Muslim News, Nigeria’s most authoritative Islamic Newspaper, has announced “The Hijab Vanguards”, as winner of the 2021 Nigerian Muslim Personality of the Year (MNAwards).
#MNAwards is an acronym for Muslim News Nigeria Awards, celebrating Muslim achievers who have excelled and made the Muslim community proud globally.
In a press statement released on Friday, October 14, 2022, the Publisher of the Newspaper, Alhaji Rasheed Abubakar, said, “The Hijab Vanguards” are 12 Muslim personalities from different organisations and institutions that contributed to the hijab victory at the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
The hijab victory, recorded on Friday, June 17, 2022, is admittedly the best milestone achievement recorded by the Muslim Ummah in recent times.
It would be recalled that the Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Professor Alli Isa Pantami won the 2020 Nigerian Muslim Personality of the Year awarded last year for “combining two great features of leading the “digitisation of the Nigerian economy” and “providing the right religious education for his teeming followers across the globe”.
In the 4th year (2021) edition, the Nigerian category would to take another dimension, as it is dedicated to the celebrating those who fought for the right of female Muslims to adorn their hijabs in public places. This is the first time a group, rather than individuals, will be clinching the award in this category.
The legal battle
It has always been difficult for Muslim students and women to use the hijab in public establishments, especially in public schools, in the southwest geopolitical zone of Nigeria.
Many of them have suffered harassments, molestation and maltreatment. In worst-case scenarios, some were sent out of school just because they chose to use the hijab in obedience to their Creator.
Though the constitution of the country gives freedom to the use of the hijab, some overzealous public officials have continued to harass Muslim students over the hijab, even when the case was in court.
So many individuals in their capacity contributed to the struggle against the ceaseless harassment and victimisation of Muslim women over the hijab, which culminated in the victory at the Supreme Court, almost after a decade-long legal battle. Interestingly, the feat was achieved without resorting to violence.
The Hijab Vanguards comprises individuals and organisations who adopted peaceful approaches to push for the use of hijab in public places. They are being celebrated for their resilience, sacrifices and for giving their all to the cause. The dead among the honourees would get posthumous awards, having also participated in the struggle.
In total, 12 people and organisations have been shortlisted as the Hijab Vanguards. They are:
1. Asiyat AbdulKareem
Asiyat Abdulkareem is one of the strong personalities at the heart of the hijab victory at the Supreme Court. She was a student at a public school in Lagos State where she was harassed and molested for using the hijab.
During this period, there were lots of coordinated attacks against Muslim students over the hijab. Many of the victims could, however, not summon the courage to challenge these lawless actions, especially in court.
Ms. Abdulkareem and her parents, however, dared to be different, as they decided to pursue the case in the law court. They were so resilient and determined despite numerous challenges, especially when it was first thrown out at the High Court, and had to be appealed.
That the hijab case dragged on for about eight years was enough reason to discourage anyone, but Ms. Abdulkareem and her family remained firm and consistent.
Ms. Abdul Kareem, who was a minor when the whole issue ensued in 2012 did not feel deterred. She towed the path many of her colleagues did not thread and the move paved way for the victory. For this, Asiyat deserves to be celebrated and she is one of our Hijab Vanguards.
2. Hajiah Basheerah Majekodunmi, Amirah, Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Lagos State
The MSSN, Lagos State Area Unit, is the society that provided moral support for Ms. Asiyat Abdulkareem and her family to pursue the case in court.
Ms. Abdulkareem is a member the students’ association, MSSN, Lagos, which mobilised resources at its disposal to support the struggle. They held different programmes for solidarity with Asiyat Abdulkareem throughout the hijab saga.
The MSSN, Lagos, under successive leaderships remained consistent, organising peaceful protests, and dialogues on hijab. They didn’t give up. They mobilised thousands of their members to support the cause and created public awareness.
MSSN, Lagos is therefore one of the Hijab Vanguards being recognised in the Nigerian Muslim Personality of the Year 2021. The current Amirah of the organisation, Alhaja Basheerah Majekodunmi has been enlisted to represent the student body for the award.
3. Barrister Fajimite of MULAN Lagos
The Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria (MULAN), Lagos State Chapter, was also readily available to offer legal services for the prosecution of the hijab case.
They provided the service pro bono, mobilising resources (intellectual and material) to pursue the legal case.
Founded to protect the rights of Muslims, MULAN has always been at the forefront of fighting the Muslim cause. They had made diligent and committed representations for Muslims, especially in hijab cases, just to get justice for the victim and the Ummah.
MULAN does this across states of the federation, including Osun, Kwara, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The Lagos case, however, got to the climax of the hijab struggle of MULAN.
For this, the entire members of the Lagos State chapter of MULAN is highly honoured and appreciated. But Barr. Hassan Fajimite, who led the team at the Supreme Court gets the recognition on behalf of the association, as the Hijab Vanguards.
