Call-to-bar hijab controversy


At the Nigerian Law School graduate, Amasa Firdaus, was refused her call to bar for failing to remove her hijab.
The incident, which took place at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, a week ago, has generated intense debate on the Nigerian cyberspace.
Firdaus, who spoke to TheCable and has been asked by the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria not to speak on the controversial issue, said she intentionally wore the hijab in a bid to challenge the status quo.
Asked why she did not wait to be called to bar before embarking on the campaign, she said those who removed their hijabs in the past did nothing to change the situation.
Firdaus said there was no law preventing female Muslim lawyers from wearing hijabs.
She added, “They just call it convention that the British gave to us and we have to stick to it. I used them. They complained (during) my first (law) dinner. That is how they do on the campus. You don’t wear hijab for dinner but I did. I chose Abuja because I knew they were a little lenient.”
However, here are some the commendations and vitriols the issue garnered online:

Femi Fani-Kayode
The girl that insisted on wearing her hijab during her call to the Nigerian bar was being childish and disingenuous. You cannot insist on wearing religious garb during a secular ceremony and she is not the first Muslim to be called to the Nigerian bar. Nigeria is a secular state!

Moses Ochonu
I agree with people who say the hijab-wearing law school graduate should have sued for her right to wear the hijab to the call to bar ceremony rather than simply show up in one.
I also support Inibehe Effiong’s argument that the circulating photo of the NBA president’s daughter’s call to bar in New York is a non sequitur, since lawyers in the US do not wear wigs and there is no enforced dress code for lawyers being welcomed into the profession. By the way, those circulating the hijab-less photos of Buhari’s daughter’s call to bar are equally disingenuous, since there is considerable diversity of opinion in Islam regarding the wearing of hijab and even a greater diversity of views on the type of covering appropriate for adult females.
However–and this is a big however–when I actually saw the photos of the lady in question, I concluded that this was a needless, avoidable controversy, a case of the law school authorities applying the letter of their dress code rather than its spirit.
As lawyers, they should know better than to take a literalist approach to rules. When the controversy broke, I thought the lady had refused to wear the wig. Then I saw the picture and it shows her to be wearing the wig over her hijab. Her entire face is shown, as it is not a full-face niqab. Only her ears are covered by the hijab.
Quite frankly, I don’t understand why the law school authorities made a big fuss and didn’t just leave her alone. She was wearing the wig for crying out loud. This is just another instance of Nigerian authority figures elevating silly, archaic rules over the humanity and freedom of those the rules are supposed to apply to, those beneath them in the food chain of Nigerian power configuration.
The police are guilty of it. The VIO is guilty of it. So are the Road Safety Corp people.
I live in the US. There are hundreds if not thousands of laws (and rules) on the books that no nobody enforces today because they’re considered outdated, although authorities and law enforcers would be perfectly within their rights if they chose to hold people in violation of them.
The daily technical violations of these rules do not cause harm to the body politic or impede the freedoms of other members of society, so it would be a waste of time and resources, not to mention an unnecessary trigger of racial, religious, or ethnic controversy, if law and rule enforcers were to insist on compliance with them.
It is not always wise or expedient to punish the violation of every rule, especially rules that are clearly out of sync with the sociopolitical reality of the larger society or infringe on innocuous individual choices.
Our atomistic fastidiousness in applying and invoking outmoded rules is a colonial hangover, and it is holding us back, not propelling us forward.

Emmanuel Owobi
Let religious extremism not engender anarchy in our society.The same scenario was played out in Osun state,and we all saw how Nigeria was ridiculed and made a butt of criticisms by a saner world.We wear our religions on our outfits outrageously to appear pious but remain hypocritically iniquitious and morally bankrupt. When shall we outgrow these frivolity and triviality?

Eyitemi Taire
They were right not to leave her alone. Wig or no wig, she had unapproved dress on. End of story. Law is about following rules in a particular way. And if you want to challenge the rules, again there are set procedures for that. Quite frankly a person who shows such disdain for rules has no place in such a profession.

Khadeejah Igiekhume
There has been much talk about hijab and the call-to-bar ceremony lately especially as it involves Firdausa Amasa. Amasa’s insistence to gain entrance into the hall at the ICC was met with stiff opposition by Marshalls and was eventually not called to bar. Her refusal to compromise is a brave act and I deeply respect and commend her.
This Hijab and issues surrounding it in the legal profession have been lingering on for long, albeit on a low key, because the goal of many is to be called first and fight the system after being a legal practitioner.
Aside Firdausa, Aisha Zubair and Waduudah Abdullateef, all of whom are graduates of Unilorin and NLS Abuja could not succeed in wearing the hijab inside the hall. At the entrance, we all had to take off our head covers and some of us managed not to have our veils and skull caps seized at the entrance and wore it when we got inside.
Aisha Zubair was the only one who succeeded in putting on her hijab to the podium and refused the ceremonial handshake but after the whole event I saw her outside trying to put it on. She narrated the inhumane treatment that greeted her audacious attempt in the following words:

