Category Archives: Islam

The North needs Sanusi’s activism

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

In northern Nigeria, educating the girl-child beyond high school is frowned at. Even amongst the educated elite. Main reason? The more educated a girl-child is, the less likely she would find male suitors on time, goes the flawed conventional and chauvinistic wisdom. The oft-cited fear is that should a girl-child be allowed to become too highly educated and exposed, she is not likely to be submissive to her future husband. To this day, this view is pervasive. To cover their shame, some fathers deploy a trick if the daughter proves to be headstrong than usual: they convince her that once in her husband’s house, she can continue her education. Of course, once she gets there, the husband promptly puts her in the family way. Ironically, so-called pious northern Muslims who refuse to allow their female wards attain the heights of their dreams also bristle at the thought that male doctors might inevitably examine their wives and daughters when faced with one medical complication or the other. Well, if there are not enough female doctors, who else would do the job?

Hypocrisy runs deep
To be clear, the acquisition of knowledge is a fundamental requirement in Islam, irrespective of gender. So unlike the popular perception, the illiteracy and related poverty problems in northern Nigeria have nothing to do with Islam. They are cultural. That things have remained unchanged for so long is fundamentally due to patriarchy and resistance by the beneficiaries who despair at their potential enervation should females be empowered. Funnily enough, often is the case that northern males who are quick to show off in public how they exert control over their wives, are usually the ones most often under their thumbs; the so-called “mijin hajiyas”, a derisive term for husbands unduly influenced by their spouses. Incidentally, the mostly affluent northern elite who are quick to advertise their piety when their less endowed brethren are the subject matter, not only allow their wives many freedoms but also educate their daughters in the best schools. Curiously, they also do not hesitate to marry their daughters off to similarly rich males irrespective of their ethnicity insofar as they are Muslims. Their ethnic and religious bigotry is especially reserved for lesser beings it seems.

Thus, to have taken on so boldy the issue of female gender rights, Muhammad Sanusi II, Emir of Kano, is bound to offend many. Emir Sanusi, who by virtue of his position is the second highest Islamic authority in Nigeria, has always been a rebel of sorts. Former Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, cannot soon forget the grief Mr Sanusi caused him when as governor of the central bank, he blew the whistle on huge sums of crude oil sale proceeds unaccounted for. Unsurprisingly, those opposed to his accession to the emirship some three years ago worried he would not be able to keep quiet for long: by tradition, a royal is supposed to say little, and even when he does, it is preferably that he does so in such low tones that someone is assigned to repeat his words loudly. To their chagrin and hopefully to the benefit of his people, they were right. Still, it is probably unwise of him to have shown his hands so publicly this early in his reign. His real and much harder task would be to win the hearts and minds of the exceptionally conservative northern Islamic establishment he is an essential part of and which incidentally, he also leads.

Gently does it
Mr Sanusi must now reflect and decide on a strategy. His increasingly loud activism suggests he is probably a little frustrated already: He has no formal authority. Those fiery speeches of his, with their biting statistics and all, can only do so much. Yes, they have begun to touch a few nerves here and there. And then what? Besides, even as Mr Sanusi tries to espouse a certain anti-elitist intellectualism, he is the quintessential epitome of privilege. To be fair, Mr Sanusi has never suggested that he is “of the people.” But if he hopes to succeed at “being for the people”, the northern politicians – who ordinarily defer to royalty and who it happens are also the ones with the power to transform his activism into concrete reforms – currently at the receiving end of his fervent rhetoric are also the ones he has to win over. Mr Sanusi’s predecessors were able to influence them by guarding their tongues so that when they spoke, they listened. Mr Sanusi must drink from their cup of wisdom.

Dr Rafiq Raji is a writer and researcher based in Lagos, Nigeria.

Published as “Is Emir Sanusi’s brand of activism the way to go?” by Premium Times Nigeria on 24 April 2017. See link viz. http://opinion.premiumtimesng.com/2017/04/24/177916/

Advertisements

Is there a Ramadan effect in Nigerian markets?

