Judy Mandelbaum

Judy Mandelbaum
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APRIL 29, 2010 7:31AM

Profiles in blogging courage: Nigerian scholar Issah Tikumah

Rate: 22 Flag

 niqab

 

Yesterday morning, the Nigerian daily paper This Day published an alarming article about a Ghanaian-born academic called Malam Issah Hassan Tikumah, who had until recently been employed as a social studies lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria.  Mr. Tikumah had written a desperate letter to the editor, reporting that he was “being hounded by security men and some ‘reactionary forces’ because of a book he wrote on the niqab,” the Muslim face veil for women. Publication of his controversial 2008 study, The Misuse of Niqab: The Abuse of Islam and the Dormancy of Islamic Scholars. Evidence from the Misuse of Niqab in the Nigerian Society, has since been canceled and Tikumah has been fired from his job at the university. 

Tikumah’s troubles continue all the same. He claims that he has already been detained by the police and his Islamist enemies have begun a letter-writing campaign against him. “It is a book I have published with all the necessary facts,” he told the newspaper, “and yet I’m being treated like a hardened criminal just because some reactionary elements within the society are against that book. More than a month after my release [on] bail, I still have to report to the security everyday like a criminal whose run-away from prosecution is not unexpected – all this trouble for merely publishing a book some people are not happy with!” He says that the Nigerian security agencies have threatened to deport him, even though he has “lived in Nigeria for the last 12 years, received my higher education in Nigeria and three of my children are Nigerians by birth.” He says the police are now calling him a “CIA agent disguising as a Muslim” as an excuse to hang him. Tikuman goes on to protest that he has “been struggling for the cause of Islam for the past 31 years. … And how could anyone accuse me of threatening peace and security in Nigeria when I have spent a great deal of my time, energy and money over the years working to foster peace and security in Nigeria?”

News sites and blogs around the world have since picked up this story verbatim, but so far it doesn’t look as if anyone has taken the trouble to take a look at Mr. Tikumah’s divisive book. It would be well worth their while – after all, he has gone ahead and published it on his blog for the whole world to read, even though this step is hardly likely to improve his life expectancy, let alone do very much for his academic career. All the more reason to crack its digital cover, don't you think?

 

The Misuse of Niqab is a profoundly religious book. While it focuses on the Muslim veil, it amounts to a full-scale assult on modern-day political Islam itself. He opens his book with these words: 

 

Nigeria is a country where religion is suffering from spiritual barrenness; that is, perceptions of matters of morality are conditioned and contorted by primordial ethno-religious sentiments rather than objective spiritual insights. … Where Muslims lack open-mindedness and sense of objectivity, “Islam” becomes no better than any other religion. Today’s Muslims are actively engaged in destroying fundamental principles of Islam in the name of the same Islam. On no account does Islam compromise the principle of justice or condone injustice. During the dawn of Islam thousands of people accepted the faith because they were enthralled by the unparalleled sense of justice of the Muslims – both among themselves and between themselves and non-Muslims.

None of this is really going to surprise readers in America or Europe, but Tikunah certainly challenges Muslim readers in Africa. He goes on to write: 

Nothing causes more embarrassment – in fact, humiliation – to a true Muslim today than to hear that Muslims and non-Muslims are fighting over a particular issue, with the Muslims insisting on the issue while the non-Muslims are opposing it, but when the true Muslim eventually arrives at the scene of the fight and examines the case he discovers in his shock and disappointment that in the light of the plain teachings of their own faith the Muslims should rather have been the first to oppose what they are insisting on (while, ironically, the non-Muslims are opposing it). That is why if you hear news of a dispute between Muslims and non-Muslims anywhere in the world today, if only you view Islam as a principle and not as a social allegiance, you must approach the news with strict caution rather than rush headlong into supporting “fellow Muslims” - you may be supporting the opposite of Islam! Nothing can be more frustrating to a true Muslim today than that he comes into contact with his fellow Muslims who, instead of being his partners in faith, would rather become a threat to his faith by expecting him to do things most un-Islamic in the name of Muslim brotherhood.

 

Mr. Tikumah then devotes most of his book to refuting the supposed requirement for women to keep their faces and bodies completely covered in public, pointing out that “Islam has not prescribed any particular form of dress for the woman; Islam has only established a standard/code of dress for the woman, and so the woman can put on any form of dress that does not breach the Islamic standard/code of dress,” which is recorded in two verses of the Qur’an: 

 

And tell the believing women to lower their gazes and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof. (24:31)

O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves their outer garments. That is most suitable that they should be known and not molested. (33:59)

His summary: The niqab is a purely optional symbol of Muslim devotion. Mr. Tikumah proceeds to challenge the notion of fundamentalism itself: 

Every sincere Muslim believes that the validity of the Qur’an as a divine comprehensive guidance for mankind is permanent and eternal. However, even simple human reasoning dictates that a law that is meant to be permanent for the ever-changing and dynamic nature of society must of necessity be equally flexible and versatile. That, indeed, is the nature of the law of Islam – dynamic, flexible and versatile. In other words, although the law of Islam is permanent and unchangeable, its interpretation/meaning varies with time, place and circumstances.

 And what has fundamentalism brought Islam, particularly Muslim women?

If the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) were to come back to life and see the plight of the Muslim woman in today’s Nigeria (and indeed in many other places around the world) he would weep unceasingly. The niqab that was ordained as a protection and safeguard for the pride and dignity of the Muslim woman has now become the symbol of her public ignominy instead. The Muslim woman, even the one in hijab without niqab, has completely lost her dignity in the eyes of both her fellow Muslims and non-Muslims. In the market places, hospitals and other public places the Muslim woman in hijab is viewed with suspicion and contempt, and her movement is restricted and closely monitored, because thieves and other kinds of criminals now operate effectively under the cover of the hijab/niqab. With all this happening, the innocent pious Muslim woman has no one to help her out of her public ignominy. The scholars whose duty it is to come to her defence are quietly sitting on the fence with folded arms.

