The Hijab Ordeal: Assessing the Minority Effect
Being in the minority everywhere in the world tends to come with some challenges be it in politics, ethnicity, gender, religion etc, it is sometimes a very bitter pill to swallow. Some people in minority groups, conscious of this fact tend to shut themselves out with the intention of securing their peace of mind and even safety in a not so conducive environment.
Minority political groups for instance, almost always have one complaint or another, women, as a minority group has been struggling for equality since time immemorial and in the religious territory one group that has suffered stigma and discrimination in various aspects is the Muslim group. The situation of prejudicing against Muslims has worsened so much so that the terminology Islamophobia was coined.
One aspect of this prejudice against Muslims is another terminology- Hijabophobia, which is a term referring to discrimination against women wearing Islamic veils, including the hijab, chador, niqāb and burqa. It is in simple terms, hostility towards the hijab.
Hijab is often misconstrued as just the piece of covering Muslim women wear on their heads. But it’s a whole lot more- it is a concept, a way to feel closer to your maker, and to express your modesty as a Muslim woman.
Unfortunately, hijabis (women who wear hijabs) have for some time now been subjected to unfair treatment by hijabophobics (people who discriminate against hijabis).
Over the years, there have been countless number of stories about young Muslim girls who have been harassed, called names, ridiculed to mention a few for the simple reason that they cover their hair. As to how that poses as an inconvenience to someone else other than the hijabis themselves is something that beats me.
Assuming being a hijabi means you cannot give off your best as a student, or an employee of any sort, then of course something should be done about the situation by all means, but here is the case where discharging one’s duties is in no way affected by the hijab. There are of course, those who raise concerns that nurses who wear hijabs are likely not to offer the best of health care to their patients because the hijab is almost always a distraction– that’s their opinion, but how many times haven’t concerns been raised about some nurses who are constantly fidgeting with their phones instead of attending to the needs of patients and have we banned the use of mobile phones by nurses because of that? NO! And I believe it would be sorely unfair, if such an action were to be taken.
My point is, being judgmental of someone’s attitude towards their responsibilities and being critical of them for that reason is one thing, but basing your judgment on your fears about that person’s religious culture is a whole different argument which should be looked at holistically.
Recently a WAEC invigilator asked a Muslim candidate to take off her veil before sitting for a paper. There was also a report that a lecturer of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) removed the veil of a nursing student writing her licensure exams and threw it away leaving the student in a state of shock, without giving a second thought to how her action was likely to affect the state of mind of the candidate in that exam hall. Very unfortunate!
These are just a couple of instances but imagine the several other cases that never made their way into the limelight.
I dare say Muslims all over the country stand in unison as far as this situation and handling it are concerned because thousands of Muslims across the nation on Saturday staged a street protest against hijab discrimination. The peaceful march which took place in some key cities across the 16 regions, was not only attended by young Muslims but some prominent Muslim leaders including Members of Parliament. This should tell how dire the situation is and the level of importance attached to it by the Muslim community.
According to the 2010 Census, Muslims constitute about 35.6 percent of the population of Ghana, hence are in the minority. It’s therefore understandable that the minority effect rears its head, but something needs to be done when it reaches a point where it’s seemingly getting out of hand. 35% or not, we are Ghanaians nonetheless, hence deserve equal treatment.
There are other women from other religious background whose practice also requires that they cover their hairs and the fair question to ask is, why aren’t they admonished to take their hair covers off?
The minority effect sometimes is accompanied by what health practitioners call the minority stress. It is described as a chronically high levels of stress faced by members of stigmatized minority groups. It may be caused by a number of factors, including poor social support and low socioeconomic status.
However the most well understood causes of minority stress are interpersonal prejudice and discrimination. Numerous scientific studies have shown that minority individuals experience a high degree of prejudice, which causes stress responses (e.g., high blood pressure, anxiety) that accrue over time, eventually leading to poor mental and physical health. This should not be taken lightly!
Wearing the hijab should never be the reason someone suffers high blood pressure or anxiety! Wearing the hijab does not and should not in any way invalidate the hijabi’s ‘Ghanaian-ness’, therefore should not in any way make the hijabi appear any less a Ghanaian before her peers, bosses, or people in authority she would come into contact with, such that it should be the reason she is disrespected, maltreated, denied her right as a student to write her exam comfortably, denied the right to do her job as a worker, prejudiced with questionable looks and heart breaking comments.
It’s sad, it’s discriminatory, it’s wrong and it has got to stop!
Suraya Alidu Malititi