Nigeria: Islam And Girl-Child Education

Abuja, Nigeria - The national conference on Islam and the Education of Girl Child which was organised by the Abuja-based Centre for Regional Integration and Development (CRID) was the topic of discourse in this column last week. It held at Arewa House Kaduna from October 23-24 2010 and was well attended by stakeholders from all walks of life.

The keynote address presented by the Sultan of Sokoto His Eminence Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar who was the Chairman of the occasion was discussed in detail last week. An aspect of his speech reminded us of the enlightenment Islam brought to the world. The Sultan said 'we must also appreciate the great transformation which Islam brought to the life of the Girl-Child and to women in general. Girls were not only neglected during the Jahiliyyah period but were regarded as a source of shame to their families. Many of these girls were buried alive by their own parents. Islam put a stop to this ignoble practice and accorded equal treatment to both male and female. It was also the Religion of Islam which conferred on the girl the right to Education and consequently the ability to comprehend her rights and obligations and to play an effective role in the affairs of her society. The historical record of women Islamic scholars and saints as well as women leaders is there for us to learn and behold.'

After the opening ceremony, several papers were presented by resource persons. The summary of statistics produced by CRID shows that the Northern States comprising the North-East, North-West and North Central zones which had a late start in the arena of formal education lag behind the rest of the country. The North East has the lowest female adult literacy rate of 43.3% followed by the North West with 48.3% while the North Central has 50.7%.For youth female literacy the Northwest has the lowest figure of 48.3%, followed by North East with 54.9% and the North-Central with 76.6%. The outcome of an exploratory qualitative survey on Attitudes towards Girl Child Education conducted in Kano and Katsina Emirates identified some of the factors that militate against girl child education. Among them were the cost of schooling, high poverty rates in northern states, prevalence of talla hawking, preference of marriage at the expense of education, corruption in the educational system and absence of role models in the rural areas.

In a paper titled 'Family and Society - Towards Discharging the Obligation of Marriage and the Imperative of Female Education" Professor Muhammad Tabiu of the Faculty of Law, Bayero University, Kano said that girl children in are either not enrolled in school or withdrawn for the purpose of marriage. The Professor said education is compulsory for the Muslim woman and it is a collective obligation of the Muslim community to educate them. He stressed that both Islamic and modern education are essential to personal, communal and national development. The Role of Traditional Rulers in Promoting Girl Child Education was the title of a paper presented by Dr Lateefah Durosinmi the Chairperson of the Education Committee of the Federation of Muslim Women's Associations in Nigeria FOMWAN. She said 'statistics show that 60-62% of children who are out of school are girls and it is unfortunate that Muslim girls constitute the majority of these.' To address this deficiency and promote girl child education FOMWAN has established over 150 schools nationwide. It also influences programmes in over 1,000 Islamiyyah schools that are structured for both religious and formal education.

Most of them also have skills acquisition centre primarily aimed at out-of -school girls and young mothers who dropped out of school because of early marriages. On the role of traditional leaders she urged them to ensure that parents and guardians are educated on the importance of girl child education and also encourage female participation in community meetings to motivate creation of role models for girls in rural communities. Empowerment of women was identified as a means of promoting education and Dr Durosinmi urged traditional leaders to ensure that women benefit from government's poverty alleviation programmes.

A traditional ruler, Alhaji Gaji Grema, the Waziri of Gujba in his presentation highlighted some of the contributions of traditional rulers in Borno and Yobe states. He said they enlighten and mobilise their subjects on a continuous basis on the importance of education using occasions such as Eid celebrations to address all. Such messages are often amplified by the District and Village Heads and other functionaries in the traditional hierarchy. He also said traditional rulers play a role in the establishment of educational institutions in their domain and encourage enrolment and retention of pupils in these schools and fundraise for educational development of their communities.

Presenting a paper on The Importance of Education in Islam: Perspectives from the Quran and Sunnah , Professor Muhammad M Jagaba of the Faculty of Education Usman Danfodio University Sokoto underscored the importance of education in Islam . He cited several verses of the Quran and some hadith to buttress his point. He outlined the virtues of education in Islam and expectations the society attaches to the comprehensive education. Such education, according to Professor Jagaba "must enable Muslims to explore the earth and use all that Allah SWT has created there in. Muslims have been enjoined and encouraged to acquire knowledge of all kind as long as the individuals and society will benefit from such knowledge."

The participants were later divided into three working groups to deliberate on the following areas: Education Policies and how to ensure that these policies respond to the needs of the society.

Another group focused on communicating the importance of girl child education to Muslim parents while the third group discussed how to work in partnership with opinion and religious leaders. The Groups came up with several recommendations. Paper presenters made useful recommendations for enhancing girl child education in Muslim communities. The conference provided an opportunity for all the stakeholders in education to renew their commitment to girl child education.