LAGOS – Despite having an overwhelming Muslim populace, Nigeria’s Southwest is witnessing a growing sentiment against hijab, a phenomenon blamed for government policies of stigmatization and intolerance.
“What is happening in the Southwest including in Lagos is a product of intolerance, tyranny, oppression, persecution and stigmatization,” Professor Ishaq Akintola, executive director of Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), told OnIslam.net.
“The rejection of the use of hijab in public schools reveals the pitiable human rights condition to which Muslims in the Southwest have been subjected to both in colonial and post-colonial days.
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“It also stands in contradistinction to the democratic principles of freedom, equal rights, justice and fair play.”
Anti-hijab sentiments have been on the rise in south-west Nigeria, with public schools banning students from wearing the Muslim headscarf.
In Lagos, a 12-year-old student was reportedly flogged by her principal for wearing hijab at school. Another student was harassed by her headmaster for the same reason.
The two incidents prompted the umbrella Muslim Students Society of Nigeria to sue the government for “persistent victimization of the Muslim students.”
In response, the local government has 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.
Muslims in the Southwestern Nigerian state of Osun are also challenging a ban on the wearing of hijab in public schools.
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.
Professor Akintola urged the government to back off any policy that “could further provoke the fury of Muslims who are being marginalized despite being in the majority.”
“Instead of allowing free dialogue, the Lagos State Government is pushing Muslims in the state to the wall,” said professor Akintola, who teaches Islamic studies at the Lagos State University.
He said the hijab ban violates “the provisions of Article 18 of the United Nations Charter and Articles 9 and 14 of the European Treaty of Human Rights and Articles 18 and 19 of the Treaty of Civil and Political Rights”.
“We challenge the government to tell the world why the hijab is acceptable on school uniforms for Muslims in the North and an anathema in the South-West when Nigeria is just one country?
He warned that the government policy on hijab has worsened relationship between the Muslims and the state government.”
Hassan Ma’ruf, a lecturer at the Ladoke Akintola University in Southwest Nigeria, agrees.
The rising Islamophobia in Nigeria “is unjustified because there is no convincing evidence to suggest that Muslims are causing trouble in this country,” he said.
“But it is important to warn politicians not to pitch people of faith against one another, as doing so foretells grave consequences.”
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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