Aji Kurah: Demba, have you heard about the appointment of the women Cadis? We shall break every patriarchal glass ceiling over us. I am still livid that the women’s representation bill failed in the moribund and chauvinistic parliament.
Dembo: So women being appointed as Cadis means what exactly? Do you know that the issues that those women Cadis will judge on will mostly not favor women? And that’s because Islam, in its strictest form, recognizes that men and women are not necessarily equal. Isn’t that why you walk behind your husband Aji Kurah and why you sleep behind him on your bed?
Aji Kurah: The women Cadis will judge according to Islamic law! And it’s my choice to walk behind my husband. It’s not because Islam said I must. I have a role and my husband has his role. The two roles are based on our capabilities as a man and woman.
Dembo: Well, Firstly, Islamic law does not necessarily recognize that men and women are equal. And secondly Islamic law is not monolithic; it’s open to different schools of thought. In the roles you talk about, the roles assigned to men make them the head of the family. There’s a hierarchy in these roles and wherever you have hierarchy or authority, you’ll have inequality. But back to those female Cadis, have you seen what the two imams said about the issue? I told you that this fight for equality between men and women will not sit well with your dominant religious leaders! You see us Gambians love tolerance but we are hardly ever tolerant ourselves.
Abibatou: And aren’t those two imams the ones that also supported the killer and thief in Jamus? By the way, you know, Islamic teachings are not necessarily incompatible with equality. It all depends on what you think “equality” means. If you are a fan of the ultra-equality club, then you will not have a problem with women being imams. But if you are of the belief that men and women are physiologically and psychologically different from men, that these differences account for the gendered roles, then perhaps you will insist that everyone function according to the role they are best suited for. And that’s probably a reason why you cannot have women imams. Now you must bear in mind that you will be called misogynistic if ultra-equality is not your inclination.
Cabral: You know what the main issue is, it is that a lot of what you all hold on to are imposed on you Africans. You see that’s one of the reasons I actually changed my name to Fillijay. Your Islamic ways are not always compatible with your traditional African ways. Your feminist ideals are not always compatible with your traditional African ways or Islamic ways and vice versa. Neither are your traditional ways always compatible with your Christian beliefs and your Christian beliefs are not always in agreement with your Islamic ways even though you all claim to worship one creator. Now who that creator is depends on what religious belief one holds. Group A thinks Group B are going to hell and Group B people think Group A are going to hell. You want to mix and match all these imported or imposed laws, traditions, ideals in one disparate country people when not all of you share the same beliefs, ideals or traditions. Everyone thinks they have a monopoly over the truth. You see the problem?
Aji Kurah: For me, I know that the Quran sees all human beings as equal. However, men and women have different roles in society and I respect the canonical tradition as well as the African tradition I was born into. It’s true that the two do not always jive but that’s where nuance and milieu comes into play.
Abibatou: But don’t you think that by introducing nuance or subjectivity or even milieu in religion, you’ll face challenges of interpretation? Are the laws of religion open to interpretation? If so, who decides which interpretation is right? Because there are those people who insist on interpreting religious text exactly as it is written and you have some that say we must consider the context or milieu. If you introduce context in Islam, don’t you think you’ll end up with various variations of the religion? Isn’t that what we see today?
Dembo: You know, it’s crazy that somehow, we end up where we started from and that is: nowhere. That should tell us we have serious problems. In the end, it all depends on how you see things. Personally, I think we should always consider the context of everything and apply it to our realities. Rather than outrightly condemning or embracing any idea, we should consider it’s utility and application.
Cabral: The problem with that is; even the prism with which you consider the utility or lack thereof of any imported ideal is in fact tainted by your school of thought. Here is my thing: What’s wrong with knowing that you are a black person and that your ancestors had their own religion and ways and traditions until some people from Arabia or the West came and told them their ways and traditions are backward and evil? They changed everything about you and you own very little that is indigenous to you. Almost everything about you is imposed from outside. And that’s your problem! The more foreign our actions, rituals, mannerisms, recitations, the purer we are. The more African or indigenous, the more unacceptable. Isn’t that an issue?
Aji Kurah: But just because something was imposed does not make it bad. And in fact, I totally reject and take umbrage at the suggestion that Islam was imposed on me. I chose Islam as my way of life. Yes, you’d say I chose it because I was born into it and that may be so but I learned to accept Islam on my own.
Abibatou: Well; it’s not like Islam or Christianity are indigenous to Africans. How many people do you know that convert from the religion they were born into? Most of us just accept the religions we were born and raised into. We think questioning religious beliefs means the questioner is hellbound. And our ancestors certainly didn’t go looking for Islam or Christianity. Others brought them both to us.
Dembo: Folks, I have to leave you all. I have Wednesday Bible studies and I’ll see you next week Insha Allah.
Cabral: May the ancestors guide you Dembo!
Aji Kurah: Astaghfirrullah… May Allah Subana wa tallah guide you Cabral. Stop with this ancestor stuff already. It’s sacrilegious.
Abibatou: Bye guys, I have to go meet my boyfriend for lunch.
Aji Kurah: That’s harram and unislamic… Dating is harram.
Cabral: I guess we will all just march ourselves to hell because…. Never mind… bye