Her name was Florence Nightingale, and she is erroneously regarded in many circles as the founder of modern day nursing. The honour lies else where, but so pervasive was her influence and that of colonial Britain (in whose service she lived and died. a spinster) that British ideas, dressing and other norms are generally regarded as the standard for nursing.
As with other colonial impositions, some former British colonies have shaken off British influence on the nursing profession, whilst others are in the process of doing so. The battle is not one of mere aesthetics - note for instance that lawyers, members of that noble, learned profession still bear the Christian cross on the back of their wigs each time they "robe" for court!
Early this year, female nurses in Nigeria finally won back the right to abandon the knee-length, short-sleeved "traditional" nurses' uniform in exchange for dressing that closely befit core Muslim value of modesty and decency. The choice was made optional, and its implementation depends on the courage of those involved as well as on the environment in which each nurse worked.
But Zamfara State (again?) recently upped the ante. Its health ministry probably reasoned that if nurses in societies still mentally enslaved by Europe and the West could wear figure-exposing and tight-fitting dress uniforms in line with their culture (or lack of it), then the Islamic dress code should govern the dressing of its nurses, in line with its dominant Muslim culture. So, the Ministry prescribed a new uniform code which included the long headscarf popularly called "hijab' for nurses in government employment. Afterall, no patient can be expected to be in good psychological state for healing when they are nauseated by the mere sight of those supposedly caring for them. Right?
Wrong, some say. Non-Muslim nurses protested the "imposition", raised some dust, and refused to abide by the dress code. They were promptly sacked by their employer for insubordination.
Professional opponents of the Shari'ah immediately began to fuel the coals of this new controversy. Zamfara state and the other so-called Shari'ah states have enjoyed some respite lately (except for the usual cacophony of condemnations over judicial pronouncements of the death sentence for adultery). Those who expected the "Shari'ah states" to go up in smoke must have been sorely disappointed at the relative quiet in these states over the past year or so. Those "Muslims" who stoutly support anti-Muslim sentiments against the Shari'ah on the basis of "national harmony and peaceful coexistence" must have gained a better appreciation of Allaah's words in Qur'aan 2:120 when their idiocy was being slowly exposed by a succession of events. As for those who expected what they termed as "political Shari'ah" to "fizzle out" and used the issue to mask their own incompetence, we have since seen them in their true colour, irredeemable failures that they are. But, we digress.
The highest Christian authorities have taken up the battle-cry for the Zamfara nurses. Opportunists and self-glorifying noisemakers have seen the issue as another public attention-grabber and are hard at work. They even received support from an unlikely source. In a letter lavishly leaked to the press, the chairperson of the Nurses and Midwifery Council of Nigeria (NMCN), declared that only the council could regulate the dress code nurses and midwives, calling on the Zamfara State Government to rescind the offending directive and reinstate the sacked nurses. The letter was silent on the issues of insubordination and disrespect for constituted authority exhibited by the protesting nurses. The Council should therefore be expected to support whatever further action the nurses would take to air their grievances.
Now, however much we praise Zamfara State for wanting to establish Shari'ah-compliant dressing, we must admit that non-Muslims – nurses or not - have a right to object, and we as Muslims have to respect their right to be excluded. The point is that objection should be made with all due respect for constituted authority and should follow due process. We demand this from those who wish to support the nurses.
Yet, there are some serious puzzles here. While we can ignore the professional Shari'ah critics - their combined voice count only as mere irritation - the speed of the NMCN's support for the protesting nurses contrasts sorely with its decades-long inaction on the agitation of Muslim nurses and other health workers to dress according to their conscience. Also, in educational institutions across the country. Muslim women eager to adopt the "Niqab' (the full face cover) are being denied the right by all sorts of schemes. Embarrassed by the growing number of Niqabites on campuses, universities have been issuing "dress codes" like confetti to outlaw the practice. The Federal College of Education (Special) Oyo recently issued a circular banning the Niqab (wearers are to be charged for examination malpractice). What is the position of the NMCN and others on this, or do these students lose their "constitutionally protected" freedoms simply by virtue of their being Muslims? Where was the NMCN chairpersonin all the decades when non-Christian nurses were made to dress in a manner repulsive to their values, just because they wanted to serve humanity? Is the Council also taking up the fight of those denied the right to dress according to Muslim values?
One does not expect any answers to these and other questions on the issue; we are by now used to institutionalize double standards. The reality that daily confronts us is that we have to take action if we want change.
This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited