• Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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BusinessDay

OAU, do you really care about us?

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  Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, is not celebrated just for the splendour of its buildings or the legerdemain of her products. From time immemorial, ‘Great Ife’ has been a source of personal progression for innumerable young men and women who have swarmed to her shores, providing them with opportunities and hopes irrespective of background, tribe or social status. The greatest greatness in Ife is the opportunity to follow our personal convictions, ideas and thoughts and yet come together as one. OAU encouraged us to be ourselves and be open to understanding other cultures and peoples. We embraced and shared our abilities and knowledge and we found strength in our diversities.

So you can imagine my disappointment and bewilderment when I learnt of OAU’s decision to deny the right of a Muslim woman to cover her face. A study of the Qur’an and Islamic literature will lay bare the fact that this practice has always been part of Islam. The British colonials met Muslim women using face veil in present day South-West Nigeria.

Women who cover their faces are as normal as anyone else. Covering one’s body up does not reduce intelligence, physical and mental capabilities in getting a degree, making money, raising a family, being an informed member of society or social interaction with other humans. The veil does not make them inferior. Sadly, today, our society encourages women to display their bodies and not their brains.

Banning the veil is again reminding us that Muslims generally, and specifically Muslim women who wear the veil, are not accepted in our society for no other crime than upholding their religion that does not infringe on the rights of others. Like other aspects of the religion, no one should be forced to take it up against her conviction. These Muslim women chose to wear the veil out of their own free will. Why must the school authorities coerce them into dropping it? What it boils down to is choice. If we cannot stop the countless in the race of nudity on our campuses, why prevent those who decided to dress modestly? If we can encourage beauty pageants, why can’t we accommodate this?

I don’t know of any other public university, nay, any public space (not even Aso Rock), where Muslim women are banned and arrested for using veil except the ‘Great Ife’ that invited the veiled Lagbaja for its 50th anniversary celebration; what a world! The so-called ‘security’ reason for the ban is an outdated excuse. There is nothing stopping the authorities from sitting down with the concerned parties to iron out the grey areas, if there are any. Universities in many countries where Muslims are minorities acknowledge the right of a Muslim woman to practice this aspect of her religion. Our faculties would have met several veiled Muslim women on university campuses in countries with minority Muslim populations. Forcing someone to drop his or her religious conviction should not have a place in an ivory tower. Why is OAU out of place?

This is something I believe OAU should consider, except they are actually interested in forcing Muslim students out of school the same way a generation of Muslims were denied education because they won’t abandon their faith. This is a dreadful reality.

At least, half if not more of the people in Nigeria are Muslims. Therefore, one would think that OAU authorities would be more considerate and understanding of the Islamic faith and practices. Forcing a Muslim woman to take off her veil is changing who she wants to be. She should not be told which aspects of her religion to practice or drop; rather, we should have the right to explain what our religion dictates. We can sit down to discuss the reservations and apprehensions and chart a way forward together. This is the current trend in sane communities.

If we don’t learn to accommodate people of different nationalities, races and beliefs in a university setting, where will we get it right as a nation? Bennington College experiment had shown that ideas people imbibe at their collegial level remain indelible for the better part of their lives; what do you want us to remember OAU for? How do you want us to narrate this sad chronicle to the unborn generation? Many practices from other quarters are accepted, though it goes against the ‘norm of the society’, so what is stopping us from accepting the Muslim women who chose to practice this aspect of their religion?

Lastly, we must work together with a conviction that we are allied as one people irrespective of our beliefs and backgrounds. If there’s a child in the creeks of Bayelsa who is being oppressed, it should worry all of us same way as if a student on OAU campus is forced to choose between her right to practice her religion and her right to education. It’s this fundamental belief that can make this country progress. It is such belief that can strengthen our faith in this country; an understanding that will save us from the lethal disease of ‘our people must always be there to protect our interests’. It is such convictions that will make the heads support a worthy cause even if there is no Muslim among the principal officers of the school or its senate. This is the principle that will guarantee the strong institutions we all yearn for and the better Nigeria we all pray for. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not enthronement of secularisation as state religion.

 

MUHAMMAD BALOGUN

Balogun, a product development executive, sent in this piece from Ibadan.

 

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