Press Release: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MPAC Welcomes the Hijab Judgment in High Court, Kwara State
Muslim Public Affairs Centre, MPAC, rejoices with and congratulates the victorious Muslim female students of Kwara State College of Education who on Monday, 08 May, 2006, won a landmark victory in their case against the board of the college which had approved a dress code for students banning, in Article ‘J’, “dresses that allegedly cover the face and make the user unidentifiable.” The High Court in Kwara State, presided over by Justice Durosinlorun Kawu, ruled in favour of the female students and declared that the content of the Article ‘J’ of the school’s new dress code “is unwarranted, unfair, discriminatory…unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.” Judgments such as this are only capable of strengthening our society and we hope that this will become a trend that will be copied in other jurisdictions.
It is disgraceful that a centre of higher learning sought to create a discriminatory policy of such nature at a time that our nation needs clear direction in teaching morality and decency as core values to our youth. Many schools have successfully instituted non-discriminatory measures, including dressing codes, to effectively address and curb the underlying causes of indiscipline and indecent dressing on campuses. This is the type of action we need in our schools at this crucial period; to instill sense of piety, discipline and moral value in the minds of young impressionable student population that is rapidly becoming morally decadent. The attempt to deny the Muslim female students of the college their constitutional right is reprehensible as it specifically targeted the female Muslims and would only have punished the innocent.
The High Court consequential judgment must therefore be applauded as it has clearly shown that the school authorities in Nigeria cannot make laws that are independent of the Constitution and the laws of this country. This case and the courageous judgment are a celebration for the rule of law even though it is many years late as many female Muslims, inside and outside the school system, have detrimentally suffered from this common abuse.
The voice of Nigerian Muslim students is essential at this tenuous time, and they must rise to the occasion, in a dignified way, to express the core Islamic teachings that enjoin the use of hijab in its various forms by Muslim women and also they must make our values heard. This is an important duty; to work for the cause of their future on campuses and the society at large, with a noble vision, as they seek to cultivate a culture of pluralism, tolerance and coexistence for the advancement of all people on school campuses. Part of the efforts of making our values heard on campuses is to step up awareness initiatives of core Islamic teachings, by teaching authentic and mainstream Islamic principles and instilling confidence in Muslim women who wish to follow the Qur’anic injunctions on proper veiling (whatever form of this they wish to adopt); and also by educating non-Muslims about the status of hijab in Islam, as the paradox of Islamophobia partly remains that many people who discriminate against Muslim sisters due to hijab know very little about hijab. MPAC is particularly proud of the actions of the affected sisters in Kwara State College of Education who demonstrated that attacks on hijab cannot be met by reckless responses. An emotional, violent or reactionary response to attacks on hijab contradicts Islam. We are proud of them as sources of inspiration and good role models for other Muslims. We are proud of their belief in the rule of law and their resilience is worth of emulation by other students and victims of religious discriminations in our tertiary institutions, workplaces and in the larger society. Victims who, day after day, are forced to face the agonizing challenges of institutionalized Islamophobia.
As part of our campaign to tackle and rid our society of Islamophobia, MPAC pledges to be steadfast in supporting the Nigerian Muslim students and indeed all Muslims in combating the ideology of hatred from which open-ended bigotry and discrimination against hijab and other Islamic teachings are mostly created.
MPAC is deeply concerned with the present circumstances of seeming impunity of some public officers and employers who openly and illegally discriminate against Muslim sisters because of their hijab. The case of the 5 Muslim sisters that were expelled from NYSC camps in Cross-River and Rivers States in September of 2003 comes to mind at this junction. MPAC calls on the National Assembly to expedite actions and make specific laws of equality that will make it punishable for citizens and employers, including school authorities, to discriminate against Muslims thereby bringing our laws to match the vision of equality and protection as enjoyed by citizens of other countries. Freedom of religious cultural _expression and freedom of worship are both ennobled in our Constitution. We hope that the legal achievement in the High Court judgment in Kwara State will create a trend and lessons that will be adopted by those concerned as all Nigerians are guaranteed equal participation in public life. The real test of a democracy is not in what is said in the Constitution alone, but also in how it functions on the ground.
Commenting on the judgment, Abu Abdullah Ahmad, the Director of Administration at MPAC stated: “What is instructive from this case and judgment is that the students stood up to be counted when it mattered and the affirmative action they took by instituting the suit against the school authorities has placed them in the history books as victors against a system bent on subjugating the rights and privileges of its citizens… a system which attempts to ridicule the religions of people and disrespect its cultures”.