Maryam had not yet been given her uniform, so she dressed to school in the clothes a typical Muslim girl would wear: A long top, a pair of straight jeans and a brightly coloured scarf wrapped around her head and neck probably folded over her head three times and very lumpy at the back (a popular trend for hijabis in the early 2000s).
One of the female teachers had a problem with how Maryam dressed. Mrs Chiamaka told her not to wear the scarf because it did not look smart. Although it was a missionary school, and the other two Muslim girls were a girl named Ruqayya and I, who barely wore the hijab, something about the way this teacher spoke to Maryam didn’t sit right with me.
When I went home that day I told my mother and she agreed that Mrs Chiamaka had no right to tell Maryam what to wear. Especially since she had not been given the school uniform. When Maryam was eventually given the uniform she wore it without a headscarf.
I went to over 5 schools growing up in different parts of the country, but that incident with Maryam and Mrs Chiamaka was not the last time I would see a Muslim woman scrutinised for their use of the hijab. When I started using a headscarf, a lot of the time people told me I looked better without it and asked if I was hot in it. Sometimes, more violently someone would ask me to take it off. One time, someone did take it off.
On the 4th of February 2022, Thisday Newspaper reported the killing of one person in the Oyun Baptist High School, Ijagbo in the Oyun Local Government Area of Ilorin caused by protests that eventually escalated into clashes between Christian and Muslim Parents.
Kwara state government’s failure to strip former missionary schools of their Christian names has given the management of this school, and other schools formerly owned by American missionaries who moved to the state in the 1940s, the power to enforce Christian ethics and values in schools which have been claimed by the government and should be public.
Why then are children asked to take off their hijabs in this church-owned school in Ilorin?
Reports by THISDAY further revealed that, as early as 8.00 am, parents of the Muslim students of the school were said to have come out early to the school and embarked on a peaceful protest in front of the school following the denial of the authority of the school to allow them to put on the Hijab.
These conflicts and discrimination sprang up despite the provisions of Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria where the rights to freedom of observance Of any religion irrespective of Race, Gender, or age. The enforcement of any religion on any person is also prohibited.
How did a peaceful protest by Muslim parents calling for their rights and the rights of their children to be enforced turn into a riot that claimed someone’s life?
Muslim women in Nigeria for years have been forced to take off their hijabs. In 2021, a Twitter user complained about the discrimination her sister faced when she went to write UTME Exams at a centre in a Lagos and Muslim women had been asked to take off their scarves and head coverings.
The objection to the hijab is presented in two ways; on one hand, it is a religious symbol and it has been suggested that it be actively discouraged in educational institutions, and on the other, it is a patriarchal symbol and curtails women’s rights.
It sparked another discussion on hijab-wearing on Twitter and there were so many comments from Nigerians on the issue: Some described the use of Hijab as indoctrination of young girls while others mentioned that it was unreasonable for children to wear hijabs in a Christian school. One particular user tweeted that Hijabs should not be allowed in public spaces because Nigeria is a secular state and upon correction proceeded to insult the Prophet Muhammad and the religion of Islam altogether.
Across the globe, Muslim women face the same struggles. In India, a Karnataka High Court has now barred students from wearing “saffron shawls (bhagwa), scarfs, hijab, religious flags or the like within the classroom” until further orders.
One could say since the school is owned by the church the school should be upheld. But what happens to the rights of the girls? That monitoring and insisting that a certain standard of dressing be followed even when it results in violence?