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Stock market returns have been found to be higher in Muslim countries during the month of Ramadan – the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. A Ramadan effect. Intuitively, this should probably be the case. Research studies have confirmed the phenomenon nonetheless. In a February 2014 research paper published by the International Review of Financial Analysis, a top academic finance journal, Prof. Osamah Al-Khazali of the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, shows evidence of the Ramadan effect in fifteen Muslim countries: mostly from the Middle-East but includes two Asian countries with a dominant Muslim population: Indonesia and Malaysia. There were prior studies. In a 2012 study for instance, Dr. Jedrzej Bialkowski (an associate professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand), Prof. Ahmad Etebari (a finance professor at the University of New Hampshire in the United States) and Dr. Tomasz Wisniewski (a finance lecturer at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom) showed evidence of the Ramadan effect in about 11 Muslim countries. Researchers interested in the subject are diverse.

Fundamentally, the academic interest is – as the group of researchers in my second example put it – “whether a religious practice can, through its influence on investors’ psychology, affect the behaviour of the market.” Similar investor buoyancy has been associated with the Chinese New Year for instance. That in regard of heightened optimism during the Gregorian New Year – when most make resolutions to change a bad habit, set financial goals, etc. – is also well-known. Little wonder, investors tend to earn higher stock returns in most markets during the month of January. A January effect. There is also a Monday effect: most people tend to be optimistic at the beginning of the business week – which but for some Muslim countries, is usually Mondays. So, there is a myriad of these so-called effects; stock market anomalies, we call them.

Two themes are palpable: Epochs or important periods in peoples’ lives – and the feel-good factor associated with them: optimism. So such epochs could be the month of Ramadan for Muslims, Christmas or New Year for Christians, and the Chinese New Year for the Chinese. It makes intuitive sense, doesn’t it? This was the main proposition of my doctoral dissertation, albeit I focused on the January effect in the Nigerian and South African equity markets. I suggest positive investor sentiment (optimism) around epochs may be why higher stock returns are earned at those celebrated periods of our lives. But the reverse case needs to be equally true for this to be considered seriously. It would probably take a lifetime of research work to prove this to be a consistent explanation. As a budding researcher, this is gratifying. Prof. Kalu Ojah – a Nigerian and professor of finance at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa – and I authored a research paper based on the dissertation (“Does investor sentiment explain the seasonality of overreaction? Examples of the Nigerian and South African equity markets”), published by The African Finance Journal in 2015.

I do not know that there has been a study of the Ramadan effect on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) – a tip for aspiring doctoral students in finance (I get asked about this on occasion). The closest proxy is probably the country’s food markets. Food prices are generally known to rise during the Muslim holy month in Nigeria, stoking inflation. Considering an investment return must at least compensate for inflation – the minimum expectation of lenders to the government for instance: a risk-free interest rate, you could intuitively assume that there is probably a Ramadan effect in the Nigerian equity market; where investors expect higher compensation for risk.

Ramadan-related food price inflation may be marginal this year, however. Put another way, we could not say that high inflation expectations for the months of May, June and July (the month-long Muslim fast started on 6 June) this year are related to Ramadan. Annual inflation forecasts for May are as high as about 15 percent (mine is 13.6 percent), much faster than the 13.7 percent headline figure in April. There are more significant factors pressuring prices: weak currency, power shortages, insecurity in key farming regions, pest-infected tomatoes, etc. When there have not been competing factors, food inflation tends to accelerate during Ramadan. It is a little bit counterintuitive that this should be the case. After all, fasting Muslims forgo lunch. Increased charity during the period may be why – more people probably get fed. Regardless, savvy food traders tend to add a Ramadan premium. Whether there is an actual increase in demand for food or not is no matter.

