By Yusuf Abdullahi
In the name of Allah who states “O men! We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another; verily, the noblest among you in the sight of Allah is the one who is deeply conscious of Him. Behold, He is all knowing, all aware. Q49:13
May the everlasting peace and blessings of Allah be upon His chosen servant, our master Muhammad and his purified progeny.
The expression, Yaumul Mar’ah, refers to International Women’s Day as marked by late Imam Khomeini of blessed memory. Consequent to the light of the grand Islamic cleric, the day is colourfully celebrated in Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Yemen and other Shi’a awakened societies. The magnitude of the celebration by the Islamic Movement in Nigeria is largely and influential. On the other hand, the UN celebrates same on the 5th of March yearly. However, in most cases in the annual event, the accusing finger is pointed at Islam whenever issues on sexual and gender-based violence are concerned. The oft discussed issues revolve around polygamy, women’s education, inheritance and the like.
The theme for this year’s UN celebration was "A woman in the changing world of work. Planet 50-50 by 2030. The Secretary-General and other world leaders expressed their well wishes to mark the day. In addition to that, women advocacy groups, nongovernmental organisations and human rights activists celebrated the day in a variety of programmes at various capacity. The is need to flash at the historic past and compare same with the conventional status of woman in Western society. It is a journey of hundreds of years of struggle against injustice to women. Attempt to build an international coalition by women’s rights supporters in the United States and other countries was recognized in the late 19th century which led to formation of advocacy groups to avert the suffrage. The agitation for women’s rights was brought to UN, then League of Nations, in 1935.
Discrimination against women in work waned in the late 1960’s when they began to work for equal rights. In fact, the historic women’s march – Equal Rights Amendment, (ERA) – chanting for equality was held in 1970 in New York! This simply spells how the woman was excessively oppressed and refused her fundamental human rights in the United states and Europe! It also highlights on the social, economic, and political rights that woman was cruelly denied by men. This is very clear and deep – seated in Western civilization, as women were culturally allowed very limited roles in the society which is not unconnected with their Judao – Christian traditions. Such radical ideas about equality and the rights of citizens helped inspire both American and French Revolutions in 1775 and 1789 respectively. However, the ideas of the Enlightenment initially had little impact on the legal and political status of women. Most Enlightenment thinkers had little to say about the past position of women in the society, and many of their followers assumed that the concepts of liberty, equality, and political representation applied only to men. For example, one of the then most influential writers, French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, claimed that women were sentimental and frivolous. She argued that women were naturally suited to be subordinate companions of men. It was not until 1920, American women gained the right for voting following its constitutional amendment, in addition to subsequent issues that improved women’s condition in both US and Europe.
WOMAN FROM THE ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVE
No doubt, the exalted position Islam accorded woman cannot be compared with any other civilization. A female is given utmost care and protection at all stages of her life as a daughter, wife and mother. Even those Islamic concepts such as polygamy, hijab and the inequality in ratio of gender inheritance among others that are grossly misunderstood or ridiculed by enemies of the religion were borne of great wisdom for betterment of humanity. One cannot appreciate this significant position until he or she studies the position of woman not in the Arabia before the advent of Islam, but entire world civilizations. I cannot be graphical, but most relevant was her known status in the Arab Jahiliyyah when she was considered subhuman and a disgrace to her family; buried alive and considered a property inherited by heirs.
From the Islamic point of view, superiority has nothing to do with sexes. Allah states “O men! We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another; verily, the noblest among you in the sight of Allah is the one who is deeply conscious of Him. Behold, He is all knowing, all aware. Q49:13. The criterion for Allah’s reward is based on individual’s performance accordingly "we will give a pure and wholesome life to every one man or woman who acts righteously and has faith and we will reward them in accordance with the best of what they used to do" Q16:97
The two perspectives barely coincide this year with the birthday -20th Jimada-thani- of Sayyidah Fatima, daughter of the great messenger of Allah. Some traditions in her respect include; “Fatima is the chief of the women of Paradise.” (Sahih al – Bukhari Vol. V, chapter 29. Mother of believers A’isha has said "I have not seen a person more similar to the Prophet’s appearance, conduct, guidance, and speech, whether sitting or standing, than Fatima. When she enters, the Messenger of Allah stands up, kisses and welcomes her, then takes her hand and asks her to sit in his place." (Tirmizi and Ibn Abdul Rabbeh in Eqd al – Farid). She has also narrated: "(I declare) By Allah that I have not seen anyone more beloved to Allah’s Messenger than Ali, or a woman on earth more beloved to him than his wife (Ali’s wife, Fatima)." Narrated by Mustadrak al-Hakim: V.3, p.154, Khasaes An-Nisaee: p.29. The Messenger of Allah (S) said: the best of the women of Paradise are: Khadija daughter of Khowailid, Fatima daughter of Muhammad, Asiyah daughter of Muzahim (Pharaoh’s wife), and Mariam daughter of Imran mother of Jesus. No doubt, her sincere worship, good neighborliness, patience, perseverance, hospitality and family life and children up-bringing are exemplary lessons for all! However, it is imperative to raise some questions here; where are Sayyidah’s narrations? Didn’t she narrate? How and why did others narrate including her children’s peers that were born at Medina? And what was her crime that that she was persecuted to the extent of martyrdom? We strongly advice all justice – seeking people to revisit history so as to differentiate the actual lovers of the noble messenger from his enemies.
