I sought the permission of Aunty Maryam to share with the world this powerful response to my article, Yerima and Maimuna. As you can see we are sailing on the same boat with her, only that we sit on different benches facing each other. Men and women in Kano don't sit on the same bench. Do they? A daidaita sahu!
I am glad that the galant sister granted my request. May God reward her abundantly for standing on the side of the oppressed. We must be proud of a sister like her. I hope Sumpo and other younger women will follow her footsteps.
Though she just wrote an email, I find her response too important to be just a comment at the tail of my article. I have made it a topic of its own: "Maryam Fires Back". You are invited to share with other readers your views. But please do so with maturity in the spirit of mutual understanding. The girls must nto be scared please. Let this healthy debate continue.
Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
MARYAM FIRES BACK
By Maryam Uwais
I am glad that my ' friendly fire' has finally evoked a response from
Dr Tilde, as his silence in Yerima's instance, in the face of copious
articles written on similar topics, was almost deafening. Fine, he had
written on issues that gave us reason to believe he was on the side of
justice, but this time, he was quiet.
Like so many others, unfortunately, I really do not know what is meant by the word 'activist' in your
description. I know, for some, it means troublemaker, but i hesitate
to presume that this is your own interpretation. I am just a female
lawyer that detests injustice and tries to assist those in distress,
where i can. I also have been labeled 'western', or influenced by
secular laws. I am amused by such allegations and have not bothered to
debunk them in the past, as i have always known what my motive is. I
will say a few words here, though, having seen some of the comments on
I know that before i ever went to school, i had been taught
verses of the Qur'an, the hadith and the basic principles of the
Sharia, because i belong to a family of scholars, in their own right.
I do not claim such learning, but i know that my values, activities
and efforts are deeply entrenched in my early years of being taught
not to allow injustice to go unchecked, and to fight to protect the
'haqq' of the more vulnerable, wherever or whenever i can. I was
encouraged, at a very young age, to ask, where uncertain; and learnt
of the 5 objectives of protected rights in Islam, to be life,
intellect, lineage, reputation and property, ever before i went into
secondary school. Indeed, i did not hear of the Universal Declaration
of human rights until i got to University. But i have come to realise
that many that remain uncomfortable with enquiries some of us make,
find solace in trying to link us to the West, the purpose being to
discredit our work and our efforts. God knows best.
I need to make the point that the work we (some colleagues of mine,
both male and female) sometime engage in has little to do with
publicity, and more to do with what is necessary to salvage a bad
situation or challenge that has been brought to our notice. Just to
try and help, that is all. Many of the cases we have taken an interest
in and handled have not been made public, precisely because the
vicitms concerned are rather young and their privacy is always
paramount. Indeed, many of the concerns relate to issues that require
the cooperation of the person. Where, ultimately, the decision is that
she or he do not want to pursue their rights anymore, we have no
option but to step back, even in the face of the obvious injustice or
offence committed. Many a time, family and friends put pressure on the
victim to leave it to Allah. Where the facts cannot be proved because
witnesses are just not forthcoming, we have to respect the decision,
as we cannot prove any fact without evidence. So most times, we end up
mediating and trying to make the best of a bad situation.
In our work, we come accross so many injustices and even violations,
committed in the name of Sharia. We have striven to ensure that none
of these matters come to the public domain also to avoid the
stigmatisation that would naturally follow, if made public. The aim is
to help, not to compound the challenges of the victim concerned. So in
the same manner, after we saw the article in Trust, we went to work,
contacted Maimuna and have made some progress in trying to ensure
justice for her.
This was even before Dr Tilde wrote about her plight.
I responded to Dr Tilde's article because i was disturbed by his
apparent castigatiion of womens groups over Yerima's case, in his
piece on Maimuna's predicament. I found it to be unfair and
unecessary, as i believed there to be no relationship between the two.
My feelings were that he should know that we would need no prodding,
Yerima was different. Yes, we were loud, but as far as i am concerned,
we were justified in that instance. Yerima went public to say he was
emulating our Prophet Muhammad (saw) and found basis for his
'indiscretion' in Islam. He was silent on other critical underlying
issues, that we found to be fact, after investigation. I then went
public in an article that i believed to be in defence of the
perception of Islam, and to protect our young girls who fall victim to
what our parents and guardians do, usually for economic reasons, but
in the name of Islam.
I felt the need to debunk the impression given by the silence from
Muslims that the Sharia was static, rigid and inflexible, and that all
Muslims accepted the implications of Yerima's position; that the Sharia
was devoid of compassion, reason and morality.
My understanding of Tilde's argument in the instant article is that
because early marriage is NOT categorically prohibited in the Qur'an,
it cannot be outlawed. I would not hestitate to agree with him, were
early marriage a clear an injunction in Islam. Research, however,
demonstrates otherwise. I found that where the issue in contention is
merely permissible, laws can be and have been made in Muslim
countries, in the interests of the public or for public interest. That
is the way and manner Sharia has developed over the years; with a
focus on substantive justice, never selective, always focusing on the
larger picture and the context of time, but ever within the confines
of the letter and spirit of the Qur'an and the hadith.
