Muslim Women and Usage of Hijab in Nigeria: Islam, The Society and Law Perspectives -By Abdulbasit Mahmood Adewole Esq.
Praise be to Allah, blessings and peace of Allah upon the soul of Prophet Muhammad, his household, companions and those who follow his path till the day whereon neither wealth nor sons will avail, except him who brings to Allah a pure heart [pure from polytheism and hypocrisy].
As a background, what prompted my decision to write about this topic is the recent cases of Bashirat Yunus Taiye and Medinat Sheu, the two sisters from Ilorin, Kwara State, who were allegedly reported to be maltreated and assaulted by their parents and close family relation for embracing the usage of Hijab. However, I’ll like to categorically state from the onset that by the extant provisions of the Nigerian law, it’s inappropriate to comment publicly on cases sub judice (i.e., cases already before the judge or court), as this can be an offence in itself, leading to contempt of court proceedings. This is particularly true in criminal cases, where publicly discussing cases sub judice may constitute interference with due process. Besides, I’m neither a party to the aforementioned cases nor am I amongst the team of lawyers representing any of the parties in court at present. Thus, the intendment of this write-up is only to educate and/or expose some facts relating to the subject matter, particularly, the usage of Hijab, vis-a-vis its position under the religion of Islam, the extant provisions of the Nigerian law, and the peculiar reactions by a large number of Muslims in Yoruba speaking States and/or cities, like my darling city, Ilorin, Gerin Alimi.
First, the usage of Hijab by Muslims forms an integral part of the Islamic religion; a clear, direct and express divine injunction. In Surah al-Ahzaab, Qur’an Chapter 33, verse 59, He (the Most High), says: “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies (i.e. screen themselves completely except the eyes or one eye to see the way). That will be better, that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed. And Allaah is Ever Oft‑Forgiving, Most Merciful”.
Hijab goes beyond the head scarf. In one popular school of Islamic thought, hijab refers to the complete covering of everything except the hands, face and feet in long, loose and non transparent garments. Muslim women are required to observe the hijab in front of any man they could theoretically marry. This means that hijab is not obligatory in front of the father, brothers, grandfathers, uncles or young children, even though, modesty in dressing should still be preserved.
In this contemporary era, most especially in the western world, the usage of the word ‘hijab’ has been narrowed to mean ‘the covering on the head of a Muslim woman.’ However, this is better described as ‘khimaar’, a convenient solution comprising usually one, but sometimes two pieces of cloth, enabling Muslim women to cover their hair, ears and neck while outside the home. In fact, Muslim scholars has pointed out that men’s turbans are sometimes called ‘khumur,’ the plural of ‘khimaar’.
For Muslim men, most Muslim scholars accept that everything between the navel and the knee is awrah (nudity) and therefore should be covered at all times. For Muslim women, the rules are more complicated. In front of unrelated men (Muslim or non-Muslim), women must cover everything except the hands and face. In front of close male relatives, awrah (nudity) is the navel to the knee, the stomach and the back. In front of other Muslim females, awrah is from the navel down to, and including, the knees, while awrah in front of non-Muslim women is a point of debate. Some scholars say that Muslim women should cover all but the hands and face. This is to prevent non-Muslim women from describing the appearance of the hijab wearer to other men. Other scholars say that if a non-Muslim woman can be trusted not to describe a woman’s appearance to other men, then the Muslim woman may reveal as much as she would in front of another Muslim woman in her presence.
In the same vein, it is well accepted by most scholars that while praying, women must cover everything except the hands and face. In the Hadith narrated by Aisha, Ummul Mu’minin: the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Allah does not accept the prayer of a woman who has reached puberty unless she wears a veil.
(Abu Dawud, Book 2, Number 0641). Also, the Muslim men are forbidden from dressing or acting like women, and vice versa, as it is evident in the hadith narrated by Ibn ‘Abbas that: Allah’s Apostle cursed those men who are in the similitude (assume the manners) of women and those women who are in the similitude of men. -(Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 72, Number 773).
