Kannywood, ‘Talibanic’ Islam in Nigeria: I’m With Rahma Sadau, Are you?

Conservative Muslim clerics are ‘up in arms’ again. This time against artists and the art industry in Nigeria. Their target is a young female artist named Rahma Sadau this time. Muslim clerics banned the Nigerian actress from the Hausa language film industry, Kannywood, because she hugged and cuddled a male artist in a video. Yes, that was her ‘crime’. She expressed romance in a movie, and not in real life! That it. She did nothing else. These clerical throwbacks claimed Sadau’s behavior was ‘immoral’ and that her actions corrupted people’s values. Really?

Muhammadu Kabiru Maikaba, Chairman of Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (Moppan), described Sadau’s romantic display as wayward. Maikaba stated Sadau’s  actions in a video dented “our image” and violated “Islamic and Hausa culture”. Take another look at the name of the association that Maikaba chairs, it reads: Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (Moppan) NOT Islamic Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (IMoppan). That’s a salient distinction.

Unfortunately, we have zero efforts by these moral police officers to explain the immorality of hugging and cuddling in a film, especially to the point of banning such a promising and talented artist. I mean, how does a romantic display in a film dent the image of Hausa culture and Islam? Is the Hausa culture against hugging and cuddling? Is Islam opposed to romance? These are important questions in need of clarification because of worrisome developments in the region.

Sadau’s banning is one onslaught among numerous examples by these Taliban-like Muslim clerics against the art industry in Nigeria. It must be recalled that in July these same Muslim clerics made the government set aside a planned film village project in Kano. The village planned to provide state of the art facilities for the Hausa language film outfit known as Kannywood.

However, these artless clerics, who share the same ideology with Boko Haram jihadists,  opposed the project because they claimed it would promote immoral behaviours such as hugging and cuddling. In fact, one of their political allies even said the cancellation of the film village project was in line with the ‘will of the people’. Imagine that. The will of which people, and how many? I mean, when did the will of Islamic clerics become the will of the people? It’s unfair and enforcement of ideology by a few on the collective. It’s unjust.

Thus, it is evident that the specter of Islamic fundamentalism is haunting the art industry particularly in Northern Nigeria. We need to expel this vicious ghost before it destroys the country.

Lovers of creative art and  supporters of women’s rights must show support and solidarity for Rahma Sadau. Progressive Muslims and Hausa-speaking people, who do not subscribe to this ban, need to let the world know about it. That is, they should speak out  that these Muslim clerics do not represent the voice and position of most Muslims and Hausas across region. There are times when silence is a bad strategy. Even when refusing to keep mum is a mark of moderate or progressive Muslim, it is that time now.

The ban of Rahma Sadau is an assault on the rights and dignity of women and girls. Sadau’s artistic expression signifies defiance of oppressive Islam, patriarchal norms and cultural traditions, and the  subordination of women as represented by these conservative, all-male Muslim clerics. Sadau’s art symbolizes women’s emancipation, empowerment, and liberation. It makes a case for Islamic and cultural reformation. It is a clarion call for social change and progress in Northern Nigeria.

Personally, I stand with Rahma Sadau and vehemently oppose her ban from Kannywood. I oppose the creeping fundamentalist influence on art and culture by Muslim clerics, and their allies. Those who speak for Muslim communities should learn to separate Hausa culture from Islamic culture. They should advocate progressive gender stances for a forward-looking Islam rather than the conservative patriarchal backward-oriented Muslim faith.

There is a need to stop the interference of Muslim clerics in the art industry. Hence, I support the rights of Sadau and female artists to express themselves through art and creative activities. I stand with Rahma Sadau. The reason is simple: she didn’t commit an offence by ‘hugging’ and ‘cuddling’ a male artist in a video. In fact, she performed the role of an artist. So, that should not be a reason to punish or sanction her.

Rather, Rahma Sadau should be celebrated. Why? Because Islamic and Hausa cultures are more diverse and rich in part due to what she did in that video as well as contributions from her other artistic competencies. So, please join me in supporting Rahma Sadau and other progressive artists in Nigeria’s Muslim and Hausa communities.

I stand with her. I am with Rahma Sadau, are you?

Leo is a blogger, human-rights advocate and a Humanist from Nigeria.

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