Regulating Hausa films and novels
Kano has not stopped attracting our attention. The state government there has suspended the production of Hausa films pending legislation that will regulate the activities of the industry in addition to existing laws. I assume it will also include Hausa novels. The producers and writers of such films and books seem to be entertaining the legitimate fear that the legislation will ban their profession or strangulate it through strict interference.
In our discourse today, we have pointed out that neither art nor its regulation is new in our custom. Though we support government regulation of such influential tool of cultural transformation, we are against the government siding with people that would like to push it to the extreme. Instead, it should see how it could utilize the film industry and the Kano Market Literature to achieve mass mobilization towards desired social goals. The reader should please note that whatever we said below about films in this discourse also applies to the popular novels.
Changes in our entertainment culture started in the seventies. It was brought about by different factors including urbanization, infrastructure growth, education and so on. Education for example prevented the child of dankama from inheriting his father. Providing villages with electricity diminished the power that the moonshine had in attracting children to night plays. It also removed the darkness required to play hide and seek (o jibo jibo).
But the greatest of all factors in diminishing these aspects of culture is the ascendancy of religion in our social sector. There is no doubt that today a greater percentage of the Muslim population is educated than in the 1960s, thanks to the efforts of many groups that have shifted Islamic education from its “aristocratic” position to a “democratic” one, borrowing from the expression of the father of modern Arabic literature, Dr. Taha Husein.
We may be wrong in correlating the decline of entertainment to religion, infrastructure or education alone. Another equally important factor is the introduction of modern avenues for entertainment that have replaced previous ones. First were the cinema houses, then came the television, followed by the home video, and lastly the over 100 satellite stations available to families today, depending on their income and lifestyle. This implies that the waveband of our cultural interaction has expanded from the simple and narrow limits that the village could offer to the widest horizons presented by the cinema industry and globalisation.
Now before going further, let me quickly add that not all the traditional means of entertainment was Islamic. If modern satellite channels can boast of parental control keys on their remote control, our parents were equally interested in limiting the contact of their children with indigenous bad culture. They were strict on their children in matters that were inconsistent with the teachings of Islam or with the dignity of their families.
For example, some parents detests anything drum. Gantsare, the Hausa version of Raqs, was seen as immoral by religiously inclined families. I remember my elder sister Zainab who we use to call Jebu. I cannot remember seeing her dance or participating in evening songs which other girls used to sing in the open. But I remember that she was generous to Pankashali, the kalangu master in the village to whose tune the girls used to dance. Both Jebu and Pankashali knew that she will be severely beaten once she is reported to have danced or sang anything in the market. So, Pankashali himself did all he could to exonerate her in take (anthem). He would use his kalangu to say: “Jebu yar filani\ ba rawa take ba\ sai dai ta bada kyauta\ ta taimaki mai kidan kalangu.”
The point I tried to make so far is that censorship is not new in our society. And the effort of the past has indeed yielded results. With the ascendance of religious consciousness, girls here neither dance nor sing in the open. Alhamdu lillah. Jebu is married with children and grandchildren. She is now a scholar, teaching in a women night Islamic institute and therefore might not want to recall her days as a girl. She does not need to worry about the likelihood of her children dancing or singing in the open. Pankashali has himself noticed the shift of public attention away from his profession. He has ‘repented’ and changed his profession from kida to roko!
But modern films are so popular that they demand a different form of control. The issue is no longer restricted to a song or a single artist. Entertainment today is a big industry that serves thousands of families with productions that could have great impact on culture. The films today have inherited the power of the cinema industry when it first appeared in Europe and America. On this, the celebrated Egyptian scholar, Professor Muhammad Qutb once wrote in Ma’rakatul’ Taqalid, saying:
“The cinema was since its inception an art of the masses, people who could neither read literature nor had money to enter the theatre or the opportunity to patronize dance and concert. They could not also contemplate possessing artworks and frames. But these masses understood the cinema and they attended it in mad crowds…
“The cinema, with its distinct possibilities, was a fascination for them. In reality, it is a collection of various similar arts: the arts of story, theatre, photography, music and song. Aided by technology, the motion picture looked similar to what obtains in real life. This gave the cinema greater impact on morals and customs more than any other form of art…”
With this potential to affect our customs and morality, I strongly believe that government in any shariah state must insist on putting in place not only legislation but also a mechanism that will effectively censor the cinema and Hausa film industry in particular. The concern is not really on foreign films as much as it is on local films. Whatever foreign films show is regarded alien since the roles are performed by turawa and the production is foreign. To some extent, the same thing could be true of films from other regions in Nigeria.
But our link with Hausa films is different. It is real. It talks about our society, about its beliefs and practices. If a person belonging to the same cultural bracket as the viewer plays any obscene role, it immediately captures the mind of the latter and his subconscious will register it as a possibility, just as Muhammad Qutb said above. Some are even true-life stories. Now, why should we publicize the evil that was done in private?
Happily, the producers of Hausa films are not entirely against government regulation. To be fair to them, they have, as once reported in this magazine, set up, on their own, a committee in Kano that screens such films before they are released. This is in addition to the regulatory measures set by the Nigerian Film Cooperation. To that effect, they have refused to release certain films that they felt are inconsistent with our culture and religion. And even in the ongoing debate, they have pledged their readiness to work with whatever steps the government would take to make their films shariah-compliant. What remains is to determine the extent to which government should go in its intervention.
