- Muslim, Christian communities at war over use of hijab, church garment by students
From CLEMENT ADEYI, OSOGBO
IN the recent times, the relative peace that has remained one of Osun State’s trademarks and earned it the sobriquet, “most peaceful state in Nigeria,” has come under threat.
Reason? A raging controversy over the state High Court’s recent judgement which guarantees female Muslim students, the right to use an Islamic veil otherwise known as hijab in public schools as well as the agitation by the Christian community that Christian students must also wear Church garments to schools to propagate their religion, should the state government go ahead to implement the judgement, has thrown the state into an all time religious quagmire.
With the Muslim community and their Christian counterparts’ poise to ensure that their students dress in their religious garbs and government claiming not to want to influence the judiciary, it remains to be seen when the cliffhanger will be over.
The incident that degenerated into the ongoing furore over the use of hijab began like a child’s play in 2013 when Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s administration merged missionary schools in the state, including the Christian and Muslim-owned ones.
Saturday Sun investigations revealed that when some female Muslim students who were already accustomed to the use of hijab joined Christian missionary schools during the merger dressed in hijab to the schools, the school authorities wielded the big stick and gave an order that hijab must not be used by any female Muslim student in any Christian missionary school.
This did not go down well with the Muslim community.Their leaders and the students insisted on using the Islamic veil. In 2013, there was a scenario in a government secondary school in Iwo where students from Muslims, Christians and traditional backgrounds dressed in their various religious garbs to the school assembly. This nearly led to a face-off between the different sects but it was forestalled by timely intervention of security agents.
In the ensuing controversy and agitation, Governor Aregbesola advised the aggrieved parties to go to court and obtain judgement on whether hijab should be allowed in public schools or not.
Determined to get judgement on the issue, members of Osun State Muslim Community and the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN) dragged the State Government to the state High Court in February 2013. The state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (OS-CAN) also filed an application to stop the use of hijab.
On June 3, 2016, Justice Jide Falola gave a ruling in favour of the use of the head covering.
In the ruling, Justice Falola held that wearing hijab was a part of the fundamental rights of the female Muslims students. He cited Section 38 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution which stipulates the freedom of every individual to practise his/her religion in tandem with their faith, conscience and thought.
Justice Falola said no female Muslim student must be molested nor sent out of school for wearing hijab since government had taken over all missionary schools in 1975.
But CAN rejected the judgement and issued a communiqué which reads in part: “Where the Osun State Government is inclined to implementing the judgment, Christian students in public schools founded by Christians with the toil and sweat of our forefathers in the faith will have no choice but to start wearing Christian garments and vestments as part of their school uniform for the propagation of our own faith given the Justice Saka Oyejide Falola’s declared right of Muslim female students to do same as what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander as well. Adherents of other faith who have their choices to make in this matter can wear theirs as well.”
It also issued a threat that if Governor Aregbesola went ahead to implement the judgment, Christian students in the state public schools would start dresosing in church garments to schools. A statement signed by the Chairman, Reverend Elisha Ogundiya, at the end of an emergency meeting of the state Executive Committee in Osogbo on Tuesday, June 7, 2016, condemned the judgement.
He warned the government not to implement the judgment, alleging that it was masterminded by Governor Aregbesola in line with his Islamization agenda which, he said, had hitherto been stalled by the Directorate of Military Intelligence in 2012 based on credible intelligence and corroborated by CAN in 2014.
CAN, however, called on the state House of Assembly, men and women of goodwill, Christians, the Presidency, the National Assembly and the international community to intervene in the situation before it degenerates to uncontrollable crisis.
But just before the intervention and government ’s implementation of the court ruling, some Muslim female students went ahead and wore hijab to their schools across the state on Tuesday, June 14, 2016. The Christian students, including males and females also responded by wearing their church garments.
It was a drama of sorts at Baptist High School, Iwo, as students who were in their normal school uniforms hailed them, while others ridiculed them.
