OLADOSU AFIS (PH.D.) University of Ibadan, Nigeria

Engaging Aisha Imam on Women's reproductive and sexual rights and the offence of Zina in Muslim laws in Nigeria

I found Aisha Imam's piece on the position of the Shariah and its 'oppression' of women in Nigeria quite useful. It is useful in the sense that it, among others, shows her unwavering resolve to engage institutions whether religious or profane, which demean women and detract from their individual and collective identity. That Aisha Imam is an icon particularly in feminist circles outside Nigeria is a given. Again that Aisha Imam is a dot in the diagram as far as Islamic Affairs in Nigeria is concerned cannot also be controverted. But nonetheless her piece occasions quite a number of issues which I feel impelled to examine just one or two of them. First, I felt concerned as a teacher of and a believer in the Islamic faith over her declarative statement on the Sharian to the effect that "(Muslim laws) are neither uniform nor God GivenŠ". I would be happy to be informed if Aisha's opinion is based on internal sources in Islamic jurisprudence or a product of pro-feminist readings of the Qur'an? Or does Aisha mean to say that the implementation of the Shariah is not uniform across the Muslim world the same way we have approved version of democracy in Cairo and the disapproved version in the Hamas? Is Aisha aware of the scope of the Shariah in the Muslim life and the dynamics that attend its implementation from the juristic point of view? Is Aisha saying the Qur'an, which is the fountain of the law in Islam, not God-Given?

Second her assessment of the Nigerian public's reaction to the introduction of the Shariah in the North particularly that of the Muslims also leaves a yawning gap unfilled. Apart from Muslim activists like al-Zakyzaky who she said disagreed with the introduction of the Islamic law Aisha identifies another group among Nigerian Muslims who "were afraid of political abuse by those in power: as Muslims they did not want to oppose Sharia, but they did not feel they had the skills to criticize potential corruption without the ability to read Arabic or years of study of Islamic jurisprudence". Is AIsha saying that in order to criticize an unjust and corrupt government particularly in the Northern parts of the country where Hausa is the language of the masses and indeed that of governance literacy in Arabic is a sine qua non? Lack of literacy in Arabic according to her has led to an "uneasy public silence." Where exactly was this "uneasy silence" obtainable? Was it in Kano, Gusau, or Kebbi?

In essence Aisha's piece is a familiar one. It is made in the West, meant for the West and has little or no practical value for the ordinary woman in Sokoto, Kebbbi or Gusau. There is no doubting the fact that the introduction of the Shariah in the North has occasioned socio-economic and political implosion which the States are grappling with. But to say, like Aisha has done, that its main effect has been to worsen the circumstance of women in these areas amount to unwarranted exaggeration. It is a claim that would sell not in Nigeria but in the exclusive hall where feminists congregate.

One other point which Aisha seemed to have glossed over in her "reading" of the Shariah is that the Islamic law holds no brief for local customs and practices which infringe on women's sexual, economic or political rights. Women, since ages have been subject of negative treatment in the hands of their men. This is true up till today. Attend a marriage ceremony anywhere in Southwestern Nigeria then you would here the Imam, the Pastor, and the local traditional leader pray thus: "may we come back after nine months for the naming ceremony of your male child, in another nine month, another male child, in another nine month, a female".

Credit should however be given to Aisha for calling for the employment of "local structures and discourses" as a strategy for the removal of retrogressive laws and their interpretation in areas where the Shariah is being implemented.