By; JACOB ONJEWU DICKSON
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is considering interim relief to allow a Muslim female soldier to wear hijab. The minister of defence is also set to review the policy on dress code in the South African army. The female soldier, Major Fatima Isaacs, reportedly disobeyed the order of a senior officer who asked her to remove the hijab she adorned under her beret.
In a related development, a female Muslim police woman of South East origin who was formerly called Patience but who has converted to Islam and now bears Halimah is allegedly facing disciplinary action from her senior colleagues for using hijab with her police uniform somewhere in Ikorodu, Lagos State. A photograph of Halimah in police uniform with her hijab tucked under her police beret went viral two weeks ago.
Sequel to this development, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has appealed to the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Police and all para-military forces in the country to allow their female Muslim staffers to use hijab. This was stated in a press statement signed by its director, Professor Ishaq Akintola, on Tuesday, 23rd July, 2019.
According to the Islamic human rights organization, “Many Muslim women in the armed forces and the police are suffering in silence. Halimah the police woman is not the only one who craves to use hijab. There are many others. They cannot speak out for fear of the kind of disciplinary action being faced by Halimah. But the result is lack of job satisfaction, loss of focus and a desertification of spiritual well-being. They are just being human and every homo sapien is body, soul and spirit.
“This is why we are calling on the police authorities to treat Halimah’s case with understanding. This is not a case of professional misconduct. It is a quest after spiritual sanctification. The police should note Section 38 (i) and (ii) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which guarantees her religious freedom.
“The case of Halimah can be compared to that of Fatima in South Africa and the latter is not being court-martialed. Instead, the South African army is reviewing its dress code as it pertains to Muslims. This is what our army and police should do. We cannot affor to stick dogmatically to an anachronistic system.
“The world is changing fast. Lt. Cdr. Wafa Dabbagh became the first Canadian military officer to wear hijab in 1996 and the Canadian military dress code manual was adjusted to allow it in 2001.
Canada gave her female Muslim police officers the liberty to wear hijab in 2013
“Scotland had just six female Muslims out of 17,242 officers in August 2016 when it approved hijab because it was discovered that Muslim women were avoiding police job due to fear of losing their hijab if they joined (https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/scotland-police-muslim-hijab-diversity-tolerance/ and https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-3716642). Ireland joined the European bandwaggon on approval of hijab for police women who are Muslims in April 2019 (https://www.islamicfinder.org/news/ireland-permits-muslim-police-officers-to-wear-hijab/)
“The British police, Ireland, Scotland, US, Canada, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Trinidad and Tobago, New Zealand, Australia, etc have already keyed into the use of hijab by their female Muslim members. In November 2018, a High Court judge in Trinidad ruled that Muslim women police officers are to be allowed to wear their hijabs while on duty. So what is Nigeria waiting for?
“These are verifiable facts. Infotech has reduced the world to a global village. Instead of engaging in armchair criticism, we advise doubting Thomases to check the following links:
“The United States Army approved hijab in 2017 following a memorandum issued by the Secretary of the US Army in Washington on 3rd January 2017 under the subject-matter Army Directive 2017-03 (Policy for Brigade-Level Approval of Certain Requests for Religious Accomodation)
“It is only in Nigeria that religious maradonisation has taken control of our thinking faculties and we have consequently excommunicated objectivity from our boarders. The hijab does not interfere with the professional efficiency of the person wearing it. For crying out loud, she covers her head, not her brain!
“Available records indicate that several Muslim women have shelved the idea of joining any of the uniformed forces for fear of abandoning hijab. We therefore advocate the use of hijab by female Muslim uniformed officers in keeping with global best practices. It is the only obstacle standing between Muslim women and military service, including the police, customs, immigrations, traffic administrators, etc.
“We call on the army, police and paramilitary authorities to meet the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) which is the umbrella organization for all Islamic associations in the country with a view to discussing the dress code for Muslims in their institutions. It is interesting to note that a similar discussion is currently taking place this week between the South African defence force and representatives of the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) of South Africa.
“The revision of the dress code for Muslims in the Nigerian armed forces and its para-military must not be seen as an anathema when the South African army is considering same even when the population of Muslims in South Africa is just 1.9% whereas Muslims are in the majority in Nigeria.
“The cases of Fatima and Halimah must jog the professional conscience of the Nigerian military and the Nigerian police. For how long can we remain dogmatic? For how long must we enslave Nigerian Muslims under neo-colonialism?
“Even the colonial master has softened up. Female Muslims in the British police have been using hijab for years now. It amounts to gender discrimination with a religious taint. It also means that Nigeria is yet to fully integrate its Muslim population fifty-nine years after independence. It casts a shadow of insincerity on our so-called efforts at building cohesion, oneness and peace.
“The present system is, to say the least, parochial, discriminatory and oppressive. Our uniforms should be fashioned to suit the needs of our communities and Muslims constitute an integral part of our communities. By the same token, our military and police forces should genuinely mirror the communities they serve. Allowing female Muslim officers to use hijab will trully reflect the richness and diversity of our country.
“A liberal policy which allows female Muslim officers to wear hijab will inject a huge dose of confidence in the Muslim population and give them greater sense of belonging. As it stands today, our military and paramilitary uniforms appear to have been designed for a non-Muslim environment and population. It is not Muslim-friendly but anti-Muslim. Many Muslim police and para-military officers are suffering in silence. This should not happen in a true democracy. It is high time we corrected this lopsided democratic entity.
MURIC charges Northern states which have large Muslim majorities to immediately and speedily launch the pilot scheme by embarking on the fashioning of para-military uniforms of female Muslims which conform with Islamic guidelines. We cannot afford to continue a copy-cat policy which derides Islam. The liberation drive must start now.
“We charge the Federal Government (FG) to include hijab as part of the dress code for women volunteers in the proposed community police which plans to recruit 40,000 volunteers in every state. Particularly now that we are starting community policing, involve Muslim women in hijab. We remind FG that women in Muslim communities will find it more convenient to relate and confide in Muslim police women who use hijab. Criminologists agree that women in communities are sine qua non to the provision of information to the police at grassroot level.
“In summary, we call for the immediate review of the dress code policy as it affects Muslims generally in the Nigerian Army, the police and paramilitary forces in line with global best practices. FG should kickstart this policy as Nigeria embarks on an aggressive community policing in the next few weeks. We appeal to the Nigeria police to allow Halima the police woman to continue to use her hijab.”