Nigeria’s Most Senior Muslim Cleric Rejects Gender Equality Bill

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A proposed gender equality bill that would give Nigerian women and men an equal inheritance share, has been rejected by the Sultan of Sokoto, Nigeria`s most senior Islamic cleric.

Speaking at a Koranic recitation ceremony in the northern Zamfara state, the Sultan of Sokoto, Mohamed Sa’ad Abubakar, said the proposed bill violates the Islamic Law, which guarantees a greater inheritance share to men, as such, Muslims would not accept the bill.

On the other hand, Nigeria’s main Christian body, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has welcomed the bill, which, according to them, promotes equality, fairness, and respect for the women. It equally re-emphasized that Christianity permitted equal inheritance.

However, supporting his stand, the Sultan of Sokoto argued that Islamic religion is Muslims` total way of life, practiced according to Allah`s instructions; therefore, Muslims will not change what Allah instructed them to do. The Sultan`s stand has been openly criticized by many activists, who had lobbied for the bill, which they hope will end discrimination against women in the area of inheritance. They argued that women are systematically dominated by men and reduced to a second-class citizen, using religion as a cover up.

Earlier in March, the Nigeria’s senate rejected an earlier version of the bill. The MPs, most of them men, argued that the bill was “incompatible with Nigerian culture and religious beliefs.“

The rejection has indeed set a retrogressive emancipation journey for women in Nigeria. Unlike men, who inherit family properties, often women are left in a perpetual disadvantageous position because they do not have inheritance rights. Although, it is assumed in certain quarters that women are entitled to inheritance from their husband`s side, more often than not, these women are left economically disenfranchised. Worse still, having in mind that they do not have any inheritance from their families, many married women who are in a bad or abusive marriage often fear to leave their husbands because doing so might be an economic suicide for the women. That would be a double jeopardy because they would have no economic survival as divorced women. These women are culturally forced to stay in their dangerous marriages, even when it is obvious that their lives are in danger. What happens in a situation, where the women in question are not married? What of in case of a divorce? Is the woman permitted to take the husband`s inheritance with her? In most cases, women are made economically destitute due to the unfair share of inheritance.

Often the level of development of a country is easily measured by the position of the minorities – including women – in that country. Unless we forget our sexist attitude towards women and think rationally, we would continue going backward instead of forward -economically, socially and otherwise.