After opposing the participation of muslim women at international fora, Abdullahi Doki then turned round to express fake concern that muslim women were unable to influence "the draft resolution on women's rights based on secular values now being adopted at the international level." International opinion cannot be influenced by confining one's views to the pedestrian level and taking hysterical ambushes at muslim women who dared to organise and speak up. How can we be influential when our voices are muffled because we are few due to opposition from people like Abdullahi Doki?
By Hajiya Bilkisu
In his article titled "The veil and feminism," (Weekly Trust 1-7, 2002) Abdullahi Doki made interesting observations on the role of muslim women in contemporary society. I commend him for participating in a much-needed debate which my earlier article and a later rejoinder have stimulated. That is the rationale behind my request to Weekly Trust to serialize Hasan Turabi's book.
However, in his haste to defend those he identified as the conservatives and in particular his imam, he could not wait to read the complete version of the Turabi book which will enable him to respond in a holistic manner to the issues raised. Rather he quoted Turabi' s work which he says undermines my position on muslim women's rights. Nothing is further from the truth. Turabi and I share the view that muslim women should on the basis of their unshakable faith work for the propagation of Islam.
It certainly supports the views canvassed by "the western educated muslim women elite" whom Abdullahi Doki criticizes. Although it is impossible to speak for all "western educated muslim women elite" or to even begin a debate on elitism etc. I can confidently speak for those from my group, the Federation of Muslim Women's Association in Nigeria (FOMWAN) of which I am a founding member and current leader. All my advocacies for women's rights are anchored on the federation's guidelines. The federation was established in 1985 to propagate Islam, educate muslim women and ensure that they live according to the Quran and Sunnah. Abdullahi Doki should refer to Sister Aisha Lemu's article "What Men Should Know About FOMWAN." Since its establishment, FOMWAN and its over 500 affiliates nationwide have made considerable progress in establishing muslim women's Islamic classes and promoted tarbiyya of children through establishment of model schools.
The suspicion that Islam is being used as a cover for "feminism and Western European concepts of women's rights" is the figment of Doki's imagination. All we are demanding for is an opportunity to educate ourselves, promote our Islamic heritage and contribute to the development of our society. Surely, these are legitimate pursuits! In fact that is the essence of da'awah. We owe it to our society to save Islam from being associated with illiteracy and denial of women's God-given right to education and participation in nation-building. As for our motive for doing all these, Allah is the best judge. However, it is up to Abdullahi Doki to undertake a census to ascertain the number of "western educated muslim women elite who are genuinely working for the propagation of women's rights on the strength of their unshakable faith in Islam".
While waiting for the result of this census, we are insisting like Turabi, that muslim women's rights discourse should be approached from an Islamic perspective. They should not be based on the whims and caprices of male chauvinists who seem to derive pleasure in oppressing women after jettisoning Islam and using culture as a facade. We are also insisting that women must be educated so that they know their rights and obligations to the society. We are disturbed that in a society that is supposed to be Islamic, women are denied their right to education which is compulsory in Islam.
Instead of enrolling them in both Quranic and formal schools, young girls are sent to hawk on the streets. As a result, we have lost our tradition of female scholarship which blossomed in the Sokoto Caliphate. Nana Asmau, the daughter of Sheikh Usman Danfodio is a shining example. She was an author of fifty-five works, a poet, teacher, administrator and founder of an education NGO Yan taru, remnants of which can be found in Sokoto today. As her father's diplomat, she was corresponding with the Shehu of Borno, the head of the first Islamic state in Nigeria on issues of Islamic jurisprudence and her views were well respected. Abdullahi Doki should be wondering how that legacy of female scholarship was replaced with talla, ignorance and superstition.