Flowing from the above, it’s apt to state and conclude that the general principles of modest in dressing and related affairs in Islam is peculiar to both Muslim men and women. Both sexes are commanded to lower their gaze and “guard their modesty”. On this submission, I most humbly refer you to study the divine wordings and meaning of Suratun-Noor, Qur’an Chapter 24, vseres 30 and 31.
However, a proper understanding of the above referred verses indicates that the major purpose of modest dressing for Muslims, especially women, is for them to be recognised as practising Muslims and obedient servants of Allah. Further, this is to preserve their dignity, integrity and safety, so when they go out, they could not be assaulted or be mistaken for prostitutes or bad elements.
In the Nigerian legal context, the clear provision of section 38 (1) (2) (3) and (4), of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) which guarantees the freedom of thought, conscience and religion is apposite to this case. Also, sections 34, 35, 42 and 45 of the same constitution are relevant. By virtue of section 1(3) of that same ground norm (constitution), any other law that purports to go inconsistent with the provisions of the constitution shall be void to the extent of its inconsistency. The above Section 38 of the Nigerian constitution is in tandem with the international law provisions of article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantee freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the freedom to change religious belief.
The tensions occasioned by the interface between the freedom of religion, the right to manifest religious belief and the protection of the overriding public interest have been considered and laid to rest in plethora of Nigerian judicial authorities, like the case of Bashirat Saliu & 2 Others v. The Provost Kwara State College of Education, Ilorin, where the Court of Appeal held that the respondents had a constitutional right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and that the veil of the respondent qualified as a fundamental right under Section 38(1) of the Nigerian Constitution.
Also, in the case of Sheik Salaudeen Ade Olayiwola & 3 Others v The Government of Osun State, suit no. Hos/M.17/2013, the court declared that Article 8.2(v) of the “Guidelines on Administration and Discipline”, prohibiting the use of hijab in all public secondary schools and excluding government‑owned Islamic schools, was not only discriminatory against Muslim female students, but also was inconsistent with Section 38 of the Nigerian Constitution and a clear violation of the fundamental right of Muslim female students in public schools in Osun State to freedom of religion. So, the disciplinary guideline regarding hijab was null, void and of no effect whatsoever. The court also declared that acts of molestation, harassment, torture, embarrassment and humiliation to which Muslim female students in public primary and secondary Schools in Osun State were subjected constitute a clear infringement on the fundamental right of the said Muslim female students to religion, conscience and thought, as well as their fundamental right to dignity of human person and right against torture, inhuman and degrading treatment.
Truthfully speaking, in my darling Ilorin city, just like other Muslim dominated Yoruba cities situate in Nigeria; many parents, guardians and even Muslim clerics have not embraced the practice of Sunnah (the methodology of Prophet Muhammad) in toto. Many of them feel challenged, threatened, intimidated and/or scared to embracing the Sunnah in their respective homes and/or localities. The major practices of Sunnah they frown at include but not limited to; the issue of bowing or kneeling for elderly people and Muslim clerics as a sign of respect, wearing of Nisfu Sakh (trouser above the ankle) and keeping beards by the male Muslims, as well as usage of the full Hijab by their female counterparts. Although, these practices have been subject of debate amongst the righteous scholars, but the majority are in support.
However, the reasons for the aforementioned unfriendly reactions by the society aren’t farfetched. It’s a fact that some teeming young Muslims who have embraced the aforementioned Islamic practices fell in the wrong hands of religious leaders and/or guardians who themselves are deficient in the understanding of ‘aqeedah (Islamic creed) and Sunnah (prophetic tradition); this automatically results to why their followers could not religiously survive in the society. Specifically, some of the adherents of these Sunnatic practices are seriously deficient in akhlāq (manners) with others, usually, parents and elderly people around them; little wonder why the righteous contemporary scholars just like their predecessors kept emphasising on the significance of good manners and respect to everyone, especially the older generation.
Be that as it may, considering the fact that the aforementioned practices are either directly legislated by LawGiver (Allah Himself) and/or through his beloved Prophet Muhammad’s Sunnah, every living believer (whether old or young) is under an obligation to embrace and support it in all ramifications, as commanded by Allah in Surah Al-Hashr, Qur’an 59, Verse 7:
“…And whatsoever the Messenger (Muhammad SAW) gives you, take it, and whatsoever he forbids you, abstain (from it), and fear Allah. Verily, Allah is Severe in punishment.”
