Asiyat AbdulKareem, now 21, is full of praises to Almighty Allah following the Supreme Court judgement of Friday, June 17, which granted the use of hijab for female Muslim students in Lagos State government-owned schools, and by extension, all states of the Federation.
Today’s Judgement at the apex court sitting in Abuja, many believe, will bring an end to more than a decade of incessant assaults and molestations of Muslim female students over their use of the hijab in Lagos State.
Muslim News findings revealed that the case of Ms AbdulKareem was neither the first not last, but the 400L Radiography student of College of Medicine University of Lagos (CMUL/LUTH) is the reason the Nigerian Muslim community is in jubilation mode.
“I feel happy and excited about today’s judgment. I am very grateful that justice was finally served after a decade of denial. At the court this morning, I remembered that public molestation of 2012, just because as a secondary school student, I chose to wear the hijab”, Ms AbdulKareem told Muslim News, in an exclusive interview.
According to her, “Just like yesterday, the JSS 2 student of that year is now a medical student in the University, it’s really emotional. I am happy that the highest court in Nigeria has given a verdict in favour of the hijab, what else do I wish for? Justice can be delayed but never denied. Alhamdulillah.
Read Asiyat AbdulKareem’s full story below, as published in 2016
THE TRIUMPH OF HIJAB AGAINST ALL ODDS …a success story
Asiyat AbdulKareem was once physically assaulted for wearing hijab, but today, she’s being celebrated as the overall best student in the Lagos State Schools Quiz (LSSQ) competition. Would her success story bring about HOPE for the hijab in Lagos where execo-judicial hypocrisy has held sway? RASHEED ABUBAKAR writes…
Without doubt, the emergence of a 16 year-old Asiyat Abdulkareem as the overall best and the Best Mathematician at the 2016 edition of Lagos State Schools Governors Quiz Competition Season VII came with a rude shock to many, but what is probably more surprising but unknown to many is that the same lady was once a victim of hijab discrimination in a Lagos state-owned school.
Asiyat was molested for daring to wear hijab (Muslim headcover) on her school uniform, under the pretext that hijab didn’t make her smart enough and that ‘over indulgence or involvement’ in religious matters may negatively affect her academic performance.
Theologically or jurisprudentially, hijab is the basic requirement for Muslim ladies which must be adorned whenever she is outside the confines of her home.
Seeing Asiyat in a grey knee-length suit adorned with Hijab and black socks to match on Friday, July 8, 2016 at the special event held for One-day Governor and his five-man cabinet member at the State House, Ikeja, the scenario quickly cast one’s mind back to the ugly event that led to the assault, more than four years ago.
On the 11th of January, 2012, the then 12-year- old Asiyat was publicly molested by the Vice Principal of her school, Atunrase Junior High School, Surulere, Lagos alongside another female pupil, Maryam Oyeniyi because they wore hijab on school uniforms.
The VP, Mrs. Oyefeso, who met the girls in a commercial bus, viciously removed the hijabs from their heads, claiming the headscarf was not part of the school uniform. She, however, released the head covers to the helpless pupils following condemnations from the aggrieved and the disgusted passengers over her obvious display of hatred for hijab and crass exhibition of religious bigotry.
According to Oyefeso, her action was predicated on the existing policy banning the ‘use of appendages’, including hijab on uniforms in Lagos state public primary and secondary schools.
Ironically, the same policy allowed the use of hijab during Islamic Religious Knowledge classes and obligatory prayers (Zuhr, Jumat and Asr), which fall within the school hours.
As if that was not enough, on getting to school, Mrs. Oyefeso who could not stomach the reactions of the passengers in the bus decided to ventilate her anger in the school where her authority could not be questioned. She addressed the assembly and directed other teachers to forcefully remove and seize the hijab of any pupil wearing same on the school uniform, within and outside the school premises.
“She called us out on the same assembly ground. She did not only attempt to humiliate us, she also seriously threatened us. I was really embarrassed. Since then, I knew it would be difficult for me to continue to wear hijab while still in secondary school,” the young scholar recalled while chatting with AL-FAHM shortly after the reception organised for them by the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode.
The hijab-wearing Asiyat, who acted as a One-day Commissioner for Education, was celebrated alongside other students that formed the cabinet of the 2016 One-day Governor of Lagos State, Master Olaseinde Olufemi Joshua, the winner of a keenly contested grand finale of the Spelling Been Competition, an initiative of Mrs Oluremi Tinubu, wife of the former governor of the State, founded 16 years ago.
Asiyat was brought up in accordance with the Islamic tenets and she imbibed the culture of using hijab in public places. But her quest for knowledge, which Islam encourages, has made her and other hijab wearing pupils to lose this right.
“Since the incident, it has become difficult for me to wear my hijab on uniform within and outside school. I only put on beret since hijab isn’t allowed,” Asiyat narrated, adding that; “at the beginning, it was difficult, since JSS 1 and this is SS 2, it has been a life without hijab on school uniform. I can’t wait to graduate so that I can be free to use my Hijab without victimisation.”