Turabi echoes this concern when he observed that "the muslim woman's role in private life has been reduced to that of a housewife chosen not for her personal merit, for she was denied the education or opportunity to acquire merit, but for the merit of her men-folk." Turabi aptly captures our plight when he also notes thus: "in the domain of public life, she is not allowed to make any original contribution to the promotion of the religious quality of life. Whenever she was allowed to work towards the material development of life, it was likely to be in the context of exploitation or as mundane work with little spiritual satisfaction or significance." The cleric also believes that "the greatest injustice visited upon women is their segregation and isolation from the general society. Sometimes the slightest aspect of her public appearance would be considered a form of obscene exhibition. Even her voice was bracketed in the same category. Her mere presence at a place where men mere present was considered shameful promiscuity. She was confined to her home in a manner prescribed in Islam only as a penal sanction for an act of adultery. She was also isolated on the pretext that she might devote herself exclusively to the care of her children and service of her husband. But how could she qualify for attending to domestic family affairs or to rearing of children in a satisfactory manner without being herself versed through education or experience, in the moral and functional culture of the wider society?" The debate on Turabi's views would continue as the book is still being serialized.
The other aspect of Abdullahi Doki's article was a personal attack on me. He does not understand why I am unhappy at the level of ignorance displayed by some of the muslim preachers who should be guiding us. Why I should be concerned about their intolerance of other views and contempt for scholarship. An assessment of our current situation points to the fact that our problems are exacerbated by imams who misinterprete Islam out of ignorance, who are reluctant to engage in scholarly debates and are therefore unable to tolerate other views. This must be tackled with wisdom and informed preaching. Abdullahi Doki as a lecturer and Islamic scholar should be able to do that. I am not. All I do is read what scholars write.
Yet he said that the imam who opposed my views on women's rights did so because "Hajiya Bilkisu in particular is a member of the German-based Transparency International, a non-governmental organisation committed to fighting corruption and encouraging good governance through Western European ideals and values (not Islamic). The imam was right to have employed the standard conservative perspective in faulting her position on women." Haba, since when did it become unislamic to fight corruption? Islam more than any other religion promotes transparency, accountability and good governance.
Islam has a code of ethics for leaders from all walks of life. The concept of amanah (trust) and accountability is enshrined in muamalat. However, contemporary muslims have jettisoned this amanah and joined the bandwagon of treasury looters, scam organisers and 419 contractors. As a result, our country has remained poor in spite of its vast human and material resources.
All muslims should be concerned about this debilitating level of corruption and should organise to fight it and entrench good governance. I am a founding member of Transparency In Nigeria (TIN), an affiliate of the Berlin-based Transparency International (TI). TIN was established in 1995 to mobilize civil society groups to fight against corruption and promote good governance.
If, as Abdullahi wants us to believe, the imam is unhappy that the TI was an initiative of foreigners or non-muslims, TIN is Nigerian and has both Muslim and Christian members working to fight a common enemy. What has the imam done to promote transparency and accountability among muslims? If he does not like the "Western European" initiative, Islam certainly allows us to borrow ideas that are compatible with its injunctions and use them for the advancement of muslims. The Prophet (SAW) said "knowledge is the lost property of muslims" and urges us "to take it" wherever we "find it." Given the level of corruption among muslims and sadly within Islamic organisations, the imam should have used his "standard conservative perspective" (whatever that means) not only to oppose me but to establish his own version of the war against corruption because it also constitutes an important aspect of da'awah.
On my part, being in TIN opened my eyes to the multi-dimensional aspect of corruption. We therefore decided that as muslims, we must begin the fight against corruption from within by focusing on promoting accountability in our organisations. I approached several Islamic organisations to support the idea of establishing a Muslim League Against Corruption (MULAC). The groups showed considerable interest and suggested that we should call the league the Muslim League for Accountability (MULAC). It was formed in 1999 and has 20 affiliate Islamic groups. Abdullahi Doki and his imam were not at the launching in Arewa House, Kaduna on February 6 to 7, 1999. It might help them to find out what we do in MULAC in addition to fighting corruption, promoting transparency, accountability and good governance in our organisations.
The other personal attack from Abdullahi Doki was his accusation that in 1995, I was going to Beijing to promote "Western European agenda for women liberation" like other "moderate muslim women elite." If that was my preoccupation, why did his "glorious Abacha regime" stop me from travelling?
