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Plight of Muslim widows in Nigeria

Okikiola  Qasim

Widows in Nigeria most especially the Muslims among them, are facing serious challenges that require urgent attention by the Muslim leaders. The larger parentage of these widows cannot come out to share their challenges but cry and feel rejected from all angles.
My personal experience on this matter led to my decision to write on the subject matter with the aim of setting agenda for our leaders to wake up to the plight of the widows.
I shed tears some months back precisely during Ramadan, when I met some widows during an empowerment program organized by some NGO’s in Abuja, I discussed with them and my experience from what they are going through is a great tragedy if some drastic measures could not taken.
Since then, I have been taking note of some of the plights of the widows some of these issues I can’t disclose but I have been praying seriously for Allah’s intervention.

This matter is a national issue but shoulders much on religious affiliation to take immediate charge of some of the emanating problems before it’s too late.
Sometimes, I cannot understand why the Muslims widows should be allowed to suffer and go through lots of pains when the religion of Islam has the best package for the entire situations of widows, but implementation of these packages are the challenges we all have to challenge ourselves about.
During the immediate Idul Adha celebration, many families did not realised how much Allah as blessed them despite the bite of the economic hardship and the privilege of celebrating the festival with their husbands/wives and other families. Meanwhile, many widows are in pains of the loss of loved ones with no one to come to their rescue.

Since the death of the husbands of many of them, lives of the widows have become unbearable, many loyalists to the husband, family friend, and immediate family members have disappeared for the obvious reasons, while the Muslim community in which the husbands were active members are no longer taking cognisance of the affairs of the widows left behind.
The most disheartening aspect is that most people only remembered the widow only when they wish to distribute used materials or some NGO’s which to empower them. But the Muslims have somehow lost the bond that was demonstrated in the actions of the companions of the messenger of Allah as regards marriage to widows.
I wonder how many Muslims remember that these widows are still in need of a loving husband and someone who will ensure their security and guide them in accordance to the Islamic tenets, this is no longer the case as Muslims rather prefer to be scared of some wrong insinuations of people rather than seek the pleasure of Allah SWT.
Historical studies have shown that widowhood in Islamic periods was a natural phenomenon which carried with it the risk of conjugal bereavement due to the death of one spouse. However, the situation changed immediately the society started subjecting widows to various tortures and mistreatment leading to distrust amongst families and eventually violence amongst the people.
Therefore examining the plight of widows in Nigeria became necessary in order to save the situation and make the plight of the widows known to the leaders.
In the Nigerian society, widowhood is a dreadful experience. After the death of the husband, the widow is bound to experience different kinds of sufferings. These experiences however, differ from one culture to the other.

Marriage in Nigeria is generally conditioned by culture and traditional norms that vary across cultures given Nigeria’s complex ethnic plurality. Nigeria is a country of more than 250 ethnic groups suggesting the existence of complex cultural peculiarities as relates to the institution of marriage.
In the marriage market therefore, exist a variety of cultural practices that underpin the phenomenon of widowhood. Once marriages are contracted customarily between a man and a woman, the families of both spouses are linked, and parents of the husband or the extended uncles and male siblings become initial stake holders in the marriage to the extent that their views count in the marriage and upon widowhood.
In most Nigerian marriages, the man is considered the head of the home. A role which certainly comes with a lot of responsibilities and in the sad event that the man passes on, the wife takes over that role with immediate effect.
However this transition is mostly never smooth especially in countries like Nigeria. These women face lots of challenges ranging from false accusations by in-laws about the nature/cause of the man’s death, to issues regarding claims of money from his bank and place of work, then also fights over property et cetera.
It is clear that widowhood is a bitter experience not only in the Nigerian society but globally, which creates a state of mind and behavioural characteristics that cannot be measured. The prevailing socio-economic conditions with very demanding finances make Nigerian widows to find it difficult to adjust mentally and socially in modern times. This also indicates that the problem of widows in Nigerian society can best be interpreted in relation to the socio-economic structure rather than concentrating on individual treatment of the widows.
A widow needs care and financial assistance, but unfortunately, the support given to them is mostly in terms of moral aspects. The negative attitude of most Nigerian communities towards widows needs re-orientation and cultural integration.
The introduction of social and religious programs are necessary in this regards. Thus, traditional ways of helping the bereaved to adjust economically and socially would serve as a departure from other counselling services operating in Nigerian society which yield marginal impacts on the lives of the bereaved in contemporary times.

Generally, the treatment of widows around the world varies but unequal benefits and treatments generally received by widows compared to those received by widowers is alarming in most part of the world. A man that loses his wife does not have to go through proving his innocence but rather everybody becomes concerned about who will take care of the man since his wife is no longer alive. However the reverse is the case in the instance of a woman when she loses her husband.
Ordinarily, when a woman loses her husband, the society should rally round her and support her and her children but the reverse is what we see in most communities in Nigeria. Most widowhood practices in the Nigeria society are archaic, barbaric and very cruel.
This is probably due to the fact that in some cultures, women are seen as mere chattels or properties of their husbands who do not have any form of right and can even be inherited on the demise of their husband by other male members of the family respectively. Most customs believe that if a woman is a property that she can be inherited upon the death of her husband, then she cannot be seen to inherit her husband as a property cannot inherit a property.

Meanwhile, Islam, as the religion of the universe explicitly forbids the mistreatment of widows, reforming a seventh-century Arabian culture that had greatly valued virgin brides and had a poor track record of caring for widows and their children.
Nigerian widows like their counterpart elsewhere in especially Africa and Asia are a special social category that are hardly acknowledged in social policy but are potently vulnerable to psychological, socioeconomic and health risks as a result of the widowhood practices prevalent in Nigeria.
One of the major effects of widowhood is poverty. Many Nigerian widows are pauperized by widowhood practices. These practices drastically reduce the economic status of widows upon the death of a husband.  It is important to consider poverty in the elaborate and broad sense Islam conceives it.
Poverty is beyond income and includes wellbeing or good life in multidimensional sense that comprises both material and psychological components. Wellbeing therefore encompasses peace of mind, good health and safety, freedom of choice and action and being able to associate in a community.
We must as matter of urgency rise to the task of caring for the widows and beyond that seeking their hands in a lawful marriage would go a long way to assist the community. We must remember that the dead must not disturb the living, we must all do our best to assist the widows.
I rest my case

About Muhammed Adamu