My Fortunate Find During my Exploration of the World Wide Web

I’ve been spending a good deal of time on other people’s blogs recently. There are so many good writers on the Inter-web. One of them is David Ovienmhada [gotta love Edo names]. He gives a lot of food for thought in his posts. I especially liked his post on former CBN governor/current Emir of Kano/all-round controversial political figure Lamido Sanusi. To be honest, until today I didn’t know much about Sanusi except the little snippets I heard in passing from other people’s conversations, and what I pooled from that was: 1) he is from the North of Nigeria 2) some people (usually southerners) tend to be surprised that he is a well-educated northerner 3) A LOT of other politicians complain about him and he is often in Nigerian news  and 4)there may have been some beef between him and former president Jonathan at some point but I really don’t know – I tend to avoid delving into personal spats between public figures.

After listening to Sanusi’s TEDx talk, I was impressed. Then I read his essay titled “The Adulteress’ Diary” (posted below – copied from Ovienmhada’s blog), and I was really impressed. Not only that a Nigerian man took the time to write about an injustice that many women (in Nigeria and elsewhere) face, but that he did so with a level of eloquence and command that I dream of one day acquiring . And he appears to be very well-versed in Islamic law and history – a field that I currently know next to nothing about, but that can change…

I will mimic Ovienmhada by declaring that I will also keep Sanusi on my radar. After all, it’s not everyday that we come across erudite Nigerian thinkers who occupy positions of influence in the country. So thank you David O [see what I did there?] for introducing us – virtually at least.


Sanusi Lamido Sanusi
November 2001

If you choose to read my diary you must forgive my often vulgar, some times irreverent language. I hope you will also find the moral courage to give the following entries wide circulation, my crude vocabulary notwithstanding. The world should know what injustice is being perpetrated by northern Nigerian Muslim males against their women in the name of Allah and under cover of Shariah. You see, my name is Safiya Husseini, recently convicted for the crime of having been born a woman by a Shariah court in Sokoto. I know you have been told that my crime was adultery, not womanhood. I also know, being a mere woman, that you think I am most probably talking rubbish. When you finish reading this record of my own thoughts, possibly after my death, you will make up your mind. My punishment is to be death by stoning at the hands of men. I cannot tell you where I am, because I am hiding from the men of the Hisbah corps, the fanatical Muslim militia saddled with the task of bringing Shariah offenders to book. I have been told by the scholars, the mallamai (who happen to be men), that I should give myself up and face death like a good Muslim woman. Doing this is a patriotic duty that will cleanse my society of corruption and purify me from my sins. You see our society has become rotten. We are fast becoming like the Jews in the time of Christ. You know Jesus called them a “wicked and adulterous generation”. There is too much adultery, fornication and homosexuality. Women, as our mallamai swear our prophet said, are the source of all this evil and our scholars are convinced that the only cure for the fitnah is to put us to death. I can understand how men can accuse women of being the source of all adultery and fornication. But what do women have to do with the widespread fitnah of men chasing men? Surely it shows that men also are evil and need no women to lure them? Do not mind me. I am but a woman-daft and senseless. Do the mallamai not say that the prophet said that women are deficient in religion and intelligence? Back to the point, it is believed that my death will lead to a near-magical transmogrification of the caliphate’s ethical landscape. Our holy land, the land of Dan Fodio, Abdullahi and Bello, will witness a termination of the crepuscular routines of illicit carnality that regularly take place in shadowy alleys, state houses, guest houses and five-star hotels. Our men shall no longer be victims of temptation by evil women. Their purity shall no longer be stained by Intimate pursuits. In short every man shall become as clean and sinless as our Shariah governors whom I am told can each swear on the Qur’an never to have committed the capital sin of adultery. This I am ready to believe. You see in Islamic Law it is the governor, as the Imam of our state, who is expected to step forward and cast the first stone. We will on that day prove to the Christians that we are better than Jews. When the Jews wanted to stone a harlot, Jesus threw them a challenge. “Let he among you who is without sin,” said he, “cast the first stone”. They all sulked away, the hypocrites. If you heard our governor in his BBC Hausa interview, in all his righteousness, then you know that he is not like those hypocritical Jews. Allah ya sauwake! He will step up majestically and after giving me a magisterial rebuke cast his stone. The other sinless members of our society-the emirs, the mallamai, the politicians- will follow. With my death, as you have heard often, the land shall become cleansed of crimes of the flesh.