I therefore wish to ask Tilde, is there an injunction in the Sharia
that marriage MUST be conducted with a minor? Indeed, is driving on
the left side of the road prohibited in the Qur'an? So why does he
drive on the right hand side only? Is is not because the State has
made a law for order and to avoid chaos? So also early marriage/child
birth. If it is found to cause harm, why can the State not regulate
it? Why do other Muslim countries peg the minimum age for marriage, if
it had been prohibited under the Sharia? Why has Saudi Arabia
established a Committee of experts, teachers, scholars, counsellors,
phsychologists, to determine what age is best for marriage in their
own environment? Can we not make enquiries as to the basis for their
laws? Surely where harm is evident in a society, it behoves on the State, and not just the individual, to prohibit it.
I will also add, with confidence, that the victims of vvf are 70%
girls who have given birth at 15 or below. I do not know about the
immediate environment that Tilde hails from, but there is no doubt
that narrow pelvises, in addition to accessibility, health care
provisions, etc, contribute to vvf. The statistics available to me
show that if we can reduce the number of 15year olds (or below) giving
birth at that age or earlier, we will be reducing the number of
patients in the vvf hospitals by 70%. This is sufficient, in my own
understanding. I do not need evidence that vvf is 100% caused by early
child birth, to be persuaded.
Tilde also argues that because other offences are so rampant and
penalties are not enforced, early marriage should not be outlawed. I
hope the suggestion is not that rape or rigging should be removed from
our law books, for that reason. I maintain that they should remain offences, nevertheless. And rightly so. They should remain in our law books, as the failure of the police to enforce the
laws can never be an excuse to obliterate them from our jurisprudence.
The issue to be addressed is the failure of our law enforcement agencies,
not the laws.
And what about the opportunity for girls to go to school and learn a
vocation or skill? Is that not a priority for us now, given the
poverty that prevails in many of our rural communities? Can we
continue to close our eyes to the fact that many of our girls are
marrried off before they can learn something that will enable them
become productive in their homes? Should we not be focusing on how to
encourage our girls be self-reliant, even after marriage.
But of course, while we are striving to make parents let their
daughters achieve some measure of education, we should also be
pressurising our governments to provide quality education and
vocational skills for our children. We will not relent on all fronts.
Believing firmly that laws can be strong catalysts for change (as had
happened in the early 60's when the northern region compelled parents who kept
their children away from school, otherwise they stood the risk of being arrrested) we are
hoping that the enactment of laws permitting our girls to go to school
to learn how to be productive, manage their homes, gain some skills
and be good mothers, should be priority, especially given our
circumstances in northern Nigeria.
We can sit down and determine a feasible age, but we should agree on a minimum age for marriage.
I do not agree that the 'consent' that young teenage girls may give
(in this day and age) is informed consent, as many of them are much too young to
comprehend what they are consenting to, even where their parents tell
them who their husbands are going to be. If they were allowed to grow
more mature, they would be better placed to understand the
responsibilities of marriage and motherhood.
I have often heard the argument that if girls do not have schools to
go to by a certain age, the probability is that they would get
pregnant and get involved in some immorality. Surely parents should be
held responsible for these incidents if they occur, as the upbringing
of the child is squarely on their shoulders. How can blame for the
laxity of the parent be placed on the child, and be the excuse for
depriving that child of an education? In Islam, can a child be blamed for its action or inaction? Indeed, what age does a child attain majority? Should we not reflect deeper on
the implications of our own excuses?
I certainly have never thought that our mothers who married earlier
than 18 suffered for doing so. There was no law at that time, so there
is no reason for Tilde to even suggest that. Indeed, we could venture
into discussions of diet, nutrition, etc and how they impacted on
growth rates, if this debate were to continue along this line. The
point to make is that where there is a valid law that makes it an
offence for you to marry a girl below a certain age, you should strive
to abide by it, especially since you are part of the law making
process. Its like going against your own word, which is definitely
abhorrent in Islam.
Yerima is perceived as a leader, a role model. How can he blatantly
commit an offence, and then say he is not bound by it? How can he
divorce one, just to marry another? How can he be so extravagant in
the circumstances? Are women meant to be treated in such a whimsical
fashion, in Islam? Can he not see that those who are in awe of him
will hasten to ape and copy him? What lessons or impact on our
communties and girls? And the perception of Islam?
These recurring incidents of marriage, giving birth, then divorce is
one of the biggest challenges of our region. We focus on regulating marriage, without attempting to curb the wanton abuse of divorce. So we end up with street and stray
children, many unchecked and without 'tarbiyya', because their mothers
are not married to their fathers. Nobody to monitor their activities,
feeding, protect them, or supervise their coming and going. HIV and
disease so prevalent and on the rise. Divorce so rampant and unchecked, young wives being
replaced for the flimisiest of reasons. Currently, a Speaker in one
of our Sharia State Houses of Assembly is known to have married and divorced
Surely we should all be fighting hard towards making the family unit
stable, as is so central and significant in Islam!
Wali-Uwais & Co.