Still, supposedly rational investors in formal markets are not likely to be similarly motivated. In the Nigerian case especially – where Muslims are about half of the population, the behaviour of food traders in its informal markets may not be sufficient to motivate the intuition of a likely Ramadan effect on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. That is, as observed in the stock markets of countries where the dominant group is Muslim. There are opportunities for the savvy participant in the Nigerian financial markets nonetheless. A sukuk bond – debt instrument based on Islamic principles – would probably get more subscribers during Ramadan. It is also probably the best time to launch a ‘halal’ (or ‘ethical’) mutual fund. Similarly, Nigerian companies perceived to be ethical may choose to raise capital during the Muslim holy month. As with the Gregorian New Year, creative portfolio managers could probably design investment strategies that leverage on the feel-good factor associated with Ramadan as well. For those interested – academics and investors alike, these are certainly worth exploring.

Also published in my BusinessDay newspaper back-page column. See link viz. http://businessdayonline.com/2016/06/is-there-a-ramadan-effect-in-nigerian-markets/

Piercing Pains – A Short Story #BringBackOurGirls #AfricaWrites

By Rafiq Raji

SAM_0351

“You, stand up! Mai Ungwa, take her to my quarters”

Babangida had been relishing this opportunity for a very long time. He was determined to have his virgins here on earth. There wouldn’t be much privacy but the tent would do. In any case, his brazas needed to know he didn’t think the flowers beneath him. Some were already jealous of the life he enjoyed. His was the spoils without the slightest suspicion. As an elected public office holder, he had immunity. And he could count on his men’s loyalty. Anyway, they needed him more than he needed them. Who has been informing them about targets? And our people in the security services need to be taken care off regularly. Who provides the untraceable funds? This was not a bad reward for his troubles. The rhetoric around the security problem they created had also helped him politically. These were good times indeed.

“Kina da daurin kay, ko? Inna gama da ki, za ki sani”

“You think you are stubborn.”

The girls were all unkempt. He always thought Mai Ungwa was crude. Didn’t he know they were supposed to look appealing?

Mai Ungwa, before you go, make sure she takes a bath”

“But we are hard-pressed for water, Commander”

“This is an exception; make sure she takes a bath and don’t take too long, I still have to go back to amarya.”

“Your new wife, yes.”

—————–

As Zainab waited for her husband to show up, her life hitherto played before her. A few months earlier, she had just passed her O-Levels with distinction and had pondered at the great task before her. Having congratulated her, Baba had told her he would like to discuss an important matter when she was done with her chores. Her father rarely sought an appointment to speak with her. It did occur to her though that people around the house had been extraordinarily nice to her lately. She did think this could not have been only because she did well in her exams; especially as Yaro, didn’t do quite well. The privileges her brother enjoyed always left a bad taste in her mouth.

“What are you looking at? You had better mind your business. Anyway, you’ll soon be married off!”

She had grown accustomed to Yaro’s taunts. As usual, he was about to go smoke some indo again. Don’t they see his darkened lips? Leave Yaro alone, Mama would always say. She pretends not to see him roll the smelly weed. Last time, Yaro asked the driver to drop him off at a friend’s place on the way to school. He didn’t show up for classes that day. What does Mama do?

“He’ll change, Zainab. You just focus on your studies, my dear.”

She thought maybe it would not be difficult after all. Zainab wanted to go to University before getting married. After all, she was still young. At 16, she could still find a suitor when she finished her teaching degree four years from now. The degree itself was a compromise. It was either that or Medicine. The difficulty of convincing her parents to allow her finish a 7-year medical degree before getting married didn’t escape her.

—————–

“I have spoken to your husband, you know him, don’t you? Hassan. He was the one I told you brought gifts for you the other day”

Who is Hassan? Mama told me it was Babangida. He was a popular politician who until his recent accession to public office was just another drifter. Even back then, he was feared. I had always wondered why. The rumour mill had it he belonged to a radical Islamic sect. We all knew he was a Brazas (if only they would pronounce “Brothers” correctly). There were suggestions this was a cover for much more violent allegiances. Not that the local population didn’t already dread these brazas. You knew a mother had lost her son to them when implausible excuses were given for their wards’ recurring absences. Then suddenly, they show up with brand new scooters and a louder voice. You knew something was off when older men started ingratiating themselves to these small boys. And you thought, what about tarbiya? Everybody got the message after the Limami was kidnapped. The police found the Chief Imam’s charred body dropped like rubbish in Sabon Gari market. A very public place. The thought sent shivers down her spine. Surely, her father was not going to betroth her to such a man. Baba would have found out if the rumours were true. Maybe, he is really just a little bit religious than usual.