4. Late Alhaji Gani Adetola-Kazeem, SAN (Posthumous)
Late Alhaji Gani Adetola-Kazeem, SAN, led the hijab court case from inception, providing strategic planning and organisation. He was the leader of the MULAN team that prosecuted the case until death knocked in 2018.
Late Alhaji Adetola-Kazeem had already applied to the Supreme Court before he died. He contributed selflessly to the hijab cause. The deceased was renowned for his passion to get justice for the oppressed, especially Muslims on not only issues relating to hijab, but on other fundamental human rights issues.
Alhaji Adetola-Kazeem is therefore recognised posthumously for his efforts and support for the hijab cause.
5. Habeeb Idris, the victim in Kwara State (Posthumous)
Another posthumous recognition goes to Habeeb Idris, the victim of the hijab crisis in the Offa/Oyun axis of Kwara State earlier this year.
A violation of the hijab rights by the management of the Baptist School, Oyun, had led to a misunderstanding between the Muslims and the Christians. The violation occurred despite a subsisting Court of Appeal judgement and a standing directive of the Kwara State Government that hijab should be allowed in all public schools in the state.
Muslims who peacefully protested this violation were attacked by some thugs recruited by the Christian elements. During the process, Habeeb Idris was martyred, with many other persons injured.
Although the elements who masterminded the killing are known, they are yet to be brought to justice. Muslim News, therefore, honours the victim as one of our Hijab Vanguards.
We also use the opportunity to call on the Kwara State Government to ensure justice in this case. We acknowledge the efforts of the government in ensuring peaceful coexistence in the state, however, the soul that was unjustly terminated during the hijab crisis must get justice.
6. Hajiah Mutiat Orolu-Balogun of Hijab Rights Advocacy Initiative, HRAI
So many Muslim organisations gave support to the hijab struggle. However, a particular organisation stands out because it took the hijab struggle as its core responsibility and that’s the Hijab Rights Advocacy Initiative (HRAI).
HRAI is led by a lawyer, Barr. Mutiat Orolu-Balogun. She and her team have created awareness about the hijab in the country. They have addressed so many cases of hijab violations in Nigeria, especially in the southwest.
When Nazma Khan, a Muslim woman from Bangladesh living in New York City started World Hijab Day (WHD) in 2013, about 130 countries participated worldwide to celebrate hijab and the women who wear it.
By 2014, the Nigerian Muslim community also joined the initiative. In most cases, HRAI has been leading the organisation of the World Hijab Day (WHD) in Nigeria, partnering with other organisations and mobilising Muslim women in the country every February 1st.
HRAI has continued to improve year in, year out in the celebration of the WHD in Nigeria. The convener of HRAI, Barr. Orolu-Balogun is also a member of MULAN. She appears in many court cases pro-bono in the interest of Muslims and the hijab.
Orolu-Balogun is also part of the Hijab Vanguards, and the award is extended to her team at HRAI who have stood by her.
7. Prof. Akintola of Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC
Ishaq Lakin Akintola, a Professor of Islamic Eschatology at Lagos State University is one of the Hijab Vanguards. Consistently and unsparingly, he frowns at anti-Islamic policies, laws, practices and initiatives in Nigeria. He is a staunch defender of the Muslim underdogs and the voice of thousands of voiceless Muslims in Nigeria.
Our award winner is so chosen for being a strong pillar in Islamic activism, for his tireless strides in the hijab advocacy in Nigeria, and for repeatedly protecting the image of Islam whenever evil-doers attempt to smear it.
Prof. Akintola has been threatened on several occasions by the anti-islamic elements in a bid to give up his advocacies. We seek Allah’s protection for him and others advocate of truth, as much as we call on relevant security agencies to go after the criminal elements and religious bigots who are after Prof. Akintola’s life
8. Hon. Saidu Musa Abdullahi, (Lawmaker)
At a time when there was growing assault and denial of Muslim students to adorn hijab in Nigerian schools, the lower chamber of the National Assembly was working towards finding a lasting solution. During that period, overzealous officials had disregarded the Appeal Court judgment on the hijab, which granted Muslim students’ right to use the hijab.
Hon. Saidu Musa Abdullahi, representing Bida/Gbako/Katcha Federal Constituency of Niger State initiated a “Religious Discrimination (Prohibition, Prevention) Bill, 2021”, which is also aimed at putting an end to the assault on hijab, and all forms of discriminatory conducts and prohibits religious discrimination concerning hiring or recruitment, as well as terms and conditions of employment.
The lawmaker, Deputy Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Finance, thought it wise to adopt the legal approach of codifying the hijab rights in our laws, with a view to finding a lasting solution to the incessant assault on its users in the country. Once the President assents to the bill, which had passed the second reading in 2021, it becomes law.
The legislator has also been observed to have supported so many struggles relating to the hijab with his influence and position. He is therefore one of the hijab Vanguards.
9. Muslim Media Practitioner of Nigeria, Alhaji AbdurRahman Balogun
The medium, no doubt, also played and continues to play a big role in the hijab struggle. In Nigeria where some media establishments have been hostile to Muslims, some media professionals have used their capacity to support the hijab struggle. They amplify the hijab story, provide factual narratives and clear misleading reportage about the hijab.
