Religious passions run high over hijab ban
Posted Monday, October 15 2012 at 21:19
- 12 Muslim students have ruffled the orderly feathers of this institution by suing their headteacher over their right to wear the hijab in school
- The hijab is a veil which covers the hair and neck and is worn by Muslim women particularly in the presence of non-related adult males, and the students argued that they needed to be allowed to exercise the doctrines of their religion wherever, whenever
- But High Court Judge Cecilia Githua ruled that Muslim female students have no right to wear the hijab while in school, arguing that Kenya is a secular state and no religion should be accorded any superiority.
Kenya High is the ultimate secondary school for many a Kenyan girl.
Its neat grounds and quaint colonial architecture buttress the enviable academic performance of an institution that produces a formidable army of Kenya’s elite women.
But, of late, 12 Muslim students have ruffled the orderly feathers of this institution by suing their headteacher over their right to wear the hijab in school.
The hijab is a veil which covers the hair and neck and is worn by Muslim women particularly in the presence of non-related adult males, and the students argued that they needed to be allowed to exercise the doctrines of their religion wherever, whenever.
But High Court Judge Cecilia Githua ruled that Muslim female students have no right to wear the hijab while in school, arguing that Kenya is a secular state and no religion should be accorded any superiority.
Justice Githua ruled that allowing the hijab in class would undermine the principles of separation of the state and religion.
The students had produced a directive from one-time Education Permanent Secretary Prof Karega Mutahi which directed all schools to allow Muslim students to wear the hijab.
But the Judge dismissed the directive as well, saying “the Permanent Secretary had no powers whatsoever to issue such directives.
It is only the Minister who can do so, and it was not indicated whether the same was issued on behalf of the minister. Therefore, the respondent was not under any obligation to comply with the directive as it was null and void in principle and substance”.
The judge held that the headscarf would promote indiscipline and “breach the principle of equality and should be avoided at all cost”.
Muslim organisations, including Supkem, Nairobi’s Jamia Mosque, National Muslim Leaders Forum and the Muslim Community Research and Development Organisation, among others, have lodged a notice of appeal at the High Court and an interpretation of the Bill of Rights at the Constitutional Court seeking to quash the judgment.
Nominated Member of Parliament Sheikh Muhammad Dor has also lodged a protest note with the Attorney General to seek his intervention on the matter.
Outside the corridors of justice, Fatuma Abubakar, a Nairobi primary school teacher, says the wearing of the hijab by Muslim students should conform to the school uniform.
“We have little problem in primary schools because we insist the headscarf and the trouser should be the colour of the uniform,” she says, adding that during sports time, Muslim girls still wear headscarves and tracksuits as long as they are not tight.
Juma Abdalla, also a Nairobi teacher, says the hijab becomes an administrative issue when students insist on wearing the black overflowing dress.
“I don’t think there is a problem if one wears it according to the uniform,” he argues, adding that the dilemma becomes more pronounced in secondary schools probably because the girls don’t want their hijab in the colour of the school uniform.
Tradition demands that hijabs should not be tight or multi-coloured as they may ‘attract the wrong kind of attention’, and Sheikh Ahmad Musallam of Nairobi’s Jamia Mosque agrees with this doctrine, saying the basic reason for the hijab “is to give a woman dignity”.
“Why is it that men wear suits and tie while women walk semi-naked?” he asks. “It’s unfair! Even biblically, a woman must cover her body. Look at Mary, the mother of Jesus. She wore long dresses. It did not start with Islam.”
Sheikh Ahmad says this controversy can no longer be ignored due to the high number of Muslim students in public schools and women at the workplace, but Hashim Kamau, the National Youth Leader in Supkem, says Muslim clerics should give proper direction on the issue of hijabs in schools.