A Statement Released To The Media By Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) Led By Prof. Ishaq Akintola
Sequel to the hijab brouhaha which broke out recently in the State of Osun and whose dust is yet to settle, the Lagos headquarters of the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has been inundated with complaints from concerned Muslims in Yorubaland.
It is becoming clear that the areas of misunderstanding go beyond the issue of use of hijab by students in public schools. Though the central theme is still hijab, it has extended to persecution, stigmatization, deprivation and prevention of adult women in hijab from performing their civic responsibilities and enjoying social services and amenities provided for all citizens by the government.
Reference has been made to ugly incidents in public places and the earlier those issues are addressed the better for peaceful coexistence in the South West. It appears the sub-region is sitting on a keg of gunpowder and the so called tolerance and peaceful coexistence in the area is nothing more than a mirage.
Millions of female Yoruba Muslims were disenfranchised during past voters’ registration exercises for the 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 elections on account of their use of hijab. They were told the machine could not ‘capture’ their faces if they wore hijab. Whoever wanted to vote very badly among them had to derobe.
It must be noted that it amounts to publicly undressing a Muslim woman when she is asked to remove her hijab in public. It is dehumanization of the highest order. Yet those officials did it. We affirm that South West Muslims are facing organized persecution. We are crying out to the state governments of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti to do something about it before it becomes open crisis.
Millions of other hijab-wearing Yoruba Muslims are still being denied possession of the national identity card today. They came forward to be photographed but the officials told them they must remove their hijab. Muslim men were asked to remove their caps or turbans. Some returned home in despair. Others succumbed out of frustration and helplessness. The experience of Muslim women in hijab is the same when they attempt to get international passports. They are asked to remove the hijab.
The hypocrisy in the system becomes glaring and shocking when one finds that hijab-wearing women face no problem at all when they go for the national identity card or the international passport in Kano, Sokoto, or any other city in the North. So why so much hate in the South West? Why is the system applying double standard? Where is the South West tolerance some people are talking about? It doesn’t exist. It is a sham, a myth. We must also ask why different rules are being applied for the same hijab in the same country by the same agency and under the same constitution?
Human rights activists will agree that these are civil liberty matters. We affirm that they are being ignored at our own peril. Like a people sitting on kegs of gun powder, our actions or inactions are bound to catch up with us some day. Our democracy remains a fraud until South West Muslims become free from this kind of stigmatization.
It is common knowledge that, Christian missions disallow female Muslim children from using hijab because they claim that they own the schools (which is false of course since all public schools belong to the government). But were the schools built mainly for the purpose of discrimination and persecution? This attitude has exposed Christian missions as groups with a robust appetite for forceful conversion and a strong passion for the enslavement of fellow Nigerians. These qualities stand in sharp contrast to the democratic values of liberty and the dignity of the human person.
The passion of Christian missions for forceful conversion via coercion and intimidation will make Nigeria’s founding fathers turn in their graves. This cannot be the Nigeria of their dream. We assert that Muslims deserve the dividends of democracy because people like Alhaji Ahmadu Bello and Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa took part in the struggle for Nigeria’s independence. Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, the hero of modern democracy, was a foremost Muslim who paid the supreme sacrifice to liberate Nigerians from military tyranny.
Therefore Muslims should not be pushed to the background when it comes to sharing the dividends of democracy. The freedom to use hijab in any public place, including schools, is one of the dividends of democracy and whoever denies it has committed a crime not only against womanhood but against humanity as a whole.
Christians always cajole Yoruba Muslims that they are different from Northern Muslims in terms of tolerance and peacefulness. But what they are really saying is that they enjoy it when they provoke or humiliate Yoruba Muslims or when they deprive them of their rights and the latter still keep quiet and do nothing.
The state governments in the South West must check the excesses being committed against Muslims in the zone. Nobody should blame Muslims for resisting oppression if the authorities fail to act. It is our sincere hope that they will not wait until Muslims start organizing public demonstrations before they do the needful.
True to the motto of our organization, ‘Dialogue, Not Violence’, we do not issue threats. We believe in dialogue and civilized behavior. But nobody should underrate the ability of Muslims in Yorubaland to embark on legitimate and peaceful actions aimed at registering their displeasure over this modern day slavery.
In conclusion, we call attention to the danger that lies in frustrating legitimate civil rights demands. It is our hope that the actualization of our just demands will not be delayed until they are hijacked by extremist and violent groups who do not share our ideology of pacific activism. Justice is the soul of peace.
Professor Ishaq Akintola,
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC)