Using the Hijab as an Instrument of Social Change Among the Yoruba Muslims

Scientific Essay, 2017

20 Pages





Definition of Hijāb

Historical Evolution of Hijāb

The Hijāb and Controversies among Yoruba Muslims

Hijāb as an Instrument of Social Change



Notes and References


The concept of change has, of recent, become a mantra echoed in all areas of life in this part of the world. The reason for this development could be hinged on the emphasis laid on different aspects of change by various theoretical schools like that of Marxist. Thus, as a social change evolves from a number of different sources, this paper examined the Hijāb as an instrument of change among the Yoruba Muslims. This took into accounts, various controversies that trail the use of Hijāb in the Muslims folk and pragmatically unveiled its inherent values which could be explored to enthrone a change in the social system of especially the Yoruba Muslims.

Purposive sampling technique was used in selecting twenty-five (25) Muslims-scholars and non- scholars for interviews, from eight notable Muslim organizations of Zumrah al-Mu’minīn, Izālatul-Bid‘ah wa Iqāmatus-Sunnah, Tablīgh Brotherhood, Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN), The Muslim Congress (TMC), Ta‘āwun al-Muslimīn, Tijāniyyah and Qādiriyyah Sufi Orders, on some social related issues on the Hijāb. The data was analyzed quantitatively using the Qur’ān. In this respect, the relationship between the Hijāb and virtues such as humility, trustworthiness, chastity and bashfulness among other social values was critically juxtaposed vis á vis the Hijāb as an Islamic emblem and its inmates as agents of social change in the context of this paper.

The concluding part of the study discussed the findings of the research in relation to the difference between the reality of the divine injunctions governing the use of Hijāb and the conceived disparity in the practical utilization of the Hijāb by female Muslims, which may hitherto result in a generalized negative impression on the Hijāb itself and its users. This analysis was used as a premise for establishing the instrumentality of the Hijāb to the crusade of social change in Yorubaland in general and among the Yoruba Muslims in particular.

Keywords: Hijāb, Social change, Instrument, Yoruba Muslims .


The Hijāb will be examined in this paper through a careful study of its meaning, origin, types and differences of opinion expressed by Yoruba Muslims over its use. It must be emphasized here that other identifiers which are interchangeably used with Hijāb will not be discussed individually in this work but considered and treated as part of the Hijāb. This is simply because such synonymous identities as Niqāb, Khimār, and Jilbāb have been exhaustively debated and written on by many researchers in the past. More so, Hijāb is specifically chosen for study in this work for being the most commonly used and understood as the head cover or veil used by Muslim women in the geographical confines of this research.

Definition of Hijāb

According to al-Mawrid (1992), the word Hijāb means veil, screen, cover(ing) or curtain.1 Going by Episto (2003), the word Hijāb is a veil which covers the hair and neck and worn by Muslim women particularly in the presence of non-related adult males. Quoting the same source, the Hijāb is given a wider meaning of modesty, privacy and morality.2

In the opinion of Glasse (2001), the Hijāb can be defined from a metaphysical perspective to connote the veil which separates man or the world from God.3 A similar definition of the Hijāb is given by the Encyclopedia of Islam (2003) as a spatial curtain that divides or provides privacy.4 By and large, the Hijāb has been conceptualized from different angles which range from physical to metaphysical and from material to abstract.

Historical Evolution of Hijāb

According to Esposito (2003), a professor of Islamic Studies at George town University, the custom of veiling and seclusion of women in the early period of Islam were assimilated from the conquered Persian and Byzantine societies and then later on they were viewed as appropriate expressions of Qur’ānic norms and values. 5

Bloom and Blair (2002) also are of the opinion that the Qur’ān does not require women to wear veils for the idea of veiling was a social habit picked up with the expansion of Islam. These scholars go further to maintain that it is impractical for working women to wear veils and that a veiled woman silently announces that her husband is rich enough to keep her idle.6

In the Mid Twentieth Century according to Leila (2011), the use of Hijāb saw resurgence in Egypt after a long period of decline as a result of westernization of Egypt under the rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Then the Hijāb which used to be taken to mean suppression of the Muslim Woman began to symbolize a commitment to the service of the Islamic call in the aspect of helping devastated families. 7 Thus, the veil became a liberating symbol of being a Muslim woman with a cause for justice.

