In Defence Of Amasa Firdaus, Nigerian Muslim Law Graduate Banned From Call To Bar Over Hijab

Amasa Firdaus

December 18, 2017 – In Defence Of Amasa Firdaus, Nigerian Muslim Law Graduate Banned From Call To Bar For Wearing Hijab

By Raji Ridwan

Please note that I’m not posting this to initiate religious argument whatsoever but to share the perception of Muslims so that you can know the point from which you address this kind of issue.

I noticed that people view this issue from a common perspective ; if hijab is to be put on, people of other faith should put on their religious attire too. This made me recall the incident that happened in Osun State when the Muslim Community were advocating for the use of hijab in the State Government Schools. Then adherents of other faith started going to school in their religious clothes, etc in other to show their perception on the issue.

Don’t forget that hijab is not the only Islamic attire. Caps, turbans, etc are there for males too. But hijab is different because it came as a commandment just like our going to mosque on Fridays, five times daily, fasting in Ramadan, etc. Therefore, Muslims perceive the restrictions on the use of hijab as saying we shouldn’t go to mosque, fast, etc which means denying them of their fundamental right to worship.

Don’t compare hijab with other religious attire like sutana, traditionalist clothes, etc. They are ceremonial clothes (not put on always) while hijab must be worn by a conscious Muslim woman always while outside her home.

Therefore, saying hijab is not allowed in a profession is like saying Muslim women are not allowed in the profession.
Saying hijab is not allowed in Government Schools is like saying Muslim women are not allowed in Government schools. Saying hijab is not allowed in public places is like saying Muslim women are not allowed to come out of their homes.

People were saying; is she going to be the first Muslim to be called to bar? Of course no. But know that not all Muslims are conscious of their religion, some have non challant attitude towards it and some could be afraid.

Indeed, this so called Western Education came with the Western Culture some of which are not inline with Islamic Culture, and Nigerian Muslims have been enduring all this while.

Most of the rights of Muslims that are now acceptable in Nigerian education came up with difficulties. I could remember my secondary school days, being the second set of student in the school made Muslim students suffer a lot. A Federal Government School for that matter. But because the school was established in a Christian dominant town (ilesa) and most of the staffs are non-Muslims, we were denied of many rights. I can’t remember the number of times we were flogged for going to mosque, claiming we used like 10min of school activity up in the mosque. Yet they fix those activities like night prep, labour, etc at the stipulated times of prayer. Muslims girls were prevented from using hijab in the dinning hall, prep classes and the school premises, etc. But things are now in order in the school but the early set of Muslim students suffered. This has been the the way Nigerian formal activities had been over the years but Muslims were enduring.

Nigerians need to tolerate and respect other people’s religion in other to promote peace and unity.

Att least hijab is allowed in public offices in some developed non Muslim countries.

16 thoughts on “In Defence Of Amasa Firdaus, Nigerian Muslim Law Graduate Banned From Call To Bar Over Hijab

  1. In addition, Hijab to a muslim lady is like her clothes(Which she must wear) so forcing her to remove her hijab is tantamount to asking her to remove her clothes. A muslim man can put on cap but since its not compulsory you can NEVER see a muslim man putting on cap on that day.

  2. Amasa Firdaus a Muslim faithful just graduated from the Nigerian Law school but was not called to bar because she refused to remove her hijab. This Issue Continues To Linger and it deserves some consideration and an objective discussion.
    I just read her interview with the Premium Times and in her response, she described the action of the Law school as an infringement on her fundamental human right.
    However, I must admit that I was astonished by such courage exhibited by a young lady who is trying to challenge the status quo and question existing order of affairs. Such conduct in this part of the world is not what we witness so often.
    This issue have generated a lot of comments from the public in the past few days.The NBA President A. B Mahmoud responded to the issue by uploading the picture of her daughter who was called to New York Bar and also had a hijab On.he went further to state that the controversy surronding the hijab will be resolved promptly.
    There were some other contrary views from renowned legal and social commentators as regards the issue. Femi Fani Kayode responded and I quote “the girl that insisted on wearing hijab during her call to Nigeria bar was being childish and disingenuous.you cannot insist on wearing a religious garb during a secular ceremony and she is not the first Muslim to be called to bar”.
    Furthermore, As a student of law the first question I tried to ask was, whether there was an infringement of Amasaa firdau’s right as regards to freedom to practice her religion?
    Firstly, NBA is a legal association which is open to all legal personalities and once you are fit and proper you can voluntarily join. This in turn means that you must abide by the Ethics, rules and conduct of the association. the court in Chinwo v Owhonda (2008) 3NWLR PT. 1074 held interalia that ‘when you choose to become a member of an association,their rules shall/can curtail your rights as contained in sections 39, 40 CFRN 1999. Similarly in Onuoha v Okafor(1983) the court was clear that it lacks jurisdiction to entertain matters relating to internal affairs of an association.Furthermore the Rule in Foss v Harbottle which provides that the majority rule will always prevail against that of the minority in an association.
    Therefore it is my personal opinion that there was no breach of rights on the part of the management of law school. Nor did they infringe on the right of the student.
    One of my lecturer is a Catholic Reverend Sister who we know covers their hair with scarf and am sure she will not have gone to call to bar with the scarf on her head..
    All that I wish to submit is that Nigeria is a secular state and at such the isssue of being a Muslim faithful or Christian shouldn’t come to play in matters like this.It is not in my place to speak for the mangement of law school so therefore as we await their pronouncement this is my personal opinion..