SHAIKH UTHMAN BN FODIO (RA)
The Islamic revivalism and societal reform achieved by Shaikh Uthman Bn Fodio was unarguably great. According to Professor Y. M. Adamu in a paper: Learning and scholarship in the Sokoto Caliphate: Legacies and Challenges. The Shehu set to fight the misinterpretation of Islam and the tyranny of Hausa leaders and transform the society on the teachings of Qur’an and Sunna. The Ulama of the time, otherwise called Ulama al – Su’ by the Jihad leaders in their attempt to maintain status quo posed a great challenge to the Shehu intellectually. According to Sulaiman, 1978, p. 78, the Shaikh said "the evil of leaving women in ignorance, not knowing what is incumbent upon them, nay, not knowing Islam at all, is greater than the evil of their mixing with men, for the first evil relates back to religion, which is faith Islam and good works (Ihsan) and the second evil relates to genealogy"
In response to the far reached revivalism, there was positive response evident from the Shaikh’s family. Nana Asma’u, his popular daughter authored tens of poems which made a lot of impact not only to the academic and moral excellence of women but men inclusive. Her books collected and compiled by Jean Boyd are more easily obtainable in Britain and America than Nigeria. The impact of her works on women’s education of her time and to date. Boyd and Mack (1997, p. 7) described her contributions as being "in transforming the women’s organisation that had existed among the non-Muslim women prior to their capture, and channeling their interests and needs into organising representative of the Jihadic community’s values. Through her organisation of itinerant women teachers of other women (the ‘Yan taru). Nana Asma’u made working of the community both desirable and honourable. Her legacies are with other Jihad leaders and the caliphate itself. According to professor Yusuf Adamu, Bayero University on learning and scholarship in Sokoto Caliphate, he cited 56 selected works of Nana Asma’u compiled by Jean Boyd, which she and Mack in 2000 categorized the areas of her interest as; eschatology: 18 politics; 8 women as sustainers; 12 history; 18 the family;12 health;4 the caliphate and idealism; 4 theology;4 Sharia law and women; 4 women and Bori 4 and theology; 8.
Generally speaking, education was highly improved based on the Islamic stand that knowledge acquisition is compulsory for all. The Ulama were well respected and students were supported by both caliphate and community. In the cause of scholarship many went outside the caliphate in search of knowledge. Nothing like the today’s Almajirci existed at all. So students in the Qur’anic sciences and other disciplines like theology, Jurisprudence and languages were sufficiently and honorably taken care of. And as attested by the colonialists, to a great extent the society was literate as Ajami -Fulfulde/Hausa correspondence using Arabic alphabets -was very prevalent even among sizeable female.
Consequent to the aftermath of the reform, in the first quota of the 20th century, colonial records have shown that there was an estimate of 19,073 Adamu (2003, p. 216)to 25,000 Muslim schools (Crampton, 1975, p. 98) with an enrolment of 143, 312. The enrolment at that time was three times the enrolment in Mission schools in 1918 (Adamu, 2003 p. 216). The above statistics apparently indicate the caliphate’s level of commitment to learning and scholarship especially as it affected women.
In contrast to the West’s incessant criticism against Islam on women’s rights, the religion attaches unique attention to the morality and education of female who grow to become mothers as the moral standard of every society largely depends on its women. As such, they should be given more support and enlightenment so that they can play more significant role in the development of social, economic and political arenas. While commending the sisters’ forum of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria for their efforts to pursue moral and academic excellence, I strongly urge the society to give the women more respect -as mothers, wives, sisters, relatives and daughters- educate, protect and empower them for the socio – economic growth and stability of our nation.
The IMN has used the memorable occasion across the country to reiterate the urgent need for the unconditional release of its leader Shaikh Ibraheem el-Zakzaky (H), whose spiritual and fatherly guidance is not only relevant to his disciples but the society in general.