Jilbab Among the Nigerian Muslim Women: A Historical Study of Implementation

Nigeria is one of the most religious countries in the world where Islamic adherents outnumber believers of other faiths. According to a 2018 estimation by CIA World Factbook, the Muslim population in Nigeria is rated at 53.5%. Thus, it is not surprising that majority of the rulers the country has produced and (still) produces are Muslims. Analysing the influence of polygamy among other factors will be too demanding; I shall go straight to the topic. Jilbab, according to the English Dictionary, is a long loose-fitting coat or similar garment worn by some Muslim women to fulfil hijab—covering. It is also generally referred to as hijab. Islamically, it is an ordained cloth by Allah, for every Muslim girl who have attained the age of puberty. This is established in some verses in the Quran.

Quintessentially, Quran 33 verse 59 reads: ‘O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.’ Hence, the failure in the use of Jilbab by a mature Muslim woman is either consequential of heedlessness or disobedience to the will of God, with the latter being the main reason for the non-compliance. Some of the excuses are that: it conceals the beauty of the wearer; it attracts heat etc.

However, the use of Jilbab has achieved an appreciable compliance in Nigeria especially in the northern part of the country, and particularly among the Hausa. One will be forced to think that the Jilbab is a culture of the Hausa people when considering the percentage of wearers of the Jilbab. Moreover, the Jilbab also gained recognition in the southern part of the country, especially in the Southwestern subregion—among the Yoruba. This brings me to the question of implementation.

Having established the place of Jilbab in Islam, the implementation of the Jilbab by Nigerian Muslim women is another important matter to look into. As earlier hinted, the Jilbab gain more complaints in the northern region than the remaining regions in Nigeria, such that one might be ‘convinced’ that the Jilbab is an integral part of the Hausa/ Fulani culture. Such a person is not totally wrong when viewed from the way and manner the Jilbab is being used. Having gained contact with the Islamic merchants and preachers as early as the eleventh century—Borno, during the reign of Mai Umme Jilmi—before the later contact with the northwestern Hausa states—Kano, during the reign of Ali Yaji in the middle of the fourteenth century—, the northern people of Nigeria has been familiarise with the use of Jilbab much longer to the awareness of the Southern region. Thanks to the Uthman Dan Fodio Jihad of 1804, whose motif is still a subject of discord among historians of Nigerian history.

Although the northerners (at the time) failed in some other aspects of the religion, their compliance to Jilbab or Hijab is quite reckoning. As westernisation rises in Nigeria, the use of Jilbab began to undergo changes. Even though nearly all the Hausa women understand ‘they must wear the Jilbab or Hijab’, very few of them are acquainted with the rulings of Jilbab. As such, it is not uncommon to see an average Hausa woman opening some part of the Hijab in public while she reveals what the Jilbab was meant to cover. For an average Hausa woman, wearing Jilbab is like a Yoruba woman wearing Iro and Buba which can always be unwrap and rewrap anywhere and at any time. This act is very common among the Hausa/Fulani women living in the southern part of Nigeria. One wonders, what use is the Jilbab if it can be folded up or messed as common among the Hausa/Fulani Lagosians? Let me quickly point that, mandating the use of Jilbab as entrenched in the Quran and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, including the one that corroborate Khimar as a determinant for the acceptability of a woman’s canonical prayer: ‘Allah does not accept the prayer of any woman who has reached the age of menstruation unless (she is) veiled’, is not for compulsion sake; it is to promote decency in the Muslim society. Therefore, a person who wears the jilbab but does not care opening some part of it in the public has not met the condition of Jilbab.

In the southern part of the country, particularly in the south west, the use of Jilbab has also generate some attention. In the southern region where there’s a few adherents, the use of Jilbab is quite appropriate. However, adherence to the wearing of Jilbab in the southern Nigeria, is not totally religious. While it is obvious the fact that some people are forced to use it, a good number of its’ adherents wear it on the basis of facade,—many people see it as a means of concealing bad deeds and disclosing chastity. Such a person is the one who uses the Jilbab for examination malpractice. It is not also strange that some Jilbab sisters in the southern Nigeria who people think of as saints—or at least are expected to be more upright—are the ones acting otherwise on social media, not only extraordinarily adorning their garments but also exhibiting un-islamic acts.

Finally, the misconception of some religious concepts may not only lead to the rejection of a supposed beneficial act, the consequences of misconception and inappropriateness of religious rites on national augmentation cannot be overemphasized. Lest we realize that, neither the Jilbab nor Islam (generally) is an instrument and emblem of terrorism, as conceived by some power-hungry demagogues, and the West, whose experience of September 11 has been made to conclude that Islam is a prejudiced and terrible religion. An adherent of any faith should seek and acquire much knowledge of such faith in order to prevent ignorantly spreading of indecencies and mischief in the country, in the guise of religion.


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