“My major concern is the approval of Hijab so that every person coming behind me will be able to use it for the call to bar (ceremony).” Amasa Firdaus- Premium Times
Much vitriol has been directed at her for standing up for her rights protected by the Nigerian constitution. For this, Amasa Firdaus, a law graduate of the University of Ilorin, Nigeria was denied entry into the Call to bar ceremony. It is ironic that a country with a significant Muslim population still has Islamophobia. However, this is in a wider background of rife religious intolerance with secularity being used as a smokescreen often used to discriminate against other religions.
In addition, it is another example of disregard for the rights of women. While the support of Muslim leaders is appreciated, more needs to be done, especially by those in the top echelons of the legal profession. The ignorance being displayed by some Muslims when such matters arise highlights the problems facing our religious education. It would have been great if the other Muslim barristers stood with Firdaus. It was indeed difficult and would have taken lots of courage but might have brought about swift resolution. One also wonders why this was kept in obscurity until now. The much-touted clamour for unity should be for matters like this and not to accept innovations in our Deen.
US Army National Guard officer Saudat Al-Maroof-Bakare faced a similar struggle and she secured her rights. Women in different fields like Ginella Massa, Ibtihaj Muhammed, Kadra Muhamed, Amal Chammout, Sultan Tafadar and Raffia Arshad have shown that the hijab does not diminish professional ability. Firdaus also brings to mind all the men and women who fought slavery, segregation and other forms of discrimination…. all of which were legal at the time. She is following in the footsteps of Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Doss whose sacrifice have helped countless others after them. Like them, she will be criticized and insulted and told to let it go, asked why she chose that line of action and will be left to bear the consequences. Like them, I hope she goes down in history as a change maker. Like many Nigerian Muslim women who observe the hijab, I have faced many instances of anti-hijab sentiment and policies. I will share a couple of them. During my general practice rotation in medical school, we were posted to private hospitals. When I showed up at mine, I was told in a derisive tone that ‘this’ (the HR lady pointed at my hijab) will not be allowed. I told her ‘this’ is called a hijab and is part of my identity. It had never disturbed my training. I was hurt, disturbed and felt like I had to choose between my faith and my medical education both of which were very important to me.
At the time, I was a volunteer at an international organization here in Nigeria. Prior to that, I had lived in the UK and in both settings had never been told to remove my hijab for work, school, services or any other reason. My choice was respected and accepted. To make the situation even more incongruous, a non-Muslim relative of mine owned an excellent hospital and some of the nurses wore hijab with their uniform. I went back to school with my colleague (who was not wearing a hijab). I made enquiries about the marks for the rotation so I could plan how to make a passing grade if I had to forfeit it. After I explained how important my hijab was, she was supportive and I appreciated her for this.
Most importantly, my family, like Firdaus’s were on my side throughout the episode. I did not expect the reaction of my lecturers. They made an announcement in class that any discrimination faced by any of us should be reported and such hospitals would subsequently be excluded from the rotation. My colleague and I were then posted to other hospitals. I ended up under the tutelage of a medical director who made the experience memorable and beneficial to my career. My colleague also enjoyed a new place. Contrary to what many of the social media comments say, there are numerous Muslim women who practice medicine with their hijabs including surgeons who wear sterile hijabs with their scrubs in theatre.
Recently at NYSC camp, an official tried to humiliate me by pointing derisively at my hijab and saying in front of hundreds of fellow corps members that she was not going to accept this dressing at parades. I smiled and did not engage her because I knew she was wrong. Thankfully, many Muslim women wore their hijab and completed the compulsory youth service orientation with no incident. I tell my story because Firdaus needs to know she is not alone. Her actions have shown the enormous task we have as Nigerians to eschew hatred and intolerance. Peaceful coexistence can work and is what we need to achieve development.
To those who still think she was wrong, I ask that you watch the movie Hacksaw Ridge and google Pfc Desmond Doss, the Conscientious Objector. #istandwithAmasa #AmasaFirdaus
Interview with Amasa Firdaus
Nigerian-born US soldier with a similar experience
Opinion by Ashraf Akintola
A critical look at neo-colonialism in the profession.
Nigerian Bar Association President