"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: Hijab as Red Meat of Bigotry

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Hijab as Red Meat of Bigotry

 By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

In my home state of Kwara, which used to be proverbial for its peaceableness and inter-religious harmony, recriminatory disputes over whether female Muslim students should be allowed to wear the hijab as part of their school uniforms in historically Christian missionary secondary schools that are now government-owned is fueling tension and fears of extensive internecine violence.

This controversy is personal to me because I’m a Muslim who attended historically Christian missionary primary and secondary schools in the predominantly Muslim Baruten (former Borgu) part of Kwara State. Anyone who is familiar with Kwara State would know that the Baatonum-speaking Baruten Local Government in the westernmost fringe of Nigeria’s border with Benin Republic is the state’s least developed, most neglected area.

The earliest schools (and hospitals) in the area were established not by the government but by American Southern Baptist Christian missionaries who first appeared in my hometown in 1948. Until the early 1980s, Christian Religious Knowledge (or, as it was called then, Bible Knowledge) was compulsory in Baptist Grammar School, my alma mater, even though the federal government had urged the take-over of missionary schools by the 1970s.

I was in the second cohort of students who had the latitude to take Islamic Religious Knowledge as an option for religious education in my secondary school, but the school still observed its Christian traditions (such as requiring all students, most of whom were Muslims, to sing Christian hymns in morning assemblies), and the Nigerian Baptist Convention still determined who became principal and vice principal of the school.

Sometime in my final year of high school, a native of my hometown who lived in Sokoto for decades and returned with degrees in Arabic and Islamic Studies got a job to teach Islamic Studies at this Baptist Christian Missionary secondary school that was now fully funded by the Kwara State government. One of the first things he advocated was that Muslim students should have a separate morning assembly so that they won’t be required to sing Christian hymns and listen to Christian morning devotion.

I opposed him. And I was supported by other students, more than 90 percent of whom were fellow Muslims. When the man discovered who my dad was, he was mortified and decided to have a word with my dad about his “Shaytan” [Satan] of a son.

To his astonishment, my father, who also studied Arabic and Islamic Studies and taught it at the by then government-funded Baptist Primary School, said the man was wrong to disrupt the decades-old tradition of my secondary school. He reminded him that American Christian missionaries built the school with their money at a time the government didn’t even acknowledge people in my place existed, and that in spite of decades of proselytization, Christian missioners didn’t get many converts.

He advised the man to use his education and vast network to attract Muslim entrepreneurs to build a Muslim secondary school in the community to compete with my alma mater. My father said he would only draw the line if the school had insisted that Muslims convert to Christianity as a precondition to be enrolled in it (he missed out on the education American missionaries offered in the 1940s and 1950s because he refused to convert to Christianity like some of his siblings did), but stressed that no knowledge is ever wasted.

More than a decade after this conversation, the idea that no knowledge is a waste materialized for my father’s much younger first cousin who attended Baptist Grammar School at a time Bible Knowledge was required for even Muslim students. He had A1 in Bible Studies, but still remains a staunch Muslim. Now a medical doctor in Kaduna, he was caught in the crossfire of the sanguinary ethno-religious upheaval in Kaduna in 2000 that pitted Muslims against Christians.

 In the same day, a Christian mob mistook him for a Fulani because of his light complexion and a Muslim mob mistook him for an Igbo for the same reason.

His entreaty to the Christian mob that he wasn’t Fulani was rebuffed by a counter claim that he was a Muslim because his forehead showed evidence of repeated contact with the ground. He lied that he was a Christian. The bloodthirsty mob baying for Muslim flesh asked him to prove his claims by reciting John 3:16. That was easy-peasy for a man who attended Christian missionary schools and got A1 in Bible Knowledge. He escaped the jaws of death.

