By Rafiu Ajakaye and Andrew Wasike </p> <p>LAGOS, Nigeria / NAIROBI, Kenya (AA) – Muslim women across Africa on Friday joined global commemoration of World Hijab Day amid complaints of rising official violations of their religious rights, including the right to wear head coverings.<br>
Rallies and news briefings calling for respect for the right of Muslim women to wear hijabs (headscarves) were held in major cities of the continent, especially in Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa.
In the central African country of Nigeria, various Muslim bodies said girls' right to education is being curtailed as officials either shut them out of schools because they wear hijabs or taunt and punish them for their beliefs.
Nimatullah Abdul-Quadri, head of the Al-Mu'minaat, or the Believing Women, told a news briefing in the commercial capital Lagos that the past year has seen a rise in discrimination against women and girls wearing the head covering.
She said the discrimination persists despite a 2016 appeals court ruling which struck down an official policy restricting the head covering in public schools or anywhere.
In what is seen as a challenge to the British colonial legacy, Nigeria has seen a spike in hijab-related crises across the religiously mixed southwest region in the last three years, especially in the Lagos, Ogun, and Oyo states, where Muslims have mounted protests and legal challenges to end “conspiracies” to stop young women from wearing it to school.
“We call on the Nigerian government at all levels to act quickly and direct all its agencies to stop unwarranted discrimination against Muslim girls in hijabs,” said Abdul-Quadri.
Mutiat Orolu-Balogun, head of the Hijab Rights Advocacy Initiative, told a news briefing on Friday that the discrimination cuts across all sectors of the country, citing cases of Muslim women medical workers who face exclusions on account of their head covering.
She said Nigeria ranks among the top five countries where Muslim women are stereotyped for their faith.
“We intend to carry out a month-long [pro-hijab] advocacy to reach as many members of society as possible,” she said, calling for fair representation and respect for Muslim women in every sector of society.
Basheerah Majekodunmi, head of the women’s wing of the Muslim Students Society in Lagos, said they are considering a shutdown of the state if government does not end the harassment of Muslim girls in schools.
Lakin Akintola, head of the influential Muslim Rights Concern, announced the setting up of a Hijab Task Force (HITAF) and Hijab Control Room (HICOR) through which victims of discrimination will report cases of discrimination. He said told a news briefing that the task force will go to schools to ensure Muslim girls are given their legal rights to wear hijabs, in view of the appeals court ruling.
“All members of the task force must be peaceful and orderly,” Akintola said, warning against violence.
In Kenya, East Africa, Muslims on social media have been outraged over a recent court ruling which upheld a ban on hijabs.
Many Muslim leaders held protests calling for respect for the religious rights of their women and girls.
“Many students are staying away from schools, missing out on education because of such a ruling,” Abu Ayman, a Muslim leader at the Jamia Mosque in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, told Anadolu Agency.
“It could be better if we came up with more Muslim schools to support these children. We never discriminate, and the Muslim schools in Kenya admit Christians and other religious groups. Above all, we respect their religion.”
Mariem Halima, 21, told Anadolu Agency she cannot walk out of the house — much less go to school — without her hijab.
“Today is a sad day for us Muslim girls. As we speak, there is a girl somewhere at home missing education because of discrimination by our courts and country folks,” Halima said.
Some Christian leaders in Kenya have condemned the hijab ban in their country.
– South Africa
On Sunday in Johannesburg, South Africa, a major talk centering on hijabs will be held.
World Hijab Day, an initiative of the activist Nazma Khan first commemorated in 2013, encourages women of all faiths and backgrounds to wear and experience the hijab in a bid to end negative stereotypes about Muslim women wearing the religious garment.
The day is commemorated every Feb. 1 in at least 140 countries around the world. The theme for the 2019 commemoration is “Breaking Stereotypes; Shattering Boundaries.”
Disu Kamor, executive chair of the Muslim Public Affairs Centre Nigeria, said the day is a great idea to empower, enlighten, and break down barriers.
“Many Nigerian Muslim women will mark the occasion of World Hijab Day to reflect on the situation that exists for them: the unwarranted hostility and discrimination they and their daughters have to suffer for making the free choice to put a piece of cloth on their heads,” according to Kamor.
“The organizers have succeeded in placing the hijab in its rightful place in both the public discourse and public consciousness.”