President Muhammadu Buhari has received flaks from some Muslim groups over his comment Wednesday night that the federal government might consider banning wearing hijab in the country if Boko Haram continues to use female suicide bombers to carry out attacks.
Speaking during the presidential media chat at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Mr. Buhari said “If Boko Haram continues with suicide bombings, we might consider banning wearing hijab”.
Hijab is a veil that covers the head and chest, worn mostly by Muslim women.
At the peak of Boko Haram insurgency, when female suicide bombers use the hijab to conceal the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) they are carrying and infiltrate target areas where they blow up themselves, killing scores in the process, a cross-section of Nigerians and security experts advised government to ban the conservative Islamic apparel, worn by women.
Already, Nigeria’s neighbors such as Niger, Chad and Cameroon as well as Senegal, last year banned the full Islamic veil also known as burqa, following suicide attacks by suspected terrorists and emerging terrorist threats.
Reacting to the president’s comment that hijab ban might be considered in response to Boko Haram suicide bombings, the Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC), Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN) and the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) expressed concern that the move will infringe on the rights of Muslim women.
In separate statements Thursday, MPAC Executive Chairman, Disu Kamor; Amir (President) of MSSN Lagos State Area Unit, Mallam Saheed Ashafa; and Director of MURIC, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, insisted that the hijab apart from being a fundamental human and constitutional rights of Muslim women, is also cardinal aspect of Islam which cannot be denied Muslims.
According to Kamor, the argument that religious profiling will enhance counter-terrorism efforts is manifestly flawed and counter-productive as those who call on the government to stop Muslim women from fulfilling one of their religious obligations are stuck in a constrained model of thinking.
“The purported rationale for the call to ban hijab is that once the hijab is banned, the suicide bombers will be easy to detect, or unable to conceal their weapons. If the hijab is banned and the sporadic bombing continues, what will be the next extreme measure to put on the table? Perhaps shaving the beard and spying on the Muslims? Eventually, some will start to call for the Muslims to be interned as they, the Muslims, only fit the stereotype of suicide bombers. This is the slippery slope that the wishy-washy campaign to ban the hijab will set us on”, he said.
The MPAC chairman, therefore, urged President Buhari to reject the vision of those who call for the misadventure of banning the hijab and also to take the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and the Muslim community as credible partners in formulating and driving policies to defeat terrorism and for peace building.
In his reaction, Professor Akintola rejected the plan to ban hijab, describing the move as ‘scapegoatism’ that will open the floodgates of anarchy and likely to compound the nation’s problems rather than alleviating it.
“If army and police uniforms are not banned although they are often used by bandits, why should we ban hijab? Security agents know how they often fish out hoodlums who use police and soldiers’ uniforms to commit atrocities. The same method should be used to prevent the use of hijab for bombing.
“What crime have Nigerian Muslim women committed that they should be derobed in public? Without their hijab, Muslim women feel as if they are naked. Users of hijab are in all walks of life. They are civil servants, business women, teachers, etc. Most importantly, they are tax payers and voters. They voted Buhari into power. Is Buhari’s government warming up to encroach on Allah-given fundamental rights of Muslim women? Is this an appropriate pay-back?” he said.
The MURIC boss wondered if the move would not likely lead to more religious upheavals as some religious zealots will want to capitalize on the ban to maltreat Muslim women.
While appreciating Mr. President’s dilemma and that Boko Haram must be defeated, Akintola warned that Muslim women must however, not be the scape goats, adding that Nigerian Muslims will not succumb to a policy that dehumanizes their mothers, wives, daughters and sisters.
Mallam Ashafa on his part, said President Buhari should not consider or attempt any ban on hijab, saying such consideration would ridicule the war against Boko Haram.
According to the MSSN Amir, the ban on Hijab would mean that Boko Haram has succeeded in their deceptive ideology and may strengthen their unjustifiable zeal to kill innocent persons.