“He will make a suitable husband. You know I always watch out for your interests. Hassan is a good man. And good husbands are hard to find these days.”

“Baba, I’m worried he won’t…”

“I’ve spoken to him about it. He has promised to sponsor your university education. You are a lucky girl, my daughter!”

“But Baba, he has two….”

“Good husbands are hard to find these days, Zainab!”

He only calls me by name when he wants to seem firm. That meant my objections were to be muted. Hassan would be my husband.

“Baba, what if I get pregnant? Would Hassan be willing to wait till I’m at least 18 years old before we go in together? It is only two years?”

Professor Mohammed Mai Mangoro had always worried about his daughter’s stubbornness. She takes after him in that regard. After his last rendezvous with Amina, he had come to the resolution that the only solution was to marry her off. Amina was a third-year Psychology student at the University. They had been seeing each other for some time now. He first sighted her when she came to visit one of his daughters at their campus bungalow. She had stirred something in him. Let’s just say, those stirrings were no longer fantasies these days. But the guilt had left him hollow. No, Zainab will marry first! I’m not going to live to see another daughter of mine in tight jeans and body hugging blouses. And what is that horseshit they all put on their heads? Does she think any man would wait even a day talk less two years before exercising his rights? This matter would require some tact though. You are her Baba, she’ll listen to you. But gently now, Mohammed. Gently.

“I have discussed that matter with him as well. Hassan is an educated man. He shares your concerns as well”

“But Baba, he already has two wives. How does an educated man have that many wives and still want more?”

“Just remember what I told you, good husbands are hard to find these days”

—————–

“Mai Ungwa! Mai Ungwa! Come here right this moment!”

“Commander!”

“What is taking so long? I don’t want my new wife to get suspicious. You know I still have to drive back to town. And you know how long that takes with the soldiers and all. Did you deliver our gifts to them? You are sure? Because, if you didn’t, you know they’ll bother me on the way back”

Ta na da daurin kay, Babangida

“Are you telling me you couldn’t control a 14-year old girl?”

“No, Commander….”

Zainab proved too difficult to acquire. And the wedding cost him more than necessary. He was going to make her return every dime. University? Am I her father? How an educated man like Professor Mai Mangoro couldn’t see his ruse baffled him. Maybe he pretended not to know his real intentions. Suitors like him didn’t come about easily. Hassan looked back at his life. He had once run into her, the arrogant bitch. She had the temerity to ignore his advances. But back then, he wasn’t exactly ango material. He wore the same clothes everyday and was lucky if he got some odd job here and there. His luck changed after he started attending the new mosque. After listening to one of the young Sheikh’s sermons, he felt enlivened. One day, after many visits, he was approached.

“I see you are a very serious Muslim”

“Yes, you.” Hassan couldn’t believe his ears. He never imagined Sheikh Zakari could have noticed him.

“I try my best, Sheikh”

“Very good. I’m happy when I see serious young Muslims”

“You should come and see me when you find the time. After Isha prayers, tomorrow perhaps?”

That was a while ago now. Today, he was a local government chairman with all the accouterments of office. He drove in convoys, had an Aide-de-Camp and people stood up when he entered the room. And there was no way the authorities could know he was a sponsor of Karatu Aha. Wait a minute, he was the authority itself. Even the Emir almost bowed his head a bit the other day. The thought brought a wry smile to his face.

“Commander! Commander, the girl is ready”

Hassan wondered how long his reverie had been. This escapade would have to wait another day.

“You know what? I’ve lost my appetite! We’ll continue this tomorrow. And this had better not repeat itself. And make sure to tell the others, she is not to be touched. They can take their pick from the others”

“Allah ya ja zamanin ka!”