Just when he was about to get to his home, he encountered a Muslim mob baying for Christian blood. He pleaded with them that he was a Muslim. They insisted he was Igbo and asked him to recite surat-ul-fatiha, the first chapter of the Qur’an, to prove his Muslim bona fides. He said he could do better than that; he recited Surah al-Baqarah, the second and longest chapter of the Qur’an, instead, which most of his would-be murderers couldn’t recite. He survived.

I lived in Kaduna and covered the upheavals for the Weekly Trust at the time. When I visited him and heard how he escaped death by the whiskers from two groups of murderous thugs who claimed to be fighting for their religions, I recalled what my father said about no knowledge being a waste. 

Nonetheless, while Christian missionary schools have unquestionably done a lot to expand access to education and equip people with lifelong and lifesaving skills, we must recognize that Nigeria has evolved. Part of that evolution is the emergence of the hijab as a symbol of female Muslim identity.

In more ways than was the case when I came of age in Nigeria, many, perhaps most, Muslim women have been socialized to see the hijab as the definitive sartorial assertion of their Muslim identity. Perhaps precisely because of this fact, the hijab now stirs negative emotions in so many Christians.

 We need to have an honest national conversation about why the hijab triggers such extreme bitterness and hostility in some Nigerian Christians. Why has it been weaponized to stir bile and reinforce toxic prejudices against Muslim women when its wearing doesn’t hurt Christians?

In Kwara State, two separate court judgments (a high court judgement and an appeals court judgement) have upheld the rights of female Muslim students to wear the hijab as part of their school uniforms in schools that were historically owned by Christian missionaries but that are now hundred percent government funded. 

There are now only two options left for these schools: either appeal against the judgements by lower courts at the Supreme Court or obey the Kwara State government’s court-sanctioned directive that Muslim students be allowed to observe the hijab.

Instead, ChannelsTV reported on March 17, officials of Baptist School in the Surulere area of Ilorin, physically turned back hijab-wearing Muslim students from entry into the school in the aftermath of the Kwara State government’s reopening of former Christian missionary schools it had closed to protest the schools’ discrimination against Muslim students’ sartorial choices. The lawlessness by officials of Baptist School ignited violence.

Since these former Christian missionary schools are now public institutions that are fully funded (or underfunded) by the government, it isn’t reasonable to insist that Muslims enrolled in them can’t wear their hijabs— if they choose to— even after two court judgements say they can. That’s theocratic tyranny.

“State of harmony” is the number-plate slogan Kwara State cherishes about itself, but as Steve Goodier once said, “We don't get harmony when everybody sings the same note. Only notes that are different can harmonize. The same is true with people.”  In other words, it’s our ability to accept and live with our differences that can ensure harmony, not unnatural uniformity or mechanical sameness. 


Unknown said...

I did my NYSC in Muslim High School, Oro, Kwara State which had a roll of Christian and Muslim students. There was nothing like Muslim or Christian Chemistry, it's Chemistry for everyone.
The goal of education is for harmony, not disharmony. It's very petty that in 2021 we are having such an inane conversation about hijab wearing instead of discussing about the content (currency and relevance) of our educational offerings.
Our brand of religion and education in Nigeria is just retrogressive. Quelle domage.

Macka Chukwu said...

The irony of this brouhaha is that most of religionists that are fanning embers of disharmony have their children in private schools while turning public ones to battleground.

abiola said...

I was angry at the development in Kwara, and this is the same story across board, we claim to be religious but zero evidence in our lifestyles. Claiming to love God when we haven't tried loving our neighbors is just a waste of His Mercies and Graciousness. I grew up in Zaria, Kaduna and Joe, and witnessed the terrible effects of religious bigots and extremist who take advantage of ignorant followers to peddle falsehood. May God help us

Ismail Hashim Abubakar said...

