A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Gani Adetola-Kaseem, who defended the right of some schoolchildren in Lagos to wear hijabs, tells BAYO AKINLOYE that it is wrong for the Council of Legal Studies to prevent Amasa Firdaus, the hijab-wearing law graduate from being called to the Bar
Was the would-be lawyer, Amasa Firdaus, who was barred from being called to the Bar by the Council of Legal Studies for wearing hijab, right in her mode of dressing?
The lady has a right to the extent that the hijab is a manifestation of the practice of her religious faith, considering what the constitution says. It is not wrong to wear a hijab. So, there was nothing wrong with her mode of dressing on the occasion of her being called to the Bar, as long as her wearing of the hijab did not infringe the regulations laid down by the Nigerian Body of Benchers itself in the process of would-be lawyers to be called to the Bar.
she’s not expected to expose her hair as a woman in Islam. So, barring the exposure of the hair does not constitute an infringement of any rules laid down by the Body of Benchers; to that extent, she hasn’t done anything wrong. There is nothing in the regulation that bars anyone from wearing a hijab. What she has done is to cover her hair as a Muslim woman. Look at it this way, there are some ladies or there are some people who probably put on their wigs (hair piece) apart from the (professional) wigs they would have donned on the occasion. If there is nothing that says that a lady should remove her wig or anything she used to cover her hair, how can it affect the wearing of hijab, particularly when that is done in a manner that does not infringe on anything under the rules?
The Council of Legal Studies said she broke the rule by wearing the hijab. Don’t you think that institution should know better?
Anyone saying she broke the rule must pinpoint what the regulations say about wearing the hijab. For example, Rule 16 (3) of the regulations made by the Body of Benchers for calling a person to the Bar is very clear. There is nothing there that says a person or a Muslim lady cannot wear the hijab – that prohibits wearing of the hijab. Since there’s nothing in the regulations that prohibits wearing of the hijab, where did those who say it is wrong to wear it get the notion? Where did they get their rule from? Everything is based on the regulations which were fashioned out by the Body of Benchers. This is not about personal opinions. You don’t have to like the rules; that is immaterial. The wearing of the hijab is a matter of belief; it is a matter of faith.
In fact, if there is any part of the regulation that impinges one’s faith, it would have been unconstitutional because the wearing of hijab by a Muslim lady is a constitutional requirement. Under Section 38 of the Nigerian Constitution, anything that will prohibit a citizen from the path of practising or manifesting her faith is unconstitutional. A regulation that forbids – and in this case, there is no such regulation – that one should not manifest his faith would have been unconstitutional and can be challenged in the court of law – its validity can be challenged in the court. I think we should leave the matter to the court to decide.
Don’t you think this controversy has exposed the Nigerian Law School or legal system to ridicule for barring Firdaus from being called to the bar?
What I would rather say – it’s not the legal system and it’s not even the Nigerian Law School. My sense is that some people are being unnecessarily emotional over this issue. I don’t think that since a person does not conform to their specific way of thinking or religion, the person is not right. It should not be so. It is a free country. What I see here is a matter of intolerance. The constitution allows a person to practise his faith according to his religion. This is not a matter of innovation because some people have said if the wearing of the hijab is allowed, then Sango worshippers can present themselves to be called to the Bar in their paraphernalia. No. We shouldn’t reduce the issue to that; wearing of the hijab is part of the Islamic faith. It is a mandatory rule prescribed by the Almighty God – it’s in the Quran. It is not an innovation made by a group of people. Ignorance and intolerance are at play here. Nigerians must learn to know the truth before criticising something or somebody – they must know the foundation of an issue. The wearing of the hijab is an expression of the Islamic faith by Muslim women. You cannot stop a Muslim woman from wearing the hijab – it is a prescription by the Almighty God – outside her home, a woman must cover her head. It is mandatory for any Muslim woman who wants to practise her faith.
Some people have pointed to a photograph of President Muhammadu Buhari’s daughter on the Internet who was called to the Bar without wearing hijab. Does that mean anything?
Everyone will practise his religion according to their understanding. But please, note that the President is not the Almighty God. The President is an individual; so, if his daughter chose not to wear the hijab, no one would compel her to wear it. It’s her choice. But if she wants to comply with the mandatory rule of Islam as prescribed in the Quran, it is proper for her to wear the hijab. The fact that she chose not to wear the hijab didn’t make her right. It is not a matter of status – the hijab is not a status symbol. Nobody can be compelled to do what he doesn’t want to do. But it doesn’t make those who choose to wear the hijab wrong.
Why do you think the issue of wearing hijab has always generated controversy in the country?
It is due to ignorance and intolerance. People do not approach the issue from the standpoint of understanding. Almighty Allah says in the Quran that before you worship Him, you must know who He actually is. Anybody who does not know God cannot worship God correctly. Therefore, consciousness is important. It behoves anybody who wants to speak or criticise another person’s religion to know and understand what that religion stands for. It is not enough to criticise based on your own religion. One must know the requirements of that faith. For example, I am a Muslim but I read the Bible. I can reason with you based on what the Bible says. The society must understand that before it can criticise anything, it must first know what the rules are concerning an issue. Without a proper understanding of the basis of an issue, we’ll only be conjecturing. What good can be achieved based on conjectures? The majority may do the wrong thing but that doesn’t make them right.
So, are you saying barring Firdaus from being called to the Bar was not rooted in law or any regulations?
It is a matter of intolerance. Those involved in preventing her from being called to the Bar do not understand the rule at all. If they understood the rule, then they were being intolerant. They must have felt that since would-be (Muslim) female lawyers were doing it the other way (not wearing the hijab), then she too must follow suit. Anyone who says the hijab must not be worn the way Firdaus wore it is saying that based on his personal views, since there is no regulation that prohibits wearing of the head covering. If such a regulation had existed, I would say it is unconstitutional and it will be challenged in the court. The constitutionality of such a regulation can be challenged in the court if it indeed exists at all. By my own research so far, there is no such regulation that prohibits the wearing of the hijab.
Some have argued that Nigeria is a secular state and in view of that, no religious garb should be allowed for a secular occasion. Do you agree with that?
No. I don’t. Nigeria is not a secular state. Nigeria is a multi-religious nation. A secular state is a nation that believes in no religion at all. Nigeria recognises so many religions, particularly Islam and Christianity. The country makes provisions for the practice of Islam and Christianity. The Nigerian government or authorities – at state and federal levels – sponsor (citizens) to holy pilgrimages and support various festivals. If Nigeria is a secular nation, would it support religious activities such as sponsoring citizens to go to Mecca and Jerusalem? Nigerians must learn to be tolerant. If we want societal peace, we must learn to be tolerant. A secular state recognises no religion at all. Incidentally, people who are supposed to be educated get confused on this point, thinking that Nigeria is a secular state. It is not. That is why the Nigerian constitution allows and supports the practice of several religions in the country. Ours is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation.
Credit : punchng.com