Extent of control
Let’s begin with the extreme. I do not support banning the films, just as poetry was not banned in the past. That will only leave us with the option of patronizing other films. The fact is that the average man today has come to look at leisure as part of life, be it music or cinema, traditional or modern. We need to regard our local Hausa films as alternatives to the foreign ones.
For example, I will strongly support legislation that will prohibit the featuring of crime, sex and whatever will lead to that in Hausa films. The use of guns, as I saw in one of the films will promote violence. Robbery and other crimes should also be banned. Where both sexes are to feature, whatever Islam prohibits in real life, from transparent and tight dresses to bodily contacts between the actors and sex or its imitation must be desisted. The same thing applies to novels.
This is in the interest of both writers and film stars. As Thomas Chenery once wrote, “whatever the age or country of a writer, he cannot but lose in reputation by indecency.” The first thing that led to the decline of the American actress and singer Madonna was her appearance in blue film. By exposing her body, she demystified it, showing nothing more than what other women possess. By that act, she left nothing to attract anyone anymore.
Using religion to generate laughter like what we see in Jahilci ya fi Hauka should not be tolerated. No matter the how good an artist is, blasphemous vanity would lead to his reprimand by Islamic authorities. I support the fatwa of Imam Khomeini on Salman Rushdie. It is nothing new. Those conversant with the history of Arabic literature will recall the murder of the Persian Abdullah ibn al-Mokaffa’, despite his unsurpassed mastery of Arabic prosody, on the orders of Mansoor, the Abbasid Caliph. The reason why the indecent poetry on women by Bashar and that of beer by Abu Nuwas were tolerated during the reign of Mamoon was because they fell short of blasphemy. In the same vein, Shata would have only been reprimaned by Yeriman Bakura, not murdered, for singing A Sharuwa, Garba Jiikan Garba, Gagara Badau or A’i Captain. The same thing would have applied to Hassan Wayam and Barmani Choge. I am not at all surprised that I bought my diwan of Abu Nuwas just some meters away from the Haram in Mecca in 1993. Had I asked for that of Bashar, I would have likely got it.
What we really want our Hausa films and novelists to desist from is anything that will promote moral degradation and societal tranquillity. They also have a great role to play in pushing our society forward, toward progress in various areas of endeavour: economy, politics, religion, education, security, etc.
At the same time, I would appeal to governments in shariah states to be moderate in their legislations. For example, I believe that there is no need to shut down cinema houses or video clubs, once the type of films they should not trade in are made clear. They could be heavily punished for violating of the law. The cinema and video clubs are important avenues for “the masses” that do not have the video machines to watch Wasila or Mukhtar in their houses. If government will utilize the film industry effectively, it could serve as an effective channel of reaching out to the masses. It can even sponsor productions that will carry a definite message that it wants to reach the population and have the desired impact.
What government must desist from, as I always mention, is succumbing to the pressures of people who would like to push it to the extreme and make it adopt a puritanical stand. Art has not been in the good books of puritans who assume that everybody should be a saint. In the 12th century when al-Hariri wrote his Assemblies, he came under criticism from some scholars. They saw it as too playful and glorifying indecency in some places. This is what might have compelled al-Hariri to put up a defence in his introduction. He contended that his narratives were like tales that were widely accepted and that since deeds are judged according to intention, he should be regarded as “one who accents to doctrine and guides to the right path.”
We would however like our scholars to see art from the same angle as the author of Fi Zilal. When Sayyid Qutb published his Tasweerul’ Fanni fil’ Quran (Artistic Imagery in the Quran), he expected some opposition for viewing the sacred document using the lens of an artist. The only predecessor that attempted it centuries earlier was Yusuf al-Jarjaniy. So, Sayyid was surprised when he saw the wide acceptance that the book got even among religious circles. Seven years after its debut, he made the following remarks in its Third Edition:
“All thanks are due to Allah, it has been successful. It has been widely accepted in circles of art, science and religion. This shows that religion does not stand in the path of researches in science and art … and that researches in art and science are neither offensive nor lacerating to religion, once they carried out with good intention and devoid of pretence and false claims… and that freedom of thought does not necessarily imply the obliteration of religion as understood by some blind followers of liberation …”
There might be few people who have overcome their shortcomings as mortals and therefore look at the society from atop tudun mun tsira. However, every government must be aware that legislation is not made for such saints. It is made for us, the majority, people who are still struggling to fulfil the basic requirements of Islam and who could easily cave in, due to our numerous weaknesses and shortcomings, to the tempting offers of the World. So we will very much appreciate the kind gesture of government when it comes to write laws to consider our interest and of course our legitimate right to indulge in what is not unlawful.
In the absence of the moonshine that invites us to Ta-karido Ta-Karido and tatsuniya as kids, or the darkness that presents us the opportunity to play oh-jibo-jibo due to the spread of electricity and with the absence of dankama and gardi from our markets; with the decline of other traditional forms of entertainment, like dambe, sharo and kokawa; with Pankashali abandoning his kalangu and becoming a maroki; and with our natural desire for leisure and relaxation, governments in shariah states should please consider leaving the gate open for modern forms of entertainment. We welcome any legislation that will prevent the growth of indecency in the film industry, but we would like the industry to remain lively for the opportunities it presents in empowerment and mass mobilization. Ditto for Hausa novels, cinema, video clubs, etc.