Akhigbe Samson
A certain Hijabi sister was denied her call to Bar on the basis of wearing Hijab. I am not interested in the legal nuances, seeing that I am not a Lawyer, I will be happy to listen to legal arguments on the basis that they make sense, but I am interested in LOGIC. PLAIN LOGIC. I attend a Church where it is forbidden to wear Black. Since I was born, Lawyers have been robed in Black.
#Logic – I can choose to jettison my religious beliefs on the premise that my love for the court room is greater or stick to my religious beliefs and avoid the legal practice. #Simple_ABC.
If you know before hand that it is against the rules of the Council of Legal Education to dress in a certain way, why become agitated? If we decide to pander to the religious whims of every fundamentalist, we can’t get ahead. Sincerely, I have no pity for the Lady who was sent off, her inability to compromise wearing hijab for an important ceremony she’s worked for for 6 years, indicates she’ll be a fanatic in future. Wearing Hijab or a particular religious dress to your Call to Bar won’t make you a better Lawyer. We must begin to emphasise that NIGERIA IS A SECULAR STATE.

Anold Ali Ovurevu
There is no logic in the convention as is called. Hijab is older than school of law in Nigeria….
Muslim ladies studied law for 5 years in Nigerian universities with their hijab, only for some people with the title of benchers asked them to remove their hijab for dinner and call to bar. It doesn’t stand! It doesn’t make sense.
If hijab did not offend the sanctity of law for 5 years in university, the legal system, for sure, will survive it for just hours in dinner and call to bar.

Brian-Gabriel Chiedozie Ndubuisi
During the suicide blasts in Europe, I supported a ban on hijab because on my priority scale, national security trumps freedom of conscience…
“Until we figure out what’s going on…”
But on my priority scale, aesthetic professional uniformity does NOT trump freedom of conscience. So I condemn the ban on Hijab for call to bar.

Femi Owolade
I’ve stayed up all night to collect as much evidence to discard all the nonsensical talk spewed by bigoted Nigerians on this issue, like hogwash that men set before swine. The unfortunate result is that I have to miss church today, but I’ll do that a million times over to defend the truth.
Can we blame unwitting Nigerians, who consistently display their hypocritical tendencies, for having an inflexibly bent or is it hell-bent view on Islam? YES.
The so-called liberals who cast aspersions on Amasa Firdaus and mock her fundamental right to practice her religion in the most complete way by wearing the hijab are the same set of hypocrites who wrote long epistles to support Aisha Ahmad’s right NOT to wear the hijab. Is doublespeak not fast-becoming the lingua franca of these hypocritical liberals?
Without further elaboration, we must now address the material issues here.
The key argument pushed by those who support Firdaus is that, like most laws and regulations in Nigeria, the laws of the council of legal education are outdated, stripped of autochtony and MUST be reformed with immediate alacrity.
Before we go into a thorough examination of the law, I think it’s important to state here that we are not asking for much. We want the laws of the council of legal education to, in consonance with section 38 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999), provide an environment where Firdaus and all women of faith can practice their religion in the most comprehensive form. Thus, we ask for the laws of the council of legal education to reflect -and not be repugnant to- the principles of fairness, equity and natural justice, as articulated by Frederick Lugard when he initiated the first Nigerian legislation in 1900.
As the Hijab is a veil of headscarf traditionally worn by Muslim in Nigeria and across the world, we expect that Firdaus ought to be allowed to exercise her rights of religion by wearing a headscarf to her call to bar ceremony. After all, Code 8 of the Law Society of Kenya’s Advocates Dress Code states: ‘ADVOCATES WHOSE FAITH REQUIRES THEM TO WEAR HEAD GEAR MAY WEAR THE SAME SO LONG AS THE COLOUR OF THE HEAD GEAR IS CHARCOAL, BLACK, WHITE, GREY, NAVY BLUE AND OTHER DARKISH COLOURS’. This is Kenya, an ex-colony of the British with the same legal system as Nigeria, with 83% christian population and a modest 11.2% Muslim minority that can practice their religion in the most comprehensive form while the 52% Muslim majority (according to Pew survey, or 53% according to DHS) in Nigeria can’t do the same. It is quite clear that this infringement is not consistent with the principles of fairness, equity and natural justice.
We accept that the Federal Republic of Nigeria only has one ‘secular’ Bar. We also concede to the fact that Nigeria’s Call to Bar ceremony is a spiritual, ritualistic, official and corporate exercise with a very strict dress code. The rules are clear that a prospective Barrister must adhere to the dress code, and Firdaus’ hijab is a breach of that code.

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