MURIC Reacts to Lagos State Hijab controversy

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The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has provided its opinion as regards the recent comments on the hijab issue made by the Lagos State Commissioner for Home Affairs, Dr. Abdulateef Abdulhakeem on a Television Continental (TVC) programme, ‘YourView’ on Tuesday, July 31st, 2018.

According to MURIC, the commissioner’s comments have been severally misreported and misunderstood. The Islamic group argued that the commissioner merely stated the obvious.

“What was reported was not exactly what he said. What he said reflected the official position of the state government. It was not his personal opinion. His response may have been different if asked about his personal opinion. But that would have breached protocol. Once you are in government you owe total allegiance to that government. That does not diminish from your faith as a Muslim.

“Islamic organizations must always give informed reactions. We must understand the intrincacies of governance. It is complex. It is technical. It is like the judge in a court of law. He does not make pronouncements based on personal feelings because he must allow the law to take its due course. Most times the hearts of judges weep inside as they boldly make judicial pronouncements.

“Press interviews are equally technical and tricky. Sometimes they are booby traps particularly for government functionaries and journalists often use such occasions to make or mar, to build or destroy the person being interviewed. More often than not the target question is smuggled into the conversation to catch the guest offguard. The issues discussed at the “Your View” interview on that occasion were many. It was not hijab matter alone and it was slipped in as an uppercut. Fortunately the commissioner handled it very well”.

MURIC’s director, Ishaq Akintola insisted that he saw nothing wrong with the commissioner’s response. “Dr. Abdullateef Abdulhakeem is an erudite Islamic scholar. He is well grounded in Islamic jurisprudence. He can separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the relationship between Islam and politics. He is also the most successful Islamic scholar who has dabbled into politics in Lagos State in particular and in Nigeria in general. We are proud of him.

“We repose full confidence in Dr. Abdullateef Abdulhakeem. He has not in any way shied away from his responsibility as an Islamic scholar. Anyone with the same versatility like he brandishes must have certain limitations particularly when he wears two caps. This is what we want Muslims to understand.

“An Islamic scholar in government has certain challenges. He must postulate Islamic principles as an Islamic scholar and articulate government’s position as a government official. What is important, however, is that he must know where to play the role of an Islamic scholar and where to wear the garb of a government official. These two roles may contradict themselves sometimes and this is what has happened. On the commissioner’s part in this episode, he has displayed astounding dexterity and maturity by knowing when to speak for government and that was exactly what he did during the interview which some Muslims found offensive.

“But it takes understanding to be able to know that there is more to ten than five and six. His critics have missed 7, 8 and 9! We must know that there is a difference between his role as an Islamic scholar and his role as a government official. He needs to maintain a balance between the two roles and we must allow him to do that if we do not want to destroy him. What happened was that some Muslims expected him to speak as an Islamic scholar at the interview but that would have been wrong.

“Only those who want to deliver him into the hands of journalists who are seeking sensation without regard for a man’s career will insist that he should have stated the wish of Muslims at the interview. He was there representing the Lagos State government at that material time. In any case, he was not asked for the position of Islam on the issue or the viewpoint of Lagos Muslims”.

MURIC also threw shade at the Lagos State government on the hijab issue. “LASG should have allowed the use of hijab in schools when the Supreme Court rejected its application for stay of execution. Its continued refusal to allow the use of hijab is capable of being interpreted as deliberate perpetuation of anti-Muslim policies.

“In view of the fact that the Constitution of any nation is the font et origo of all laws, codes, ordinances, rules and regulations of that country, Lagos as the center of excellence in Nigeria should not have allowed the issue of hijab to become so contentious to the extent that it became a matter of litigation. Lagos should have liberalized the matter and allowed the use of hijab by female Muslim pupils in its public schools.

“Afterall Ekiti State government during the first tenure of Kayode Fayemi issued a circular permitting the use of hijab in public schools in the state without the Muslims going to court and without them staging public protests. Hijab has also been in vogue in public schools in the state of Osun since the landmark judgement of the High Court on 3rd June, 2016 and heaven did not fall. What Lagos requires is the political will to liberate Lagos Muslims”.

“LASG cannot claim ignorance of the position of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on religious freedom with particular reference to manner of dressing, appearance in public or ‘manifestation’ of one’s faith. Section 38 (i) & (ii) of the 1999 Constituion (as amended in 2011) states inter alia: ‘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’.

“We therefore contend that LASG’s continued restriction on the use of hijab in public schools particularly after a court of competent jurisdiction has declared hijab constitutional and the Supreme Court has rejected the state government’s application for stay of execution is illegal, unlawful, illegitimate and unconstitutional. This restriction should be lifted with immediate effect and a circular to that effect should be issued by the Lagos State Ministry of Education. Better still, LASG should withdraw its appeal at the Supreme Court because it is an open attempt at judicial procrastination. We all know that justice delayed is justice denied.

The Islamic human rights outfit also condemned what they called the persecution of female Muslim students who are allegedly beaten up by Christian teachers outside the school premises for wearing hijab.

“It is the height of tyranny for Christian teachers to flog female Muslim students for wearing hijab outside the schools’ premises. These students wear their hijab from home and remove it at the school’s gate. A teacher’s legitimate authority stops at the school’s gate. It does not extend to the streets. It is ultra vires. It is tyrannical, atrocious, inhuman and fanatical. It is abuse of power”.

Commenting further on criticisms leveled at the commissioner, MURIC added, “We are of the humble opinion that Muslims who complain when governments either at Federal or state level marginalize them should learn to appreciate presidents and governors who appoint Muslims into cabinet positions and parastatals. They should also appreciate their own and avoid running them down. The pull-them-down syndrome is alien to the spirit of Islamic brotherhood. Muslims should appreciate the sacrifices being made by Muslim appointees in government. They are our ambassadors. We should therefore be praying for their success instead of attacking them.

“We therefore advise Islamic organizations and leaders to tread with caution and to guard their utterances with regard to the comment made by Dr. Abdullateef Abdulhakeem. We contend that the media report of the honourable commissioner’s speech has been characteristically tainted with sensationalism.

“In our closing remarks, we assert clearly, categorically and unequivocally that Dr. Abdullateef Abdulhakeem has not compromised his faith as his comment was merely factual and not anti-Islam in any way. We charge LASG to allow the rule of law to prevail on the issue of hijab and to call fanatical Christian teachers who persecute female Muslim students to order. We appeal to Muslims in Lagos State to remain calm and law abiding and to continue to cooperate with LASG”.

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