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Why I stand with Firdausi Amasa

In the March 2016 edition of our newspaper, the Muslim Worldview, we did a cover story titled “The Hijabis are winning.” In it we told…

In the March 2016 edition of our newspaper, the Muslim Worldview, we did a cover story titled “The Hijabis are winning.” In it we told the story of five outstanding, hijab-wearing achievers, to make the point that using the hijab is no barrier to success. One of these five women was Judge Carolyn Walker Diallo, an African American civil court judge based in New York.

She made news last year when she took her oath of office, to abide by the US constitution, holding a copy of the Holy Qur’an. Needless to say, she had on her head the hijab. The image of this proud American Muslim woman flashed through my mind three days ago, when I heard the unfortunate story of how a young lawyer was refused her chance to be called to the Nigerian Bar, because she had on the hijab. 

At a time when institutions in the highly-secularized First World are accepting the fact that head covering is an integral part of a Muslim woman’s life, and are making allowances for it in the military, the police and in medical services as well as sporting activities, it is truly baffling that we, in Nigeria are fighting against it. 

From all the reports I’d read on the Law School incident, Firdausi Amasa Abdussalam, a graduate of University of Ilorin, had on only a small hijab, that covered her hair and her neck. Otherwise she was fully attired in her legal robes.  So what was it about her that violated their dress code? If she was wearing something that covered her robes or the white wig, then one could say she interfered with what was supposed to be a uniform. But her hijab did not conceal her robes and her wig was on top of it, so why was it so hard for the Body of Benchers to accept this young woman’s right to cover her head?

The fact that other young women were forced to remove their hijab, before entering the hall, was truly unfortunate because all of them had the right to observe their hijab as enshrined in our 1999 Constitution. In the last few years, there have been several court cases, instituted by students and uniformed workers, against schools, state governments and institutions that have banned the hijab. But serially, the plaintiffs have all won their cases due to the sheer weight of the constitutional provision for it. 

Firdausi Abdussalam was therefore, within her right to insist that she will not remove the hijab, at the Nigerian Law School on December 13th this year. What is amazing is how the legal luminaries assembled there failed to see that. Are they so blinded by their wish to remain enslaved to our colonial past, that they can’t see that even the colonial masters have moved on? If nurses and police women in the UK can observe their hijab, unhindered, why not a Nigerian lawyer?

The truth is, as some members of that Body of Benchers know, the hijab is obligatory on every Muslim female, once she reaches the age of puberty. Those who do not use it may not be forced to do so but it’s not because they have the right to abstain from it’s observance. This is why, on the other hand, those who want to observe their religious obligation, must not be forced to abstain from it. 

There are verses of the Holy Qur’an and numerous ahadith of the Rasulillah SAW that command and advocate the use of the hijab, so a Muslim woman who wants to abide by the tenets of Islam is totally under obligation to observe the hijab. This is why I stand completely with Firdausi Amasa Abdussalam on this. 

From eye witness accounts, Firdausi’s hijab was tucked neatly under her robes, which made every part of her legal attire visible, the irony is that other young women who use attachments or Bob Marley braids are actually using something that covers part of their robes. But no one finds faults with them because what they do is entirely fashionable while Firdausi’s dressing of modesty is religious and must be resisted. This is very unfortunate.

I would however like to advise the Body of Benchers and the NBA to make haste to call Firdausi to the Nigerian Bar at the earliest possible opportunity. She has not violated any law of the legal profession and must not be discriminated against because she chose to abide by her religious injunction. I have read somewhere that the so-called legal dress code that must not be tampered with, only applies to lawyers making court appearances not to students lawyers being called to the bar. Even on this basis alone Firdausi did not deserve her travails.

On the whole, it is high-time our religious leaders and representatives in the National Assembly, push forward our fight to observe the hijab wherever we need to. In the legal profession, on NYSC camps in all uniformed institutions in this country the hijab must not be banned. Maybe Nigeria is a secular state but since our constitution guarantees freedom of religion, Muslim women must be allowed to observe this religious obligation in peace.  

I am therefore urging the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, the JNI, FOMWAN, MULAN and other relevent Muslim organisations to take a firm stand on the issue of Firdausi Abdussalam and ensure that she gets justice. These organizations have to do what needs to be done now, to prevent a future occurrence at the Law School. 

If developed countries have embraced the hijab out of respect for Qur’anic injunctions, we in the Third World have no excuse to reject it for their sake. 

It is time we take a stand, and right now I stand with Firdausi Amasa Abdussalam.

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