Our memory is not that short and we still remember that the Abacha government censored anybody it knew it could not use. I paid the price for refusing to join the bandwagon of the military regime's bootlickers and ego promoters just to get to Beijing. It might interest Abdullahi Doki to know that not being a government official, I was going to Beijing to participate at the NGO forum. It was the only option available to us. All the NGOs from different parts of the world who participated were there as advocates and they propagated the views and values of their NGOs. I was going to Beijing to organise a FOMWAN workshop on "Islam and Muslim Women in Africa." I also decided to join my professional colleagues in the West African Media Network (WAMNET). We were disturbed about the violent conflicts in Africa and decided to promote "peace tent" activities in Beijing. However, as I was about to board my flight, security operatives confiscated my passport and aborted the trip. Luckily for FOMWAN, our workshop still held because some of our members had left earlier and workshop materials had reached the workshop venue. My paper titled "Muslim Women in Africa: The Challenges Ahead" was a case study of Nigeria which in my absence was presented by a sister at the well attended workshop. One of the delegates who got a copy of the paper published it in a magazine published by the Saudi-based Muslim World League. (Vol. 25 No.5 Jumada-al-Ula 1418).
The paper discussed FOMWAN's aims and objectives, harmful cultural practices, harmful secular practices and imposition of unIslamic policies on women and women empowerment. Although it was written and delivered eight years ago, the issues it raised are particularly relevant to the current debate on the role of muslim women in nation-building. It should be published in this country so that readers would know that Abdullahi Doki did not bother to find out whether what the "western educated muslim women elite" went to do in Beijing was in the interest of Islam or not. The views of the other FOMWAN members on the Beijing conference was also published in the association's magazine, The Muslim Woman, Vol. 6.
After opposing the participation of muslim women at international fora, Abdullahi Doki then turned round to express fake concern that muslim women were unable to influence "the draft resolution on women's rights based on secular values now being adopted at the international level." International opinion cannot be influenced by confining one's views to the pedestrian level and taking hysterical ambushes at muslim women who dared to organise and speak up. How can we be influential when our voices are muffled because we are few due to opposition from people like Abdullahi Doki? The international community can only be influenced through interaction, dialogue, clear articulation of one's values and view points and mobilizing support within and beyond our borders. People like Abdullahi Doki who oppose "the western educated muslim women elite" for doing these are sadly not organising the grassroots, non-western educated muslim women to do something. So what do they want? Is this a case of "we won't do it and we won't let them do it?" Why should they now conveniently sit on a high moral chair and castigate those who make an attempt to promote something so that muslim women don't just fall for everything thrown at us? So who should speak for Islam at such women's international fora when Abdullahi Doki has disqualified those who do? Perhaps women should recruit men like him to do it for us since we have been told by Abdullahi Doki's imam that FOMWAN is an innovation and therefore unacceptable to them. I hope it is not an innovation if the men speak for us at women's fora. What all these hostile reactions underscore is the fact that the task ahead of us as muslim women advocating for a just and responsive Islamic society is monumental. There are those who seem to profit from the ignorance of society on Muslim women's rights and are almost afraid that the liberating injunctions of Islam on women's rights will be discovered and this is a threat to them. They therefore would resist any attempt by Muslim women to discover these and demand for them. Hardly surprising that they are quick to label Quranic rights of women as being "Western European" in origin. They then begin to cast people in stereotypes. Any Muslim woman who mentions these rights must therefore be "a Western European feminist" recruited to undermine Islam or "women who are beyond their husband's control." The men who support them must be men who are dominated by their wives. It is simply a ploy to intimidate and silence muslim women and their male supporters. This is a great disservice to Islam because we should be supporting each other and amplifying our voices in our service to Islam. That is what adherents of other religions do. Yet we are very good at shouting over the marginalisation of Muslims.
On the other hand, due to the paucity of Muslim views, whenever they are expressed in a country where Muslims are having a particularly difficult time accessing their constitutional right to live according to the tenets of their religion; those who have an aversion to Islam are quick to read "attempts to Islamise Nigeria" into our advocacies. They even call us fundamentalists and fanatics. It is indeed a paradox but we would not be deterred. We do realise that attitudinal and behavioural changes are usually difficult and slow to achieve. Success can only come through continuous education, consistent advocacy, reasoned arguments, informed and logical debates. Only these, sustained by committed Muslim men and women (and there are many), will save Islam from entrenched conservatism, intolerance and fossiled views. The challenge before us is to continue to speak out.
Hajiya Bilkisu is an editor at Citizen Communications Limited in Kaduna, Nigeria.