The amīrah (Muslim prefect), her deputy (who doubled as the assistant headgirl of the school) and a concerned Muslim colleague of theirs paid the principal a rare visit to request the use of hijāb on their uniform. Rather than reciprocate the respect accorded her with a warm welcome and a soft response, the principal threw up fire and scornfully hit at the girls.
“What guts have you to confront me with such an issue?” she blew hot, and the students were stupefied why a lioness would mercilessly roar at its own kittens. Aiding the disappointing disdain meted out to the harmless lasses, a deputy of hers present at the scene jestingly told the students not to dare think of donning a garment under which contrabands were smuggled into the examination hall and malpractices therefore perpetrated. “But contrabands are equally smuggled into the examination hall with the berets we wear; how come that is not discontinued on the same premise, ma?” responded one of the brave girls. Angered to the marrow, the students were instantly walked out by the principal with expressions not befitting of a professional who was supposed to have acted in loco parentis.
As a fallout from the ugly incident, Muslim members of staff of the school had an emergency meeting and in the end agreed – unanimously – that the mini skirts and the armless shirts won as uniform in the girls-only school were inappropriate for the Muslims, and that hijāb as requested by the students be added to the girls’ uniform.
The Muslim community therefore fast-tracked a meeting with the principal, and the imām and a couple of senior officers humbly and respectfully spoke on behalf of all, and the demands as agreed were tabled. The principal, apparently, could not lash at us as she had loosely done to the innocent girls. Tactically, she evaded the issue and promised to present it at the Ministry of Education in Abuja.
Months down the line, all were kept in the cloud as there was nothing appreciable from the top as promised the principal. Of course, we were only trying to fulfill all righteousness, we knew ab initio that the promise was a scam. Even if the message was delivered, I was pretty sure she would not get back to us if the result was favourable.
The imām reached out to the principal after about four months, but the same attitude of evasion was all he got. On report to us, we resolved that the matter be taken to the ministry ourselves. Two letters requesting the ‘Option-B’ uniform (hijāb in our own case) were forwarded: one signed by all Muslim members of staff and the other by the students – over 50 of them. By protocol, the Christian-principal was copied, and a year down the line, we got no appreciable response from the ministry. We knew the game, of course – the principal was close to Abuja, while we were not. She had the powers to hinder the approval.
Things started changing in our favour when a parent who had newly got his daughter enrolled in the school was worried that hijāb wasn’t part of the students’ uniform. He took up the job from where the Muslim community stopped. He got some other Muslim parents involved and reignited the struggle. At that time, the hater-principal had concluded her service year and another – a female pastor – had taken over the mantle of leadership of the school.
The new principal was visited by the parents, and like her predecessor, she promised in vain to look into the matter. When there was no response after a few months, the parents paid her another visit. But this time around, they were accorded no attention. According to the leader of the delegation, they left the reception after they had waited almost aimlessly.
The parents resorted to going to the ministry in Abuja to air their plight: a letter signed by a significant number of them was therefore presented. Without too much in too little, the approval was secured after a number of visits to Abuja. This, unfortunately, was thereafter faced with the height of bigotry and hypocrisy. The principal didn’t deliver the approval ordering her to allow the Muslim girls observe hijāb until the ministry, DSS, the police etc. had been written of a looming crisis in the school.
On resumption for either first or second term of the session, the parents had sewn and distributed through us about 70 pieces of hijāb to the students. The students wore them on the assembly that day. In fact, very soothing and indelible was that beside the fanatical principal stood the hijāb-wearing student who prayed for the day. It was at the teachers’ briefing for the week that she finally announced the approval. “…men too may wear it if they like,” she reported. Imagine the hate, bigotry and hypocrisy! That’s rather disappointing of a professional teacher who even doubled as a lawyer. If being a teacher didn’t avail her the knowledge, what about her legal expertise? The truth is, she knew it quite well, but the religious extremity in her had beclouded her rationality from being professional. I wondered, then, why an administrator would run a federal government outfit like a privately-owned property.
Interestingy, and delightedly, contained in the approval letter wasn’t hijāb only, the students were granted the wearing of kaftan (a long gown with lawn sleeves) and a pair of trousers. We requested one, and we got more. Shame on haters!
As if the injustice so far wasn’t enough, they came up with another during the examination period for the term. Students reported to us that they were asked to take off their hijābs for exams. They said they were told it wasn’t allowed. At the weekly session I usually have with the students in the mosque, the matter came up and I blatantly told them never to adhere to such again. The next day, the students refused to remove their hijābs, and on pressure, they told the authority that I was the one who told them not to take them off.
I was invited by the principal and was asked why I acted against the school’s policy. Fearlessly, I proved to her and her lieutenants there present that such a policy had no substance in a religious matter. Angered by my confidence, the principal shouted on top of her voice, abused me and tactically threatened to do what I knew could never be done except by Allāh’s permit.
Sometimes, one wonders why Christians are like this. Why would you deprive people their fundamental religious rights as enshrined in section 4 (i) and (ii) of the Nigerian constitution in a school owned by government and funded with taxpayers money, many of whom are Muslims? With what do these people think, if I may ask?