"We will soon be filing cases in court to seek full respect of our fundamental human rights," Jumoh-Olagunju [C] told IOL.
Read about Agonies of the Nigerian Muslim Woman
Muslim women in southern Nigeria are reportedly facing job discrimination in the private labour market, especially the banking sector, on account of their hijab which most employers consider unpatronising.
Rasheedah Omolola Abdulkareem, a graduate of accounting, says she has been discriminated against twice during job interviews in multi-religious Lagos, Nigeria’s economic hub and former federal capital city.
"In March this year, I visited the Integrated Corporate Service (ICS), a recruitment agency for banks and oil companies in Ilupeju, a suburb of Lagos, looking for job offers," she told IslamOnline.net.
"I met all their requirements. We were asked to write tests. I did and got a notification two weeks after that I passed the test and should come for interview," she recalled. "I went there only to be told that I was not dressing corporately.” Mrs. Abdulkareem rushed home, put on a suit jacket and skirt, while still covering her head. "But the interviewer, for reasons known to him, refused me access on my return, unless I remove my head cover. That was how I lost the job."
She says the same happened in a job interview at a bank. "I was told point blank I cannot be employed because I cannot market the bank with my religious dress," she asserted.
"They said my hijab will not make me smart," she added. A spokesman of the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Nigeria (CIBN), who sought anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the sensitive issue, said banks or any other establishments reserve the right to employ who they think will boost their business.
He neither confirmed nor denied discrimination against veiled Muslim women.
There is no law banning hijab anywhere in Nigeria, a country with a secular constitution but whose citizens are considered some of the world's most religious. Most states in the Muslim-dominated North operate a Shari`ah legal code. Southern Nigeria is largely multi-religious, with Christians in the majority.
Idayat Adeola-Lawal, a graduate of College of Education, had similar experience when she wanted to teach at an elementary school in Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun State in southwest Nigeria.
"The school authorities told me I cannot teach in their school with my Islamic garments," she told IOL.
"And since my religion is paramount I left the school." Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations. Maymunat Ismail, a nurse in a private hospital in Ibadan in the south-western Oyo State, faces sanctions for her hijab. "They told me my headscarf is not welcome and that my insistence could get me sacked," she told IOL.
"I told my parents to help plead with the proprietor that my appearance does not block my brain," she added.
"We are still dragging the issue with my fate hanging in the balance." Al-Mu’minaat a nationwide coalition of mostly young Muslim women from various backgrounds, including the professionals, says the anti-hijab trend is on the rise.
"We have the same scenarios playing out in nursing schools," Hajiah Mutiah Jumoh-Olagunju, president of the Al-Mu’minaat, told IOL.
"It is worst in banks because it seems to be a no-go area for Muslim women." She brands such stances as a violation of "our human rights as guaranteed by the constitution of Nigeria and other global declarations of people’s rights." The Al-Mu’minaat says its campaign against discrimination in government establishment is yielding positive results, with women now allowed to wear hijab in state hospitals and schools without any harassment.
"But there is still a long way to go, because the battle is still ahead in the private sector," admits Jumoh-Olagunju
"We will soon be filing cases in court to seek full respect of our fundamental human rights."
Rafiu Oriyomi contributed this piece specially for IslamOnline.net