Muslim women deserve education

Students of Imenti North Muslim Girls Boarding School

Students of Imenti North Muslim Girls Boarding School celebrate at the institution after a marked improvement in the KCSE exams in 2016. Kenya’s Muslim girls deserve a higher standard of education than elsewhere and not low-grade tokenism to teaching colleges.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

When I wrote an article in this column last week titled “Hijab: Cultural dominance over Muslim women or a moral act?” my intention was to open discussions on the impact of Islamic attire on African cultures, whether it is, indeed, a moral act and if there is a risk of subjugating Muslim women and stifling their right to education. 

I was not surprised that most of those who took to bashing me on Twitter were Muslim men. Their response validates the view that, in fact, the Hijab rule was made by men for women.

None of the attackers addressed the challenges Muslim women face in accessing education both here in Kenya and in places such as Afghanistan, where women’s education is banned.

The forced aspect of Hijab on African Muslim women to a point of decreeing Fatwa on those against it reeks of radical Islam, which should not have a place in constitutionally secular Kenya.

Hijab has in the recent past morphed into ‘blankets’ that cover women from head to toe, with, in some cases, face covering ordered too. Where is this going to stop next? 

Curtailing Muslim women’s movement in Kenya? This now signals the spread of Wahhabism, which is blighting the rights of women in Afghanistan, where their freedom of movement and education is curtailed. In the meantime, Kenyan Muslim men advocating the wearing of Hijab walk about in three-piece suits beloved of the West they love so much to besmirch.

Religious attire and adornments do not prove one’s moral compass. Is a poor Muslim woman who cannot afford a Hijab less moral than a rich one with a wardrobe full of Hijabs? I think not. It is down to behavioural patterns one inculcates or picks up through indoctrination and environmental factors. If that indoctrination is about knowing how to hide the evils and sins of this world beneath the veil, then that will be the behaviour exhibited. 

'Mechanised Islam'

Islam is not bereft of characters with amoral behaviour just by virtue of turning up to mosques and wearing veils. Trying to police women’s behaviour through Hijab is doing it all wrong. This mechanised version of Islam has not made Muslim countries any more moral or peaceful than the rest; it is human to err. 

Islam comprises people prone to immoral dereliction like other humans. Blaming the woman as the cause of man sinning and forcing Hijab on them does not solve the man’s weaknesses. An immoral Muslim man would still sexually harass other women from non-Hijab-wearing society. Neither does Hijab mean that it is the end of sexual violence and abuse of women in Islamic societies? If anything it runs the risk of camouflaging abuse of women.

Subscribed to Arabism and Islam

I am not going to make apologies for wishing to preserve my Borana African culture as it faces threats from Islam. It is a question that many African communities need to start asking themselves. Many younger Muslims are more Arabic than they are Africans. If they were to be pinned down, they won’t know a hoot about their African culture as they subscribed to Arabism and Islam hook, line and sinker. 

I don’t think asking such a question is an attack on Islam. It is interrogating whether, indeed, Africans can still maintain their primary identity drawn from their cultures while subscribing to Islam. Preservation of African cultures is important so that the current generation of African Muslims has the opportunity to bequeath future generations aspects of their culture being swallowed by Islam and Arabism.

What Muslim men in Africa, and particularly Kenya, ought to be wary of as they copy-paste strict Hijab rules is that such acts have been detrimental to women in other parts of the Muslim world. Africa is already grappling with low literacy levels among women and any new ideology that retrogresses their education further will only harm African societies in the long run.

The focus needs to be on improving education for girls in areas that are battling insecurity caused by Islamic groups such as Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab. Northeastern Kenya faces the brunt of challenges brought about by Al-Shabaab insurgency, which is affecting education for girls. 

The Muslim male politicians rooting for Hijab do not put the same emphasis on improving girls’ education and ending insecurity in areas impacting education because they can afford to educate their daughters in safer urban schools or even abroad. This is hypocritical. It shows it’s the majority of girls from poor backgrounds who are forced to endure the hardships of insecurity, forced Hijab rules and lack of education who suffer.

Kenya’s Muslim girls deserve a higher standard of education than elsewhere and not low-grade tokenism to teaching colleges. No place needs highly trained teachers, more female nurses and doctors than those with high child mortality rates and poverty. And that’s the Muslim-dominant northern and coastal Kenya. It is not feministic but realistic to say Muslim women should be given a fair shot at education.

Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected]. @kdiguyo