The Nigerian embassy in Washington DC on October 28, 2013 denied a Muslim sister in hijab who had gone for a biometrics appointment necessary to replace passport any service on the basis that she had to expose her ears. Even when the victim informed the attendant that she was wearing the hijab for religious purpose and as such could not expose her ears, an immigration attaché at the embassy intervened and insisted that the victim had to “because it is the law of Nigeria that ears must show”.
Also on March 4th, a Muslim brother went to the passport office in Ikoyi, Lagos to process his application for international passport. The brother was denied access to any service and was told that there was “a new directive that they should not snap people with beards due to the current security challenges in the country”. The brother was firmly told that unless he trimmed his beard he would not get his passport photograph taken.
These are not isolated cases, rather thousands of Muslim sisters are being harassed to “show your ears” (some even demand the removal of hijab) by those capturing images for ID purposes, especially by the Nigeria Immigration Service in Nigeria and at the different Nigerian foreign missions abroad. In particular, the Nigeria Immigration Service officials remain obstinate that they are following the “law of the land” when they make such unreasonable demand of Muslim women in head covering (not face covering). Yet, not a single one of them has been able to produce “the law of the land” when such was asked for or a shred of proof that such a law exists. They will not be able to do this because thousands of Muslim sisters already carry Nigerian (machine readable) international passport with hijab on and with both ears covered. Such inconsistency and obstinacy show the abysmal level or lack of education on the part of the overzealous officials or an example of the lowest standards of practice within the service itself. The image below represents what the United Kingdom publishes as guideline for visa and passport application, and as everyone can see, hijab with two ears covered is allowed. This example is not restricted to the United Kingdom alone, as further examples can be found in other Western and democratic countries. More importantly, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards which the Nigerian machine readable passport complies to specifically spell out that head covering for religious purpose is sufficient and acceptable. One wonders if Catholic nuns are asked to remove their habit or show their ears when taking pictures for ID purpose at the immigration centres, at the Nigerian Identity Management Commission, the driver license issuing centres (FRSCN), etc – or is this just a “Muslim thing?”.
As can be seen below from other guidelines and requirements in other climes, photograph for visa and passport applications allow the use of hijab in the way and manner that is is worn daily. Is it not commonsensical that a person in hijab who normally and daily wears it in the manner that shows the face and with both ears covered should be photographed like that for easier identification? Besides, this is also the best practice as can be seen in the links below. This is simply because Muslim women are religiously obligated to use the hijab which includes the covering of both ears. Also, MPAC expresses deep concern that bias against those in hijab is slowly spreading in some sections of the Nigerian society. These two sisters are only two out of many more that are experiencing animosity at the hands of bigots and extremists. Muslim women are constantly harassed at NYSC camps and by some Islamophobic employers because of their choice to wear the hijab. Even some state governments have openly demanded that students violate their religious principles in order to receive an education.
Letter & Press Release
- Hijab Discrimination: Letter to the Minister
- MPAC Expresses Deep Concern Over Discrimination Against Hijab
Hijab Right Enlightenment and Empowerment Campaign Materials
- ICAO Document 9303: Machine Readable Travel Documents
- International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Standard on Face Biometrics (including image capture) ISO 19794-5
- Australian Passport Photo Guide 2008
- HM Passport Office: Passport Photo Guidance
- UKBA Photographic Guidance
- US Passport: Guidelines and Requirements