—————–

As she waited for him after the last guests departed – the big wedding was an unnecessary expense if you asked her, she prayed very hard that Babangida would be gentle tonight. She had no illusions. He was feared for a reason. That Friday, after the Jumat service, Baba had asked her to serve lunch. She thought that unusual since Mama always served his food. And there he was, Babangida, meek as sheep. He even pretended to be shy. She wasn’t fooled. And now as his third wife, she wondered about her dreams. Who is to stop him now that she was in his house? Just then, she heard the sound of his jeep. Where did he go even? What type of groom runs off with friends minutes after his wedding? Well, maybe that is a good thing. Baba had told her he promised to wait a while. Her quarters weren’t that bad. She saw a tint of jealousy written over wife no. 2’s face. Asiya was no longer going to be the favourite; at least for a little while. They did their duty though; comforting her as she sobbed at the departure from her father’s house. Even Yaro managed to conjure up a sullen look. Yeah right, like he wasn’t already relishing the opportunity of being the only centre of attention now that she was gone. Hassan had done well for himself. Each wife had her own quarters; a living room, kitchen and bedroom. That should reduce the likelihood of petty quarrels, Zainab thought. She was still pondering where she’d put all the wedding gifts when the door suddenly creaked open. For some reason, she was jolted. Not that she was not expecting him. But, she had wanted to pre-empt his move; maybe even negotiate about her going to University. Too late.

“Take off your clothes”

“You promised…”

And then there was a piercing pain.

—————–

Postscript

Girl-child education remains a major challenge in Northern Nigeria. You’d be surprised to know that a majority of Northern Nigeria’s intelligentsia prefers to marry off their daughters at the earliest opportunity. This preference has foundations in culture and religion. In these societies, there is a revolving door between these two institutions. Incidentally, Islam does not make even the slightest suggestion that a girl child should not aspire to the highest academic achievement possible. In fact, Islamic history is replete with the scholarly achievement of women. It is thus unbelievable how some Islamic Clerics get away with such absurd assertions as there being a doctrinal basis for relegating women to their husband’s or father’s homes. For instance, Islam prefers that women attend to women on health issues. So tell me, how on earth would that be possible if there are no female doctors? In Islam, women have rights on the property of their husbands, parents, siblings and children. And surely, Islam does not accept marriages that cause harm to women before they are fit for childbirth. Such absurd practices like genital mutilation is also un-Islamic. The truth is, much of these practices shrouded in clerical proclamations and fatwas (and who the heck gave some mortal the right to make such proclamations in the first place; surely The Quran is encompassing enough) really stem from male insecurities. A lot of men are scared of women; their brilliance, elegance and grace. However, it should also be said that most Muslim women wear the hijab with pride. The idea that they do so unwillingly is simply absurd and really has more to do with western exceptionalism than fears of human right violations. That said, there are abuses. Thus, the society we should all aim for is one where everyone has an opportunity at redemption, is free to practise his or her faith without fear and one where there is respect for divergent views.

Hundred days have also gone by since the abduction of over two hundred girls in Northeastern Nigeria. This egregious act was purportedly under the banner of Islam. Muslims must therefore raise their voices in condemning these elements that commit crimes in the name of a faith they hold dear. As human beings, we must also do the needful. We should imagine these girls were our daughters, sisters, and nieces. Surely, our anguish would know no bounds if these girls were our relatives. They don’t have to be before we empathize with their parents and continue the advocacy that has made it possible for even the slightest progress that has been made toward their safe release. While some of them managed to escape or were saved, a significant number of them remain in captivity. It is mind-boggling that this remains the case in this day and age. The amount of time those innocent girls have spent in captivity is enough to change their orientation and personalities. There are reports that their locations are known and the authorities’ caution stem from a desire for the girls’ safety. Bottom-line, we should all do what we can to contribute to their safe release.

 

Note

Piercing Pains is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Photo credit: Rafiq Raji (Sunset in Cape Town)