One of them is Alhaji AbdurRahman Balogun, National President of MMPN. Alhaji Balogun is a Director at the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). He has been involved in so many hijab advocacy. He was a prominent voice in the International School Ibadan, UI hijab case. He was also at the forefront of the Firdaus Amasa vs Nigeria Law School hijab case. He mobilises personal resources to rally support for Muslims in the hijab struggle. As a veteran in the media, he leverages his position in promoting hijab advocacy and also encouraging other Muslim media practitioners to do the same.
Alhaji Balogun also deserves to be among the Hijab Vanguards.
10. Hijab-friendly media: The Guardian, Alhaji Kabir Alabi Garba
There is no mainstream media establishment that is 100 percent pro-Islam in Nigeria. However, some Muslim journalists who work with these media organisations did not forget the essence of their faith as Muslims. Therefore, they used the opportunity afforded by the medium to promote the cause of Islam, remaining unbiased in their reportage and bringing the matter to the fore.
Despite not having a say in the editorial policies of their organisation, they are always pushing for informed narratives, and remaining factual, especially when it comes to the issue of the hijab.
The Guardian newspaper was chosen ahead of its peers by the public in an online vote conducted by Muslim News on its social media platforms. Hence, the newspaper’s Sunday Editor, Alhaji Kabir Garba, who is also the Chairman, Lagos and Southwest Coordinator of MMPN, is an Hijab Vanguard.
11. Hajiyah Halima Jubril, former Amirah, FOMWAN
Some Muslim personalities though, do not appear in the limelight for their efforts in the hijab struggle, they have passionately supported the various advocacies and programmes to end hijab victimisation.
One of the personalities in this category is Hajiyah Halima Jubril, former Amirah, Federation of Muslim Women’s Association of Nigeria (FOMWAN), a woman of virtue, known for her exemplary integrity.
When she was the Amirah of FOMWAN, an umbrella body of Nigerian Muslim women, she openly supported the girls’ rights to use hijab and condemned the continuous victimisation. She has never ceased to support the girls’ religious freedom.
12. Idayat Asiwaju stood unshaken, pioneers the use of hijab in Igando Nursing School
Time and history will never forget the heroic valour of Idayat Asiwaju, a Muslim woman who stood firm in the fight for her right to practice her religion without any intimidation after she was offered admission to study nursing at the Lagos State School of Nursing in Igando.
The use of hijab had always been a taboo in the school from inception as the authorities of the school did not give room for that, despite the fact that the Nursing and Midwifery Council had approved the use of shoulder length hijab, with long sleeved gown on trousers for nurses and students of nursing since 1992, till Idayat Asiwaju gained admission to study Nursing. They made it known to her during her interview that hijab was not allowed in the school but she was passionate about the course and will not forgo her religious beliefs for the reason.
She stood firm and unshaken and fought for her rights, despite the pressure and intimidation from the authorities of the school.
Why We Adopted A New Measure — Publisher
Publisher of Muslim News, Mallam Rasheed Abubakar, explained the reason for the change in the style of the award for this Nigerian category alone this year.
In previous editions of the #MNAwards, Muslim personalities were usually selected from various professions for recognition.
Abubakar said the edition of the 2021 Awards marked a departure from the previous editions, saying it is dedicated to celebrating those he called the ‘Hijab Vanguards’ in Nigeria.
He, however, clarified that the Global Muslim Personality of the Year award category will remain the same, with outstanding Muslims drawn from various categories across the world.
According to Abubakar, members of the Awards Committee agreed on the need to recognise a milestone achievement recorded by Muslims on hijab in the Nigerian category.
“The Supreme Court of Nigeria had delivered a landmark judgment, allowing the use of hijab in public schools in the case of Ms. Asiyat Abdulkareem Vs Lagos State Government,” he said.
“We, therefore, see it as fitting to recognise the efforts of major personalities who had over the years contributed to the hijab struggle in commemoration of this legal victory.
“In total, we shortlisted 12 Nigerian personalities as our Hijab Vanguards. Two of them have returned to Allah, which means that their award will be given posthumously.
“For the living heroes, we acknowledge their contributions and charge them to remain firm and committed to the hijab struggle because, despite the court victory, there are still cases of violation in schools.
“For instance, the Lagos State Government has refused to issue a circular to its officials in schools on the court judgment. Some of these overzealous officials have, therefore, been hiding under this gap to further their violation of the hijab.
“We, therefore, call on the Lagos State government to obey the Supreme Court judgment and allow any willing student to freely use the hijab without victimization. Gov. Sanwo-Olu must issue a circular with immediate effect or else, the Muslims in Lagos might deploy their powers as electorates come the 2023 gubernatorial election.
The Publisher, therefore, apologised to partnering Muslim professional bodies for the change in the style in the Nigerian category of the award which has affected their input.
He appealed for their understanding, noting their various nominations in their professional bodies would be considered for the next edition.
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