Fellow Hijab Advocates,
Gentlemen of the Press,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

I welcome you to this Press Conference held to commemorate the World Hijab Day 2017.
Imagine being asked to take off your shirt or your trousers because you wanted to get your driver’s licence, or being told you would not be able to vote in the next elections because you wouldn’t bare your shoulders or show your cleavage in the picture on your voters card, or that you wouldn’t have access to the funds in your bank account because you refused to show your bare back in order to register for your BVN. These, and worse, are what a Muslim woman who wears the Hijab feels when she is asked to take off her Hijab or expose her ears before she could be allowed her constitutional rights!
On the occasion of this year’s World Hijab Day, we revisit why this day was set aside to advocate for the Hijab. World Hijab Day is an annual event founded by Nazma Khan in 2013. This event takes place on February 1 each year in about 100 countries worldwide. It was borne out of the need to identify with Muslim women who face discrimination everyday due to the observance of their faith. Most Muslim women the world over and particularly in Nigeria are NAZMA KHAN, and we face discrimination for choosing to obey God and exercising our inalienable constitutional rights.

Firstly, this past year has been awash with news on the Hijab, both on the local and International scene, from the continuous denial of the right to wear Hijab by school girls; to the insistence of some institutions that the ears of Hijabis be exposed during data capture; to the denial of Hijabis from writing UTME exams at some CBT centres; and the apparent mistrust and intolerance of some fellow citizens.

At this juncture, it is pertinent to understand that the Hijab is a religious duty enjoined upon the Muslim woman by God.

This is evidenced in Quran 24:31
“And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and protect their private parts and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna (i.e. their bodies, necks and bosoms, etc.) and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husband’s sons, their brothers or their brother’s sons, or their sister’s sons, or their women, or the (female) slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigour, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And all of you beg Allah to forgive you all, O believers, that you may be successful.
see also Quran 33:59.

It is NOT the culture of Arabs as some would want to make us believe, or a fashion accessory that one may discard at will. It is a religious duty and an obligation on every Muslim woman in the observance of her faith.

And this right to believe in and practise one’s chosen faith is an inalienable right of every human being, as entrenched in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999(as amended)

Sec38. (1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

(2) No person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or attend any religious ceremony or observance if such instruction, ceremony or observance relates to a religion other than his own, or religion not approved by his parent or guardian.

Wearing the Hijab by the Muslim woman is the practical application of this constitutional provision.

In October 2016, a Muslim woman applied for a job in a government hospital as a radiographer and was shortlisted for an interview. On the day of the interview she was told to her face; “why are you dressed like this? I cannot Interview you.” by the Chief Medical Director, who happened to head the interview panel.
She waited for a while and even tried to plead, while other candidates were given the opportunity to be interviewed for the job.
The security man was then called to escort her out of the premises! Dear fellow Nigerians, this is a hospital owned by the government! And this is a citizen of Nigeria!

This is not a story; it is a real life experience. Muslim women who choose to wear the Hijab face this and even worse every day while trying to get a job or even keep the ones they are currently in. In some cases, they have been forced to choose between having a job or practising their faith!

Again, the constitution our country expressly states;
42. (1) A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:-
(a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject;

One thing we all seem to agree on is that violence against women is wrong in all its forms, whether it is physical, emotional or psychological. Asking a Muslim woman to remove her Hijab is a form of violence against women. It should have no place in a progressive society like ours. As more people, women inclusive, are getting more educated and moving into the work force, Muslim women who choose to wear the Hijab still face discrimination in their work places and in the careers of their choice. Rather than discriminate, we should encourage work place diversity.

It is important to emphasize that extensive research has been carried out in this area and conclusions drawn are that the more effective an organization is at supporting diversity and inclusion, the more engagement that organization will experience among its employees. Organizations that take diversity seriously and implement effective integration strategies have greater success in achieving optimal employee performance and retention of staff.

Furthermore, an organization’s success and competitiveness depends upon its ability to embrace diversity and realize its benefits. When organizations actively assess their handling of workplace diversity issues, develop and implement diversity plans, multiple benefits are achieved.
These include increased adaptability; broader service range; variety of viewpoints and more effective execution of the company’s objectives.

Therefore, whether in private establishments, government ministries and parastatals, military and paramilitary units and even in law enforcement, Muslim women in their hijabs add value. No matter the job, the Hijab fits in!

This press conference would not be complete without mention of the very important and crucial role the media plays in this matter.
While I do not intend to school the Gentlemen of the Press, who are purveyors of information, on their profession, a quick look at the code of ethics of the Nigerian journalist, as published by the Press Council, states that; “journalism entails a high degree of public trust. To earn and maintain this trust, it is morally imperative for every journalist and every news medium to observe the highest professional and ethical standards. In the exercise of these duties, a journalist should always have a healthy regard for the public interest. Truth is the cornerstone of journalism and every journalist should strive diligently to ascertain the truth of every event”m

It was also explained further that a journalist must uphold accuracy and fairness, public interest and social responsibility among others.
In the past, majority of main stream media have not upheld these ethics when reporting on Islam and the Hijab in particular. The press should look at providing accurate information while putting the interest of the public at its core. Misleading headlines and pictures; half-truths and outright propaganda only further compounds the problem for us all.

To get a clearer picture of this issue as raised, I humbly refer you to the work of your journalist-colleague, AbduRasheed Abubakar of the Encomium Magazine, titled “Hijab and the Nigerian Press” (copies would be given to the gentlemen of the press). Please do read and then decide for yourselves.

However, let’s remember that we all should be working towards “build(ing) a nation where peace and justice shall reign” as recited in the 2nd stanza of our national anthem.

To my fellow Nigerians, religious tolerance is a virtue and demonstration of humanity.
We should understand that religious tolerance is not about trying to fit into another person’s viewpoint and covering up our differences, rather it is understanding and respecting those differences and accommodating each other as much as possible. As the Justice M.A.R Oredola of the Court of Appeal puts it, “I am of the firm and respectful viewpoint that sticking to the fundamentals of one’s religion does not and cannot make someone into either an extremist or a fanatic. Let it be reiterated, that either a right or duty conferred or imposed by the constitution cannot be taken away or removed by another legislation or regulation, statutory or otherwise which seeks to abrogate such a right or grant relief from such a duty as conferred or exacted by the constitution will be void to the extent of its inconsistency.”

Let us take wisdom from the word of God: “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. Indeed, God is Knowing and Acquainted”. Quran 49:13.

All we Hijabis want is the Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion; Freedom from Discrimination; Freedom from Violence against Women; Fair and Accurate Representation in the Media; Inclusiveness in the Work Place and the right to be a citizen of this country just like everyone else!

God Bless You

And God Bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Thank you very much.

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