The right of all Muslim women to wear the hijab in public must be protected, and this obligation falls on everyone, notably the government at all levels. The wearing of hijab by Muslim women is a Sunna as recommended in the Holy Qur’an; Allah says (interpretation of the meaning): “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 Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [al-Ahzab 33:59].
INTERVIEW: The wearing of the hijab is an individual choice which the collective seeks to protect: Barrister Ahmed Adetola-kazeem
— The Muslim Voice, Nigeria (@muslimvoicenig1) July 3, 2022
In accordance with the guidelines of Islam, Nigeria’s constitution permits Muslim women to wear the hijab. The Nigerian constitution states that all citizens are allowed to practise their religions as long as no harm or inconvenience is caused to other people. However, donning a hijab has also grown politically charged in the South West of Nigeria.
Muslim women in the same region face job discrimination because they wear the hijab, which most employers find unpatronizing. This is especially true in the banking industry. Similar to this, officials in some universities have made an effort to undermine the hijab by enacting dressing codes for its students. Some institutions forbid only the niqab, while others forbid all forms of the hijab, including the khimar. The students who are affected contend that the dress regulations go against their constitutionally protected fundamental freedom to practice and adhere to Islamic religious principles.
In Lagos State, the issue of hijab had been the subject of litigation in the past going as far as the Appeal Court. The court in 2016 ordered that females be allowed to wear the hijab to school. The Lagos State Government is on record to have appealed the ruling. In September 2018, some students in Lagos were barred from entering a school premises, though government sets up a panel to look into controversies. Meanwhile, on Friday 17th of June, 2022, the Supreme Court of Nigeria granted the use of hijab by female Muslim students in Lagos State Government-owned schools.
Kwara State Governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, approved the wearing of Hijab by female students in all schools in the state in 2021. Habeeb Idris, a Muslim student at the school, was killed earlier this year when a rally by the Muslim students was allegedly disrupted by hoodlums and security personnel at Baptist High School, Ijagbo in Oyun Local Government of Kwara State. This was due to the school management’s refusal to allow students wearing hijabs access to the school.
In this discussion, Lagos-based attorney Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem of Adetola-Kazeem Legal Practice is featured. Barrister Ahmed has areas of expertise in Arbitration and ADR, Medical and Health Law, Labour and Industrial Law, and Commercial Law. He founded and serves as executive director of Inmates’ Rights Advocacy Initiative, a nongovernmental organization that promotes the rights of prisoners and works to rehabilitate them. He discusses with Muslim Voice his viewpoint on the recent Supreme Court decision regarding the hijab, the colonial and African legal systems, the requirements for lawyers’ attire, and the Nigerian Constitution in general.
MV: Once again, can you expatiate on your perspective that the Supreme Court ruling is in good stead.
AA: We are yet to receive the certified true copy of the Judgment as at the time of responding to this question. What was clear was that the court upheld the Judgment of the court of appeal and resolved all issues raised in favour of the Respondents.
From the appeal court judgement that resulted into the Supreme Court judgement. Did the appeal court judgement, provide the basis for its judgement? What were the details?
The Appeal court provided the basis for the Judgment.
The basis was that:
- Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution (As amended) of Nigeria guarantees the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and freedom to manifest such beliefs in public and private.
- The Appellants (Asiyat and MSSN) were able to convince the court that the use of the hijab is a badge of honour, an emblem of modesty and mandatory to the Female Muslim faithful as provided for in the Quran (Q24:31 and Q33:59) and the Sunnah.
- The Court granted the use of the hijab after considering the provision of Section 38 and the well established Islamic principles on dressing, following an earlier decision of the Court of Appeal in, The Provost, Kwara State College of Education, Ilorin & 2 Ors v Bashirat Saliu.
- Denying the school children the use of their hijab was a violation of Section 42 of the constitution, which guarantees the rights of every citizen not to be discriminated against on the grounds of religion, ethnicity, sex etc.
