A Choice ,A Right

“My major concern is the approval of Hijab so that every person coming behind me will be able to use it for the call to bar (ceremony).” Amasa Firdaus- Premium Times

Much vitriol has been directed at her for standing up for her rights protected by the Nigerian constitution. For this, Amasa Firdaus, a law graduate of the University of Ilorin, Nigeria was denied entry into the Call to bar ceremony. It is ironic that a country with a significant Muslim population still has Islamophobia. However, this is in a wider background of rife religious intolerance with secularity being used as a smokescreen often used to discriminate against other religions.

In addition, it is another example of disregard for the rights of women. While the support of Muslim leaders is appreciated, more needs to be done, especially by those in the top echelons of the legal profession. The ignorance being displayed by some Muslims when such matters arise highlights the problems facing our religious education. It would have been great if the other Muslim barristers stood with Firdaus. It was indeed difficult and would have taken lots of courage but might have brought about swift resolution. One also wonders why this was kept in obscurity until now. The much-touted clamour for unity should be for matters like this and not to accept innovations in our Deen.

US Army National Guard officer Saudat Al-Maroof-Bakare faced a similar struggle and she secured her rights. Women in different fields like Ginella Massa, Ibtihaj Muhammed, Kadra Muhamed, Amal Chammout, Sultan Tafadar and Raffia Arshad have shown that the hijab does not diminish professional ability. Firdaus also brings to mind all the men and women who fought slavery, segregation and other forms of discrimination…. all of which were legal at the time. She is following in the footsteps of Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Doss whose sacrifice have helped countless others after them. Like them, she will be criticized and insulted and told to let it go, asked why she chose that line of action and will be left to bear the consequences. Like them, I hope she goes down in history as a change maker. Like many Nigerian Muslim women who observe the hijab, I have faced many instances of anti-hijab sentiment and policies. I will share a couple of them. During my general practice rotation in medical school, we were posted to private hospitals. When I showed up at mine, I was told in a derisive tone that ‘this’ (the HR lady pointed at my hijab) will not be allowed. I told her ‘this’ is called a hijab and is part of my identity. It had never disturbed my training. I was hurt, disturbed and felt like I had to choose between my faith and my medical education both of which were very important to me.

At the time, I was a volunteer at an international organization here in Nigeria. Prior to that, I had lived in the UK and in both settings had never been told to remove my hijab for work, school, services or any other reason. My choice was respected and accepted. To make the situation even more incongruous, a non-Muslim relative of mine owned an excellent hospital and some of the nurses wore hijab with their uniform. I went back to school with my colleague (who was not wearing a hijab). I made enquiries about the marks for the rotation so I could plan how to make a passing grade if I had to forfeit it. After I explained how important my hijab was, she was supportive and I appreciated her for this.

Most importantly, my family, like Firdaus’s were on my side throughout the episode. I did not expect the reaction of my lecturers. They made an announcement in class that any discrimination faced by any of us should be reported and such hospitals would subsequently be excluded from the rotation. My colleague and I were then posted to other hospitals. I ended up under the tutelage of a medical director who made the experience memorable and beneficial to my career. My colleague also enjoyed a new place. Contrary to what many of the social media comments say, there are numerous Muslim women who practice medicine with their hijabs including surgeons who wear sterile hijabs with their scrubs in theatre.

Recently at NYSC camp, an official tried to humiliate me by pointing derisively at my hijab and saying in front of hundreds of fellow corps members that she was not going to accept this dressing at parades. I smiled and did not engage her because I knew she was wrong. Thankfully, many Muslim women wore their hijab and completed the compulsory youth service orientation with no incident. I tell my story because Firdaus needs to know she is not alone. Her actions have shown the enormous task we have as Nigerians to eschew hatred and intolerance. Peaceful coexistence can work and is what we need to achieve development.

To those who still think she was wrong, I ask that you watch the movie Hacksaw Ridge and google Pfc Desmond Doss, the Conscientious Objector. #istandwithAmasa #AmasaFirdaus


Interview with Amasa Firdaus

Nigerian-born US soldier with a similar experience

Opinion by Ashraf Akintola

UN Petition

A critical look at neo-colonialism in the profession.

BBC article

Nigerian Bar Association President

Al-Jazeera article

2 thoughts on “A Choice ,A Right

  1. I was against the treatment meted Ms Firdaus. Indeed, I got into an argument with someone who at the time had become my former law school lecturer (I was Called already.) on a whatsapp group platform.

    He (the “my former lecturer”) put up a very brilliant write up, arguing forcefully that we were taught while at the law school, certain dress codes embedded in certain code of conduct rules, that Ms Firdaus’ dressing on the Call day violated the codes, and therefore she wasn’t entitled to be called. He argued further that Nigeria was a non-religious (secular) country, and so, any one religion cannot dress in any one way to such functions as the Call ceremony. He asked what if an elegun (masquerade) worshiper were to decide to attend the Call in the masquerade garb, claiming that that’s his faith’s stipulation. He concluded she would only be Called if she did the right thing, i.e. uncover her hair.

    We argued back and forth, none shifting ground for the other, but this was the crux of my arguments:

    1. True sir, we were taught. But no sir, such a rule against hair covering does not exist. A rule does not exist merely because it is taught; it must in fact exist. Show me the Rule anywhere, and I will shift ground on this point. Needless to say, he did not produce any rule, and indeed, he could not, for no such rule exists anywhere. (Please take note that I said a rule against HEAD COVERING).

    2. Assuming, without conceding, that such a rule exists, then it must necessarily be void. For the constitution of this country declares itself supreme and voids any law/rule made anywhere that purports to contradict it. Now the constitution recognises Ms Firdaus’ right to freedom of her religion (including practice, observance and propagation of same. And she can do this in public or in private. It’s all there in S. 38). (And by the way, this is enough proof the country is not secular but multi-religious: while the former says I don’t know anything called religion, the latter says I recognise religion and permit anyone to be anything- a subtle distinction to be sure, but a serious one.) Pursuant to the constitution, she adopted to be a muslim. Islam has stipulations. She follows them. All these still derive from her right in the constitution. So that in an indirect way, the right to wear the hijab has constitutional colourings. The Body of Benchers are supposed to be the brightest, most knowledgeable lawyers in the country (and the highest regulatory body in the legal profession in Nigeria), one one would not expect them to make such a silly rule to guide the profession. Thankfully, they did not.

    3. It is against all principles of humanity to segregate someone because of who they are. One’s faith, like one’s race is, as it rightfully ought to be, sacrosanct, it is part of who they are. To claim that hijabis should not be Called is to segregate them from being lawyers on account of their faith. Is there even an argument in this?

    So I knew from the onset that she would be Called. All that was needed was for the BoB to meet- I was sure the outcome of the meeting could only go one way: Ms Firdaus being Called- either upon conditions or without. If it had gone otherwise, I would have been disappointed in the extreme.

    And as you say, the hijab does not affect competence. Reminds me of a friend, a hijabi, who finished law school with a first class, and was denied a job in a top tier firm because of her hijab. What has that got to do with her brain? Does it cover her reasoning? But she wore hijab and wrote the Bar exams and made a First! Perhaps I will never understand certain things.

    Pardon the length of this… though this only just made it longer. Lol.

    Liked by 1 person

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