Disquiet and uneasy calm are probably the best attribute to describe the present situation in the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta over the latest description of Niqab (face veil) of Muslim ladies as ‘lousy and immoral’.
The description was contained in a Bill Board recently displayed by the FUNNAB authorities to describe to students, what constitutes unacceptable dress code in the institution.
Many, particularly members of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria were amazed by what they described as brazen display of hatred to Islamic mode of dressing.
A billboard describing the Niqab (already pronounced ‘banned’ in the school) as an immoral dressing was erected around 12.00 noon on Monday, 15th October, 2017.
The billboard with thirteen pictures condemned all forms of societal indecencies and immoralities and put the picture of the typical Islamic dress codes of a veiled Muslim female among them, carrying a ‘banned’ tag and stating clearly, beneath, that FUNAAB detests ‘lousy and immoral dressing‘.
As if that is not enough, the picture of a Muslim lady in veil was placed clearly at the centre of other immoral pictures of a tattooed lady, and of nude and immodest dressings.
On sighting the billboard, Muslim students reportedly got angry and almost took the laws into their hands until the MSSN Amir intervened.It was also learnt that some female Muslims burst into tears on sighting the billboard
It also took the swift intervention of the Acting Vice Chancellor, Prof Ololade Enikuomehin also called for calm and apologised to the Muslim Students over the needless attack on their religious sensibilities,
Enikuomehin expressed his apology to the leadership of MSSN, promised to immediately revisit the issue and subsequently ordered the removal of the controversial billboard after much pressure and display of disapproval to it by members of the MSSN.
In a statement made available to Renaissance, MSSN is of the view that the billboard roundly captures FUNNAB’s ‘abrasive description of what a Muslim lady represents, alleging that the school does not only believe that the Islamic dress is ‘lousy and immoral’ but also ‘regarded it as an act of debauchery’.
While calling on students to shun violence in seeking redress on the ban of veil in the school, the Amir of MSSN, FUNNABAbdulAzeez Olawale Shobajo urged the fight Chancellor to ensure justice, quoting the words of Pope Paul VI, “if you want peace, give justice.”
“It is on this note that we want to tell all Muslim Students of FUNAAB to remain completely law-abiding on this issue. If you must express your rights to opinions, do so lovingly with advices to the management, for, truly, isn’t our young minds, opinions and relations, and the perspectives of the wise old, what bring about this community?
“The MSSN FUNAAB, choose, like always, to follow what the religion preaches which is to give excuses to entities and not be quick to display opprobrium. This is what we have always been known for and that is why official steps are being taken to seek justice to this matter.”
The MSSN however accused the school authorities of hate and religious intolerance, saying the erection of the billboard only climaxed the series of oppression its members have had to suffer from the bigoted leadership of the institution, alleging also that none of their previous complaints have attracted the attention of the school authority.
“Though, several letters have been written aforetime to the Office of the Vice Chancellor as regards the ‘Circular to all Students on Dress Code’ which was released on 25th July, 2017.
“It is to no wonder that as regards the ‘Circular to all Students on Dress Code’ which was released on 25th July, 2017, we have not for once received confirmation that the VC got or is to listen to our appeal to the Senate to revisit the issue and grant the Muslims their right to freely practice their religion.
“This release does not necessarily address the processes sought after with the management on this issue.It is to tell everyone that calm must be maintained.
“But the Vice Chancellor, who also doubles as the Chairman of Senate, is a man of high integrity and love for peace. He respects the dictates of this religion. He knows that right to freedom of religion needs no quoting; that it is an intrinsic part of our existence as citizens of this country,” the statement said.
How it all began
The trouble started about two years ago when the management questioned the reason for the existence of veil users in the school. Not satisfied with the MSSN explanation that the practise is a legislated Islamic act, the authorities went further to ask the FUNNAB Muslim Community to summon and question the identity of the veil users. It was resolved that the Sisters were to identify themselves with school ID cards and show their faces to the female securities or personnel at any point of demand. This was agreed to as a practice obtainable in any setting – Everyone has to be identified, veiled or unveiled.
It is important to note that of the over fifteen thousand students in the FUNAAB, there are only about twenty-one Niqabis (veil users) in the school. Muslim students have thus been alarmed and wondered how and why such infinitesimal number of Sisters are seen as odd and worthy of victimisation and discrimination in a democratic and civilised country like Nigeria.
The MSSN had claimed that the latently but potent hatred for Islam and discrimination of Muslim Sisters have been unofficial and remained in the realm of hearsays and rumour mill, until the Acting Vice Chancellor made the formal proclamation, bothering on compulsory identification of Sisters at will.
Renaissance gathered that despite the their compliance with the identification order, these Sisters were still denied entry into classrooms for tests and halls as well as laboratories for practicals by mostly non-Muslim lecturers. They have the options to either remove their veils or forfeit the academic exercise.
The matter got to its peak in the month of June, July and August this year when tests and examinations took place successively, with innocent Niqabis massively denied their academic right on the basis of their religious right.
Besides, many actually attributed the brazenness of the lecturers and the hype in denials to the prompting by the Acting VC’s statement at an event during Ramadan where he said, despite the earlier identification agreement, that ‘the school is not in support of face veils’.
In another release by MSSN entitled: Campaign for the Oppressed Muslim Ladies in FUNNAB, Abeokuta, the student body lamented the oppression, describing it as agonising.
“They denied them their basic rights and caused them too much tears. Some of these Muslims have been veil users from their homes. Isn’t it to oppressively force their faces open to traumatize them and diminish their worth, especially, to themselves?
“Today, the injustice of FUNAAB towards the Muslim ladies has moved beyond mere discrimination. It has turned to that which causes heartaches to the law-abiding citizens. A ‘Circular To All Students On Dress Code’ was pasted which, apart from other seeming general rules, contains a ban on ‘any clothing which covers the face’. This calls for a more serious attention.”
In a campaign codenamed #StandWithNiqobi_FUNAAB, #MyReligionMyRight_FUNAAB and #MyNiqobMyReligion_FUNAAB, MSSN questioned the right of the school to postulate such law, maintaining that the veiled lady has every right, backed by the nation’s constitutional to express her religious belief, especially when she constitutes no threat to security.
“She is just a Muslim student who wants to do everything good in life while she devoutly serves her Lord. Has she any crime by being a Muslim? It is like victimising individual for not wearing footwears while in their white religious garb, or for wearing caps, or any other apparel.
“Isn’t freedom from oppression, hatred, slavery, foolishness, injustice and abuse, what we have been taught in schools to stand up against? Isn’t rejection of silent killing the dauntlessness our nation’s constitution has taught us to uphold?, MSSN inquired.
Speaking on this development, a social critic from Olabisi Onabanjo University, Dr Olufemi Ogunkoya appealed for calm in the face of what he called the ‘unwarranted provocation from the bigoted authorities’, but advised the affected students to, rather than just lamenting, put up a strong petition and send it to the Federal Ministry of Education in Abuja, with copies despatched to the Presidency, the National Assembly committees, National Human Rights Commission, Muslim Rights Concern and similar bodies.
“Be proactive, do something, don’t just lament”, he advised.
Ogunkoya said this approach remains a veritable option to seeking a change in a system and pursuing ones right in a civilised society rather than resort to protests, demonstration or any other form of self help that could lead to violence.
By Adeyinka Aremu