- Though Section 45 provided that rights under Section 38 are not absolute, denial of the use of the hijab by the Lagos state government has no basis under Section 45.
- The court rejected the position of the high court Judge that Nigeria is a Secular State.
MV: Do you think that colonial impressions of the legal system need to be done away with so that we can evolve a uniquely African legal system (including our dressing)?
AA: That may be the way to go, it is however not going to come easy. The world has become so interwoven that some of the things one may term as African system or culture have been eroded and we have lost that uniqueness we could boast of in times past, largely because of technology- The world has become a global village. Another issue that may come in the way is the issue of religion and belief systems. The way to go may be to have options where individuals can decide which path they will like to follow.
On dressing, some common law jurisdictions have dropped the wig, while some use it in very limited circumstances. I think we are gradually getting to a point where we may need to rethink our dress code to court.
MV: Recently, Malcom Omirhobo was not allowed to engage the courts. What do the Court rules say on his dressing?
AA: The Rules guiding the Dress code of lawyers are the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007.
Rules 36 of the RPC provide that:
When in the courtroom, a lawyer shall be attired in a proper and dignified manner and shall not wear any apparel or ornament calculated to attract attention to himself. He shall conduct himself with decency and decorum, and observe the customs, conduct and code of behaviour of the court and custom of practice at the bar with respect to appearance, dress, manners and courtesy.
It would appear that Malcolm was in breach of the rules for tying red rapper and wearing ornaments which seeks to attract attention to him. The way he appeared was also against the customs and conduct of the bar with respect to dressing. The custom is to wear dark trousers and a suit and appropriate shoes.
He has, however hinged his new found dressing on the dictates of his ‘Olokun religion’ backed by Section 38 of the Constitution and the recent decision of the Supreme Court. It will be very interesting to see how the court resolves the issue after it would have listened to him and the lawyers who raised objections to his appearance in such manner in court. The questions the court will answer are, what does the rule say? What are the dictates of his religion with regards to dressing? Are the rules an infringement of his fundamental rights as enshrined in the constitution? Is his case distinguishable from the Lagos Hijab Judgment by the Supreme Court or is it on all fours? The determination of these questions and more will determine the fate of Malcolm Omirhobo.
MV: Does it clash with the sensibilities and rights in the Nigerian constitution?
AA: Well, this is for the court to decide. My personal opinion, however, is that the steps taken by Omirhobo were done in bad faith. His antecedents, comments, conduct before the judgment and afterwards attest to this. His agitation is both hypothetical and hypocritical at the same time. A Senior Advocate friend of his had mentioned in a WhatsApp group we all belong that he is not an Olokun Priest or whatever he claims to be but he is only using it to achieve an aim. According to his friend, he attends a Baptist Church in Isolo.
To show his hypocritical side, he had claimed that his belief system required him to work barefooted, but his clips at the Federal High Court, Lagos, showed him walking into the court premises with his slippers and he suddenly put it off few meters away from the courtroom.
MV: Some have argued that the issue is more about individual choice, group choice than collective choice. Why has group choice become important uniformity in schools now than in the past?
AA: The wearing of the hijab is an individual choice which the collective seeks to protect. The rights as enshrined in Section 38 have always been in our constitution, and the religious injunctions have been prescribed since over 1400 years ago.
In the past a lot of people looked for other options when faced policies that are not in tandem with just laws, e.g. not going to school at all, or doing the bidding of the authority against their will or attending private schools for those who can afford.
There is more awareness now and more people will try to exert their rights. It takes just one bold person who understands her rights and a good support system to achieve the ideal. And that is what we have witnessed in the case of Firdaus Amasa and Asiyat Abdulkareem.
Furthermore, as society is developing, unjust practices will be challenged and changed. Some Igbi women challenged the Igbi culture of only males inheriting their father’s property and won.
The Osu Caste System has also been challenged and found to be repugnant to natural justice.
Our common-law system is founded on Christianity, and has been the default on Nigerian systems since colonialism. Muslims who are by no means minorities now want to be properly accommodated within the system.
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