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The Origin And Current State Of International School Ibadan's Hijab Crisis

On Monday, November 12, 2018, some parents converged on the car park of ISI to distribute hijabs to their wards; and while they were still present, the Principal of the school, Mrs. Phebean Olowe, directed that the assembly be cancelled and classrooms locked due to the unusual occurrence. She said it negates the section of the school’s constitution that guides dressing.

In a tense meeting that involved parents, teachers and the management of the International School, Ibadan, parents of the school have met to discuss the hijab issue that has led to students staying at home since Monday.

The meeting held on Tuesday at the International School, Ibadan's cafeteria, beginning from 12noon.

ISI is owned by the University of Ibadan and controlled by the Court of Governor, which consists of the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration) of the University as the Chairman, the Principal of the school, the PTA Chairman, and a representative of the PTA.

The Meeting

The Chairman of the occasion, Barrister Kazeem Olaniyan, began by clearing the air, saying the school was not on lock down. Rather, he said, “the teachers only decided not to go to class until the resolution of the PTA meeting is passed".

After this, he opened the floor for the parents to react.

When a parent, Mrs Eniola Adeyemo, rose to speak, she questioned why hijab should be a choice. She enthused that if it should be a choice, “then other religious beliefs should be considered”.

This was quickly backed by a large number of the parents, majority of whom are Christians.

Just then, a lecturer of the university and a parent, Dr Ogunleye, rose to speak. He called for the reinstatment of the school’s dressing status quo.

“As much as there are many good things hijab wants to teach the girl child, other religions too have something good to teach the girl child,” he said, much to the nod of some parents. “That should be separated. The issue of hijab should not come in here. Let’s maintain the status quo."

In quick succession, Dr Eniola Badmus, also a parent, called for return to the status quo. "Separation on the basis of religion should stop," she said.

Another parent opined that when religious beliefs are to be considered in acquisition of education, then parents should strive to enroll their wards in Christian or Muslim schools.

This opinion was shared by a host of other parents.

In his turn to speak, Dr Taofeek Yekini, also parent and a lecturer, spoke in favour of the party calling for the use of hijab. In a twist of event, parents who belong to the anti-hijab party shouted him down.

“No. No. No,” they chorused. “Sit down. No. Sit down,” some said jointly.

“You can’t shout me down,” Mr Yekini stormed back. “I will say what I have to say.” He accused the audience of bias for the Christians as against the Muslims. Minutes later, the chorus went low; then he continued.

“When it is about issue of right, I’m the one that knows what my right is,” he began again. “It is about consensus, not about majority. I want us to be tolerant.”

Again, he received backlash from the parents seated.

Another parent, who identified himself as Prince Morohunfolu Adedoyin, said: “There are more salient issues we should face.

“Religion cannot be forced down the throat of ISI. No one in the world can anyone to that. The dose of dialogue should be adopted. The use of enforcement must stop with immediate effect.”

When another parent advised that the issue should be taken to court same way it has been done in other states, a huge round of murmur rent the air. “No. No. No. We don’t want,” they said. “Good luck to you,” he responded.

At the point Mr Abdurrahman Balogun, a signatory to the letter announcing the demand for the use hijab in the school, requested to speak for a longer time; his request was met by vehement rejection from a group of agitated parents.

The letter in question was written to the Principal of the school, Mrs Phebean Olowe, by the Muslim Parents’ Forum.

A parent blamed the separation that occurs in the school. The school is reported to split its students into Class A or B on the basis of religion. The parent called for an end to this.

“The issue of separation of Muslims and Christians should stop. It is as good as segregating the so-called children. When it is time for IRS and CRS, they can be splitted," he said. "My son is in JSS 1. I have a six-year contract with the school. If you want to change it, my six years must first be completed.”

Mrs Rasheedah spoke next. She stressed the fact if ISI is a secular school, there should be a stop to having fellowship in the school and transporting Muslim students to Jumat ground on Friday must stop.

Tayo Lamidi, another parent, took his turn to speak by explaining that the clamour for hijab is not forced on everyone. It is only for those who take it as a choice, he said.

Many more comments followed. In closing, the Chairman then informed the audience that the Governing Board would meet on Wednesday. There, he said, the resolution of the PTA meeting would be tabled. In the board rests the final decision on the issue.

The meeting ended 2:45pm.

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Expressing his dissatisfaction with the demand of the Muslim Parents’ Forum on allowance of hijab, a high Chief Priest of Ifa simply known as ‘Baba Awosanmi’ said religious expressions should be exhibited only at home and not to be mixed up with school education.

“When I heard it yesterday, I couldn’t even sleep," he said.

"I was like, what is happening? Why should religion be brought into school education? If you are good about religion, go back home and train your child about your religion.

“One of my children can chant Ifa in all the verses. They can chant Ifa but I brought them here for success; not for some religious crisis. Two years, Ifatunmise was putting on the traditional waist-bead; it was cut it off because the Principal and other authority said it was not permitted. Suddenly yesterday, I heard they should be wearing hijab, distracting the attention of who? The children. What is it about religion?”