Emerging Overall best student
Young Asiyat had participated in various competitions and emerged winners of different categories. The glorious journey started in 2013 when as a junior student, Asiyat represented her school, Atunrase Junior High School at Science Camp. She came first. She had the 2nd Best, Junior WAEC result, in District 6.
In 2014, she emerged the Best Student in Mathematics, Junior Category at the Muslim Teachers Association of Nigeria (MUTAN), Mushin Zone Competition. In 2016, she was adjudged the 2nd Best Overall in the Senior category of the same Competition, and best student in English, Islamic Studies, and 3rd in Biology, respectively.
Miss AbdulKareem also participated in the Lagos State Schools Governors’ Competition, formerly known as BRF Quiz in 2014, where she came 3rd. Two years later, she was the cynosure of all eyes as she emerged Overall Best in the 2016 edition of the same Quiz, and Best studentS in Mathematics.
In an interview with AL-FAHM, Asiyat narrated; “I didn’t participate in the Spelling Bee where the One-day Governor emerged. I took part in the Lagos State Schools Governor’s Quiz competition and I came Overall Best and the Best Mathematician in Lagos State.
“The 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the Spelling Bee; the Best Individual Speaker in the Debate; the Best in the National Science & Tech; and the Best Mathematician in the LSSGQ formed the executive cabinet in which I was made the Commissioner for Education (smiles). Four (4) out of the six (6) winners are Muslims, including all the ladies.” she explained.
Asiyat smiled home with a cheque of N250, 000, a tab and a plaque, with other prizes for emerging first in the LSSGQ.
The brilliant young scholar dedicated her feat to all Muslim ladies who are being oppressed or persecuted for wearing Hijab across the world.
She said; “If I didn’t use hijab before I leave school, it’s my prayer that the people coming after me would be able to use it, without any intimidation.
“I don’t really know why they hate hijab. Imagine, some people even wanted us to wear cap when we wanted to meet the Governor, before one of them said we could put on anything but what is important is that we wore suit. That’s why I wore my Hijab on suit.”
The Lagos Hijab Saga
Asiyat is one of the reasons the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Lagos State Area Unit is in court today. Shortly after she and her friend were molested by their Vice Principal, the duo approached the Ikeja, Lagos High Court to enforce their fundamental rights and that of other Muslim pupils to use hijab in public schools.
Different Muslim organisations joined the campaign following series of well-coordinated attacks on hijab in public schools by the haters of Muslim head covers.
The case of Aisha Alabi of Kadara Junior Grammar School, Ebute-Metta, Lagos, who was flogged 42 strokes of cane on the order of her principal, Mrs. E. C Ukpaka because she forgot to remove her Hijab after IRK class, was still very fresh in the memory of hundreds of Muslims who thronged Justice Grace Modupe Onyeabo’s court.
After series of arguments and adjournments, Justice Onyeabo on Friday, October 17, 2014, dismissed and ruled against the use of hijab in schools, claiming it was the responsibility of the government to issue guidelines on dress codes for public schools since they were owned and funded by the government.
MSSN, through its lawyer, Gani Adetola Kassim (SAN) described the judgment as a rape of the Constitution and vowed to seek redress.
The then Amir (President) of the society, Alhaji Kaamil Kalejaiye said, the judge neglected and rejected numerous arguments presented to her during the about two-year legal battle, stressing that the Nigerian constitution and international laws guaranteed freedom of religion, thoughts and conscience.
The incumbent President of the society, Malam Saheed Ashafa continued with the struggle by approaching the Court of Appeal to set aside the earlier judgment and protect constitutional rights of Muslim ladies.
In May 2016, a three-man panel of the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal led by Justice Amina Augie adjourned the sitting to allow for a full five-member panel to hear the Appeal. Justice Augie had submitted that all the three (3) Justices on the panel were Muslims and that it could raise issues of bias if they went ahead to hear the appeal.
The court then directed the applicants to write to the President of the Court of Appeal for a five-man panel to be appointed to hear it.
At the resumption of the court sitting on 27th May, 2016, following the constitution of a five-man panel, the presiding justice, Justice A.B. Gumel leading other four justices appealed to parties in the case to give maximum cooperation while the process last. Other justices in the panel are Justice M. Fasanmi, Justice A. Jauro, Justice J.S. Ikejegh and Justice I. Jombo Ofor.
However, the court has reserved judgment till further notice in the case involving Asiyat Abdul Kareem, Mariam Oyeniyi and Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria, Lagos State versus Lagos State Government , after hearing the argument of both the appellants and the defendant.
Meanwhile both the appellants and the defendant were urged to update certain documents relied upon in their arguments.
Commenting on the development, Ashafa said the feat attained by Asiyat and other Muslim ladies, Okinbaloye Rashidat of Ilupeju Senior Grammar School and Ogunfowora Islamiyat of Badagry Senior Grammar School at the Competition, has proven to the Hijab’s critics that the harmless cloth is not a threat but a way of earning Allah’s blessing, which will in turn enhance academic excellence.
“There are tendencies for students who are religious to be more academically conscious and intellectually sound than their colleagues since they have less time for frivolities that could distract their attention. Besides, it is indisputable fact that learning and memorisation of the Qur’an enhances memory and retention,” he concluded.
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