On Kwara’s faith debacle (1) – By Olatunji Ololade

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Religion is the highland to viral nature, the fabled staircase to the Christian Paradise and the Muslim’s Al Jannah Firdaus. Its sacred rungs, however, descend to the filth of faith amid conflicting creeds’ earthly bowels – oftentimes. To ascend mystic nirvana, Nigerians will maul earth into a grisly hell.

In Nigeria, religion is glyptic; faith is carved with incised edge astride mystic culture and human nature. The steely autograph of the Nigerian faithful is seen in his inclination to do right or wrong, in God’s name.

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Consider the Kwara debacle, for instance. For the second time in seven days, Muslims and Christians in the state hopped in the trenches to battle over the rights of Muslim girls to wear hijab in secondary schools. In bid to forestall total anarchy, the state government shut down 10 schools that were at the centre of the controversy after anti-and pro-hijab groups attacked each other with stones and steel chairs among other weapons.

The incident which occurred at the Sabo-Oke parish of the Cherubim and Seraphim School was contained by the combined efforts of the Kwara State Police command, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Nigeria Army.

Children, mostly minors, are the major casualties of this pious recklessness. The Kwara debacle confirms Nigeria’s penchant for religious hypocrisy and mayhem: from Boko Haram’s terrorism in the northeast, Kaduna’s religious wars to Plateau’s sacred scuffles, children get orphaned, displaced and sexually molested.

Yet the Nigerian faithful celebrates treasonous pieties while afflicting our families, workplaces, and schools, among other social institutions with bigots. Little wonder we sire children into unregenerate nature.

If there is any lesson to be learnt from Kwara’s hijab fiasco, it is that we have forgotten our duty as teachers and parents. The Nigerian adult, be he a teacher, clergyman, mullah or parent has forgotten his mission to children; that is, to teach them humaneness and help them understand that the essence of education and religion is to make them more tolerant, more compassionate, more forgiving and humane.

Ignoring these facts, the controversial Kwara schools are saying that: “There are no warm womb-spaces within our walls for Muslim students.” By offering no safe space for compassionate nurturing and religious freedom, they maul scholarship into chaos and faith into shafts of infernal devilment.

The schools claim that they are “mission schools” and that government merely offers them support in grants. They claim absolute right to ban the hijab and run their schools as they deem fit.

On the flipside, government quotes a 2006 education law that allows Muslim students to exercise religious freedom in public schools including the use of hijab. All the affected schools are public schools and there are several justifications for categorising them so – these will be dealt with subsequently.

This minute, Kwara dissembles into a war zone as its adult citizens engage in battle frenzy; like medieval crusaders in visceral herds, they mentalise war and seek to actualise it.

Predictably, media platforms offer fosterage of dubious sophistry in patronage of the warring herds.

Most commentators are not saying anything new, however. Like spectres of battle sound, they amplify prejudice and slaughter jazz. Ultimately, they refasten the religious war harness and enable Pyrrhic claims to victory of their favoured divides. Shame.

As clergymen, journalists, teachers, school administrators dissociate faith from compassion and pure thought, the brilliant sheen of bias in Nigeria’s popular religions makes the eye “glide” along its shiny surface. The hardness repels vision, like medieval savagery cast unto humane civilisation.

Beyond the arguments and counter-arguments, ‘gospel’ truths and relative truths, sophistry and arrant bigotry, a bitter truth subsists about Kwara’s hijab debacle: that several faithful practice faith without compassion, salvation without spirit.

Does using a hijab prevent other children from effective assimilation in class? No. Does it distract the teacher and school authority from serving the interest of the children to whom they owe the duty of unsullied tutelage and care? No.

While the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), journalists” and public commentators weaponise gall and casuistry, to justify the victimization of the hijab-loving high school girl, in more cultured, tolerant clime, the hijab is allowed in humane and mutually beneficial circumstances.

At the Cheetham Church of England Academy in the United Kingdom, for instance, Muslim students are allowed to don the hijab without incident.

And even though Australia, like several nations in Europe and America, flaunts her share of Islamophobia, a Baptist college in the country recently did the ‘unthinkable’ for its first hijabi Singaporean student, Sumaiyah Rahmad. Syahrom, her father, enthused that the principal of the college painstakingly prepared a praying area for Sumaiyah. And after discussing with the girl’s mother, the principal proposed to the school’s board that hijab and clothing that cover aurat (private parts) be included as part of the school uniform.

Recognising that Islam considers hijab as an obligatory clothing and spiritual code, not a  mere religious symbol. The board members agreed on the proposal and starting 2020, modest clothing like black leggings, white long sleeve tops, and white or black hijab were included as part of the school’s uniform.

Ironically, a Nigerian Baptist school is in the trenches fighting dirty against the use of the hijab by its female students. The womb-like walls of the high school are too tender for such acrid drama. Schools are meant to foster in the student, a sterling character,  appreciable sophistication and individuality but at Kwara’s controversial high schools, the notion is unseemly.

Several chapters in the Muslim Holy Quran prescribe the hijab of the eyes for the Muslim male, and the use of the hijab, khimur and jilibab for the Muslim female. This connotes Islam’s culture of modesty, purity, pride and tact in clothing and deportment.

How can anyone rebel against such, especially in an era when secondary school girls are ditching their panties and brasserie on the way to school, screaming “Marlians don’t wear undies!” in homage to a local musician’s salacious lyricism.

Religion, as H. Richard Niebuhr said, is a good thing for good people and a bad thing for bad people. And the faith has long been used in the wrong hands—such as Boko Haram and their sponsors hiding under the guise of Islam to perpetrate mayhem.

In Kwara, religion is currently being used to foment trouble. The situation worsens as warring Christians stew in an Armageddon complex and their Muslim rivals declare the situation a Jihad.

Since enemies have to be defeated, there must be a final battle, after which the controversial schools will have “absolute control of their schools and place a total ban on the hijab perhaps. But what happens after that?

Do they run Muslim students out of the educational system or completely stamp out their right to identity and religious freedom?

This is not about the warring adult faithful hugging marketable rage with entitlement syndrome. It is about the Muslim girl-child’s right to individuality, justice and religious freedom.

What is faith to the administrators of Kwara’s controversial public ‘mission’ schools? What is faith to the victimised hijabi and her Christian mate? What is faith to the Nigerian bigot?

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