Ayesha Imam and the women she worked with for years in the Nigerian organization BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights possess those very traits. The group, founded in 1996, fights to protect women's rights in the maze of the Nigerian legal system, with its overlapping religious, secular and customary laws and courts.But when opposition to Islam was voiced:
Imam tells me they use tools from whichever system can "recuperate rights," believing it is often possible to arrive at similar conclusions by working through Muslim discourses or international human rights. "My issue," she underscores, "is not where you come from, but where you arrive at."
With her colleagues, she tried to "deconstruct what is Sharia (Muslim laws). How does it get to be Sharia? Is it divine or is it merely religious?" In the '80s and early '90s, some of the Sharia courts in Nigeria had come up with "what we may call progressive" interpretations, "as opposed to following somebody's idea of how it should have worked in 13th-century Arabia." Imam's efforts to support women living under these Muslim laws brought her, inevitably, to work on fundamentalism.
"Fundamentalism hit us in Nigeria so it was absolutely necessary, because otherwise fundamentalism was going to close us all down, close all the dreams down, close all the hope down," she says.
Any such opponents, however, became targets of "vigilante responses." Death threats, beatings, threats of being burned. In one state where the governor delayed enacting a Sharia Act and set up a committee to study the matter, there were even threats to his family. Imam recalls attending a meeting in Abuja with the governor who started Sharianization. Young men throughout the hall were telling women where they could and could not sit. "Every time a woman got up to speak, they were yelling and drowning her out. It didn't matter if you were wearing a hijab or not." This was new, Imam underlines. When she was a younger feminist, "You didn't get shouted down. You were not in fear of being physically attacked, or being burned or harassed. You'd go to public meetings and people would get up and argue with you and they might laugh."As I'm aware, Nigeria today is one of the most dangerous places you can be in Africa, and they need all the help they can get to battle against the rise of Islamofascism in the country.