Hijab, CAN and Religious Tolerance in Nigeria (2)

Obviously, the position of CAN which premised education as a sole property of missionaries requires rigorous review. The colonial authorities used education as a tool in administration towards integrating their culture and religious belief to respective countries they colonize. Yet the education and civilization promoted by the colonial masters were largely inherited from Islamic Civilization and Muslim Scholarship.

Sir John Glubb in A Short History of the Arab Peoples, 1969 stated that ‘the indebtedness of Western Christendom to Arab civilization was systematically played down, if not completely denied. A tradition  was built up, by censorship and propaganda, that the Muslim imperialists had been mere barbarians and that the rebirth of learning in the West derived directly from Roman and Greek sources alone, without any Arab intervention’.

Furthermore, UNESCO and the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL) in 2015 marked the 1000th anniversary since the appearance of the remarkable seven volume treatise on optics – Kitab al-Manazir – written by Arab scientist Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) who was a pioneering scientific thinker that made important contributions to the understanding of vision, optics and light. He was described as the father of modern Optics, Ophthalmology, Experimental Physics and Scientific Method and the first Theoretical Physicist.

Ian P. Howard argued in a 1996 Perception article that Alhazen should be credited with many discoveries and theories which were previously attributed to Western Europeans writing centuries later and influenced medieval European scientists and philosophers such as Roger Bacon, Robert Grosseteste, Witelo, Leonardo Di Vinci and Christian Huygens. But Alhazen’s book came into its own later, when it attracted the attention of mathematicians like Kepler, Descartes, and Huygens, thanks in part to Friedrich Risner’s edition published in Basel in 1572.

Again, the Arab Muslim physician, Abulcasis, has equally been described by many notable scholars as the father of modern surgery who first describe ectopic pregnancy and haemophilia among others and pioneered the preparation of medicines by sublimation and distillation. In 14th century, the French surgeon Guy de Chauliac quoted his book – al-Tasrif – over 200 times. Pietro Argallata also described Abū al-Qāsim as “without doubt the chief of all surgeons.”

Surprisingly, it took the turn of the millennium before World Health Organization (WHO) could acknowledge the pioneer work of Persian physician Rhazes (860-932) who gave the systematic description of measles, and its distinction from smallpox and chickenpox and published –The Book of Smallpox and Measles. The Bulletin of WHO, May 1970 read thus “His writings on smallpox and measles show originality and accuracy, and his essay on infectious diseases was the first scientific treatise on the subject.” It is thus befitting to ask: how would the world have been today without “algorithm”, “algebra” and “alkali” as the legacy of Muslim polymaths unto the West?

No wonder HRH Prince Charles of Wales, the eldest child and heir apparent of Queen Elizabeth II, said in 1993 “If there is much misunderstanding in the West about the nature of Islam, there is also much ignorance about the debt our own culture and civilization owe to the Islamic world. It is a failure, which stems, I think, from the straight-jacket of history, which we have inherited. The medieval Islamic world, from central Asia to the shores of the Atlantic, was a world where scholars and men of learning flourished. But because we have tended to see Islam as the enemy of the West, as an alien culture, society, and system of belief, we have tended to ignore or erase its great relevance to our own history”

Moreover, the pre-colonial scholarships of Muslim Ulamah in Yorubaland also lend credence to this assertion coupled with their promotion of societal stability via mutual tolerance. Long before Missionary adventure in 1841, Islam has been in Yorubaland for well over two hundred years where the first and only literacy was Arabic as widely noted by Emeritus Prof. Ade-Ajayi. According to Prof. Isaac Ogunbiyi, the origin of the word ‘Yoruba’ has been traced to Arabic writers such as Ahmad Baba (1627 in his mi’raj al-su’ud) and Muhammed Bello (1837 in his infaq al-maysur) both of whom were reported among the earliest to name the people in Oyo ‘yariba’, ‘yaruba’, ‘yarba’ at a time when they were still referring to themselves by their diverse ethnic identities.

It is on this basis of freedom of religion that Barack Obama stated at Cairo University in 2009 that “Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state in our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That’s why the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it.”

Reinforcing this assertion, Michelle Obama paid a visit to Mulberry School for Girls in Tower Hamlets, United Kingdom in 2015 to inspire hundreds of young people where majority of teenage students cover their heads with hijab. Speaking to the crowd of hijab-clad girls, Mrs. Obama said, “When I look out at all these young women, I see myself. In so many ways your story is my story. I’m here because of you. Because girls like you inspire and impress me, every day.’ She couldn’t have chosen a more fantastically multicultural school – only a handful of hijab-free heads in the entire place – or a more impressive one, against the odds. More than 70 per cent of the students are on free school meals, but four-fifths go on to university.

Obviously, we live in one world as reiterated by Kofi Annan.  We need to understand and respect each other, live peacefully together and live up to the best of our respective traditions.  That is not as easy as we might like it to be.  But that is all the more reason to try harder, with all our tools and all our will.

It is time to unlearn intolerance and accept hijab as a divinely endowed honours worn by blessed Eve wife of Adam, Sarah wife of Abraham, Mary mother of Jesus and Khadijah wife of Prophet Muhammad (may Allah be pleased with them all) as a symbol of purity and humility.

Read Part 1

daudola
Engr. Dauda Ayanda (MNSE); former Executive Member, Nigerian Society of Engineers (Ibadan Branch) and IEEE P1903 Working Group Consultant (USA) writes from Durban, South Africa.