While the Christians stormed their classes in their robes, but not prevented by their teachers, some female Muslim students who appeared in hijab equally gained access to the school unhindered. Some male students also put on white robes around 8:30 am before other students joined them in their white and purple choir robes.
Saturday Sun gathered that none of them was chased out of the classes for not appearing in their school uniforms while the teachers went about their duties.
The students also related freely despite their varying modes of dressing.
The Principal Mr Omotayo Arowolo, said there was no crisis in the school despite the development.
He said the teachers were going about their jobs and the school was peaceful.
The head of Catholic bloc of CAN in Iwo, Cathechist Paul Olagoke said they were in the school to ensure that none of their students was chased away nor punished.
At Salvation Army Middle School, Alekuwodo, Osogbo, female Muslim students who also wore hijab to school were allowed access to the school just as some members of Christian Association of Nigeria mounted surveillance at the school gate to ensure that none of the Christian students who wore choir and church vestments was sent out of the school.
As at Wednesday, June 15, security was beefed up in some public schools, particularly Baptist Girls High School, Osogbo, where CAN held a joint prayer session and called on God to intervene in the crisis.
When our correspondent visited the school, armed security personnel were seen mounting surveillance at the gate and premises of the CAN secretariat located within the school when the prayer was going on.
The programme which was organised by the CAN Chairman, Reverend Elisha Ogundiya, and presided over by the vice, Pastor Moses Ogundeji, was intended to reject the court ruling on hijab and other alleged Islamisation plots in the state.
Pastor Ogundeji told newsmen that the prayer which was held at the Dominion Hall of Osun Baptist Conference, Gbodofon, Osogbo, was also meant to ask God for peace and to nullify what he described as “anti-kingdom laws and dealings with satanic forces that are tormenting the state for the past few weeks.”
The cleric who also called for the return of mission schools to the original owners said, “we don’t want crisis in Osun because of hijab issue. Already, the state is being oppressed by the demonic spirit and evils as well as the country at large.”
It was also gathered that security had since been beefed up at Baptist High School, Iwo, where some female Muslim students dressed in hijab and their Christian counterparts donned in church garments, caused the drama that was witnessed on Tuesday, June 14.
The strong presence of fierce-looking security operatives at the Christian mission-founded schools caused panic among the pupils.
Saturday Sun gathered that at Baptist Girls High School, Adeeke area in Iwo, some armed policemen and operatives of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, were sighted at the entrance of the school, while at Baptist High School, Iwo, some Christian students who wore church garments to the school on Wednesday were stopped by security operatives from gaining entry into the premises.
The development almost led to an altercation between the security operatives and some members of CAN, who insisted that the pupils must be allowed access to the school.
It took the prompt intervention of the monarch of the town, the Oluwo of Iwo, Oba Abdul Rasheed Akanbi, to avert what would have degenerated into crisis in the town.
Students, teachers react
Two female students from Baptist High School, Osogbo, spoke to Saturday Sun on the nagging issue.
According to Blessing Ayoola: “As a Christian, I don’t need hijab and no one can force me to use it. I prefer wearing beret and I am comfortable with it. It is only female Muslim students that can use hijab on their school uniform.” Another student, Walimot Shittu said: “I am happy that the court has permitted us to use hijab. This is really good”, while Aishat Jimoh said: “I am a Muslim and I had been wearing hijab at home before the court injunction. I am happy that they now allow us to use it with our school uniform.”
A female student who preferred anonymity said the use of hijab by female Muslim students is not a big deal.
“Despite the fact that I am a Muslim, I prefer the beret and I am comfortable with it”.
Rachael Benjamin said: “What is this much ado about hijab? Is it the way we dress to school to reflect our religion that matters or the academic works that brought us to school? What if you dress as a Christian or Muslim but you are dull in the class? I think we should forget about hijab or church robe and face our studies or let everybody wear whatever pleases him or her.”
