I saw something that I must mention, and it requires me to give an explanation. Due to the increasing (and very dangerous) trend of religious segregation in the country, Muslim areas are increasingly Muslim, while Christian areas are increasingly Christian. The clearest sign that you are entering a predominantly Muslim area is in the clothing, particularly that of the women.
I knew that and expected it, but what I did not expect was my own personal reaction to the sight. One of my chief hobbies is people-watching, and I have rarely enjoyed it as much as I have enjoyed it in Nigeria. The people are loud, boisterous full of life and laughter. Not so in the Muslim areas.
The women there walk with downcast eyes, furtively shuffling from place to place. Frowns of worry crease faces that have lost the contours of smiling. Even through the stifling veil of the hijab you can see fear in their stance and carriage. Every time that we cross into a Muslim dominant area I notice this shift on a visceral level.
Above all the things that I have learned in this trip is that Nigerians are a free people. They hold their heads high and stand up straight. It grieves me to see these women so broken.
All that was just background. Now let me tell you what sight compelled me to post this. As we were passing through a muslim section of town I my attention was drawn to 7 Muslim schoolgirls, in matching hijabs of pale Nigerian green preparing to cross the street.
One girl in particular caught my eye. She couldn’t have been more than 9 or 10 years old, but she was leading the group. She grasped her sisters hands, holding back one girl who tried to step out into the street early and shouting encouragement to her sisters as she prepared them to cross the street.
All of this happened in perhaps 4 or 5 seconds as we made a turn and then the flow of traffic took us along. As I looked at her face, at the life flashing in it, I suddenly realized that this girl was just like the Christian schoolgirls, that we had visited earlier in the day. She had the same life, the same passion, the same core of freedom. Immediately following the first recognition came the second, that all those women that I saw so downcast and fearful, they weren’t born that way. No, they were made to be that way. They had been broken.
I wondered what will happen to that girl’s spirit, to the life in her eyes and the smile on her face, when she grows up in a Muslim world, surrounded by a culture that denies her the right to her own self. What will happen to the laughter on her lips in ten years or so when she marries a Muslim husband and is broken to his will?
I mentioned this line of thought to my traveling companion, and he looked at me with a curious combination of sympathy for my ignorance and distaste for the truth that I was not seeing. In ten years? he said. Three or four, max. She will be a child bride bearing child after child, growing old before her time.
What response to that can there be but prayer?
Oh Lord, I pray for that Muslim schoolgirl. I pray that by your mercy and grace that you would preserve the joy in heart. Lord give her enough time to learn and grow up.
Lord I have no patience for feminists in the States, their irrational sense of entitlement garners no sympathy from me. But oh God my heart breaks for those girls who really are forced into lives they would never choose for themselves. Whose value is measured in the sons they bear and the amount of work they can do in a day. Like beasts of burden their minds are left to rot in darkness and their hearts grow cold.
Oh God I praise you for the transformation, for the converts that have come and are coming among the women of the Muslim world. Lord your truth is right, your word makes us to protect the weak, not break them to our will. Oh Lord we know that true submission to God means that in humility we cannot force someone to give God their heart.
Lord I pray that you would protect us in the days ahead as we travel to even more exciting places.