Muslim scholars and analysts have expressed concern that purported decision of young Muslim girls in Nigeria’s northern state of Kano to dump head covering could be as a result of “needless and unprofessional profiling” by security agents and non-Muslims alike.
“It is not surprising (if young Muslim ladies are avoiding hijab) given the context in which we are now where you see females being involved in attaching bombs to their body and many of them dying in the process,” Dr Abubakar Mu’azu, a known researcher on the insurgency in the country’s northeast, told OnIslam.net.
“Hijab which ordinarily should be a dress of modesty and fear of God in the human mind is now being abused by evil ones in the society,” he added.
Dr Mu’azu was commenting on a new phenomenon in which women in north Nigeria’s largest city Kano have been abandoning their traditional religious dress.
According to news reports, the young Muslim women decided to take the decision after the commercial city was hit last month by four separate attacks involving teenaged girls in the Muslim dress.
Targeted by security checks and even barred from entering malls while donning hijab, many women decided to abandon the Islamic headscarf.
“If young female in the northern part of the country are becoming apprehensive wearing the hijab it must be borne out of experience of how the security people have been handling issues that affect them. It is simply a case of profiling on the basis of one’s religious belief,” Dr Mu’azu said.
“We have incidences in this country when security forces will behave in such a way that invites concerns about how they treat people, Muslims in particular.”
Despite this, Dr Mu’azu admitted that the phenomenon of female suicide bombers may have created what he called the “fear factor” for the security agents whose lives are at risk dealing with such people with head covering.
“There is also the factor of fear, and I think this is one of driving factor. They fear for their lives and when they (security agents) see these young girls they try to subject them to checks,” according to him.
“There have been complaints, particularly about young women being unnecessarily questioned by the security forces so it is a situation that is very dicey. The need for security is being elevated over everything else and in the process it is impossible to find one or two bad elements in the security forces trying to abuse these young women simply because they are Muslims and they are wearing the hijab.”
Jama’atu Nasrul Islam (JNI) Secretary General Dr Khalid Aliyu told OnIslam.net that the apex Muslim body has not received any report of young Muslim ladies abandoning hijab on account of teenage girls purportedly being deployed as suicide bombers.
“If it is true, it is unfortunate, and I believe that the whole thing (about female Muslims concealing devices in hijab) is only a propaganda to give Islam a bad name,” he told OnIslam.net.
“It is quite unfortunate, even though I have not yet come across those who have shunned hijab. But whatever it is, it is unfortunate,” according to the Muslim leader.
Head of Nigeria’s influential Zakah and Sadaqah Foundation, Imam Abdullahi Shuaib, also said the situation is “sad”, but urged Muslims to exercise restraint and be resolute in their faith.
“I appeal to our Muslim brothers and sister to thread with caution. Not to be provoked into taking any nasty steps to harm ourselves,” he told OnIslam.net.
“This could be a test of our faith. We should be resolute with our faith. Nothing comes on a platter of gold. This might be our own test from Allah to test our faith and conviction. We should be careful and be cautious.”
But Hajiah Sheriffat Abidoye, a teacher in the commercial city of Kano, said she wasn’t aware of such phenomenon.
“I am an hijabite (veiled) and I am not ashamed to wear hijab. It is part of my identity as a Muslim woman,” Abidoye who originally hails from southwest Nigeria told OnIslam.net.
“Anyone dropping hijàb because of any blackmail or development could well leave Islam because someone chooses to say anything against Islam.
“Having said this, I am afraid report about people dropping hijab may have been hyped. I live in the midst of multitudes and I don’t know of anyone who has done so.”
Alhaji Femi Abass, media strategist at the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Muslims’ highest body in the country, told OnIslam.net that it is “quite unfortunate that is the option they have for now for their safety, for the security in the society and peace and harmony. That is the option they have and it is unfortunate.”
But Abass, a renowned scholar of Islamic jurisprudence, was quick to add that the fear is over the use of niqab “and we must understand that there is difference between hijab and niqab. Nigerian and western media often fail to draw the line.”
Imam Shuaib however called for caution as Nigeria goes through this phase.
“I think we have to be cautious about. It could be a ploy by some people – because of the political situation we are in – to try to create panic among the Muslim faithful. That is one theory,” he said.
“Then there is this claim, though not confirmed, of conspiracy against the Muslims. You see instances of non-Muslim applicants from predominantly Muslim north being given admission into the National Defense Academy more than Muslims. These are parts of the things you out together and begin to wonder if there is no conspiracy against the Muslim population.
“Don’t forget that this Boko Haram issue is predominantly restricted to the north where we have Muslims in the majority and the federal government does not seem to be doing anything practical to stem it. There seems to be intention to reduce so-called Muslim numbers ahead of the election. Politicians are deploying Machiavellian tactics just to retain power.”
Hijab not a fashion
Dr Aliyu, the JNI chief, called on Muslim female teenagers and women to avoid being intimidated to drop the use of hijab.
“Let these young women know that hijab is not a fashion. It is an act of worship ordained by Allah and made the sunnah of the prophet. So there is no cause for alarm. As long as they use it as an act of ibaadah, then they should not be distracted by those who want to see them out of hijab,” he told OnIslam.net.
Asked what he made of the teenage girls believed to have concealed explosive device under their head covering, the JNI chief said: “Of course this is propaganda against Islam. For example, those female criminals who wear trousers, have they been asked not to wear trousers again because they fear women who wear trousers could be criminals?”
For Imam Shuaib, the head of Zakah and Sadaqah Foundation, government must never contemplate the ban on hijab on account of some teenagers purportedly hiding explosives under their head covering.
The Imam said: “Government has not come out to say we are banning the use of hijab. Doing so will amount to illegality. It would be against the constitution.
“What we are seeing is action taken by some individuals who don’t have confidence in their belief system.
“It is just a temporary setback for Muslims. But we must be very strong because when something like this happens, it is to test our faith to know whether we are doing it based on conviction or based on convenience.