AMASA FIRDAUS: A viewpoint
I attended the Nigerian Law School as part of the fulfillment of my quest to become a lawyer. It was in the Kano Campus. More than half of the student population was of Northern extraction. In class, most of the Northern female Muslims cover their heads and one woman even wore the full veil. I also noted that many of the Northern Christian females used scarves.
I have rummaged through my photo collections to get proof that many of those Northern females actually wore small hijabs beneath their lawyer wigs during the call to bar ceremony which took place in Abuja but my law school photos are nowhere to be found. I remember vividly a female friend from Zamfara whose wig I asked her to adjust because it sat awkwardly on her head due to the fact that she was wore hijab.
The call to bar is the culmination of the law school programme. You must have passed the bar exams and passed the general screening exercise. You are at liberty to get your apparels for the ceremony. Dark suit, black shoes, black socks, white shirt, stiff wing collar, white bib and of course the wig which is made from horse’s hair are the prescriptions for males. For the females, there are of course no socks and another difference is that they use collarette in place of bib.
The dressing itself emanates from our adoption of the English legal system and its attributes. This dressing is adopted with various modifications including total abandonment of the wig in commonwealth countries. For instance, in Australia, lawyers do not wear wigs or collars but do wear the plain black gown. The situation is the same in Canada. In India, another jurisdiction nurtured by England, females are allowed to wear the traditional sari or the churidar kutar (a Punjabi dress) to court!
In Nigeria, I am only aware that female lawyers must wear dark suit and skirt plus white shirt, collarette and wig. I am not aware of any rule banning covering the hair before the placement of a wig. I think the most important thing is for the wig to be immaculately donned. As long as the wig is not slanted or awkwardly placed on the head, I don’t understand what the fuss is about.
The Amasa Firdaous’ case is definitely a combustible case. The opinions are already sharply divided along Nigeria’s religious lines. Some have even labeled her a “bigot” and a “fanatic”. I have seen the contrasting photo of a Christian nun who was also called to the bar but who let her hair flow. Must we go to that extent to prove Firdous was wrong? Some even suggested that allowing her to have her way may warrant traditional worshippers to demand being allowed to attend law school in their traditional outfits. Ludicrously poor rationalization!
If someone believes in a cause and decides to have a crack at it, why do we have to resort to outcry and opprobrium? It’s her cross. Just as it was the cross a certain Rosa Parks decided to bear in 1955. She was seated in the black section of a bus when the bus conductor requested her to give up her seat for a white person. Such request was the norm and blacks readily gave up their seats. But not Rosa Parks. She was defiant. Blacks who refused were usually arrested and prosecuted for civil disobedience. Parks went on to become one of the most respected civil rights activists in America and was noted as “the mother of the freedom movement”.
Yes, it may be convenient to distinguish between Rosa Parks and Amasa Firdaous, the point is that they both put up resistance in pursuit of what they thought was their right or freedom. Such resistance, whatever the outcome, is a product of courage and dignity. How many of the critics have ever stood up to anything?
Information I had initially was that she wore veil to the call to bar ceremony but when I saw the picture she took prior to moving to the venue of the ceremony, she certainly did not look out of place. The wig sat atop her head just the same way it would sit upon uncovered hair. Such modest use of the hijab for call to bar ceremonies are not uncommon in other jurisdictions. I have seen pictures from Kenya for instance with dressings similar to that of Firdaous.
Those talking about conventions and regulations need to point out the specific regulation Firdaous has flouted. She did not jettison any of the vital items of robing prescribed for lawyers. In fact, who cares if a female lawyer wears bra or pant to the call to bar ceremony? Why should anyone raise eyebrows about a very modest hijab or scarf that rhymes with the general dress code?
In our law courts, at magistracy level, female magistrates wear scarves without any complaints from any quarters. Has anyone ever argued they are not formally dressed? Nurses in Nigeria have dress code but are Muslim nurses not allowed to wear modest hijabs?
Firdous’ case is nothing but a situation of making a mountain out of a molehill. Now there has to be a review of the situation since a lot of stakeholders are now having their say. When the Lagos State government banned Hijab among secondary school students in the state, the matter ended up in court. We all know how it panned out.