Hijab Crisis in ISI and the Loss of Missions
By: Deji Yesufu
(This article was first published in 2018. I publish it again in the light of the crisis over hijab in Kwara State)
After a knock on the door of my office, she sauntered in. She appeared unfamiliar to me. Fatimah (not real name) introduced herself. She was one of the students that come around for Industrial Training at my place of work.
What caught my attention about her was her outfit: she was wearing a dark clothing that covered her from the top of her head to the sole of her feet, leaving only her face uncovered. I was intrigued that a University student would be dressed like this, so I quickly struck a conversation with her.
“You are new around here…”
“I learnt that what you are wearing is not the traditional hijab. That the hijab is the clothing that covers the head to the shoulder”.
“No,” she explained, “what I am wearing is the real hijab. The one that covers the head to the shoulder is an adapted one to fit the culture of the times.”
“So the Christians who are querying the use of hijab at ISI (the International School Ibadan) are right after all. If they permit the use of the shoulder reaching hijab today, Muslims would return tomorrow to ask for the toe reaching one like you are wearing.”
She kept quiet. Then she said I was being ingenious with the argument and that I was using the information she had just supplied me against the Moslems’ quest to wear hijab in schools. She said that she actually went to a Christian secondary school where she was not allowed to use any hijab at all. But that the wearing of hijab is a religious injunction placed on every growing and adult woman in Islam.
In my last essay on the crisis of the use of hijab at the ISI, University of Ibadan (www.mouthpiece.com.ng/the-hijab-controversy-at-isi/), I took a position that supported the Christians’ desire that hijab should not be used in the school. I felt that the argument for a “uniform” among students was very sound and a hijab would strike at the heart of uniform-dressing in a school. But I ended that essay by saying that the Muslims have a right to go to court and allow the laws of the land to rule on the disputed matter. I told Fatimah this and she said:
“Yes, it is in court and hopefully we would win… we always win anyway.”
The possibility of a judgement going in favour of Muslims in this matter of the use of hijab in ISI is what has prompted this essay. I would be arguing here that there is a lot more to dressing in our schools and that Christians can actually use this situation for missions, rather than a tendency to perpetuate a tradition that, in the Christians’ mind-set, is supposed to be a “Christian” manner of dressing.
The minister at the Chapel of the Resurrection, University of Ibadan (UI), the Rev. O. K. Oyelade, revealed the minds of many Christians in the University community, when in a recent admonition to church members he called on Christians to eschew violence on this disputed matter of hijab wearing at ISI. The implication of that statement is that some people were ready to use force to ensure that the hijab is never used at the ISI. That there are people who would call themselves Christians and yet accommodate such thoughts in their minds is the more reason why Christians should understand what exactly is our calling in a world of sin.
The biggest tragedy in all these is not whether or not religious people are debating over what to wear or not wear. The biggest tragedy in this matter is the loss of the spirit of missions among Christians in the University community of UI.
If, by a special work of God, ISI happens to be in fact a “Christian” school, where there is known academic excellence and where young people leave such academic environment with a greater conception of the Christian gospel: growing in genuine love to outsiders and exemplifying practical piety; if it happens that Muslims students enrol in ISI and at the close of their six year stay return to their homes confessing Jesus Christ as the Lord of their lives, while at the same time presenting to their parents WAEC results of mostly A’s; if this is what is happening in ISI, would anyone be debating over hijab? Would Muslim parents even dare send their child to that school?
The real indictment in this matter is not the Muslims who are calling to have their children wear hijab; the real indictment are Christians who have lost the true spirit of missions that birth the ISI and other mission schools in Nigeria. Where there is no abiding influence, power or fire of the Holy Ghost any other kind of evil work would be permitted to happen.
Let me say this categorically that there is nothing Christian about ISI. It may have started as a Christian school but it has since lost that vision. It is today a secular school and a secular school should indeed permit the mode of dressing that all other religious groups, whose children are students in the school, permit. It would be pure injustice to not allow this to happen.
This matter of the wearing of hijab by Muslim girls in schools would reach up to the Supreme Court of Nigeria and there is the likelihood that the Muslims would win the case. It would then mean that hijab wearing would become permissible not only in secondary schools but also in primary schools. And it would not be because anyone wishes to Islamize Nigeria; it would be because the Nigerian Christian community had since lost its spirit of missions for a party spirit of prosperity and breakthroughs.
Can this be remedied?
I think the way forward would not be to outlaw the hijab in ISI. In fact, I would counsel that the authorities of the University of Ibadan meet with the Muslim group that went to court over this matter and settle it amicably out of court. Because if this matter reaches the Supreme court, the Christian communities are not likely to receive a favourable judgement.
As they seek to bring this matter out of the civil courts, the ISI leadership would need to look closely into the matter of its foundational principles. If indeed she is a Christian school, she would need to revive her Christian tenets and pursue to imbibe them in the lives of staffs and students. Wherever light shines, darkness will be dispelled. ISI and its officials would need to have Christ back as the Lord of their school. When Jesus rules and godliness prevails, everything ungodly would flee.