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The history of religion's role in the oppression of Arewa women

The history of religion’s role in the oppression of Arewa women

Man-made systems were created to rationalise the spiritual and these systems are dominated by men, especially the Abrahamic religions, these sets of beliefs have proven inflexible when it comes to the rights of women. 

Over the years,  religions have been used to monitor and police women and their bodies using the fear of hell (Jahannam in Islam), this has been used to manipulate women into servitude and blind obedience to men.

In Northern Nigeria, religion has been twisted to make women disregard choices that would empower them such as education, bodily autonomy, and the power to speak up when facing abuse. 


Islamic extremism is an adherence to a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, a belief in reforming Muslims and removing all forms of corruption in Islamic practice. In contemporary times, Islamic extremism in Northern Nigeria is typified by the Boko Haram insurgency and the evangelism campaigns of Salafist groups such as the Izala Society.

The Izala society or Jama’atu Izalatil Bid’ah Wa Iqamatus Sunnah, also called JIBWIS, is a Salafi movement originally established in Northern Nigeria to fight what it sees as the bid’ah (innovations) practiced by the Sufi brotherhoods was the first Islamist organization in modern times to openly advocate for a militant transformation of Northern Nigerian institutions in line with fundamentalist interpretations of Islam. 

Officially founded in 1978 with funding from Saudi Arabia, it is split between the more Militant Ikhwanist-Qutbist view and the more political Maududist view. The Ikhwanists find inspiration from the teachings of the early Wahabist Ikhwan Movement and Sayyid Qutb, who justified the violent overthrow of systems deemed un-Islamic. In 2001, a faction of the Ikhwanist broke away to form Boko Haram. 

The Maududist faction found inspiration from the teachings of the founder,  Abubakar Gumi and Abul A’la Maududi, and advocated for a ‘smart’ political jihad that they believe will mitigate any loss of life on their part.

The Jihadist group Boko Haram began their insurgency with an uprising in 2009. They have carried out many attacks since then, killing thousands of people. In the mid-2010s, their insurgency expanded into Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.

These movements and societies have caused a shift in the practice of Islam in Nigeria, particularly in the way women are treated. It was noticed that around the time the Izala society was created, that northern Muslim women wore simple scarves quite unlike the long hijabs they now wear. This change in dressing is symbolic of the indoctrination that has grown in the region. As time passed, a demand for a monolithic way of practising Islam has been introduced in the North, particularly for women.

Typically, Islam is a religion that reinforces women’s rights, both economic and social. It also establishes that women are of equal status with men. All of this disappears when Islamic fundamentalists are in control. From Al-Qaeda to the Taliban and Boko haram in Nigeria. The activities of these extremist groups have various implications on women and children, as this vulnerable group of persons tend to suffer most from crises of any kind. 

Women and children under the age of 18 have been negatively impacted by the crisis in the form of lack of access to basic needs, sexual and gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, abuse, and abduction. Their level of vulnerability is on the rise as most of them are widowed or single due to the high rate of male mortality in the course of the conflict and the detention of some men by the military for investigation purposes. As a result, women now bear the responsibility of feeding their families.

Document Women spoke with Hauwa Saleh, a Muslim writer and Lawyer, she said, “The misogyny of religious men is dangerous because they think their actions are ordained by God.”

Ms Saleh goes further to explain how Islam is used to box women into a certain way of behaving that is considered acceptable. 

“It has been used to stop women from participating in politics. There’s this belief that there can only be one kind of Muslim woman. You can’t be more than one thing. You can’t bring your individuality into your religion.”

“Our value is somehow tied to men. Although it’s a cultural thing, religion has been used to establish it.”

The manipulation of religion is one of the tools of Northern Nigeria’s patriarchy in the oppression of women. It is effective because religious belief systems are one of the most powerful forms of conviction known to us. These unseen forces have been used as a noose around religious women’s necks. 

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