5th November 2013
Honourable Minister of External Affairs
Honourable Minister of Internal Affairs
Discrimination Against Hijab at the Nigerian Embassies in the United States and Jamaica
Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC) wishes to bring to your attention the victimization of Muslim women in hijab at the Nigerian embassies in Jamaica and the United States. In a spate of two weeks, MPAC was contacted by two victims of these incidents that border on discrimination, harassment and public humiliation. 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 her international passport, any service on the condition 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“. In a related but more bizarre incident a week earlier, Ambassador Olatokunboh Kamson of the Nigerian High Commission in Jamaica publicly humiliated a Muslim sister who was attending a monthly meeting of Nigerians resident in Jamaica under the aegis of Association of Nigerians in Jamaica (ANJ). During a normal introductory session at the meeting, Ambassador Kamson openly called the sister “egungun’ (meaning: masquerade) as she stood up to introduce herself as others were doing.
That the ambassador stooped so low as to call a person in hijab by such a derogatory name is not only alarming, that he did so during an official and public meeting makes the action grotesque and unacceptable. Ambassador Kamson may be the Nigerian High Commissioner in Jamaica, but his views on hijab were not only offensive and wrong; they were also pernicious and reek of open bigotry. His action was disgraceful to the office he holds as well as a gross violation of authority. Ambassador Kamson’s office and person is maintained by Nigerian tax payers’ money, which include taxes paid by Muslims in hijab. Ambassador Kamson is the President’s highest-ranking representative to Jamaica and a certain level of decorum is expected of public servants who should not target hapless citizens with their uncouth words. While many government offices do tolerate hijab, it is regrettable that our foreign missions, or at least some of them, conduct their businesses in a way that compromise the principles of equality, human dignity, justice and freedom. We expect that the embassies/high commissions, more than some other government institutions, ought to be exposed to and absorb the best practices in other foreign missions and other climes with their principles of diversity, inclusion and respect for all faiths.
The sisters involved in these incidents believe that hijab is part of their faith, and they are as educated, enlightened and urbane as their peers in other faith groups. That they have decided to put on the hijab is a conscious decision which cannot be taken away by any misguided government official. The issue of the Hijab is one that unites all Muslims as it is an integral part of a Muslim woman’s right to practice her religion. The Hijab is the covering worn by millions of women the world over following the revelation in the Holy Qur’an: “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty…And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and adornments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers…(a list of exceptions)” [Chapter 24, verses 30-31]
Further: “O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons…that they should be known and not molested.” [Chapter 33, verse 59].
In one tradition, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is quoted as saying: “…If the woman reaches the age of puberty, no part of her body should be seen but this” — and he pointed to his face and hands. The strength of a Muslim woman’s conviction that the hijab is an inalienable part of her identity and strength of faith is evident when one considers the challenges that they have faced and continue to face because they refuse to give in to their oppressors – those who are trying to take their right to observe the hijab away from them. We therefore respectfully urge your Excellency to secure justice for these victims, and others like them.
Surely, MPAC is not alone in its revulsion and outrage of these incidents, and your prompt action, clear guidelines and public statement on the use of hijab and specifically on these incidents will assure the entire Muslim community that your ministry has zero tolerance for bigotry; that humiliating someone who is “different”, is not OK; that there is no price tag to religious freedom/expression, personal dignity and honour; and that Nigerian embassies/high commissions are a safe and welcoming place to all Nigerians.
Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC), Nigeria.
- Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA)
- Comptroller-General, The Nigeria Immigration Service