The Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Lagos, has issued a 30-day ultimatum to the Lagos State government to implement the judgment by the Supreme Court approving the use of hijab in Lagos schools.
The students’ group wants the government to issue a circular on the court verdict cautioning its officials against harassing Muslim females wearing the hijab to school.
Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, the association’s president, Miftahudeen Thanni, said issuing the circular would curb “overzealous” teachers and principals from contempt of court.
“This is not to castigate the Lagos State government but to appeal for the prompt implementation of the Supreme Court judgment,” he said.
“We waited patiently to get the judgment and we were lawful throughout. During this period, we consulted, collaborated, protested, held rallies and sensitised government officials on why a willing Muslim female should be allowed to put on the hijab.”
The case involved the Lagos State Government as the appellant and Asiyat AbdulKareem (through her father), Moriam Oyeniyi, and the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria as the respondents.
Supreme Court verdict
After years of legal tussle, the Supreme Court on July 17, 2022, approved the wearing of hijab by female Muslim students to school in Lagos State.
Five out of the seven members of the court’s panel ruled in favour of hijab while the two others dissented.
The apex court rejected an appeal by the Lagos State government and affirmed the earlier judgment of the Court of Appeal which ruled that the ban on hijab was discriminatory against Muslim students in the state.
According to the Supreme Court, the ban violated the rights of the Muslim students to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, the dignity of human persons and freedom from discrimination guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution.
The court panel included Justices Olukayode Ariwoola, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, John Inyang Okoro, Uwani Aji, Mohammed Garba, Tijjani Abubakar, and Emmanuel Agim.
A.B Gumel, who delivered the lead judgment of the Court of Appeal panel, held that wearing the hijab was an Islamic injunction and an act of worship required of Muslims.
He said the use of hijab by Muslim pupils could not cause disunity, distraction and discrimination against students of other faiths as declared by the lower court judge.
The Lagos State High Court had in a judgement, on October 17, 2014, upheld the state government’s decision to ban the use of hijab in public primary and secondary schools in the state.
But the decision was overturned by the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal in a judgment delivered on July 21, 2016.
In a unanimous judgment, the appeal court panel ruled that the ban on the use of hijab in public schools in the state was discriminatory against Muslim pupils.
The Lagos State government was displeased with this judgment and attempted to obtain a stay of execution of the Court of Appeal’s decision but failed.
In November 2018, the Lagos State Government later issued a circular to all principals of public secondary schools instructing them to allow students.
Speaking further, Mr Thanni said, “When the Lagos State Government issued the circular, we thought relief had come, but it is utterly unfortunate that some school authorities and some defective teachers are working against the circular. They are interested in ultimately jeopardising law and order.
“Instead of obeying the circular, some school principals, vice-principals and teachers feign ignorance of the approval of Hijab in Lagos State, and desperately began to deal with our members.
“For no reason should a girl-child be denied education again in Lagos State and Nigeria as a whole.
“The images of Muslim students sent out of the examination hall for wearing hijab touch the heart and consistently bring tears to the eyes. We do not want this to recur. The education of the girl-child is very paramount in our hearts. No Muslim girl should ever be told to choose between her faith and education. Both are her rights.
“We demand that the Lagos State Government should issue a circular within 30 days after the delivery of the judgment allowing Hijab.
“The Lagos State Government should sanction officials who go against the Supreme Court judgment and hold a meeting with MSSNLagos, Muslim leaders and other Islamic organisations on the size and modalities of using the hijab.”
In her comments, Mrs AbdulKareem, who sued the Lagos State Government, urged that the victimisation of Muslim students should stop.
“We suffered to get this judgment and it is my hope that it will be an end to the victimisation someone like me suffered,” he said.
On her part, Executive Secretary of Hijab Rights Advocacy Initiative, Shereefat Enessi, commended the Supreme Court for the judgment.
“It is not a victory for the Muslims alone, it is a victory for civilisation, for democracy and for peace.
“We are not all Muslims and as such understanding, the importance of a religious command like hijab may not be easy, but at least we are all in the same boat that is Nigeria, pulling each other down would only take us all down,” he said.
Also, the National Amir of MSSN, Uthman Abubakar, who lamented that Muslim students have for long suffered discrimination saluted the judgment by the Supreme court.
“The MSSN salutes the courage, understanding and application of the Constitutional law as it is by the panel of the justices.
“The judgment is manifestly credible and guarantees as one of the fundamental Human Rights granted to Muslims and any other adherents of a religion,” he said.
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