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Uniforms are to Unite: Let Religion make allowances: ISI should be spared

In the past few days the International School, University of Ibadan (ISI), has suddenly come into the limelight due to the religious controversies it has been caught in.

In light of this, to say that the ISI management by maintaining that the wearing of hijabs by female Muslim students to school do not form part of her ideal school uniform, intends to achieve an ulterior (religiously oriented) motive, may mean putting a lot of things out of thought. This issue has in no doubt generated heated controversies between the school management and Muslim parents, who had felt that the school management’s refusal to approve their hitherto countless appeals to have their wards observe their religious requirement of dressing in the hijab to school, is a blatant infringement of such religious right. So far the situation only seems to be getting out of hand, as the school’s activities since Thursday last week to date, have been put on a hold.

In the meantime, a lot of diametrically opposed arguments have sprouted and are still sprouting from the situation. For instance, one may easily ask if wearing hijab to school if allowed can in any way disrupt or unsettle the school’s activities or affect non-adherents of Islam in any way; or the other way: that is if not wearing hijabs could stand in the way of grooming these students in being godly, chaste, and loyal to their religious tenets. The point may not apply to these two sides.

To start with, in every setting, rules are made not to torment, create disorder or intolerance, but peace, coexistence and harmony. Every setting has a body of rules that directs its existence and activities, and the moment rules have trespassed the worst moments cannot be kept away. Back to the point: in schools everywhere, uniforms are a tool of identification and unity. They meant are not meant to divide, disrupt or cause confusion, that is why they are called “uniform”. What the use of uniform entails is that one student must be dressed like the others, in spite of their religions, tribes or ethnicity once in school. This by all ways proves that all differences that may exist among students outside school walls are unimportant once they are in school, thus, creating a harmonious environment for learning, where differences are eliminated or kept out of sight. Thus, if the clamour for the use of hijab in ISI seeks to sustain religious morality, at least keeping the school’s rule of dressing is a moral rule that should not be belittled or joked about. It is pertinent to think fast ahead, about what this struggle will mean, the unbridgeable gaps it is likely to create in the lives of students who will come to lead the country tomorrow.

Similarly, if one fears that the disallowance of such a religious right may put a lot at stake as regards the religious training of the students involved, one thing that must not be forgotten is that in ISI prayers are not said in a particular religion alone. Students are equally allowed to take their preferred religious course (at times, religions other than theirs), and other countless religious allowances. If the case were the deprivation of the rights of prayers and being taught their religious beliefs, that would have meant a certain madness on the part of the management, which must be called off immediately, and not without some serious legal sanctioning.

However, as it appears, ISI only strives to be a school for all peoples. A school where students will not be torn apart along religious or ideological lines or social class, to denigrate or treat one another as outcasts, inferiors or even animals, and to regard themselves with the eyes of learned people, as one, in spite of their different backgrounds, social classes, religions and tribes, having no chance then to block understandable association, tolerance and cooperation. The school seeks to shape lives that will lead tomorrow, by emphasizing how one these lives at this tender stage are in spite of their numerous abounding differences, and to keep this unity solid when the future comes tomorrow.

The hijab struggle hence may be a huge sabotage to this national course for unity and peace. Religion should make huge allowances for such a noble course because it is an instrument of peace, tolerance, unity and love. The proper usage of the hijabs outside the walls of ISI has not been stopped. These parents should at least give some thoughts to the oddity of their clamours, the situation itself, it numerous disadvantages and not to fix their minds only on the advantages to be gained no matter how large.

In 55 years of ISI’s existence, there has not been such a struggle in its history. Other requests from parents such as the building of a Mosque in that same school for students to pray during praying hours; the conveying of students to the university’s central Mosque for the Jumaat prayers and the provision of meals for students at the Ramadan periods (although this parents pay for this), were not turned down by the ISI management. The questions that should come to mind at this point are: if this parents have noticed obvious moral degenerations from their children over the course of this long years and can attribute the cause to ISI and the non-usage of the hijabs in school.

This issue as it is, is critically serious, especially at this point in our country where a lot of lives have been lost to religious conflicts, misunderstandings, riots and attacks. How can we hope for better times ahead when we keep pushing for such courses dedicated to aggravating situations? If not-wearing hijabs in ISI does not mean that a student ceases from being a Muslim, then what is the struggle for? Do we want these students to perceive their differences clearly at this tender point, and keep away from one another?

Religion must make some allowances in a case such as this, where different ideologies, beliefs, philosophies and perceptions are involved. Uniforms should be uniforms except outside ISI’s school walls.

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