To say the least, recent happenings in Osun State has left a sour taste in the mouth of all those who are clamouring and praying for peaceful coexistence among various religious faithful in the nation. A particular section of the society feels that its right has been infringed upon by not allowing their children to abide by the dress code of their religion, which saw the female students covering their head with what is referred to as hijab and decided to challenge the situation in a law court of competent jurisdictions and eventually got the judgment in its favour. What would have been expected of any aggrieved party is to further challenge the ruling by appealing the judgment. But alas, what we have been witnessing is a melodrama that is making so many people, who are advocates of sincere harmonious interfaith relationship begin to think that we are only paying lip service to interfaith relationship in this country. It’s known that all religions preach submission to constituted authority: “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready to do every good work, to speak evil of no one …” (Titus 3:1-2). “O you who have attained faith! Pay heed unto God and pay heed unto the apostle and unto those from among you who have been entrusted with authority” (Qur’an 4: 59). All this does not mean that we are to disobey God in situations, where the law of man may conflict with God’s law (Acts 4: 18-20; Acts 5: 40).
I decided to cite the above case in order to establish the fact that the issue in question goes beyond the take over of school by missionaries. A sane society will allow its citizens to relate in all environments, educational institutions inclusive without the citizen compromising any of his religious values. For instance, London metropolitan police allows its officers to dress according to their religion after satisfying the minimum official uniform dress code. The same also is the case in Scotland, Canada, etc. It will surprise a lot of people to know that in the so-called Western countries we are copying e.g. America, wearing of religious headcover is protected under the constitutional right to freedom of religion. Moreover, there is no school uniform in most public schools in the U.S. However, what the Muslims are saying is that a Catholic nun should not be banned from wearing her veil to school, especially government owned school and not the religious robes that are meant for Sunday or Friday services in churches and mosques respectively.
And surprisingly, no one has told us the section of the scripture discouraging modest dressing and wearing of veils, which perhaps is not known to Mother
Theresa, who wore her veils always. Therefore, I would like to appeal to those fanning the embers of discord by using religion to further divide us to sheathe their swords. The Governor of that state has done his best in recent times to ensure that people of different faiths live together in his state despite the drum of war being beaten by some people, which is why the people of the state have refused to be dragged into any religious violence. I want to express that the continuous brouhaha on the part of a group after court ruling and despite the scriptural injunctions on modes of dressing will amount to “playing the dog in the manger” or a case of throwing sand in someone else’s garri, just because you are satisfied with your own food.
Talking about the return of schools to missionaries, doing that after the government has used the taxpayers’ money, including atheists, to develop them may not be fair enough. The holy Qur’an enjoins justice: Qur’an 16 verse 90. It will even amount to government shirking its responsibility, because a government that cannot provide education for its citizenry is better advised to go. Also, if at the formation level of our children, we have been showing them that “this is ours and that is theirs,” which the school take-over may cause, where is the demonstration of religious tolerance preached by all religions? Qur’an 25:63 “For true servants of the Most Gracious are (only) they who walk gently on earth, and who whenever the foolish address them, reply with (words of) peace.”
The ultimate solution to religious harmony is sincerity on the part of religious leaders to the slogan of good interfaith relationship, as well as ensuring respect for each other’s religious values, as preached. The umbrella bodies of religious associations in Nigeria— CAN and SCIA should always speak up.
Imam Morufu Onike Abdul-Azeez is Deputy Chief Imam of muslim organization, NASFAT.