On the other hand, a member of the Muslim Parents’ Forum, who asked not to be named, expressed that sentiments and religious bias should not come into play in handling the matter.

“They said this school belongs to a private entity, who are those private entities? he asked. “It should be stated clearly and simple. We should know."

She added: “Secondly, they are religiously biased. If they were not biased, why do they have separate classes for Muslims and Christians in the school? They are trying to discourage tolerance among the students in the school and this attitude will aggravate up. So that is what we are saying, we should try to harmonise the children and let them love one another.

“There are no families in this western part that do not have both Muslims and Christians. It is not possible. We should try to encourage love among ourselves and be objective in our dealings. If the children want to wear Hijab, tell them why they should not wear it. We should be objective. They are putting sentiments into this."

On perceived bias at the meeting, she said: "Wwhenever a Muslim tried to talk, the shouted him down. When the Chairman (Muslim Parents’ Forum) wanted to talk, they shut him up, then he left.”

Responding to an inquiry about security fears looming in the school during the crisis, the Chairman of the occasion explained that “this crisis is being fomented by a group of people, and a group of people must be saddled with the responsibility to resolve that crisis".

"I’m glad that I’m part of those who are being used by God to resolve the issue,” he said.

However, he called on Muslim parents to exercise patience and focus on fostering love and peace.

“I only want to implore my Muslim brothers and sisters to take things easy, there was no crisis before the mosque was built," he said.

"In the school presently, there is no church and there is a mosque. There was no crisis when our Muslim brothers and sisters and the entire school adopted the policy of closing the school at 1 pm on Fridays to allow our children to go to mosque.

“We didn’t need to shout to high heavens to get this. There was no crisis when the school provided special meal (Sawm) for our fasting children during Ramadan. When we wanted to introduce Arabic and Islamic Studies, there was no crisis; in fact, the Muslim Community, University of Ibadan paid the salary of the Arabic and Islamic Studies teachers for several years before they were adopted into the regular staff of the school.

“We didn’t they fight for all these things. Why hijab, which is not part of the five injunctions of Islam? We have the belief in Almighty Allah; Hajj, fast during month of Ramadan. We appeal to our aggrieved Muslim brothers and sisters to sheath their swords; they should keep their peace."

Genesis Of The Issue

On Monday, November 12, 2018, some parents converged on the car park of ISI to distribute hijabs to their wards; and while they were still present, the Principal of the school, Mrs. Phebean Olowe, directed that the assembly be cancelled and classrooms locked due to the unusual occurrence. She said it negates the section of the school’s constitution that guides dressing.

It was gathered that, three days earlier, on November 9, the Principal’s office received a letter from some parents under the aegis of International School Muslim Parents’ Forum informing her of the Forum’s resolution to allow their daughters commence the wearing of hijabs. The letter was signed by Mr Abdulrahman Balogun, Chairman, and Balikis Badiru, Secretary.

The Forum argued that Hijab wearing is a fundamental part of the Islam, it is permitted by the Nigerian constitution, and the school’s constitution is subject to the nation’s. They also opined that hijab does not affect other students.

The following day, aggrieved parents were summoned for a closed-door meeting with the Court of Governors headed by Professor Abideen Aderinto, the Vice Chancellor (Academics). At the meeting, they were advised against enforcing their resolution till the conclusion of their dialogue.

However, it was shocking that the forum decided to enforce their resolution on Monday. Professor Aderinto expressed shock at this development, saying: “The Muslim and Christian students have a place of worship in the school. Whoever desires to change the rules should go through the process.”

He stated that since the establishment of the school in 1963, she had not experienced any religious crisis. She also appealed to the forum to stop their actions and allow peace reign in the school.

Balogun, who spoke for the Muslim Parents’ Forum, expressed surprise that the school was shut because some girls wore hijabs. He argued that the use of hijab is now a global phenomenon and that some brilliant female students have refused to come to ISI because of the perceived ‘no hijab’ doctrine. He reiterated that the forum would continue their agitation until their daughters are allowed to wear hijabs.

The Parents’ Teachers’ Association (PTA) Chairman, Mr Kazeem Olaniyan, a Senior Lecturer in Faculty of Law, said at the PTA emergency meeting: "The association was uninformed of the enforcement of the Forum’s resolution.”

He reiterated the need for dialogue for any resolution to be passed, saying several actions were made to ease the practice of Islam by the management, without any crisis. Among them: the construction of a mosque, end of lectures by 1pm on Fridays, transportation to Jumaah, special meal during Ramadan and so on.

International School Ibadan (ISI) was established in 1963 and is a privately-owned property of the University of Ibadan. All decisions concerning its operations are governed by the Court of Governors.

Resolutions Of The Meeting

Concentration of the school, staff and students should be on how to improve the quality of education

The rules of the school should be enforced

Class allocation of students should not be done in a way to segregate the students

The school should stand firm on its principle

The school should restate the dress code and sample of a sown uniform in a newsletter and emphasize sanctions

That the authority should maintain status quo