14th April, 2014
The Chief Medical Director,
Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH),
CONCERN ABOUT VICTIMISATION OF A HIJAB-WEARING MUSLIM NURSE AT THE LAGOS UNIVERSITY TEACHING HOSPITAL (LUTH)
MPAC is an incorporated public service agency working for Muslim Defence, Muslim Empowerment and the Promotion of individual liberties as well as religious, civil and political rights of Nigerian Muslims. As an experienced and independent voice within the Nigerian Muslim community working for the good of the society, MPAC operates on the core Islamic values of justice, mercy, human dignity, freedom, sanctity of human life and equality for all.
MPAC has received with grave concern the disturbing report of on-going victimisation of Sekinat Folake Abdulfattah, a hijab-wearing Muslim nurse, in the employ of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH).
As law-respecting and law-abiding citizens of Nigeria, we regard the respect for the rule of law as the cornerstone on which sustained peaceful relationship among the diverse people of Nigeria rests. It is, therefore, instructive, that our effort to understand the law on which the action of the authorities of the hospital was based convinces us that the action is nothing short of victimisation and discrimination.
While we are yet to come across any law – the Constitution or statute – which prevents the use of hijab (Muslim head-cover) in the workplace in any part of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, on the contrary, what we have before us, in addition to constitutional guarantees, is a relevant circular issued by the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria (NWCN), the regulatory body for the nursing and midwifery professions in Nigeria. The circular with reference number N&MCN/CMF/721/1/3 which was issued on 11th February, 2002 and copied to the heads of all public health facilities in Nigeria allows female nurses to “wear either a nurse cap or a shoulder-length hijab” (emphasis ours).
On the strength of this express guideline which subsists till date and which finds expression in many public hospitals across Nigeria, we are, therefore, taken aback by this willful victimisation of a Muslim nurse who has chosen to wear the “shoulder-length hijab” in your hospital. This flagrant action by the authorities of your public hospital not only constitutes an affront on the rule of law, it is an assault on the dignity of the affected person.
At this juncture, an elaboration may be in order. The hijab refers to the religious head cover worn by Muslim women. Like prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, certain religious celebrations, dietary and clothing requirements, hijab is one of the obligatory practices of the Islamic faith. As such, it constitutes an inalienable part of the practice of the Islamic faith and an expression of the freedom of religious choice which is well protected by the Nigerian Constitution.
It must be noted that while an individual Muslim lady may, out of her volition, choose not to adorn herself with hijab, it does not lie within the authority of any public servant, his/her high rank within the service notwithstanding, to order or direct any co-worker, no matter how lowly placed in status, to remove it, once she has chosen to wear it. Any such action would amount to victimisation and discrimination on the basis of religion which the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria vehemently rejects.
Indeed, as John Adams, one of the revered founding fathers and the second President of the United States of America once proclaimed, “ours should be a nation of law and not men.” As such, we believe that for us, as a multi-religious nation, to live in peace and harmony, the rule of law and not personal sentiments, must guide our official dealings. And, since the law is no respecter of persons, we agree with Lord Denning, the globally acclaimed English Judge, who once remarked, ‘Be you ever so high, the law is above you.’
We wish to remind the management of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) that it holds the Nigerian society a solemn duty to promote peace and peaceful co-existence by fostering an atmosphere, within its community, where the rule of law is well respected and where religious bigotry finds no space to thrive.
We, therefore, demand that the management of the hospital reflects the directive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council in its policy, fully respect the constitutional rights of the party involved and cease any action that may constitute a violation of the religious and personal rights of Muslim workers within its establishment. It must be strongly stated, however, that any default in respecting the subsisting law of the land would, without a doubt, expose your institution to legal action by the larger Muslim community.
While we hope for a quick resolution of this issue, we wish you Allah’s grace to lead aright.
Muslim Public Affairs Centre, MPAC