Although very religious, Zamfara State-born and bred Zainab Nuhu Maru is an embodiment of inspiration, especially to her fellow Moslem women. She is both assertive and intelligent in ways that are dominantly alien to most of her contemporaries. “Islam says ‘seeking for knowledge is compulsory for all men and women”, she boldly echoed throughout this interview.
A distinguished civil servant, Zainab is presently the Director of Administration for Special Assignments, Government House, Zamfara State. For eight years running, she’s been the Ameera of the state’s Muslim Students Society. She holds a Diploma in Public Account & Audit, a Degree in Public Administration and is almost rounding-off a Masters in Public Administration. In this interview, she speaks on her personal initiative, Support Development Association, which she founded years ago to enlighten women in her state. Enjoy!
What’s the idea behind Support Development Association?
It actually began as a community-based organisation in my local government, Bukkuyum.
My aim is to help women and also encourage them to get education; both western and Islamic. This is because Islam says ‘seeking for knowledge is compulsory for all men and women’. Every woman has the right to be educated! My mother was the first female religious leader in Zamfara State and she sent her daughters to school! As a matter of fact, she was given this appointment as the Ameera of Zamfara State by Senator Ahmed Yerima while he was governor. She is educated, knows the Quaran very well and knows her rights. If you understudy the rights Islam gives to women, you will marvel! Every religious right that it gives to men, it gives also to women! We have right to education, life, freedom, and whatever you can think of.
You sound radically feminist and you know your society doesn’t uphold such…
There’s improvement now because of the activities of non-governmental organisations. I was opportune to be part of a team taken to Malaysia and Egypt on the issue of maternal health, family and girl-child education. Our religious leaders are behind this because majority of them are very educated; they also take our traditional rulers along for each edition.
This has been going on for four years and it has brought improvements in the state. Our traditional rulers are also seriously fighting against child marriage because virtually all patients in our Vesico Vagina Fistula-VVF centres were children who later on were abandoned by their so-called husbands. So, what we did was that each time we went to villages to sensitize parents against child marriage, we showed them pictures of these little girls suffering from VVF. Many are therefore beginning to deviate from the act.
Like pro-child marriage protesters argue, is it true that Islam supports child marriage?
No. Islam however did not specify the age but it says a girl should not be married unless she is mature, in the sense that she has started mensuration. But you know, because of biological differences, some children start menstruation very early and might even look very mature. So, that’s the root of the argument. As long as a girl has started mensuration, according to Islam, she has become mature since she could now get pregnant. I however want to say that because some religious leaders are less civilised and uneducated, they do not know they are supposed to use their discretion.
Before women in Zamfara State began pursuing education, what was the situation like in terms of child marriage, and currently, what developmental consequences has it caused the state?
As a result of the fact that early marriage deprived our girls from getting education, most of the accomplished women in my state are non-indigenes! Now, our people have realised! We have only two female permanent secretaries and both of them are not from Zamfara. The two female executive secretaries we have are also not from my state! Also, majority of our school principals are also women married into the state! Now, we have a continuing education programme by the state government which is helping women who were half educated prior to marriage. They are now being trained and engaged in the community mid-wifery programme.
I’m sure most of your age mates were already mothers while you were busy acquiring university education; did you not feel behind?
Not at all! I used to admire them each time I saw them with their children but I knew I would have mine someday. In fact, my friends got married after secondary school. Now, I have three lovely children and the oldest is nine years old already. So, I missed nothing by not getting married earlier! I met my husband while in the polytechnic and he is a very intelligent, understanding and religious man. He’s got his Masters degree already and he inspires me positively. He does not joke with Islamic education, and even up till now, he goes for his Islamic classes.
Finally, are you saying Islam is not against western education and does not out rightly endorse child marriage?
Islam is never against western education. Though we did not have western education in the past, when you go down history, you’ll discover our women were very vast in engineering, medicine, to mention but few, and were giving advice. I will say it anywhere in the world: Islam is not against western education; it tells us to ‘seek for knowledge’.
As a matter of fact, it’s a very sweet religion because it means peace! Islam does not tell anyone to give a child out in marriage; it only states that a woman is free to marry when she has started menstruation. It is now left to us to use our discretion and decide what time is appropriate because Islam does not specify the age. When we allow our girls mature enough and acquire at least secondary school education before going into marriage, they will be able to care for their husbands and children to the development of the society.