After writing a whole book packed with statements like this, no wonder Mr. Tikumah is fearing for his life. I wish him well and hope that his book finds many Muslim readers via the Internet, if not in print. I also hope plenty of non-Muslims read it, since it painstakingly lays out the actual issues in the debate rather than merely echo the Western stereotypes we hear everywhere else.

But there’s a lesson in this story for the rest of us too: If you ever wonder about the value of such corporate-owned time-killers as Facebook, Myspace, Open Salon, Blogspot, and Wordpress, then here is your answer: Whatever else you can say about them, blogs are the last remnant of the free press, the voice of the voiceless. That’s why we can't stop writing. Although I have to admit that Mr. Tikumah’s performance is one hell of a tough act to follow.

 

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Comments

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I think one of the great challenges and opportunities of the 21st century is the empowerment of Muslim women.
Judy,

Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

All too often the uninformed reader/viewer (I count myself as one) tends to see issues presented in black-and-white terms. The focus on religious extremism in the media and popular conversation makes Islam look like a monolith, and a fundamentalist, misogynistic one at that.

Mr. Tikumah's book is part of an extended conversation that needs to take place, both inside the Islamic world and between non-Muslims and Muslims.

I encourage everyone to read the book - it's up in one long post on his blog, but it's easy enough to print out a physical copy or a PDF for later reading.
MediGeek
Thanks, let me second you in urging people to read the book. It's extremely rare to hear issues like the niqab critiqued from within Islam, although that's the only place where real change can take place.
This is the very definition of courage. Thanks for bringing it to our attention, Judy. This man is going to need all the support he can get.
This makes me so grateful to be living in the USA.
"Islam as a principle and not as a social allegiance." Nice.

And yet another thing to put off Ulysses for.
Thank you for sharing this. People of courage and conviction such as this merit our support, even if only from afar. (r)
Run Issah run! Those bastards are going to surely lynch you!
" Nothing can be more frustrating to a true Muslim today than that he comes into contact with his fellow Muslims who, instead of being his partners in faith, would rather become a threat to his faith by expecting him to do things most un-Islamic in the name of Muslim brotherhood." This is very true.

Excellent reportage, Judy. Thank you. Rated.
As is yours. I wish that I could get Christian fundamentalists to see this point too. If I wrote such a book here in the U.S. the attacks would be no less on myself.
@Lesh: D you write under a nom-de-plume so that others do not jump to conclusions about your supposed motivations? I believe that if you had taken the time to look a little at Judy's blog, you might find that she is remarkably even-handed in taking all three Abrahamic faiths to task over their less-than-humane behaviour in the name of God/Yahweh/Allah.
Muhammad certainly understood the dangers of lust, and protecting women from it through covering them from sight. On accidentally seeing a wife of one of his cousins naked, he was so consumed with lust for her that he proceeded to have a "revelation" that the cousin should divorce her so that he, Muhammad could marry her that sin should have no place. The cousin did, and Muhammad added her to his harem which, by the way, was greater than the maximum of 4 wives ordained by Muhammad himself.
Courage to write and courage to report. Courage to write about a wrong, courage to read and want to hear. Courage is something that is in short supply to those who think they are right, who know it. Courage is what takes the person who is right to the person who can think, who can be wrong. Courage is transforming as truth is to those who cannot see it. Courage, truth and humanity are in short supply in this world. More than the climate change and the death of how we live, there is a death to thinking, a fear to think, a fear to share.

Live as you wish, but do not let others live the way you wish. Let them live as they must from their own idea. The instrument of religion, like that of government wielded in the wrong hands is not religion or government, it is fantascism and tyranny. Good work Judy, keep at it. Rated.
Lesh,
You wrote:
"And you, Ms. Mandelbaum, judging from your name, write from an objective position — without political or racial baggage, or any particular axe to grind against Islam? Your interest is in pure sociology, not any sort of self-interest, political self-justification? I'm glad to hear that."

Sorry, that's clear as mud. Would you care to explain? And what does my name have to do with it?
Write a book that someone doesn't agree with and have to fear the police and death squads. That's what I call a religion of peace.
great reporting, as usual. although this is a harsh statement, "The Muslim woman, even the one in hijab without niqab, has completely lost her dignity in the eyes of both her fellow Muslims and non-Muslims." and I don't really think it's true....it seems to me that the clothing choices of women are the least important thing happening in fundamental islamism...for example, many women would like an education or to be able to work freely and support their families. The focus on fundamentalist fashion...I guess I'm thinking of France, often seems to me to miss what's more dangerous and important.

Women are carrying the brunt of resentment though, from both sides in fundamentalism in the post 9-11 era, but I don't believe that would change merely with more freedom to walk down the street with bare heads...

maybe I'm missing something...
The fact is that this debate (on what is mandatory for women) has been going on for a long long time in the Muslim world, especially in countries like Pakistan. Ironically, women of my mother's generation (she is 75 now) are more aware that the veil is really a woman's choice, and many, including my mother and her sisters, choose not to wear it. However, the youngest generation of women, women whose maturity coincided with the rise of fanaticism, are much less informed about it, even though they are better educated than their mothers, and for many, arguments such as the above are meaningless.
Thanks for bringing this story into view, Judy! Always important...