FIRDAUS HIJAB CRUSADE. BY Abiodun Owonikoko San
The reactions (for and against ) to her conscientious objection to being forced to wear wig without hijab at her call to bar show that we are misinterpreting the poor girl .
And for those who may be unaware I was part of the appellants legal team in the Court of Appeal case that resolved the constitutionality of hijab wearing by female pupils in Lagos Stare public Secondary schools . It was from outset a test case . We needed someone with the right fact scenario to pursue it right from high court to the court of appeal .
In my view Firdaus was not unaware of the rules and code of dressing at call to Bar ceremonies for qualifying lawyers as happened last week . Hers was a conscious political statement ; probably misguided or not well informed having regard to the lack of consensus among muslim schools of thought on hijab being a religious prescription for muslim women . She knew well enough the consequence of her decision and was evidently prepared to face it. She craved publicity (free advert) for her cause on a global platform and she’s getting it . All said, I think I respect the girl more than I do those who fail to appreciate her objective – she wants a bar that is domesticated and nuanced to reflect our culture and realities . Whether accommodation of hijab for those who treasure it as a statement of faith (not necessarily of piety ) should be given consideration in the light of this incident ( which I welcome ) is a matter that we can no longer avoid discussing robustly . Citing differences between US , UK legal system and ours is not an answer to the question posed by the poor lady . I want to believe She’s having her laugh at us because she set us an exam which we elected to sit for – but now insist on marking her script as her examiner . We need more of her type who have courage of their conviction with willingness to pay the price , to challenge our settled view about matters that require deep rethinking . If someone were to refuse to wear wig and gown at call to bar on account of being a colonial anachronism (not based on religion ) I wonder if we would have a different argument in rejoinder to him.
Having said that , would I ( as a muslim) advise my daughter to do what Firdaus Amasa did if and when she qualifies to be called to Bar ? Certainly not. But would I be upset by it , if I knew ahead and was convinced she chose to do it as a matter of conscience with full appreciation of the implications for her career in the conservative legal profession – you bet I will NOT. Not that I have any choice . My first daughter was supposed to be at the law school presently ; 2 years ago she called home from school abroad and said to me – I am tired of living your dream , this law is not my calling – she quit . At least three other more senior SAN colleagues tried in vain to persuade her to complete the course to no avail . She had to return to Nigeria for a fresh student visa to pursue her preferred course . She’s been back over there in another college for about two years living her dream .
Fridaus is a test of the limit of our tolerance for disruptive change that is upon us in Nigeria, across all disciplines . Since the news broke we have seen that the issue raised by Firdaus is not esoteric – it’s been addressed in other African commonwealth countries satisfactorily.
Most of us do not know that in Kenya the bar has accommodated use of hijab by muslim women along with their wigs in court . Did it occur to senior muslim lawyers (particularly female) to advocate a reform like this when we had a muslim female CJN? That would have been a perfect factual scenario for sympathetic hearing . it would perhaps have made the Firdaus drama needless and obviated.
We can only conserve and preserve traditions and systems that work and increase value for efforts . That’s why we observe children of eminent lawyers taking degrees in the profession only out giving regard to their parents expectation but immediately hanging their wig and gown after call to bar to pursue their own dreams (or fantasies ) like acting , singing , fashion , computer coding etc. albeit with differing outcomes on the scale of success if measured only in money terms while their self-fulfillment and happiness are discounted . Our younger generations cannot bear in silence , the hardship and frustration we endure with our atavistic conformance with moribund status quo. They are giving us warning of an incipient rebellion against seeming imperviousness to need for holistic reform that answers to demands of the present and needs of a future that is more of their own than that of our expiring generation . This jihad of provoking intellectual debate is far better and should be warmly welcome in lieu of that made notorious by ISIS and Boko Haram .
A.J. OWONIKOKO SAN .