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Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Hijab Controversy in Kano

The hijab controversy in Kano: Be gone

Kano, ta Dabo ci gari, has once more caught my attention. The last time I addressed it was when I advised that the great city should send Ibrahim Salisu Buhari back to school. I am glad that the city responded favorably. But this time, unlike the case of Buhari, the issue is not politics. It is religion.

The controversy
The whole thought started about two weeks ago when I heard a scholar from Kano speaking on hijab, the piece that covers the head and upper abdomen, in the Hausa Service of either BBC or VOA. In his view, different women, depending on their marital statuses, should wear different colors of the dress: this color for married women, that one for divorcees and widows and a different one for the juveniles. I was really disturbed. Going beyond preaching, he was requesting the state government to promulgate a law on the dress such that a punishment, at the discretion of the alkali, will be meted on violators.
Two days later I was educated further on the dimension of the conflict by a brother who came from Kaduna lamenting that within just a month of introducing shariah, a dangerous split is unnecessarily created in such important city like Kano. Then I heard Radio Nigeria Kaduna reporting in its 4.30 Hausa news bulletin that an Imam in Kano has in his Eid sermon advised the Tijjaniyya and Kadiriyya brotherhoods to reconsider their stands on the hijab issue because it could be a setback to the successful implementation of shariah. It seemed to me that the issue was gathering momentum. The earlier reports have been confirmed by no less authentic sources than the Imam of one of the largest mosques in Kano and reported by what is, in my judgment, the most authentic radio station in the country.
Fortunately for me, I was saved from the fear of traversing Dajin Falgore by another authoritative voice of an official of the Kano State Government on the BBC Hausa Service, I think an adviser to His Excellency, Governor Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso. He spoke about the issue of hijab as exactly described above. In addition, he also touched on other issues that borders on women, such as their rights to employment, movement, driving, company and so on.
The impression he gave was that the situation required a quick response, hence his clarification. He clearly indicated that government is not ready to go farther than the stipulated Islamic injunctions on the matter. He disagreed with the issue of enforcing a certain style of hijab and promised that government will not dismiss women from public jobs. Etc.
Pleased with what the adviser said, I felt compelled to write today on the matter in support of the stand taken by Kano State government.

Women and their rights
I have extensively discussed the issue of woman in Islam in three previous articles. A general overview was given in the first article in the series Rights of Our Women. The fourth article in the series specifically addressed her social rights. Both articles covered the issues of her rights to movement and the limitations set by God on the issue of dress. Then in The Shariah in Zamfara, I have also touched on some aspects of the rights of women and non-Muslims, knowing fully that both could be vulnerable to misapplication of shariah provisions.
I think the situation demands that we briefly recall what we wrote particularly in the first article. It will serve as a basis of my stand. Talking about restrictions imposed on women in particular, I said:
“Knowing that evil starts from the eye, both men and women are required to lower their gaze and control their lust (24:30). For their peculiar frame, women are prohibited from deliberate display of their beauty in anyway that is provocative to public (24:31). This includes dresses and motions intended to reveal their inner beauty apart from what is “apparent” (unanimously described by commentators as the face and palms). Some of such restrictions do not apply when a Muslim woman is before her husband, or her parents, or her children, or other Muslim women, or, generally, men who are by law prohibited from marrying her (24:60). The society is also instructed to respect the privacy of all individuals and their families (24: 27-28) especially during hours of rest (24:58).”
I then singled out dress and elaborated, saying: “Let us note here that the choice of dress is not restricted to a particular design. God knows that people vary in culture, taste and so on. Jurists have unanimously defined in two words what the dress should not be: la yasif wa la yashif, i.e. that is ‘it should neither describe her figure nor reveal her body’. Fortunately, the world of fashion has over the centuries developed a thousand and one dresses that meet this demand.”
It will interest readers to note that as far as the hijab controversy is concerned, fashion and, to some extent, politics forms the bedrock. The women of both parties in the controversy wear dresses that meet the demands of Islam. The brotherhoods in particular that are against legislating on the matter are known to be notoriously strict on the issue of women. They have since their inception some two hundred years ago observed purdah and emphasized on modesty in dress and appearance. The hijab cover is at best only twenty-two years old in the country.
One of the contending groups, largely the Izala, wants the choice of style to be restricted only to one, among the thousand and one available. The other Muslims, including the brotherhoods, and now the Kano State Government, are insisting that what is relevant is not the fashion, in form of hijab or whatever, but whether the dress that a woman wears meets the requirement of God’s injunction as stipulated above.
Essentially, the issue of dress has featured in two places, first in 24:31 where it says “and to draw their veils over their bosoms”, and secondly in 33:59 where God said, “O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad). The reason for this instruction was quickly mentioned: “That is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested.”
Now, for any group to preach that the law should adopt a particular design does not seem to be supported by the text of the Quran and none of the commentators ever said so. To insist that the marital status of a woman should dictate the color of her dress is another foul. It is an innovation (bid’ah), the direct antithesis of Izala. It negates its name and contradicts its principle: Izalatul bid’ah wa iqamatus Sunnah.

