what the Muslims want but today these Muslims who are not even a minority are being denied by an elitist minority.
“Concluding his comment on hijab, Soyinka said, ‘So now I’m talking to religionists. I’m saying why do you want to create such marked differentiation at that age, that impressionable age, when we need to teach our children to look at one another as equals, as the same people, the same entitled creatures of society?’
“We affirm that it is ‘that impressionable age’ that is the problem. If Muslim children do not use hijab in their impressionable age, they are not ever likely to use it afterwards. Christian authorities in the schools want to indoctrinate Muslim children against Islam and against the use of hijab at an impressionable age so that it will be difficult for their Muslim parents to re-mould them when they mature.
“The learned professor knows that people can only bend a sapling, not a tree. Muslims are expected to teach their children from childhood. We will not allow Western education to steal our children from us. Even the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) instructed Muslims to ensure that their children are taken to the mosque at seven and to punish them if they fail to pray when they reach the age of ten. It will be difficult for Muslim children to start using hijab at tertiary level if they do not use it at primary and secondary school levels.
“What matters is our mindset. We can inculcate love for our country in our children without everybody wearing a single type of school uniform. What happens during the holidays when the children attend school lessons in the same schools without wearing their school uniforms? Let us borrow a leaf from Max Learner who said, ‘Either men will learn to live like brothers or die like beasts’.