Western education in southwestern Nigeria, once an exclusive preserve of Christian Missionaries, was a tool for evangelism in the pre-independence era, as it insisted on conversion to Christianity – or change of religious identity – as an admission prerequisite. It saw many Muslim names like AbdurRahman changed to Christian forms like Raymond/Ramon. In principle it would be indecent for public education of latter periods to maintain the heritage that made education unattainable without such inexcusable compromise. Another form of such inexcusable compromise is abandoning the Hijab for female Muslims. The Hijab is a requirement uniquely identified everywhere – amongst friends, in the markets, for corporate activities, and other public spaces. Unlike other conceivable attires, this characteristic of the Hijab makes it a genuine right worth protecting. Hence, the Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold its use for students who wish to wear them in Lagos State public schools stands valid, regardless of opposing views.
Aligning with international standards, this ruling exposes the strategic flaw in the claim that Nigeria is a secular state that must not allow any religious dress code in public places. It has come handy to silence the growing guns of insolence against some female Muslims discriminated against in activities – including biometrics for international passports, WASSCE, JAMB, driver’s license, SIM card registration etc. Although Section 10 of the constitution reads “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion”, partisans to secularism claim have no objective proof this prohibition of a state religion means religious injunctions have no place in public spaces.
There isn’t any direct constitutional wording nor an objective judicial interpretation that declares Nigeria secular. At best, this section recognises the co-existence of different religions and affirms that no religion shall be allowed to take precedence over others when legitimate interests clash. Moreover, the multi-religious, yet inclusive society of our constitution’s writers portrays this non-secular intent . It’s the reason financial subventions for Hajj and Jerusalem pilgrimage, recognition and celebration of religious public holidays had existed. Nigeria isn’t secular by law and pragmatics, and the government’s duty to protect the genuine religious rights exists.
Beyond these, Canada, the United States, the UK and many other saner climes the ‘secularists’ here intend copying allow the use of Hijab in schools, police departments, courts of law, etc. These reveal the dishonesty in the secularism controversy raised as a plot to erode religious consciousness.
Shunning childish competition, it’s only upright to agree that religious rights should be granted equitably to religions based on their actual needs. It’s this reason Muslims don’t really agitate much to have a Friday holiday, just because Christian factions have been granted Saturday and Sunday. Therefore, the outcry that the Supreme court should grant the same relief to all shades of religion is intellectually hollow when wholesome considerations are made with the objectives of the Supreme court’s Hijab ruling. Foremost, this was a specific matter involving Lagos state, a Muslim student flogged 43 strokes for using a Hijab, and other Muslim children who are disposed to wearing the Hijab everywhere and anywhere. Secondly, the ruling sets a standard for concessions that can be granted to religions, only when they really need them. Unlike the Hijab to be abided to as a religious injunction , other religious attires – including traditional costumes and those of white garments churches – aren’t required by their religions everywhere. Beyond their religious activities, these people do not openly wear their costumes in other places; they abandon their religious dress codes for leisure activities with family and friends, for occasions and ‘Owambe’ parties, for work and corporate activities. These costumes, just like the Jalabia and turban identified with Muslims, are identified mostly for religious activities. Why then should the court have denied the Muslim girl child the right to practice her religious injunction just because of the dissatisfaction expressed by some unaffected groups that really don’t deserve the same relief?
The discontent with the Supreme Court’s decision – to uphold the use of Hijab in Lagos State public schools – majorly stems from the fears of ‘Islamization’, distraction and discrimination. Although these are the dumbest of arguments, sensitization efforts against intolerance and suspicion are paramount. A female with open hairs on wigs or hair attachments shouldn’t be bothered about the use of Hijab by other willing persons in public spaces, and legal protection of these natural religious rights is legitimate.