The limits of government
Worst still is the insistence that government should legislate on the matter. And this is where our concern lies most. I was once asked, about a year ago on a Radio Nigeria Kaduna women program, whether there is any legislation in Islam that relates color of dresses to the marital status of a woman. I expressed my surprise at the question because I never thought this would ever be an issue. I started my answer by assuring the interviewers the people involved in implementing shariah in Zamfara are learned and they will not introduce anything like that.
I remember also telling them that it is important that we realize that Islam works according the principle of ‘limits of responsibilities.’ For example no one is permitted to revenge for the killing of his brother or any close relation. That is a matter of law and provisions have been made for that. On the other hand, matters regarding personal conduct of individuals, except for what has been described as prohibited, are not supposed to be legislated upon by government. Government should not tell us what type of food to eat, once we do not indulge in the prohibited. The same thing applies to dress. If any government will legislate that its citizens should wear this style of dress or that color, it has stepped beyond the limits set for it by God. This will only breed unnecessary bitterness for the law.
So the Kano State Government is correct in its refusal to be pushed beyond its legitimate limits. It has resolutely resisted the temptation of cheap popularity. It must remain firm on this and on other issues highlighted by the adviser that spoke in the BBC. Other people in the State must also come to its aid. Otherwise, petty issues that will nullify whatever gains have accrued from the introduction of shariah will bedevil us. People will become wary of the law before its consolidation.
Other issues associated with women are also amply clear. I am happy that the government has expressed the correct opinion on them too. Women should not be subjected to unnecessary restrictions. They should be allowed to drive cars (and lorries whenever they wish to) as they used to ride camels 1400 yrs ago. The houdaj placed on the camel where they sit and ride in seclusion is in many ways similar to our cars today. Islam does not lie in copying the legislations of other countries but on adhering to the Quran and Sunnah, as Izala has always preached. If the scholars will be patient enough to recall the reason behind the revelation of Suratul Nur, they will realize that a woman could even be given a lift in a car. Modesty for the sahabah that is mandatory of ahl sunnah wal jama’a demands that I do not elaborate.
As citizens and Muslims, women must be allowed to exercise their rights to earn a living. Let them be international businesswomen like the first wife of the Holy Prophet, Khadija, if they wish. Let them save what they earn and use it in any form lawful. Today they represent the economic lifeline of many families. We need not also infringe on their rights to occupy positions in our society once they are competent. All what we require from our sisters is to fear God wherever they find themselves. They must also abide by Islamic injunctions regarding their appearance in public. They must dress modestly and conduct themselves with the decorum expected of responsible women.
As I explained in the radio program, we are living in a society where movement is essential in many ways that were not necessary in the past. Most necessities of life today are centralized: Education, health care delivery, marketing, finance, politics and so on. The participation of women in each of them cannot be overemphasized. We have no reason to isolate anybody or to build barriers. Islam is meant for all ages and geographies. Its injunctions are broad enough to accommodate our differences.

I would like to appeal to my brothers in Kano, gari mai Dala da Goron Dutse, to accept the stand of their government. Shariah demands a lot from the scholars. And Kano can legitimately boast of having plenty. They are responsible for building God-consciousness in the population. It is a Herculean task that is achieved through the several avenues created by Islam. Government cannot be responsible for everything. In dress, God defines the requirements to be met. Government has the responsibility to punish us when we go about naked because we have violated the injunction of God. Then to educate us on the injunction is the function of the scholars. Finally, the choice of a particular design and color is our God-given right, which no one should infringe.
If we understand this simple rule of division of labor in Islam and abide by it, we will be resting assured that the shariah we so much support will remain with us. Violating this rule is the surest way of turning its friends into enemies. That is unnecessary. So let the residents of Kano, whose ancestors had the space and relevance to attract scholars like al-Maghili during the reign of Muhammadu Rumfa in the middle ages and Sheikh Abdullahi Danfodio in the nineteenth century, have a heart as large as its size to accommodate its differences in whatever is permissible. Wuta a makera aka san ta, ba a masaka ba. They should hand over to the hijab controversy the notice of an irrevocable divorce. It should pack and leave their great city. As Abu Zayd once divorced money in Assemblies of al-Hariri, the descendants of Muhammadu Rumfa and Muhammadu Sanusi should tell the hijab controversy in Kano, “be gone”.

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