In addition to this service to the community, I am told on the authority of no less than the prophet himself that submitting myself to this punishment is my ticket to heaven. I shall no longer face the humiliation of being treated like a lumpen-slut. I shall be transformed into a voluptuous, voracious virgin in paradise. You laugh at this because you do not know the value of virginity to our men. I too did not understand this obsession until I read Jarasimus Mhanna’s Rasa’il al-Jahiz (The Letters of al-Jahiz). In one of his letters, the African poet quoted the second Caliph ‘Umar as saying to fellow men: “Marry young virgins; they have perfumed mouths and narrow vaginas.” Only Allah knows if ‘Umar actually said this, but I know our men have taken this advice far beyond ‘Umar could ever have intended. They marry the girls at too young an age when the opening is so narrow they end up with VVF when giving birth, at which point the men abandon them. But this is not my concern right now. I was saying that I will become a heavenly virgin. No more menstruation, no more toileting, no more pregnancy and yes, I will enjoy pure unadulterated sex. I like that word unadulterated. I suppose unadulterated sex means sex that will not be called adultery. I know I am probably murdering the English language but who cares at this point? I will have my choice of men and believe you me I will ask for our shariah governors whose own ticket to heaven is through whipping, stoning and amputating the fornicatresses, adulteresses and common thieves in our society. Their own sins are forgiven if they ensure that we poor sinners, especially the women, are subjected to Allah’s laws. I am told not to grieve over all those posh totties who hang around the high and mighty in this world and laugh at us because they use condoms and pills and can have abortions. Our illiteracy is in reality our saving grace. This is why we were removed from school and married off at a young age. Now I also understand why our mallamai have stoutly opposed sex-education. Those so-called “educated” high-class whores may escape in this world but they will pay in the hereafter. They are going to hell. Ditto the men who fornicate and commit adultery with us but get away with it. Imagine that twit Yakubu denying that he was the one who impregnated me! But the alkali (bless his soul) could do nothing. His hands are tied. How could he take my word, mere woman that I am, that Yakubu was the father of my baby? The law says I should produce four male, honest, reliable witnesses who are to testify to having visualized the twittering ’s you-know-what physically embedded in my you-know-what like a kajal stick inside its hollow case! Unfortunately we did not have sex in a nudist camp. And even if we did, the term honest, reliable male is an oxymoron. No man can possibly be honest and reliable, especially if his honesty would convict a fellow-man. How could I ever produce four? Since I could not meet this order then I am a liar, like all women. In the unlikely event that I speak the truth, Yakubu will pay on the day of judgement. As for me, I shall have the honour of a union of sorts with the holy governors. Forgive my language, but just imagine what I would do on laying my hands on their collective genitals, with the angels looking the other way! But that will be in heaven, if they manage to make it there.

I listened to the mallamai with all respect, but packed my things and ran away the moment they left. You see I happen to believe that the law under which I was convicted is not Allah’s law. It is true that the alkali, (Allah bless him again), has told journalists this is Allah’s law and anyone who questions it is not a good Muslim, perhaps not even a Muslim at all. Somehow I have my reservations. It seems to me the law is what the alkali understands of what some men living at some time in some foreign land claim to be the Law of Allah. His understanding may be flawed. Other men may have made different claims than these in the name of the same Allah. And of course in all this we have not heard the voice of women. Surely if I suggest that it is not Allah’s law I do not lose my faith? But you see I am only a woman. So I tell myself to stop thinking and challenging these things. It is not my place. Let me tell you a few of the thoughts that crossed my mind and made me run away from this perverse judgement. Who knows, perhaps there may be some sense in me, after-all.

You see according to press reports, my case started when some “unnamed informants” told the police that I, Safiya the divorcee, was pregnant without husband and “manipulated one Yakubu Abubakar, a married man in the same village, as being responsible for the pregnancy”. Ya Salam! Any one who knows Islamic Law knows this is not a case of adultery but of slander. These “reliable sources” should have been arrested immediately and charged to court. They are to produce four eye-witnesses to the crime of zina (illicit sex) of which they accused a believing woman behind her back. This much is clear from books of Law and Ibn Rushd, the Maliki jurist, stated in his book al-Muqaddimat al-Mumahhidat that if anyone says “so-and-so is an adulteress” he must produce four witnesses. It is not enough for us to have been seen playing together, you know. In the time of the second caliph ‘Umar, some companions reported one of his governors, Mughira Ibn Shu’ba, for adultery. Three of them testified to having visualized the governor’s dinky in the woman’s pinky but the fourth witness faltered. He said he saw some swinging bum bums but as for the real thing he could not swear. So the three of them, including one of the Holy Prophet’s closest companions ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir, were given eighty bulalas for slander. This story is there in the books of Law as a precedent. I hear even books of history, like Ibn Katheer’s al-Bidaya wa ‘l-Nihaya have the record. Why was my case different? Why was I called to defend myself when the charge of slander had not been prosecuted? Point number one.

