Purdah: Separation of the sexes in northern Nigeria

Examples of hijabs in different regions

Examples of hijabs in different regions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by Nicola Hugo (1)

Purdah is the strict enforcement of seclusion rules upon (typically) married Muslim women. They are expected to remain indoors, except in extreme cases such as to receive medical treatment or to attend marriages and funerals with their husbands’ permission. If women do venture out, they need to be completely covered by a hijab, and in some instances also escorted. Violating these regulations may result in accusation of promiscuity or even divorce.(2)

Human rights bodies have criticised the practice, saying that it limits women’s social, economic and political participation. But supporters of purdah say that it is an act of honour, respect and dignity. They point out that women find creative ways to participate, especially economically. This paper will attempt to better contextualise these opposing views by focusing on purdah in northern Nigeria. It also aims to challenge the Eurocentric image of these women as passive and counterproductive victims.

Purdah in Nigeria

Purdah in northern Nigeria was introduced by the Islamic jihad (religious struggle) led by Usmandan Fodio during the 18th century. This jihad took control of several major Hausa states, eventually establishing the Sokoto Caliphate, a Muslim empire.(3)  At the beginning of the 19th century Islam was well established in all the major centres of the Hausa and Borno states. However, a group of Muslim intellectuals were dissatisfied because rulers in these states allowed the practice of Islam to be mixed with traditional religion. This meant that nowhere was the Islamic law observed in full.(4) This resulted in the Sokoto jihad that was fought, in a series of emirates, between 1804 and 1808. It was led by young men under the leadership of a Shaikh and young men from Fulani pastoralist families.(5) (The Fulani are a people of obscure origins who expanded eastward from lower Senegal in the 14th century. By the 16th century they were proceeding into Hausaland.)(6)

One of the aims of these (and later) jihads was to eradicate syncretic practices, including the free mixing of the sexes. Free mixing of adult females with non-family members of the opposite sex needed to be avoided due to the evil or negative potential consequences of such mixing; infidelity for example. It is an Islamic imperative that women’s modesty be strictly guarded.(7) Enforcement of purdah thus aims to create a pure or chaste society and serves as a measure to prevent the disintegration of the family, further giving men legitimate control over their wives’ behaviour.(8) This has caused profound changes in the social, political and cultural conditions of Muslim Hausa women in the area.(9)

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How the “Underwear Bomber” Met Anwar al-Awlaki

Posted on 2012/03/13 by Florian Flade

“Underwear Bomber”  – Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab

On Christmas Day 2009 a young Nigerian man named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded US-bound Northwest Airlines Flight 253 at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. He did not raise any suspicion until he tried to set fire to his pants when the airplane was flying over Detroit. Other passengers tackled the young African man to the ground, preventing him from carrying out his deadly mission: to blow up the airliner over the US with an explosive device hidden in his underwear.

Before he started his suicidal mission, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, son of wealthy Nigerian banker, had lived in Yemen for several months. The devout Muslim had made contact with one of the most dangerous Jihadi clerics – late Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born Yemeni preacher who was killed in a US drone strike in September 2011. Awlaki arranged for the ambitious Nigerian a trip to the training camps of Al-Qaida in Yemen.

Abdulmutallab, the so-called failed “Underwear Bomber” was sentenced to life in prison by a US court on February 16. New court documents reveal how Abdulmutallab came in touch with Awlaki and how he was guided into the inner core of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Here is an excerpt from a FBI document highlighting Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab´s journey in Yemen and his meeting with Anwar al-Awlaki.

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“In August 2009, defendant left Dubai, where he had been taking graduate classes, and traveled to Yemen. For several years, defendant had been following the online teachings of Anwar Awlaki, and he went to Yemen to try to meet him in order to discuss the possibility of becoming involved in jihad. Defendant by that time had become committed in his own mind to carrying out an act of jihad, and was contemplating “martyrdom;” i.e., a suicide operation in which he and others would be killed.

Once in Yemen, defendant visited mosques and asked people he met if they knew how he could meet Awlaki. Eventually, defendant made contact with an individual who in turn made Awlaki aware of defendant’s desire to meet him. Defendant provided this individual with the number for his Yemeni cellular telephone.

Thereafter, defendant received a text message from Awlaki telling defendant to call him, which defendant did. During their brief telephone conversation, it was agreed that defendant would send Awlaki a written message explaining why he wanted to become involved in jihad. Defendant took several days to write his message to Awlaki, telling him of his desire to become involved in jihad, and seeking Awlaki’s guidance. After receiving defendant’s message, Awlaki sent defendant a response, telling him that Awlaki would find a way for defendant to become involved in jihad.

Thereafter, defendant was picked up and driven through the Yemeni desert. He eventually arrived at Awlaki’s house, and stayed there for three days. During that time, defendant met with Awlaki and the two men discussed martyrdom and jihad. Awlaki told defendant that jihad requires patience but comes with many rewards. Defendant understood that Awlaki used these discussions to evaluate defendant’s commitment to and suitability for jihad. Throughout, defendant expressed his willingness to become involved in any mission chosen for him, including martyrdom – and by the end of his stay, Awlaki had accepted defendant for a martyrdom mission. Continue reading

3 top Boko Haram leaders nabbed •As 2 foreign agencies join counter-terrorism operations •250 Nigerians died in sect’s attacks between Jan and Feb

Nigeria forced evictions

Nigeria forced evictions (Photo credit: Amnesty International)

 Written by Our Reporters Monday, 27 February 2012

AS the Boko Haram attacks mount, security agencies in the country are recording successes in rounding up top leaders of the sect through active collaborations with two foreign intelligence agencies said to be very active now in Nigeria.

In the last 48 hours, three top leaders of the sect were reportedly arrested in operations involving intelligence sharing and application among the three collaborating intelligence agencies.

One of the top leaders, who was described as very close to the sect’s leader, Ahmed Shekau, was said to have been arrested in a suburb of Kano city on Friday evening.

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Boko Haram Leader Vows More Attacks On Christians | Jih@d

2012/01/15/

by Florian Flade

Imam Abu Bakr Shekau – Boko Haram leader vows more attacks on Nigerian Christians

In 2009 international media for the first time reported about a ominous Islamist group operating in Nigeria – Boko Haram. The group whose name is translated from the Northern Nigerian Hausa language into “Western Eduction is forbidden” carried out a series of attacks, killing dozens of policemen in Christian-dominated regions of Nigeria´s north. Continue reading

Nigeria: Islamic Violence Growing

The 12 Nigerian states with Sharia law

Image via Wikipedia

February 8, 2011; Islamic radical group Boko Haram has demanded that the army withdraw from the northeast, and stop searching for Boko members.
If the troops do not leave, Boko Haram will continue its assassination campaign (which concentrates on politicians and security force commanders, not troops and street cops.) The government refuses to back down, and more troops are being sent after the pro-Taliban terror group. The organized violence in the Niger Delta has been greatly reduced by military and police action. But many of the armed men have simply gone back to purely gangster activities, leaving politically motivated violence behind. Continue reading

Over 300 arrested from Christian-Muslim unrest in Nigeria – report

Political map of the 36 States of Nigeria
Image via Wikipedia

Jan 26, 2010, 10:24 GMT

Nairobi/Abuja – Nigerian police have arrested over 300 suspects in the wake of last week’s bloody clashes between Christians and Muslims in the city of Jos, The Punch newspaper reported Tuesday.

The paper cited a police spokesman in reporting the figure, with 139 of those arrested having been taken to the capital Abuja. Continue reading