Thank you Prof Kperogi for this well articulated piece. I must commend your bravery to call a spade a spade even if some people's oxen are gored. Despite the persecution of Muslims by the Christians in Nigeria, as your essay evidently illustrates, you can still hear some noises from some Christian quarters about religious intolerance and bigotry directed at Muslims. The funny thing with these people is that in their attempt to always compete with Nigerian Muslims, they can afford even to defy clear Christian injunctions. Otherwise, the Bible teaches the women to cover their body much in the same manner as Muslim women do.
Conversely, although Muslims have expressed their dismay over Mathew Kukah's attempt to baptise the Muslim children in his controversial Almajiri initiatives, there has never been a recorded violence as a way of resistance.
Truth is always bitter Prof Kperogi.

Ismail Hashim Abubakar said...

Thank you Prof Kperogi for this well articulated piece. I must commend your bravery to call a spade a spade even if some people's oxen are gored. Despite the persecution of Muslims by the Christians in Nigeria, as your essay evidently illustrates, you can still hear some noises from some Christian quarters about religious intolerance and bigotry allegedly directed at Christians. The funny thing with these people is that in their attempt to always compete with Nigerian Muslims, they can afford even to defy clear Christian injunctions. Otherwise, the Bible teaches the women to cover their body much in the same manner as Muslim women do.
Conversely, although Muslims have expressed their dismay over Mathew Kukah's attempt to baptise the Muslim children in his controversial Almajiri initiatives, there has never been a recorded violence as a way of resistance.
Truth is always bitter Prof Kperogi.

Ugoh Chinecherem Stanley said...

I did my NYSC in Niger state, particularly in Kontagora LG. It was the same case of Government taking over Christian Schools and forcing Muslims values to reign. In every nook and cranny of Niger state was Muslim school, most of them less standard and poorly funded that government need take over them but government didn't. In those schools, was also Christian students who were forced to say Muslim prayers, songs and do Islamic studies, no complain about that. The govt didn't see any need to take over the Islamic schools but with all urgency take over most of the Christian school, well funded and managed. One of the schools taken in Niger state was St. Michael school. The government took over it, rename it, change all their teachers and employ new teachers all entirely Muslims. Now, as I write that school is 99.9% Muslims. St. Michael Catholic Cathedral have to abandon the whole property to the government just to build new schools, because there is need to teach Christian values and character to their students in school. But, surprisingly, as I write now, there are evidences that government are planning to take over the church school again.

Now just as in Niger state, in Kwara state, there are Muslims schools everywhere like, Darul Qualam school, Dhikroo Islamic International school, An-nur Islamic school, Ansarul Islam Secondary school etc. The list is endless. The government did not bother to take over the Islamic schools, Why the take over and domination of the few Christian schools.

I don't have any issue with Hijab and I don't think most of my fellow Christians do. But why the dominance. Most of my friends are Muslims and I feel very comfortable with it. But if we have really evolved as you say, let there be fairness, equality, love and respect in our dealings.

If Government want to take over the whole school let it be known and let it be taken fully. And now when it's taken 70% of rights will be reserved to the former Muslim schools and 1% for the former Christian schools. Or Christian schools will be taken while Muslim schools will not be taken.

This should be the least topic of discourse in the midst of problems bedevilling our country.

Using government power to crucify and dominate a religion show that we have not really evolved.

Everybody can't be Christian and everybody can't be Muslim. With Mutual respect and fairness we will be Great.

abiola said...

If there was another word stronger than inane, I would have borrowed you. Just imagine the nonsense we have to deal with in 2021.

Daniel Okoh said...

Sir, I understand that the school in question is now government owned but, I have a question to pose, in an Islamic school for instance, can a female student attend classes without hijab?

Unknown said...

The question is why the prejudices against Hijab when clearly it has no positive or negative effects on the Christian believes?.
It does not hurts them in any form, it does not change the name or practice of the Church. Hijab is a choice even to the Muslim girls. Its not mandatory.
But the question is are they telling Nigerian they are above the Law.Same CAN ignited the Fire that almost consumed Billiri in Gombe and are still playing same Cards in Kwara State.
Govt should call them to order.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this piece Dr Farooq, I just want to ask, what were the Muslim mobs doing while the younger cousin was reciting Suratul Baqarah, the Surah will take atleast 1hour 30minutes รณ. Did they sat that long or he only read few verses?