May Allah bless the companions of the prophet who gave women the benefit of doubt. A woman was brought before ‘Umar with pregnancy and she said; “O Caliph! I am a heavy sleeper and a man came upon me one night. I did not wake up until he had finished and turned his back.” He let her go. Another woman said to ‘Umar: ” I was thirsty and I asked a shepherd to give me water to drink but he refused unless I lay with him so I did.” ‘Umar said to ‘Ali, “what is your view on her?” ‘Ali replied, “I think she was pushed by necessity”. So ‘Umar gave her a few lashes and asked her to go. In fact a woman was brought to ‘Ali when he was caliph and he kept saying to her, “perhaps he romanced you? Perhaps he merely rubbed himself between your thighs? etc” until she took the hint and said “yes.” It is not that the Caliphs believed these incredible tales. But they believed that the gates of Allah’s mercy were very wide. They knew that it is better for 1,000 adulteresses to escape stoning by man than for one innocent Muslim woman to be so stoned. Those who escape can always repent and be of use to their society and religion. Allah is a Most Merciful God. This much the Caliphs, but not our generation of mallamai, understood. For this reason in every Sunni School of Law today I can go back to court and say I lied, that I do not know how I got pregnant, or that I was charmed or tricked or anything and I am free. But not the Maliki school, which we insist on following in this matter. Here, pregnancy is evidence of zina and I am presumed guilty until I prove my innocence. If I say I was Molested I must prove it. If I say I made a mistake it will be accepted only if “reliable men” in my village testify that I am a nice girl. It is a Law that contravenes the general principle that I am innocent until proven guilty. The fact of pregnancy is taken as proof of guilt even though zina requires, in addition to proof of intercourse, proof of consent and knowledge. These points are documented in books of Law. You can check Ibn Qudamah’s al-Mughni, or al-Jaza’iri’s Kitabul Fiqh ‘ala ‘l-Mazahib al-Arba’. I know some Hanbali jurists, notably Ibn Taimiya, support Malik’s view. Fortunately, our mallamai have always taught us not to listen to that puritanical predecessor to the Wahhabiya and ‘Yan Izala. So who decides for me that I must be judged by Malik’s Law? To ask me to prove my innocence contravenes Islamic Jurisprudence, Fundamental Human Rights and the Nigerian Constitution. To bring me to court, even after I ran away in terror the first time, nullifies my confession. It was clearly extracted and not voluntary by virtue of the circumstances. This seems clear from Shaikh Wahba al-Zuhaili’s work, al-Fiqh al-Islami wa Adillatuh. If my confession is invalid, then my conviction is based on the fact of pregnancy and valid under Maliki Law only. Why can’t I be judged by the Law of Shafii, Abu Hanifa or Ibn Hanbal? If Malik’s Law is “Allah’s Law” then whose Law do the Shafii Muslims (of Indonesia, Malaysia, East Africa etc), and the Hanbali Muslims (of the Arab Gulf), and the Hanafi Muslims (of the Indian sub-continent) operate? But you know I am a woman. I cannot argue with the alkali.