As for the Muslim clerics who are antagonists of Sunnah in our society, many of them have taken the Islamic religion as a moneymaking enterprise; through the gatherings and/or organisations they manage. This is a fact many of them would not want to accept. Being an ‘Alfa’ (Islamic cleric or teacher) or learned in the mastery Arabic language ordinarily ought to serve as an avenue to propagate and protect the religion of Islam with unadulterated Islamic teachings. The ‘Alfa’ or ‘Mallam’ title shouldn’t stop anyone with the Arabic and/or Islamic knowledge from having a distinct lawful business; work or trade to earn a living, except for those who teach the knowledge in schools that should ordinarily be entitled to remuneration (as might be agreed by the parties involved), just like those in other professions or works receives their deserved remuneration.
As for the lawyers handling the above subject matter in court, thank God, they’re all practising Muslims and well respected seniors at the Bar, so I’d like to remind them for the sake of Allah not to either twist facts; fuel the matter or engage in any form of bias or sentiments to win arguments for their respective clients. As ministers in the temple of justice, we should all remember the ‘vows’ we took before we were enrolled to practice as Nigerian lawyers and the ‘Rules of Professional Conducts’ as it relates to preserving the course of justice and acting within the bounds of law.
Most importatnly, as Muslim faithfuls, ‘the fear of Almighty’ and ‘our meeting with Him on the day of recompense’ should always be the ‘watchword’ in what ever we do, so we can be properly guided as regards our actions and inactions, for Allah is Ever-Watchful and never unjust in the least to His servants. Like my current principal, Hashim Abioye Esq., told me when I joined his law firm, our LL.B and B.L certificates should be used as tawasul (access or tool) to propagating the cause of Allah and preserving justice, irrespective of the parties and/or reward involved. None of the accolades or riches of this mundane is worth losing that of the hereafter. In Surah An-Nisa, Qur’an Chapter 4, Verse 135, Allah says:
“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor, Allah is a Better Protector to both (than you). So follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you may avoid justice, and if you distort your witness or refuse to give it, verily, Allah is Ever Well-Acquainted with what you do.”
Islam is an evidenced based religion. Its tenet stands on what Allah and His beloved Messenger who doesn’t speak out of his volition prescribes, not necessarily what the majority are upon. So, every living believer should be guided by the dictates of the Qur’an and the teachings of Sunnah in all their affairs. In Surah Muhammad, Qur’an 47, Verse 9, Allah specifically warns about frowning at what He has revealed and/or made permisible, while describing the attitude of the disbelievers thus: “That is because they hate that which Allah has sent down (this Quran and Islamic laws, etc.), so He has made their deeds fruitless. May we not fall in this category, by the grace of Allah.
In conclusion, the death of justice and the continuous crucifixion of fundamental rights in Nigeria can only be shielded using a holistic approach. It therefore behoves every believer and patriotic Nigerian to unify their support for the recognition and observance of the divine dictates, as well as the provisions of fundamental human rights of the citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
AbdulBasit Mahmood Adewole, Esq., is a Legal Practitioner, an ardent Writer and a Concerned Practising Muslim who writes from Osogbo, Osun State.
_Yawmul Ahad, 20th Dhul Qa’dah, 1441 AH; equivalent to Sunday, 12th July, 2020._
Call Bridget Edokwe Esq on 08060798767 or send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Lagos Chamber of Commerce International Arbitration center to hold Masterclass on Advanced Training on Contract Drafting & Dispute Management.
Win your Court cases today, Get Affordable Supreme Court Law Reports >> CLICK HERE
BESTSELLER: Get A-Z of contemporary laws of ELECTRONIC EVIDENCE in Nigeria By Alaba Omolaye-Ajileye. To ORDER, sms or call : +2347063666998, +2348159307051 or email email@example.com
Call 07044444777 or 08181999888. Visit our website: www.alexandernigeria.com/