Unknown said...

I appreciate your candour on this very volatile matter. What is still confusing to many is making a difference between grantaided & take over. Are these schools because they are grant aided been taken over by the government? Or are the schools just grant aided? There is a speech delivered by Gov Bamigboye in 1974 stating that the schools would only be grant aided but not taken over, meaning the schools among other things retain their religious outlook.
Be that as it may, I believe if by omission or commission the government took over the schools once it began grant aiding the schools, and expect the schools built by Christian missionaries and named as such will agree to having Muslim emblems on their grounds, then the minders of government were shortsighted. Then the take over is faulty without rebranding. Just as Muslims will not allow Christian emblems on their premises, i think it will be unfair to believe Christians will allow Muslim emblems on their own premises. We know how religion is volatile in the country, unfortunately, with that in mind, let every religion be accorded its own space and respect. Will Ansarudeen for instance allow Christian emblems such as a crucifix on its premises? I don't think so. I believe there are enough schools/space for each faith to practice its tenets undiluted, if the government want it so. This is the mind of the Christian school stakeholders, it's not about rubbishing Islam. It's about respect our space.

Babatunde Adeniji-ilori said...

Religion is very volatile and and also sentimental issue in our country.L every religion have it's free space without any external force or interference.

Obadarijosin said...

The court ruling stated that any female Muslim that wishes to use the hijab should be permitted to use it not a must on every female Muslims

Unknown said...

You are so very correct. It's obvious the Kwara state governor is delibrately trying to turn all the Christian Schools to Muslim

Unknown said...

Vanguard: HIJAB CRISIS ESCALATES: Schools belong to churches, CAN dares Kwara governor.

Unknown said...

Nice submission but some facts stated are doubtful. When government take over missionary schools, it all across. Not just happened in Kwara or Niger. Otherwise, CAN in those states would have used legal steps to correct the government policies that are not cutting across.

Unknown said...

You did mentioned some schools in your response which are private schools except Ansarul Islam.

Kindly do some research on the schools the government took full control over. It was both Muslim and missionary schools.

Eddie said...

For education to take it's rightful place, the state must be dispassionately secular. That mean we reserve religious teachings and behaviours to our places of worship. If churches and mosques can not teach their adherents moral instructions that is their cup of tea. CRK and IRK, should not be part of curriculum of education in a truly secular state.

Eddie said...

Prof Kperogi, many thanks for your insightful write up on the Kwara hijab squabbles. As a scholar, you ignored one most valid conclusion: No secular state should encourage religious teachings and behaviours in institutions of secular learning. Both Christians and Moslems keep quiet when they learn evolution which teachings denied the God they both presume to worship. That is beside my point. Speaking professionally did Kwara Govttake over mission schools to enforce academic advancement and to preach secularism? That is the issue Govt have failed to realize. Even the courts of a secular state did not see that too in its judgements. We seem to hide fact killing the nation that should take the lead in secularism. Also, your statement 'theocratic tyrant's is absurd. Rule by God could be tyrannical, I beg your pardon.

Unknown said...

Enter your reply...
Christains forced to sing islamic songs? What songs? Bro you most be an absurd dimwit lier. We muslims dont have songs or hyms as in the Bible. So its obvious you have never been to the north. You just sat in a brothel or beer parlor in a errossion degraded suburb of onitsha and creat this story. fae

Ismail Hashim Abubakar said...

Does that mean Saturdays and Sundays be abolished as weekends and work-free days because they already have a distinct and symbolic tinge of Christian faith?

Ismail Hashim Abubakar said...

What do you mean by saying Nigeria should go secular? This is not found in Nigeria's constitution. After all, many national symbols are observances are distinctly Christian. So, whether Nigeria should or should not adopt secularism, hijab is an inalienable right for Muslim females.