There are other interesting points to note is that stoning to death, as punishment for adultery, is not mentioned in the Qur’an. Believe me. The Qur’an says in Chapter 24: Verse 2: “The woman and the man guilty of zina flog each of them with a hundred stripes.” This is what the Book of Allah says and the word zina refers to intimate intercourse between a man and a woman who are not married to each other. No verse of the Qur’an was revealed abrogating this judgement or amending it ( If you discount the problematic claim by some that ‘Umar said that such a verse existed at a point. Its text was abrogated but its verdict remains!). However, Muslim jurists make a distinction between fornication (or zina by one who has never been married) and adultery (zina by one who has passed through Ihsan and become a Muhsan). A Muslim becomes a muhsan once he/she consummates a valid marriage in a state of adulthood and sanity. So if he/she is found guilty of zina the punishment, according to jurists is stoning to death, based on the Traditions of the Prophet, not the Qur’an. Most jurists of Sunni and Shiite Islam accept this position. Some early jurists, particularly among Kharijites, reject this distinction as a baseless innovation. In addition to the verse quoted above, a second verse makes the matter most problematic. In the Qur’an Chapter 4: Verse 25, Allah encourages Muslim men who cannot marry free women to marry Muslim slaves with the consent of their families or owners. He then adds: “If, after their Ihsan, they are found guilty of indecency their punishment is half of the punishment of Muhsanat.” Now if the punishment of the free-born adulteress is 100 lashes then the punishment of the slave adulteress is 50 lashes and there is no problem there. If however we say the punishment for the muhsanah is stoning to death, what does Allah mean by prescribing half of that for the slave? You must forgive me, for I am a mere woman. I am unable to calculate half of stoning to death. Is it stoning to half-death? Or half-stoning to death? Or stoning half to death? The Kharijites gave our ulama a lot of trouble on this point. One of our best brains, Ibn Qutaiba, wrote spirited defences in two books, Ta’weel Mukhtalaf al-Qur’an and Ta’weel Mukhtalaf al-Hadeeth. On this point, though, I am not sure he answered more questions than he raised. It seems to me he ended up saying that Ihsan does not mean consummating marriage so he turned everything we read in Law on its head. He also resorted to drawing an analogy between woman, on the one hand, and a cow or she-camel, on the other, to wriggle out of the problem. Anyway all this is water under the bridge. The reality is that this debate has been buried so deeply it cannot be revived-certainly not before my sentence is due to be carried out. In any event, the Kharijites are counted among the lost sects (al-firaq al-dhaallah) so their view carries no weight with our scholars.

You see, dear reader, I remain faithful to our scholars. I do not challenge them, even where I have my doubts. Ask the alkali. As he pronounced his sentence on me, I said nothing to indicate I knew these things. I am a woman, totally invisibilized behind the veil and inside kulle. I know my place. But one thing I cannot accept is to die alone when I know and the alkali knows I could not have made this baby alone. I mean I am not the Virgin Mary! Even that inyamiri, Anyim Anyim, has said so. The jurists, including Maliki jurists, who produced the body of knowledge called fiqh (or law) lived at a point in time in history when there was no way of establishing the paternity of a child. I can understand if they said pregnancy is evidence of zina, even though it is a harsh verdict, but I know the only reason they prescribed nothing for the man was because they had nothing to go on apart from the woman’s word. Today the alkali has options. Science can establish who is telling lies between Yakubu and I, and DNA tests are used by courts all over the modern world to settle these matters. Of course they are not 100% faultless but my guilt has also not been 100% proven. At least he should take that one step of testing for paternity. But no. This will not happen because men will also die. If we stick to the law as inherited from the past, men of the present can impregnate us and deny us. Brilliant, aren’t they, these men? They commit a crime in the 20th Century with rooms and curtains and airconditioners available but can only be convicted based on a Law of Evidence made for the 7th Century with people doing it in the open desert or makeshift tents! Four eye-witnesses to sex in the NICON Hilton in 2001? So Bariya was whipped, Safiya will be stoned, who next? All the men escaped because of lack of evidence. So long as men are not punished for impregnating women nothing will change. And herein lies the injustice of the Law. I sleep with Yakubu and get pregnant. Because only I will be punished, I insist that my crime is not adultery, but pregnancy. Since only women can be pregnant this means that the real crime is being a woman. The man will always commit adultery and escape. The woman is the only one who can ever conceive, the unknowing depository of the traitor’s Fluid. It is not Allah or his Prophet or even Malik who says so. It is our scholars, our men, who hide behind the lie of being loyal to the past to perpetuate the crimes of our present and escape. Now you know why I said I was convicted of being a woman. Maybe it makes sense to you, maybe it doesn’t. I have no illusions, for I am a mere woman.

I am glad Nigerians are talking. I have already filed an appeal. I am not asking for my death and Yakubu’s. I want to be given the benefit that the early Caliphs gave all those women. I want the chance to repent. Allah has opened His doors to his servants who go astray and wish to repent, why should men close that door in my face? I want the Law to be truly Allah’s Law and not a concoction by men. And if men themselves differ on what Allah means, who is to decide Allah’s true intent? With your help I may yet live. I only pray I will not be back on trial for murder. You see, given my experience with my husbands, my lover, my fellow-villagers, the police, the judiciary and even my governor, I have come to see men in their true colours. I have seen, first hand, the extent to which they have cheated women, and the lies they have spun in the name of Allah and His Messenger. Now this is my fear. If any man after this as much as winks at me, I will most joyfully slice off his you-know-what.

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