by Aaisha Zafar Islam
What is this campaign that has snagged headlines, got social media in a frenzy and captured world leaders’ attention in the past few weeks? Who are Boko Haram, and why are they kidnapping young Nigerian school girls?
Boko Haram stands for ‘Western Education is sin’ in Hausa, one of the largest spoken languages in North Eastern Africa. The militant outfit has strongholds in Nigeria, spilling over into neighboring Cameroon and Niger. While they have been spreading the ‘Taliban’ brand of terrorism, with frequent bombings, killings, kidnappings and mayhem, they catapulted to fame last month when they brazenly kidnapped hundreds of school girls in Nigeria.
Timeline of events
In February this year, they had massacred nearly 60 male students at a local school. This had led to most schools in the region being shut down for security reasons.
On April 14, as Chibok Secondary School opened for examinations, armed militants, disguised as Nigerian security forces came to the school and herded girl students into trucks and motorcycles, disappearing into the night.
A couple of days later, the Nigerian military had claimed that the girls had been freed, a claim that was retracted the next day.
By this time, nearly 300 girls were reported to be held by Boko Haram, around 50 had managed to escape.
By the end of April #BringBackOurGirls was trending on social media, with more than a million and half uses on twitter alone.
As anguished parents and relatives, as well as the civil society in Nigeria took to the streets to protest the government and military’s inefficiency at dealing with the crisis, Boko Haram’s leader released a video declaring the captive girls as ‘war booty’ that would be ‘sold into slavery’ or ‘married off to its soldiers’.
By early May the US had jumped into the fray, with the Obama’s throwing their weight behind #BringBackOurGirls campaign. The US State Department also vowed to help in ‘any way we can’ to aid in freeing the school girls.
Pakistani student activist Malala Yousufzai also joined the campaign, as it gained strength globally, sit-ins and vigils were held around the world for the kidnapped school girls.
Around mid-May, Boko Haram released a new video showing more than a hundred of these girls garbed in full-length hijabs after ‘converting to Islam’, according to the militant organization.
Boko Haram had been demanding that its top leaders and fighters be released from prisons in exchange for safe release of the kidnapped girls.
By this time experts from US and UK had already begun arriving in Nigeria to help with finding the girls, while the Paris Summit tried to rally against Boko Haram. Subsequently Nigeria, as well as other African nations plagued by Boko Haram, including Cameroon, Benin, Chad and Niger, had declared ‘war’ on the organization.
Nigeria was also prepared to use its position as a sitting member of the UN Security Council to bring sanctions against the group and have it declared a terrorist outfit.
These measures seem to have dampened some of the demands of Boko Haram, as recent reports suggest that they may be releasing more than half of the captive girls in coming days.
According to reports by The Telegraph, this deal has come after days of top-secret negotiations between the militants and the Nigerian government; instead of fighters, wives and families and low-level fighters of Boko Haram will be released from prisons in exchange for the girls.
There have been reports of the girls being taken across the borders, there are other reports that suggest that the militants are hiding their hapless captives in a forest. Also there have been news items that suggest that at least two girls have died due to snake bites in the past few days.
As Muslims and as moms…
As mothers, our hearts go out to the families who wait each day for their daughters to arrive safe back home – not knowing where their loved ones are, where they are and how they have been faring in all these long weeks. Their crime it seems, is that they wanted to study, gain more understanding of the world and have a real chance at being better citizens.
As Muslim, we are doubly saddened by the fact that militants who claim to fight for Islam have resorted to such barbaric, inhumane tactics.
Islam is a religion that places utmost importance on seeking knowledge. In fact the first revelation that was sent down to the Prophet (SAWS) was:
“Recite in the name of your Lord who created;
Created man from a clinging substance;
Recite, and your Lord is the most Generous;
Who taught by the pen;
Taught man that which he knew not.”
–The Holy Quran, 96: 1-5
The Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) said:
“The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.”
– Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 74
The Prophet (SAWS) also said:
“Acquire knowledge and impart it to the people.”
– Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 107
Another Hadith of the Prophet (SAWS) says:
“God, His angels and all those in Heavens and on Earth, even ants in their hills and fish in the water, call down blessings on those who instruct others in beneficial knowledge.”
– Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 422
Throughout the Prophet’s (SAWS) lifetime there have been instances where he sought and respected the opinion of women around him. Islam’s early history itself is witness to the many sacrifices and efforts made by women to bolster the religion and establish a strong Islamic state.
As Muslim mothers, we draw our strength from the dignity and respect that has been accorded to us in the Holy Quran and through Sunnah of the Prophet (SAWS) and his numerous Ahadith.
Whoever these people and their acolytes may be, they cannot hijack an entire religion and its people to further their nefarious power games.
The world must surely realize that such tactics are nothing but power games, they have nothing to do with religion, irrespective of what such militant outfits claim. Islam looks down upon harming any living being, it does not condone violence, senseless killings or creating an atmosphere of fear.
We are Muslim Moms of Canada and we say this too, #BringBackOurGirls. For they are our girls and our daughters and they have a right to learn and live with dignity.
About the author:
Aaisha Zafar Islam is the executive editor at MuslimMoms.ca