Leila (1992) further buttresses the fact that veiling did not originate with the advent of Islam by stating that the statuettes depicting veiled priestesses precede all the three Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) as far back as 2,500 B.C.E. 8 As at this time, Leila (1992) maintains that elite women in ancient Mesopotamia and in Byzantine, Greek and Persian empires were using veil as a sign of respectability and of high status.9 In the argument of Leila, veiling in these regions was meant to differentiate between ‘respectable’ women and those who were publicly available, the same way strict seclusion and veiling of matrons were in place in Roman and Byzantine society and in classical Greek society between 550 and 323 B.C.E. when respectable women were expected to seclude themselves and wear clothing that would conceal them from the eyes of strange men.10 This practice, quoting Leila (1992) later influenced the Byzantine Empire where proper conduct of girls required that they should neither be seen nor heard outside their homes. A similar practice is supported by Assyrian law which stipulate that respectable women should veil and that low –class- women should not.11

The above painted scenario was the practice until 5th and 6th Centuries when societies of the Mediterranean Middle East were dominated by Christian and some Jewish populations. Jewish women, at the inception of Christianity then, were veiling their heads and faces. Thus, successive invasions during the Muslim conquest led to some synthesis in the cultural practices of Greek, Persian and Mesopotamian empires and the Semitic peoples of the regions, asserted Leila (1992).12

It must be mentioned at this point that the practical concept of veiling, in the opinion of Abdur-Raheem (nd) was not known to the Yorubaland of Nigeria until around 1959. This, according to this source, started when Yusuf Okunola, one of the students of Bamidele went to pay his master a courtesy call and met a Mauritania lady in a black loose garment (Jilbāb ’aswad) begging people for assistance. Yusuf moved close to this woman for some interrogations. Upon these, he got to know her reason for begging. She told Yusuf that she had no husband who could take care of her. Yusuf therefore pitied her condition and took her to his master, Bamidele who eventually resolved to assist her when Yusuf narrated her predicament to him.13

Abdur-Raheem (nd) has it on record that thereafter, Bamidele asked Mauritania lady for the name of the long robe she wore. She answered that it was a garment mentioned in Sūratul -’Ahzāb, Qur’ān Chapter 33 verse 59 which reads:

O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies (i.e. screen themselves completely except the eyes or one eye to see the way.) That will be better that they should be known as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed. And Allah is Ever Oft- Forgiving, Most Merciful. 14

Bamidele, upon hearing this, sought her permission to stay with his wives for a while to teach them and his students the sewing, the cutting and the essence of the garment. The Mauritania lady accepted this offer and requested Bamidele to gather his students from far and near to witness the cutting and sewing of the garment. People like Alhaji Mustapha Adele, Imran Oke-Sioni and Alhaji Hambali were among his students that gathered for this training. By and large, all his wives with his students’ learnt the cutting and the sewing of this garment from this Mauritanian Lady before she departed. Thus, many were qualified in the sewing of this garment which became the identity (uniform) of the Bamidele’ s wives, his students’ wives and the wives of all his followers. 15 This, in our submission, marked the beginning of the popularity and the spread of the culture of Hijāb among the Yoruba Muslims in Nigeria.

The Hijāb and Controversies among Yoruba Muslims

The status of this identity is another source of social controversy among Yoruba Muslims in Nigeria. Issues endlessly argued on, over the use of Hijāb, bother on the impact of the Hijāb on society at large; the symbolism of the Hijāb and the personality of the Hijāb user among others.

First of all, on the type of Muslims upon whom the use of Hijāb is compulsory, the conduct expected of its user and the position of Hijāb in marriage, Ibrahim Eleduwa reports as follows:

The use of Hij āb is primarily meant for mature Female Muslims and by extension for little Muslim girls provided they can carry it. More so, its use at such a tender age is a form of training for it to be used at maturity. … For the ignorant, the use of Hijāb is a form of punishment, whereas it is a divine directive. In addition, the character of an hijabite must be exemplary going by her identity. When it comes to marriage, the use of Hijāb is not an impediment at all except such a Muslim sister does not go for a Muslim brother with understanding of Islam. In the same vein, the use of Hijāb cannot be a ground for divorce if the marriage is a good match.16

In a similar dimension, Muhammad Salahud-Deen Alatunse maintains that

The use of full blown Hijāb, otherwise known as Niqᾱb is compulsory for all Muslim women as this will go a long way to avoid unnecessary mingling of men and women which could result in either fornication or adultery (Zinᾱ). Zinᾱ begins from seeing and nothing promiscuous strikes your mind if you do not see see. 17

Adeniloye Sulayman who describes his first encounter with an Hij āb sister as disturbing but whose wife now uses the Hij āb reveals that the use of tattered Hij āb is repulsive. He also goes further to say that the use of Hij āb should not be a barrier to the career of its users- they should not be kept indoors for using Hij āb. 18

Concerning the humiliation suffered inside the Hij āb, S ulayman Abdul Rasheed Olore attributes it to the attitude of the users themselves. He therefore argues that the Hij āb should be used upon maturity of a female Muslim child whether married or not. Nobody should see her face thereafter until the wedding day when her husband will do that to confirm his wife. 19

It is also argued by Ismaheel Abdul Ghaniy that the use of Hij āb is compulsory. Regardless of the controversies that trail how it is to be used, the whole body must be covered. By so doing, users are beautified, respected and protected from public assaults.20

As pointed out by some of our respondents, social challenges faced by Hij āb users include segregation, humiliation, deprivation and for some, inferiority complex. This view is voiced by respondents like Habibat Daramola who suggests a way out as follows:

Some people consider the use of Hij āb as a threat. Friends complain as the size of your Hij āb increases. This is because Hij āb users are seen as being uncivilized. Therefore, Seminars and conferences should be organized to sensitize Muslim women on matters relating to the use of Hijab.21

A little contrary to the above, Hamdalat Ayokemi argues that some Hij āb users are derogatorily called ‘‘ Boko-Haram ’’ but states that some Christians appreciate the Hij āb. You can always prove yourself when you are called bad names. People will give you special treatments outside as Hij āb users. Even masquerades in this area do not pursue Hij āb users as a sign of respect for them and their religion.22

Folake Amao, a new convert of Islam expresses her challenges concerning the use of Hij āb thus:

I use small Hij āb while going to the office and use a bigger one at home. Being of Christian background, when with my people, they look at me with pity and dislike. In the office where I also work with a Christian boss, I am faced with pressure of preaching Christianity to me. In short, the comments from non- Muslims on the Hij āb are negative why those of non- Hij āb - using Muslims are worse. It also happens that the nature of my work cannot allow me to go into full blown Hij āb. As it is, I believe that women should be encouraged to use the Hij āb because from my experience in Christianity, women are not allowed to leave their ears and heads uncovered. 23

In the expression of Abdur- Rauf Yusuf, the use of Hij ā b ensures that the bashfulness of women is preserved. Its use also reduces the rate of social promiscuity and guarantees the free movement of its users.24


1. Al-Mawrid Dictionary of Hijab. (1992. P.453

2. J. Esposito, The oxford dictionary of Islam. (Oxford :University Press, 2003), ISBN 0-19-512558-4

3. C. Glasse, The new encyclopaedia of Islam. (Altamira Press, 2001), 179-180.

4. Encyclopaedia of Islam and the Muslim world. (New York: Macmillan Reference, USA, 2003), 721.

5. J. Esposito, The oxford dictionary of Islam. (Oxford :University Press, 2003), ISBN 0-19-512558-4

6. J. Bloom S. Blair, 2002. Islam: A thousand years of faith and power. (Yale University Press 2002), 446-47.

7. Leila, A. 2011. The veil’s resurgence from middle east to America: A Quiet Revolution. New Haven: Yale University Press Pp. 111-112.

8. Leila, A. 1992. Women and gender in Islam. New Haven: New Haven: Yale University Press. P.36.

9. Leila, A. 1992. Women and gender in Islam. New Haven:. New Haven: Yale University Press. P.15.

10. Leila, A. 1992. Women and gender in Islam. New Haven: New Haven: Yale University Press. Pp15 28

11. Leila, A. 1992. Women and gender in Islam. New Haven: Yale University Press. P.28.

12. Leila, A. 1992. Women and gender in Islam. New Haven: Yale University Press. P.36.

13. Abddur Raheem, H. (n.d). Za’īmᾱn liḥarakᾱt al- ḥijᾱb wal-‘amᾱmah fī Nayjīriya. Iseyin: Olowe Printing Press. P.20.

14. Abddur Raheem, H. (n.d). Za’īmᾱn liḥarakᾱt al- ḥijᾱb wal-‘amᾱmah fī Nayjīriya. Iseyin: Olowe Printing Press. P.9.

15. Abddur Raheem, H. (n.d). Za’īmᾱn liḥarakᾱt al- ḥijᾱb wal-‘amᾱmah fī Nayjīriya. Iseyin: Olowe Printing Press. P.19.

16. Mallam Ibrahim Eleduwa of Oje Compound, Ibadan, Oyo State. Aged 37 years. Interviewed on 27th January, 2012.

17. Muhammad Salahud-Deen Alatunse. A Zumrah scholar at Ife Oluwa Mosque, Orogun, Ibadan, Oyo State. Aged 45 years. Interviewed on 22nd February, 2014.

18. Adeniloye Sulayman

19. Alh. Sulayman Abdul Rasheed Olore. A Zumrah scholar of Aga Layout, Olore, Ojoo, Ibadan, Aged 47 years. Interviewed on 13th December, 2012.

20. Ismaheel Abdul Ghaniy. A Ta‘ᾱwun scholar and the Oyo State General Secretary of the Association. Aged 43 years. Interviewed on 13th August, 2014.

21. Habibat Daramola

22. Hamdalat Ayokemi

23. Folake Amao

24. Abdur- Rauf Yusuf,

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Using the Hijab as an Instrument of Social Change Among the Yoruba Muslims
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Dr Busari is a Senior Assistant Registrar in the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and a researcher in different areas of Islamic Studies such as Islamic Jurisprudence, Science of dialectics and Shari'ah.
Hijāb, social change, instrument, Yoruba Muslims
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Busari Moshood (Author), 2017, Using the Hijab as an Instrument of Social Change Among the Yoruba Muslims, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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