    • Mr. Chukwuma you made valid points in your commentaries. If the lady in question feels her religious rights was encroached upon by the law school management she may as well pursue the issue in a court of law. But based on the above-stated case laws, “Chinwo v Owhanda (2008) 3NWLR PT. 1074 and Foss v Harbottle” the onus lies on the law aspirant to prove her case by preponderance of evidence for her to win. That said, I’m disappointed regarding actions taken by the NBA President (if its true), which states: “The NBA President A.B Mahmoud responded to the issue by uploading the picture of her daughter who was called to New York Bar and also had a hijab On.” Under United States Constitutional rights, I quote in part, the First Amendment prohibits free exercise of religion.” Free exercise of religion encompasses religious activity including the dress code. The NBA president’s daughter may have dressed in hijab during ceremony but certainly that is allowed under the United States Constitution, which is contrary to the NBA charters under sections 39, 40 CFRN 1999. Mr. Mahmoud have an obligation to support the decisions by the law school management instead of disproving their actions. Good insight.

    • One of the challenges Muslim females are facing is the wearing of hijab. Hijab is a veil they use in covering their body. These challenges are found even in public institutions. The proscription of the use of veils is normally done through rules made in those institutions. For example, there has been complaints that hijab is not allowed in Nigerian Law School, it happened also in Kwara, Lagos, Osun State, etc, where students were not allowed to wearhijab to schools.

      This article seeks to establish that prohibiting Muslim females from wearing veils in public institutions is unconstitutional. Whether the position is the same in private institutions or not is outside the scope of this article.

      To clear a preliminary point, I am a Christian and, shall by the grace of God, die a Christian. This work is based on my little understanding of the law and love for rule of law. The work is also informed by my agreement with the words of Martin Luther King Jr, who once said:

      “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

      In other words, it is Muslim female facing it today, tomorrow it may be Christians. So, I feel a spade should be called a spade.

      Let us first examine the basis of the use of hijab by Muslim women. Chapter 24 verse 30-31 of the Holy Quran says:

      “… Enjoin believing women to Cover their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; thatthey should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s father, their sons, their husband’s sons, their brothers or their brother’s sons or their sisters’ sons or other women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, …”

      It follows from the verse above that wearing of hijab by Muslim women is a Quranic injunction so a Muslim female is bound to obey it without question. The next point is whether a Muslim female can capitalise on the provision of the Qur’an to insist that she is entitled to wear hijab everywhere. The answer is obviously in the affirmative.

      Sub-section (1) of section 38 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), provides as follows:

      “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…and In Public or In Private) to Manifest And Propagate his Religion or Belief in worship, teaching, Practice and Observance.” (emphasis mine).

      The Constitution is a grundnorm, and by section 1(1) and (3) thereof, it is supreme and binding on all authorities and persons in Nigeria and, as well, above the ordinary laws of the land. Since the Constitution recognises one’s right to manifest ones religion and belief in practice and observance, a Muslim female, being a Nigerian too, has the right to wear herhijab anywhere.

      In the case of PDP V CPC (2011) 17 NWLR (pt 1277) 485 at 511, ​it was held:

      “The Constitution of Nigeria is the grundnorm, otherwise known as the basic norm, from which all the other laws of the society derive their validity. Each legal norm of the society derives its validity from basic norm. Any other law that is in conflict with the provision of the Constitution must give way or abate.”

      Courts have consistently held that, having regards to chapter 24:30-31 of the Holy Quran, a Muslim female has the unfettered right to wear her hijab anywhere.

      The Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, in the unreported case of The Provost, Kwara State College of Education, Ilorin & 2 Ors vs Bashirat Saliu & 2 Ors, Appeal No CA/IL/49/2006,.delivered on the 18th day of June, 2009, Hussein Mukhtar, JCA, at pages 15,16 of the lead judgment, held thus:

      “The foregoing verses of the Glorious Qur’an and Hadiths have left no room for doubt on the Islamic injunction on women’s mode of dress, which is clearly in conformity with not only the Respondent’s veiled dress, but also the controversial article J of the 3rd Applicants’ dress code. The use of veil by the respondents, therefore, qualifies as a fundamental right under section 38 (1) of the Constitution.”

