On the panel left to right: Fatima A Umar, Carmen McCain, Hadiza El-Rufa’i and Balaraba Ramat

Stories behind the Veil — Kabafest

Kaduna Book and Arts Festival is a wonderful retreat that gathered writers from within and without Nigeria to discuss issues from the perspective of literature and the role this can play in human society.

Set against the backdrop of Boko Haram insurgency, all the outsider can see is harrowing, raging inferno. But the calm, dignified ambience at Gusau Institute belied that. One couldn’t believe this was the place that was cluttered with the media cacophony of Boko Haram crisis.

The Ghanaian Kinna Likimani was so excited meeting us from Ahmadu Bello University. For her, Zaria was a fond memory, a memory that bathed her in joyful remembrance. As a child she was once in Zaria, she said, when her mother was a staffer with the university.

The Sudanese author Leila Aboulela braved travel warning and made her first experience to Nigeria. Kaduna was a home to her; the presence of small Islamic cultures, of kettle in the bathroom and hearing of azan and sight of minaret. Her spirit was so uplifted that it made her remember with dark nostalgia her days in UK where she had so much missed those things.

Kabafest is a long overdue that many had been waiting with bated breath on top of annoyance and worry over lack of program with character and pattern such as this. It is a platform that showcased wealth of artistic talents and richness, opened up spaces for discussions, promoted cultures and literatures especially that of the northern part of Nigeria that hadn’t have English language as a predominant language of communication.

There has for long been a barrier in communicating artistic wealth of the northern region to the outside world despite the old-age existence of indigenous art-forms and literary culture in Hausaland that predated the European colonization of the Black continent. It is important to note that when we talk of literacy and restrict it to the ability to read and write in English language alone, the scope and perspective is narrowed to a smoke-screen and dangerous narrative.

In Nigeria there are two literatures, or the modern Nigerian literature written in English and the old-aged northern Nigerian literature in Hausa and Ajami, which retains its distinct form till date.

Panel discussions were held with authors writing in English, and authors in Hausa language.One interesting discussion that was brought to the fore was the issue of women in northern Nigeria. The controversial novel Season of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim continues to generate heated debates for its portrayal of a “strange” relationship.

Issues are very complicated, and often problematic. Women everywhere in Nigeria face unique challenges and difficulties. However, human failures in the north are seen and defined as hypocrisy. Meanwhile similar cases are conferred the status of human nature and simply dismissed as human foibles and weaknesses. Thus, the question was asked why shouldn’t the north tune down, or even get rid of religion, which places so much demandsespecially on women?

Debates raged on the question of veil. Must a woman use long dark veil? Is the veil Islamic culture? Thesethreads had received seemingly passionate responses and reactions, though by no means exhaustive discussion.

Individual is an amalgam of pieces and forces that birthed and shaped identity. It is troubling to dissociate humans from these bits, because it will look like seeking to erase identity off people’s lives — the social, historical and the cultural footprints.

Societies are spaces and social entities, and like other social spaces and institutions, they have their codes and ethics, written and unwritten that governthem. Religion and faith are essential characteristics that define community. It is difficult to imagine human beings without identity; dress style, mode of relations and social norms.

Appearance shouldn’t be an issue if we believe in the ability of the individual, because as Fatima A Umar argued, you are dealing with the person and their intellect, not dress or her faithwhich will amount to belief in the humanity of the person.

On the question of religion and women rights, author Aboulela shared the feeling most Muslims have. In Sudan she feels she’s a feminist, in the UK she found total equality too extreme and ended rediscovering her faith and becoming a devout Muslim.

Muslim women writing for the world face enormous challenges. Professor ZaynabAlkali recalledher humiliating experience at Heathrow Airport immigration office, travelling to Amsterdam for book reading. Fatima Umar, the curator of jaruma magazine the lifestyle ezine, faced tremendous racist and discriminatory attitudes at Lagos Law School that she had to transfer to Abuja for her program.

Discussions there at kabafest are rich;spaces like these are extremely important in understanding each other, communicating our differences so as to avoid reckless eyeballing. I have a worry over the future of the festival if the current Kaduna State governor left office. My hope is the Yasmin El-Rufa’i Foundation and private individuals will find ways and work together for the continuance of the program. But I hope that the program will become a state affair.

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