The decision of the high court on Friday that Rastafarianism is a religion just like any other and ought to be respected has rubbed Muslims the wrong way, with religious leaders accusing the Judiciary of favouritism.
Muslims have expressed their anger and accused the Judiciary of bias by barring Muslim girls from wearing hijab in non-Muslim schools but allowing Rastafarian students to keep their dreadlocks in learning institutions.
Through Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK) chairman Abdallah Ateka, Muslim faithful questioned why the Supreme Court ruling in January this year barred girls from wearing hijab in non-Muslim schools.
“It is now clear that the courts in Kenya are applying double standards on the issue of the freedom of worship as enshrined in the Constitution of the country. The ruling barring Muslim girls from wearing the headscarf was not only provocative but demeaning and undermining to the rights of Muslims for no apparent reason,” said Mr Ateka.
Mr Ateka said the hijab signifies a serious cultural commitment for Muslim women just like wearing dreadlocks does for the Rastafarians and donning head scarves for the Akorino.
Speaking to the Nation on phone, Mr Ateka said the garment cannot be forcibly removed, unless by the wilful decision of the person wearing it, usually in the privacy of their homes.
“Since the Constitution provides for freedom of worship, respect of all people’s religious practices and beliefs must be valued without discrimination.
“After the Rastafarian students have been allowed in schools with their dreadlocks, we (Muslims) now ask the court to review its earlier ruling and allow our girls in schools with the hijab,” added Mr Ateka.
He noted that the hijab carries heavy religious connotation.
Last Friday, the high court ordered Olympic High School to retain students who keep dreadlocks in school indicating that Rastafarianism is a religion like any other.
While giving his final verdict in a suit in which the father of a girl who was sent away from Olympic High School in Nairobi soon after being admitted in Form One, Justice Enoch Chacha Mwita said that the school administration’s action denied the girl her right to religion and education.
In the suit, the father of five protested against the school’s decision to send home his daughter with instructions to cut off her dreadlocks.
According to her parents, they had indicated in her admission documents that she belongs to the Rastafarian Society of Kenya (RSK).
Her father’s attempt to seek assistance from the education office in Kibera estate did not bear any fruit as his complaint was summarily dismissed.
He then moved to court to challenge his daughter’s suspension from school. But the school argued that RSK has nothing to do with the right to education of students.
Mr Ateka argues that Muslim learners in non-Muslim schools are being frustrated as some of them are forced to attend church services, which is contrary to their beliefs.
“The court opened a window for the frustrations when it barred, in its ruling, Muslim girls from wearing hijab. These mixed rulings are likely to disrupt peace and cohesion among religious communities,” he said.
Mr Ateka noted that Christian students enrolling in Muslim schools are not compelled to wear hijabs, and reiterated that Muslim students in non-Muslim schools should be accorded a similar conducive atmosphere to learn.
Mr Ateka wants students given their rights to education and freedom of worship in all schools regardless of the faith sponsoring the schools.