“Islamophobia is a global phenomenon that has been plaguing the world for a long time. Since the 9/11 attack, and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, the global imperialist have created a biggie man in Islam and Muslims. So knowingly or unknowingly millions of people have been programmed to be Islamophobic.”
A Look at the Anti-Hijab Violence in Kwara, Nigeria
Last week in Kwara, a Nigerian State located in the North-Central subregion, a crisis erupted which was primarily as a result of a debate on whether female Muslim students wear hijab in government-owned schools that were once owned by Christian missionaries.
The Genesis of the Crisis
In the 1940s, American Southern Baptist missionaries established some schools in today’s Kwara State, including the Baptist School Surulere in Ilorin, the state’s capital.
As once a colonial entity, what we have today in Nigeria are schools that were built by Christian missionaries across various states. In 1974 during the military days in the country, the schools were taken over by the military. Today, a host of these schools are owned by state governments and funded by them as well. In essence, laws by the state government in which these institutions are located are bound to them.
The Recent Confrontation
The debate has led the warring parties to seek legal backing for their stance. In two different judgments from the High Court and Appeal Court, the missions have lost and the rights of female Muslim students to wear the hijab as part of school uniform were upheld. The matter is now at the country’s apex court, the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
It all started more than a month ago, where some staff of Saint Anthony Secondary School prevented female Muslim students from entering the school. Then, there was no reported case of bloodshed.
A month after, on March 17, Christian officials of Baptist School Surulere disallowed students in hijab access into the school, a development that was vehemently resisted by some Muslim parents. The encounter later degenerated after parents threw stones and plastic chairs at one another, making it bloody. The school was closed and rioters dispersed with teargas.
According to Baptist Conference in Kwara State, not more than 20 people were injured during the face-off, including four pastors.
Islamic Activists React
Since the happenings, Muslim rights activists in Nigeria have been condemning the decision to ban hijab in the aforesaid schools, describing it as Islamophobic.
“But if you look at the issues of Islamophobia from a global perspective, then you can see how the case of Nigeria is part of a larger scale hate and fear promoted against Islam,” renowned Nigerian-based Muslim rights activist, Zainab Zakariyah, told The Muslim Vibe.
She added that “the issue of the ban on hijab is not new in many developed countries, France as a case in point. However, in the case of Nigeria, I don’t believe the ‘missionary’ schools have the right to stop any Muslim student from using her hijab since these schools are under government control and this is a democracy. Had it been these missionary schools are still under their churches perhaps we can argue over whether or not they have a right. For me, this issue is not supposed to get to the level where parents are stoning each other.
“Islamophobia is a global phenomenon that has been plaguing the world for a long time. Since the 9/11 attack, and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, the global imperialist have created a biggie man in Islam and Muslims. So knowingly or unknowingly millions of people have been programmed to be Islamophobic,” she said.
The activist however attributed the cause of Islamophobia in Nigeria to ignorance, disinformation by the media, political policies, and fanning the embers of hate by some religious clerics.
The Kwara State Government has unanimously stated that those who want to wear the hijab should be allowed to do so.
“It is important to clarify that the government is not imposing the hijab. It is not mandatory for all schoolgirls to wear hijab. Rather, the State government approves hijab for any Muslim who wishes to use it. The government is only respecting the fundamental human right of those schoolgirls. Nothing more,” said the Secretary to the State Government, Mamman Jubril, in a statement.
Islamophobia is a menace that needs to be nipped in the bud, especially in countries with so much diversity like Nigeria. The good image of Islam through the propagation of true teachings of the religion should be promoted. Also, the activities of some people who are hiding under the guise of Islam to perpetrate crime should be distanced from the religion too, as that will go a long way in ameliorating the level of hate against Islam and Muslims, not only in Nigeria but in the entire world.