"There's nowhere where the religion (Islam) recommends
that the woman should be oppressed or the man should
be oppressed, or that children should be oppressed or
not listened to."
Mairo Bello, a Muslim who lives in Kano, West Africa, directs
Adolescent Health and Information Projects (AHIP), a youth
advocacy organization that provides information, education
and counseling on sexuality and reproductive health. She has
been active in the labor movement and in a coalition of Muslim
women from the North.
On the North-South Split
When the southern woman sees the northern woman, she sees
a stranger. She sees somebody that she has a stereotyped view
of. The northern woman that is looking at the southern woman
(thinks), "Oh, she is not a Muslim. It's anything goes, maybe
she has no God-fearing streak in her." And the southern woman
is looking at the northern woman as ignorant, backward. That's
the way we see each other.
The biggest challenge right now is ignorance. Education for
women in the North is much lower than education for the women
in the South. We did not come to believe in education for
a long, long time. A lot of governments are still fighting
the communities to improve on women's education, to bring
more enrollments of female students and all that. People still
do not believe in educating the women.
It's just fortunate that a lot of the women are trying to
educate themselves. ... It's not uncommon to see women that
have been married off -- then from their husband's houses
they start going back to school. Also, if the marriage breaks
down, they strap their babies on the back and go back to school.
... If a woman has Western education and has the Islamic education
put together, wow, she will do great. She'll do good [especially]
if she gets the Western education and if she gets it with
a focused mind on targeting what she wants to do or what she
wants to be.
The northern Nigerian woman, a lot of times people see her
as some senseless person. But she's the most intelligent woman
around. You know why? Even though a lot of times she's not
educated, she is downtrodden and she doesn't have the freedom
to move around, she can still sit in her home, make a life
for a lot of people. It takes some thinking to be able to
make life for people. ... There are people who are backstage
leaders, and we have a lot of such women.
|You would be surprised at how politically conscious they are, even in that seclusion.
The Radio Revolution
The radio revolution is the best revolution that ever happened
in the world. Because 24 hours, (even) in their seclusion,
the radio is on in the compound. ... These women know every
hour every station, and they are ready to turn from station
to station. You would be surprised at how politically conscious
they are, even in that seclusion. And the women in the South
might not [be] as politically conscious as [the woman in the
North] is in the seclusion because she gets her information
firsthand all the time.
Everyone in the bush ... they have a radio around (the) arm
... . It gives enlightenment to a lot of people. ... It gets to
people more than any other kind of media. Because the print
media is for the educated ... and the television media is for
people who have lights in our community. It's not everywhere
you go that you get electricity ... . Your equipment and your
battery takes you anywhere.
Women and Islam
As Africans we are brought up in some kind of cultural setting.
We have cultures that have run over time, even pre-Islam,
in [this] country ... . Sometimes you will find that a lot of
inequity will come in, a lot of biases which have not been
proscribed in the religion itself ... . There's nowhere where
the religion recommends that the woman should be oppressed
or the man should be oppressed, or that children should be
oppressed or not listened to. There's nowhere where it is
recommended that any segment of the society should be kept
in ignorance. In fact, it is recommended that everyone will
seek knowledge because it's only with knowledge that you can
lead a good life ... .
| The father
should be seen to be relating to his wife like his companion,
his sister. Not like a total stranger...
In Islam all people have their rights ... . I always tell people
if the rights of women are followed the way it is in the religious
book, the women will live perpetually happy. ... Religion has
no gender bias ... . With religion, a woman can have knowledge,
a woman can be given the same treatment you give to a man.
In a good Islamic home, the family should be seen as one.
The family will discuss with each other ... . The father should
be seen to be relating to his wife like his companion, his
sister. Not like a total stranger ... . He is supposed to discuss
with her, to take decisions with her, to consult with her
... because it is believed that the woman is a companion of
the man and not "the man is the boss."
... Where the culture has already prescribed that you must
be the boss, you are not allowed to even come as low as discussing
with your wife, then the culture has impeded you from following
what the religion says. ... It's not only Nigeria. Other African
countries have this strong African culture that is handed
down from generation to generation. Nigeria is no different.
... As it is now, gradually the younger generations are trying
to reform certain things.
Sharia is supposed to treat both men and women equally. I
think the reason a lot of people are talking about the discrimination
in sharia is that sometimes the investigations are not followed
through. For instance, a female is accused of being promiscuous
or she is accused of getting pregnancy out of wedlock, which
is not permitted in Islam. But if you need to punish the girl,
she [did] not conceive like a Virgin Mary. Somebody put it
there. The investigation should cover it totally and fish
out whosoever is responsible for that pregnancy. We Muslims
claim that science started from the Koran. If science started
from the Koran, why don't we use science to prove who is responsible
for that pregnancy?
As a Muslim, what I'm saying is that if it's good for the
goose let it be good for the gander. So if you punish the
female, get the man that is responsible for that pregnancy
and punish him too. Whosoever [he] is, no matter how highly
placed he is, he should be brought to justice.
Muslim Law and Non-Muslim Citizens
Sharia has always been in all the northern states. It's not
like it's a new thing. But this (politician) thought the strategy
for him to be accepted is to whip up sentiment and tell people,
"OK, if you work for me I will bring back the full-fledged
sharia." They voted for him based on his promise that he will
revive [penal] sharia in the states ... . After he got into
office he found that it's very difficult now to implement
because that same state (has) different kind of people living
in (it). You have Christians. You have Muslims. You have those
that are non-Christians, non-Muslims. They are neither here
nor there. So how do you start to implement sharia on these
people? Because sharia itself recommends that it is only for
Muslims. You should not make other people's life difficult.
People listen[ed] to this guy and believed in him that if
sharia comes, there will be some sanity. There will be more
equity. All this anarchy will go away. All this joblessness
will go away. He will create a Muslim state. The Muslim states
live like communal states, where everybody is everybody else's
keeper. But that never happened. People were still jobless.
There was still crime.
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