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As religious leaders brace up for war over hijab in Osun State
The face-off between Christian and Muslim communities in Osun State over plan to incorporate hijab (veil) into the uniform of female Muslim students in public schools has generated much problem in some parts of the state. Adewale Ajayi looks at the implication of the agitation and its threat to prevailing peace in the state.
THE speed at which Osun State government determines the face-off between Christian and Muslim communities over the plan to make hijab a part of the uniform in non-Muslim schools may save the state from being thrown into the throes of crises.
Tension is building up on both sides, only a pronouncement from the state government will serve as the saving grace. Given the way the case is handled by both sides, only a far reaching solution can douse the tension.
Everything nearly went awry last week in Iwo , Iwo Local Government Area of the state, when some Muslim students staged a protest insisting on the need to be allowed to wear hijab to public schools, including the ones owned by Christians, government had to wade in to prevent a breakdown of law and order by closing down all public schools in the local government .
The problem generated over the clamour for the use of hijab was said to have started last year when a female student of Methodist Grammar School, Iwo, dressed to school wearing hijab. The student was said to have been beaten up by her teacher, and she in return mobilised her brothers who waylaid the teacher and beat her black and blue.
Muslim Fellowship Students were said to have championed the cause, agitating that all female Muslim students should be allowed to wear hijab to public schools. The agitation for the use of hijab got to a climax penultimate Monday , when a female student of Baptist High School, Iwo, was arrested by the police on the order of the school authority for daring to wear hijab to the school.
The action of the school authority infuriated Muslim organisations in the town and they waded into the matter and demanded the release of the student. They equally mobilised Muslim students in the town on Tuesday (the following day) to insist that they should be allowed, as Muslim girls, to wear hijab to school irrespective of the school they attended.
The protest was said to have received the support of the leader of the Jamat Tahawum, identified as Alfa Dawud, who was said to have led the students on a protest which took them from one school to the other, starting from Local Authority Grammar School, to Saint Anthony Grammar School, Methodist Grammar School and Iwo Grammar School. The protest took them round the entire community and created tension and fear in the minds of residents of Iwo .
In order to prevent the problem from getting out of hand, the state government decided to close down all public schools, Explaining why the schools were shut, Osun State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Sunday Akere, in a statement, said the government decided to close down all the public schools in Iwo Local Government Area to prevent the breakdown of law and order.
According to him, the state was noted for peace and the state government would not allow any religious bigot to turn it into a ground for religious intolerance. The government also directed all the security agencies to maintain law and orderliness in the local government.
Efforts to make the two religious bodies reach a compromise on the matter were abortive, a series of meetings held at the instance of the community leaders and the state government ended in a deadlock.
Since attaining peace was difficult, the state government directed the two religious bodies to forward memoranda in which their positions would be enumerated, adding that that would guide the government to issue a white paper on the matter.
Despite that the state government has yet to issue a white paper on the imbroglio, the two religious bodies seem to have taken a position on the matter.
Addressing the press on the bone of contention, the leader of the Muslim community in Osun State, Sheikh Salaudeen Olayiwola, said that wearing of hijab was a right of Muslim girls, adding that it was a token of their religious belief. He stressed that except their demand contravened the constitution, the agitation for the wearing of hijab would not be dropped.
Making reference to the constitutional provision which dwells on freedom of worship, he reiterated that anything outside the provision of the constitution would be turned down, “fortunately for us as a nation, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which binds us together as a people and which serves as the foundation to all other laws provides for freedom of religion in section 38 of 1999 constitution,” he said.
Sheikh Olayiwola referred to a case between the Provost of Kwara State College of Education, Ilorin and two others versus Bashirat Saliu, in which the Court of Appeal decided that the respondent had the right to wear hijab within the school campus and anywhere else in line with provision of section 38 of the constitution .
According to him, “Indeed hijab, niqab or burqa, being part and parcel of Islamic mode of dressing cannot be taken away by any other law other than the constitution,” he said.
He, therefore, described the directive of the state government issued in 2005 that regulates mode of dressing in public schools as biased. The circular sent to all the schools in the state only allows Muslim girls to wear hijab in schools owned by Muslims and non-Muslims in such schools should not be compelled to dress in the same manner as Muslim girls.
“The use of hijab by female Muslim students shall be allowed in Muslim public schools with the provision that it shall not be made compulsory, especially for non-Muslim students in such schools. Its use in schools other than the above shall not be allowed,” the circular reads in part.
The Muslim community stressed that the directive did not favour them and that it had challenged it since then but there had been no response from the state government. They claimed that Muslim girls in Christian public schools should have been protected as the Christian girls in Muslim schools were protected and they should be allowed to wear hijab in such schools.
Though Sheikh Olayiwola claimed they were not having problem with the Christians, he insisted that wearing of hijab was a way through which Muslim girls imbibed religious doctrine. “We are not fighting Christians, we are only asking for our right . We don’t compel Christians to dress in Islamic way,” he said.
Responding to the agitation of the Muslims, the chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Osun State chapter, Superior Evangelist Abraham Aladeseye, said the Muslims were only looking for avenue to foment trouble and they (Christians) would not take that from them.
He said their action contravened government directive, which banned usage of hijab in non-Muslim schools. He insisted that the Muslims only wanted to create crisis and Christians would not accept it. He maintained that Muslims had succeeded in introducing hijab in Baptist Girls Grammar School, Osogbo and Anglican Grammar School, Ilobu.
Evangelist Aladeseye stated that if government should accede to their request, then the Christian community would encourage Christian students to wear white garment (sutana) to schools, and as such, there wouldn’t be any basis for school uniforms in public schools any longer. “They have been hiding under government, and we won’t accept that from them,” he said.
The decision of the state government to regulate the mode of dressing of the Muslim girls in public schools by issuing a directive in 2005 was to pacify the Muslim society over the quest to allow hijab in public schools.
With both Muslims and Christians sticking to their guns, only a quick intervention by the state government could prevent a breakdown of law and order over hijab in the state.Share