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Nigeria: Muslims hit out amid national-service hijab row

27th Nov 2015
Nigeria: Muslims hit out amid national-service hijab row
By Rafiu Ajakaye


LAGOS, (AA) – Nigerian Muslims have rejected a ban on a ‘long hijab’ for female college graduates enrolling for national service.

One Muslim group has described the decision by the government agency handling the recruitment as “discriminatory, baseless and unacceptable”.

Graduates in Nigeria undertake a mandatory one-year period of national service. However, director-general of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) – Brigadier General Johnson Olawunmi – says the long hijab will not be allowed for “security reasons”.

A hijab is a headscarf worn by many observant Muslim females.

Extremist Boko Haram fighters have previously exploited a longer, flowing version of the garment in the northeastern region and other parts of the country to launch bomb attacks.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Aliyu Abubakar, general secretary of the Muslim Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) community group in northern Nigeria said:

“We are concerned that some individuals will wake up one morning and take decisions with far-reaching constitutional implications.

“Definitely the pronouncement by [Olawunmi] is unacceptable as it amounts to punishing the whole for the sins of some misguided people.

“It will amount to violations of the rights of Muslims to ask them not to wear hijab.”

The consequences of being dismissed from the NYSC are serious; many employers in Nigeria require a national service discharge certificate.

Hundreds of people have been killed in Boko Haram suicide attacks on soft targets in northern Nigeria, with explosives often detonated by underage girls or women which reports say conceal the lethal devices under a long covering.

“The security situation in the country is tough. There is the danger of somebody using [long] hijab for other reasons,” Olawunmi told local media, responding to criticisms from Muslims.

“There have been cases where young girls put on hijab and eventually turn into suicide bombers. Boko Haram members know how to get at whoever they want as a target. That is why we frown at the wearing of the long hijab.

“Please call on all your Muslim youths to be patient and adhere to [the new rule], just for a short period during the camp,” Olawunmi added.

However, Muslims say the explanation for the ban is simplistic, questioning why, for example, the government has not banned underwear despite some women having been caught hiding illegal drugs in their undergarments.

Others have queried why army uniforms have not been banned due to some armed robbers wearing them to escape arrest.

Abubakar questioned whether the NYSC was speaking for himself or the government, insisting that such “policy statements, such as the one he just made, are to be made by government after thorough discussion and debate by relevant stakeholders”.

Abubakar added: “At such debates, all issues would be considered. In this instance, ignorance is not an excuse.

“The issue of the hijab is a religious one and it has constitutional implications. One individual cannot just wake up and issue a statement with fiat. It is not acceptable.

“It is unfortunate that this kind of impunity is going on when we have laws. The director general must come out to say whose position he was communicating: that of government or a religious group.”

Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), a prominent NGO, has also faulted the decision which it dismissed as “reckless, baseless and preposterous”.

“No public officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should speak in such manner. The pronouncement smacks of power drunkenness. It is a hate statement.

“The director-general needs to purge himself of Islamophobia,” MURIC Director Ishaq Akintola said in a statement.

“Brigadier General Johnson and his ilk are hiding behind the security challenge facing Nigeria to implement a hidden agenda, namely, to stigmatize Muslims and to embarrass our daughters and wives who wear hijab,” he claimed.

Akintola described the wearing of the hijab as an “integral part” of the dress of Muslim women, saying that banning it would not be acceptable.

“Is General Johnson aware that female Muslims in the British police use hijab on top of their uniform?

“Can he tell us how the hijab disturbs a [national service] uniform? Does the DG know that hijab is an integral, nay, the most vital part of a female Muslim’s dress?” he added.

Nigerian Muslims have previously campaigned successfully against earlier proposed bans on the hijab.

Author: Rafiu Oriyomi Ajakaye
[Photo: Muslim women praying in Lagos. Photographer: Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency]

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