Islam: No Romance for Women in Northern Nigeria?

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The recent prosecution of eleven women by Hisbah in Kano state underscores a misogynistic strand in the practice of Sharia and Islam in Northern Nigeria. This hateful and abusive trend needs to be highlighted and tackled with uttermost urgency. Kano is one of the states in the North of the country where Sharia law is in force and Hisbah is the state Sharia police. Hisbah members arrest and prosecute persons who violate Sharia law including non Muslims.
 
They charge and prosecute people for ‘sharia related crimes’ such as drinking of alcohol or blaspheming against prophet Muhammad or Islam. This so called Sharia police continue to harass and terrorize the lives of innocent citizens with impunity all in the name of enforcing Sharia law. Recently Hisbah have been targeting women and girls, and their ‘police work’ reveals a sexist and discriminatory trend in Islam in Kano. For instance, in April, the sharia police arrested 21 girls for engaging in unspecified ‘immoral activities’. Meanwhile, in the latest case, Hisbah are prosecuting eleven women for engaging in social vices. They claimed that the women were arrested for drinking alcohol, smoking cannabis, and romancing men who were not their husbands or relatives. According to the report, the women were arrested at a beer parlor in the city.
 
In a related case, some Muslim scholars, Ulama, orchestrated the ban on a popular female artist, Rahama Sadau. These Muslim clerics claimed that her public display of romance corrupted and violated Islamic culture and values. Interestingly, the man that Ms Sadau hugged and cuddled in a video, pop star Classiq, was not sanctioned in any way.
 
On reading the latest report, I asked: what is really going on with Sharia and Islam in Kano? Why the obsession with women? Both Ulama and Hisbah are all male Islamic organizations. Apparently having a female Ulama or Sharia police officer is haram. So, why are they interested in what women are doing? Why are they preoccupied with female, not male display of romance?
 
Now let us assume that by any stretch of Islamic imagination that romancing a man who is not one’s husband or relative is an offence. Now the public display of romance in these cases involved men, so why punish only women for an offence which they committed with men? Why sanction only Ms Sadua? In the case of Hisbah, they claimed that the women who are being prosecuted were caught romancing men who were not their husbands or relatives.
 
First of all, how did Hisbah know the men were neither their spouses nor relatives? If the women committed a crime by romancing men why didn’t they arrest the men too? How can two people commit a crime and one party is penalized? What kind of moral judgment is that? Is that what Islam teaches? Is that justice under Sharia law?
 
In fact how do Hisbah determine that a woman is romancing a man? How do they differentiate mere touching or body contact from romance? Do the Sharia police have romance-detecting machine?
 
I am wondering why nobody is raising his or her voice against these abuses. Why are individuals and groups not speaking out against the human rights abuses of Hisbah? Where are the moderate muslims, why are they not speaking out? Where are the women rights groups? Why are they not condemning these sexist and abusive practices? Why are people not calling for the abolition of the rag tag Sharia police ‘force’ called Hisbah that is terrorizing people in Kano? Why are people turning a blind eye on their illegalities? Is it because it has to do with Islam or sharia law? No doubt many people are afraid of speaking out due to fear of being killed by Hisbah and their militant allies.
 
At the same time we cannot allow these atrocious acts and abuses to continue. Islam and sharia must be brought into the 21st century. Islamic faith must be reformed and made compatible with equal rights, freedoms and dignity of women.
By Leo Igwe
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