Why I started Hijab Rights Initiative- By Mutiat Orolu-Balogun

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As a young child, I had always wanted to be a Newscaster. I just loved their on-screen presence and their command of language, as far as I remember, no other profession appealed to me.
I would always favour the arts even though I found science interesting and did well in them. I had always been a “talkative” but as I grew older, I learned to channel it into Drama, Debates and contributing in class. But I had always being one to abhor injustice and speak out when I felt things were wrong. ( I eventually did some media work…story for another day).

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When I got to the senior classes particularly in SS3, a fellow classmate of mine whose Mum and some siblings were practicing lawyers started gisting us about things that happened in court and cases her mum was handling! I was intrigued. I decided I was going to study Law myself! Imagine my mum’s surprise when I wanted law as first choice when filling out my jamb form.
As WAEC results and Jamb were released, I had done well enough to qualify for the merit list in LASU, but as it turned out my name was somehow omitted and was given Islamic studies as a course. At that point, I did not mind really, and even hoped I would get a course in education, but Lo and behold! I wasn’t registrable because my Islamic Studies result was seized by WAEC.

Toor! the battle for admission began, as everyone who saw my grades would wonder why I was not on the merit list. My sweet Mum and I would be in LASU before the sun rose and will leave only at sun down continuously for about two weeks.
At a time, I was offered a new course that was to start in LASU that year although on part time basis, Yoruba Communication Arts!  I was going to accept but my uncle remarked “If their own Child had this kind of Result, I don’t think they’ll send her to study Yoruba (No offense to those who did.)….let her do Jamb again, I’m sure she’ll pass’’. I made a fervent prayer that night, with an heavy heart and teary eyes….  “Oh Allah! Grant me this Law only  if it will be good for me and my hereafter. And if only I’ll be able to use it for Islam.”

Alhamdulillah!  My prayer was answered on the day of Matriculation, a list with two names came out for LAW and I was one of them. Registration and school soon started and I picked up the Hijab as well. I ended up being the only Hijabi in my class till we graduated. I stood out of course, always sat in front, tried to participate in class as much as I could and enjoyed almost every bit of it.
However, the question always lingered in my mind, and was asked by others, “How will you wear your Hijab in Law School, Law dinners, Call to Bar etc.?” Law School was an intellectual marathon which I loved and but I did not find it easy because one staff or the other will have something to say about my hijab. I had to be strategic in all I did and how I showed up! Dinners and Call to Bar were nightmares… Nightmares other Hijabis no longer have to face due to the bravery of Sis Firdaous Amasa. May Allah reward her abundantly.

I got married three weeks after my bar exam, and results came out few weeks after. Incidentally, I heard of the release of the results on Sunday evening and I already had plans to apply for my international passport on Monday morning as I was planning to go for umrah. My Husband went to Law school to buy the scratch card to check my results while I went to the passport office in Festac.
During the course of the morning, he called be and gave me the good news of not only passing, but getting a really good grade. I was elated, infact I was much more happier than I was on my wedding! I was new bride still in her honeymoon phase, I was about to go for Umrah and I passed my bar exams! Indeed I was grateful to Allah for His favours.

At the immigration office in Festac, we filled the forms, made payments and it was time to capture our biometrics. The officer then stated “Alhaja remove this your hijab or bring out your ears”. The balloon of my joy and euphoria just got punctured….gbas! The Muslim brother that was next in line had already turned away his face ( I guess he wanted to see no evil).
The Officer Mrs. T (short for her surname) started calling me unprintable names, you know the usual terrorist, fundamentalist, extremist….all the ists and she made sure to state she was married to a “very deep Muslim” and her children all had Muslim names and she went on and on on my case.
I tried to state my case a calmy as I could but at a point, all I could do was cry….it seemed my despair was now equal to the euphoria I just felt some minutes ago.
We were take from office to office and from Oga to Oga with no headway. Until we reached the Oga patapata, who aksed if I wanted to use the passport for Umrah, If I had filled out the form, and if I had paid the requisite fees. I answered all in the affirmative and he asked her to capture me with my Hijab intact.

She kept arguing with her boss that it was not allowed, and her boss then challenged her  to bring out the document that stated that the ears must be bared. She replied there was no document but “that is how we have been doing it since Oga Olanrewaju was here”. The Boss stated “well I’m the boss here now, so I command you to go and do it for her” and ushered us all out of his office.
When we returned to the data capturing room, she instructed all the men to leave the room and close the doors, and went on to tell me to remove my hijab or bring out my wears. To which I refused. I was weak in the knees… that she was willing to disobey the direct command of her boss just to enforce a non-existent law or administrative practice.

At my refusal, she stormed out of the room and another elderly male officer came in to capture me. When I got home, I was not only exhausted, I couldn’t even celebrate passing my bar exams.
Call to bar came soon after and I experienced the humiliation all over again, this time with no one to come to our aid. My husband couldn’t even go into the hall. Only my Mum and Father-in-law did. All the sisters in the mosque being called to the bar, we couldn’t even congratulate ourselves. We just went out as if we were all going to the slaughter slab and returned as if our souls had been ripped out of us.
It has always been at the back of my mind, that the discrimination we face as Hijabis not only kills, our joys and self-esteem, sometimes, it makes us forget to be grateful for Allah’s favours because we are too immersed in our grief.

After having the opportunity to live abroad for a while, mostly in the Middle East and later in the UK, I returned home and confronted the harsh reality facing Hijabis yet again.  I was to apply for my drivers’ license and faced this issue again. After standing up for myself, quoting the constitution and pulling out the “I am a Lawyer” card, I was registered. I made a whatsapp post about it and it kind of went viral. I started receiving calls from people who had experienced the same and asking what they could do.
I felt helpless. I was on another group and issues of Hijab denial for our children started coming up, I’m thinking we faced this, so our children will also face this?I remembered my fervent prayer of January 2000 when I was seeking admission  and decided I had to do something.

I also recalled the incident in my secondary school where we approached the school authorities to let us wear hijab on our uniforms, as some girls had started wearing them on their house wears about a year before. We had gotten hold of the old prospectus of the school which showed that Muslim girls could wear hijab, and the principal, Mrs E.O Babaniji  although a christain herself, allowed Muslim girls to do so, from the following session. And till today, in FGGC Oyo, Muslim girls are still wearing their Hijab Alhamdulillah. We succeeded because we did something! I was encouraged.
Hijab Rights Advocacy Initiative was thus born with 9 women and 1 man as members of the Board of Trustees. These individuals are leaders in their respective organisations such as FOMWAN, Criterion, Al Muminaat, NASFAT, Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria, Ansarudeen, MICA etc.

We currently have members from all works of life and residing all over Nigeria and beyond.We have been trying our best to advocate and fight for the rights of Muslim Women and girls to continue to wear their hijabs without discrimination.
With the recent Supreme Court Judgement in the case of Asiyat abdulKareem & Ors V. Lagos state Government & Ors  delivered on the 17th of June 2022 we are encouraged and grateful for Allah’s help.

We are not perfect and we have not done enough, but we will continue to try our best and we count on the continuous support of the Ummah.Jazakumllahu Khairan Katheeran.(47:7) يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنْ تَنْصُرُوا اللَّهَ يَنْصُرْكُمْ وَيُثَبِّتْ أَقْدَامَكُمْO you who have believed, if you support Allah, He will support you and plant firmly your feet.

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