LAGOS – The government of Nigeria’s commercial city of Lagos has formally applied for an out-of-court settlement to the dispute over the wearing of hijab at schools, a move accepted by Muslims on conditions of fulfilling their religious duty.
“Anything short of addressing the concerns of the Muslim community would not be acceptable,” Disu Kamor, head of the Muslim Public Affairs Center (MPAC), told OnIslam.net.
“We are a peaceful people. That is why, instead of resorting to illegality and violence, we have approached the court to settle the matter.”
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The Lagos government has officially applied for an out-of-court settlement on the wearing of hijab at public schools.
“We have refrained from filing response to the Hijab case because the government believes this is a case that can and should be settled out of court,” Samuel Muniru Ajanaku, counsel to the state government, told the judge this week.
He said the parties would report back to the court whatever progress made in resolving the matter amicably.
The court, presided over by Justice Olubunmi Oyewole, has given the parties till July 10 to report their progress to the court.
Muslims have sued the Lagos government on allowing Muslim students to wear the hijab at schools.
Muslim leaders say that banning the headscarf violates the religious rights of Muslim students as spelt out in the Constitution.
Top government sources attributed the decision to settle out of court to the fear of “heavy political backlash”.
“You know the unspoken fact in Lagos is that Muslims are in the majority. They are not just in the majority they are also very influential,” the sources told OnIslam.net on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
“So the hijab controversy has brought a lot of pressure on the government and the party,” they said, in reference to the ruling Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN).
“Some senior lawyers have even reminded the government that it would lose the case because the excuse that public school cannot be a ground to exhibit one religion flies in the face of clear constitutional provisions. And don’t forget that there is also a precedence in a case where the court said the use of hijab is the right of a Muslim woman.”
Another government source said many lawyers and party chieftains have offered silent criticism of the way government handled the matter.
“For instance, it is believed that the press briefing by the education commissioner was a slap in the face of the court since the Muslim students have filed a case seeking court interpretation of the law.,” he said.
“Some are embarrassed that the commissioner, being a lawyer, committed such error. Also, it is argued that many of her claims were fabricated especially the claim that the decision to ban hijab was mutually agreed with the Muslim stakeholders.”
Muslim leaders say any settlement must include allowing Muslims to wear hijab as their religion dictates.
It would be accepted only if “the concerns that necessitated this case are adequately taken care of. Else, we return to the court,” Barrister Taiwo Hassan Fajimite, who represents his clients who sued the government, told OnIslam.net.
Kamor, the MPAC head, agrees.
“If the government now feels that we settle out of court, I suppose that means it is accepting the fact that its decision was wrong in the first place and that our wives and daughters can practice their deen unhindered, including donning their hijab,” he said.
The Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN), which organized several protests against the ban, said the out-of-court settlement is acceptable only if the government has admitted its mistake and is backing down on the issue.
“The use of Hijab is the right of our women and daughters; it is their constitutional right which no government can take away,” MSSN President Qasim Badrudeen, told OnIslam.net.
“Since the government has applied for out-of-court settlement, we are waiting for them. But we warn them to come clean and not attempt any mischief that could again inflame tension within the Muslim community.”
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
The Muslim outfit has been in the eye of storm since France banned it at public schools in 2004. Since then, several countries have followed suit.
Nigeria, one of the world's most religiously committed nations, is divided between a Muslim north and a Christian south.
Muslims and Christians, who constitute 55 and 40 percent of Nigeria's 140 million population respectively, have lived in peace for the most part.But ethnic and religious tensions have bubbled for years, fuelled by decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands with migrants and settlers from the Hausa-speaking Muslim north.
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