At Osogbo High School, the students also spoke. Stella Godwin, a Grade 11D student said:“I’m not aware of any directive that female Christian students should wear church garment to school. Although, I am a Christian, I cannot wear church garment to school, except the beret. I don’t even use beret because female Christian students have not been directed to use it. But if they ask us to use it, I will do.”
At Islahudeen Middle School, Oke-Oniti, Osogbo, Aweke Mary, a Grade 8B student said: “No one can compel me to wear church garment. I am not even aware of the speculation that Christian students should wear church garments to school. I can only wear beret if they ask us to do so. It is only female Muslim students that were asked to use hijab.”
A male Christian student who preferred anonymity said: “Let the Muslim girls wear their hijab. Let those of us that are Christians wear our church robes so that all of us can use the opportunity to propagate our religions in school. Our schools really need evangelists. The hijab crisis has given us the opportunity at last.”
Adewale Mariam, a Grade 8B student said:“I am happy that we have been permitted to use hijab on our school uniform. I have been using hijab at home before the judgment. ”
On her part, Aanu Adeyemo, a Grade 11D student said: “I am a Christian: If beret is made compulsory, I will use it, in as much as it won’t be more than that. Only female Muslim students were asked to use hijab. My friend, Kalimot Badmus, started using hijab in school last week when she heard about the judgment.”
The principal of the school, Alhaja Simiat Titilola remarked: “I think it is a welcome idea that female Muslim students can wear hijab on their school uniforms. It is their fundamental human right that has been supported by the laws of the land. In my school here, only female Muslim students wear hijab, while female Christian students wear beret if they wish. Some female Christian students don’t even wear beret. Some of them even want to use hijab and we don’t discourage them. But no one is forcing any female student to wear hijab in my school. No Christian student wears church garment to my school.”
No one can stop the hijab –Islam activists
Reacting to the raging controversy, a Muslim rights activist, Alhaji Yinka Salaam said: “ The use of Hijab by female Muslim Students is not supposed to be a matter of debate. It is a mandatory thing for those that are convinced to use it. Hijab is part of female Muslims’ dressing. No true female Muslim would ever come out without a hijab. It is a code of dressing for every Muslim woman. She wears it anywhere she goes because it has become part of her. Every Muslim lady by the Quran is supposed to put on the hijab. It is not by compulsion. It is different from occasional dressing.
“Some students that understand the doctrine wear it from home and when they get to the school gate, they remove it for fear of being punished by the school authority and as soon as they close and go out of the gate, they put it on. For them, it is a way of life. My position on the ongoing saga is that, since the law allows it, there is no reason why anybody should trample on the right. It is their personal right.
“Nobody has kicked against the use of beret by the Christian counterparts. It was given to them by the missionaries. The Muslims should be allowed to use their hijab and Christians to use their berets. If the Christian community are not satisfied with the court judgement, they should seek redress. They should not take laws into their hands and seek self help. They should allow peace to reign in our schools.”
Mutiu Jumu’ah, a teacher of Islamic ethics in Osogbo also said:“Allah has commanded all female Muslims to use hijab as part of their dressing. Going by the High Court judgment on the use of hijab by female Muslim students in public schools in Osun, I think no one should go against that because it is the verdict from the court of law that we all believe.
“Indeed, I read in the newspaper that CAN is not comfortable with the judgement. If they feel that they have been denied their right, they should go to the Appeal Court. I urge everyone to embrace peace in this state. We should tolerate one another”
For Taofeek Salahudeen, an Imam in a Mosque at the popular Olaiya Junction, Osogbo,“Hijab is compulsory for all female Muslim faithful as commanded by Allah and if any female Muslim refuses to use it, she is engaging in sin. Anyone going against that is not fighting anybody but Allah.
“Those who go against the use of hijab have no point. If they are not satisfied, they should go to court. But I urge all Muslims not to engage in any disagreement with Christians in a way that could lead to violence.” Alhaja Mulikat Taofeek said: “There are a lot of benefits in using hijab by female Muslims because the garment is meant to protect our modesty. So ,we must use it anywhere we find ourselves, including schools.”