      The Court of Appeal further held per Massoud AbdulRahman Oredola, JCA, at page 2 of the concurrent judgment:

      “The right of the respondents to wear their hijab, veil within the school campus, and indeed anywhere else, is adequately protected under our laws. Human rights recognise and protect religious rights. Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guaranteed freedom of religion to all and sundry. Thus, things that lawfully constitute open manifestation, propagation, worship, teaching, practice and observance of the said religion are equally and by extension similarly guaranteed and protected by the Constitution. Indeed, the Hijab, Niqab or Burqa, being part and parcel of Islamic code of dressing and by whatever standard a dignified or vividly decent one cannot be taken away by any other law other than the Constitution.”

      Last year (2016), Justice Falola of the Osun State High Court restated the law as pronounced in the Court of Appeal decision above while delivering judgment in the case of Sheikh Oyinwola & Ors V The Governor of Osun State & Ors Suit No HOS/M 17/2013 delivered on June 3, 2016. Bound by the time honoured principle of judicial precedent, the court held that the use of Islam-prescribed head-cover, called hijab, by the Muslim female students in all primary and secondary schools in Osun State forms part of their fundamental rights to freedom of religion, conscience and thought as contained in section 38 of 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and also declared that article 8.2 (v) of the ‘Guidelines on Administration and Discipline in Osun State Public Schools’ issued by the Ministry of Education prohibiting Muslim females from wearing hijab in public schools is not only discriminatory against Muslim female students, but also uncalled for, inconsistent with section 38 of 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and a clear violation of the fundamental rights of Muslim female students in public schools in Osun State to freedom of religion and therefore null, void and of no effect whatsoever.

      A month after, a specially constituted panel of the Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos on Thursday, July 21, 2016 unanimously reaffirmed its decision delivered in 2009 at Ilorin, Kwara State Division. It reversed the judgment of a Lagos State High Court in Ikeja, which on October 17, 2014 banned the use of hijab in Lagos State public primary and secondary schools. The appellate court declared in a unanimous judgment that the ban was discriminatory against Muslim pupils in the state. It, accordingly, reinstated the use of hijab in Lagos schools.

      This writer is not unaware that section 38 of the Constitution (right to religion) is not absolute. The right is subject to section 45 of the Constitution, which gives government the right to disregard citizen’s right to religion in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons. For instance, during the Bokoharam insurgency in the North-east, government was right when it temporarily banned the use hijab because then some suicide bombers hid bombs therein.

      Another example is the fact that every person has the right on religious ground (say Jehovah Witnesses’ refusal of blood transfusion) not to submit to treatment recommended by a doctor, even if the refusal of treatment can lead to death of the patient. However, for the purpose of public interest, and relying on the authority of the Supreme Court decision in MDPDT vs Okonkwo (2001) 6 NWLR (Pt.710), such right would be held in abeyance if the disease, like Ebola and the like, is contagious.

      In the light of what has so far been stated and in the absence of any exceptional circumstance as the ones mentioned above, every Muslim female has the unfettered right to wear her hijabanywhere. Prohibition of wearing of hijab in some public institutions is unconstitutional. The institutions concerned are hereby advised to reverse those rules.

      •O. G. Chukkol is a student, Faculty of Law, ABU, Zaria

  3. Just for her to respect her nation law and her profession which caused her many years just for 2 hrs she didn’t..

    how many hours does she put off the hijab to make her hair.
    she respect herself and disregard the law.
    Those respectable personalities who are persuading her to put it off she disrespect them. and claim she respect God.

  4. This country called Nigeria need to be partitioned with immediate effect because we are no more finding strength in our diversity…it’s clear that this lady intentionally wore that to create more confusion in already confused country,if not,she could’ve heed the advise to remove it just for few hours.

    At the end of the day she will be compensated because the country belongs to them.

  5. this is law school and not sharia school, let her get that to her head. if she is crazy over this hijab thing while not attend sharia school.

  6. The lady is over religious and an extremist cuz why can’t she think about Muslim women in military and paramilitary bodies in Nigeria do they display that hijab with the uniform and does it make them a lesser Muslim? she just want to be popular in media dt is all….

  7. This looks so must like being extremist. Every profession has its own laid down rules which must not be bent on no circumstances. I believe the subject lacks more knowledge about the law school ethics. Nigeria is a secular state and to those comparing Nigeria to other countries are more of ignorant because Nigeria law has its stand in Nigeria not UK or whatever part of the world.If she feels her believe will be curtailed she should studied Islamic study which would’ve had no effect on her emotion.

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