Let me start by saying that right from the get-go; I always wanted to wear hijab and present the picture of a good Muslim girl.
I didn’t do it because I wanted to impress anyone or deceive anyone. I had the convictions, like you Christians say, that I should be so attired and I have never for once regretted it.
My father was an imam and this isn’t even the reason why I wear hijabs, like I said before, I was convinced I should be so dressed daily, just as I was convinced I should be faithful to my Islamic duties.
My sister for instance doestn’t wear hijabs…you see? That doesn’t make her any less a devout Muslim woman. So that’s it.
Now, I studied Accountancy at Unilag. I got into school young, at 17 plus and after I finished, I began to attend classes for my professional exams, this was where I got involved with a fellow Muslim brother, Hakeem; he was one of our young part- time teachers. He worked in a firm but taught on the side, in the evenings.
Now Hakeem was not exactly the model of devotion that my parents had in mind but he was a Muslim none-the-less and as much as I wanted to marry a Muslim, I didn’t necessarily want to settle for a strict Muslim brother which was why when I brought home the brother I began to see, my parents objected…he wasn’t devout enough!
I loved him and I knew he was right for me. He was always pushing me to go further, to dream bigger and not be limited by my gender.
But my parents said he would soon drag me away from the strict Muslim ways I was raised in, they said he would soon stop me from wearing my hijab…they said many things and I think it was in their “saying” that they told my father’s young friend, who was the Imam of the mosque in our estate and that was when my trouble began.
I stopped seeing this Hakeem instead, I began to go meet the Imam for “counselling.”
Let me backtrack a bit, after I finished NYSC, my father spoke to the Imam to use his connection with his congregation to help me secure a job…he did, I got a job in the civil service. Being an imam you have lots of people coming to you, giving you stuff…money, things…so you can pray for them and help them to succeed.
You see, by not continuing with this Hakeem, I was not just being an obedient child, I was in a way being made to believe the Imam was all I would ever need if I wanted a life of comfort.
I also didn’t want my parents to go through any pain, especially as my two elder sisters had been married and divorced. You know that sort of thing would make you listen to your parents?
So this Imam would call me to stay behind and talk to me, give me things to recite, tell you to take certain things…Qur’anic things he had written on a slate and washed out into a liquid…see, I was raised on stuff like this, so it’s nothing new to me. Just like you Christians take holy water, anointing oil…holy handkerchief…yes, that’s what we also do.
Anyway I was doing this for some time and you know, unbeknownst to me, I began to fall in love with the Imam!
True to God!
I began to agree that, yes, maybe I should marry him…I should be his third wife…I should settle down with someone who would help me get better in my faith…I wouldn’t have to work too much because being the wife of an Imam was the best thing for me. In fact, when I told my parents I wanted to marry the imam, they didn’t even object!
It was my elder sister, Afusat, who was totally against it. This my sister had always been a rebel and because she was divorced she wasn’t even qualified, in my eyes, at that time to be giving advice on who I should marry or not.
Afusat said Imam was using something on me that I was not “seeing” well or thinking straight. She said, “Ayi, look at you, tall beautiful woman, smart and articulate, you want to end your life with an Imam who can’t even string together a sentence in English?”
I said, “Satu,” that’s what I call her, “you who married the one who can speak English, where is he today?”
She told me Imam was using me to shine. I told her I wanted to be used to shine. She left me after that retort.
…I married the Imam o!
I married a man who was more than 14 years older than me.
I married a man who had two other wives who never showed their faces to the world and I soon joined in total burhka wearing, though I must tell you, I didn’t even mind…until my husband said I had to stop working. I overheard one of my co-wives saying our husband was afraid some man would lift my veil and take me away from him!
This made me sad because I loved my job and I was very good at it… anyway, I had to give the office three months’ notice otherwise I would forfeit my salaries for the next few months. I needed it to start a small trade instead of just sitting at home and rearing children. By then, I already had two for imam.
On my last day at work, my supervisor asked me to go and see her superior…in another building away from our own…you know the secretariat is huge…I was coming down the staircase after my meeting the person I was asked to go see when I saw Hakeem!
As soon as I saw him, I knew I had made a mistake marrying Imam; I saw my past like in a slideshow, like I was a zombie being told what to do…
Hakeem didn’t know I was the one who called him.
He turned, “Is this really you, Ayi?”
We chatted and that’s how we reconnected again. I told him I had been working in the premises for about three years but that day was my last because my husband wanted me home.
He told me he would never have stopped me from working and would have ensured I completed all my professional exams while still remaining devout to my faith. We exchanged phone numbers and began to chat again.
That was more than 5 years ago.
Today I am married to Hakeem, we have a son.
I have gone back to finish my professional exams. The only sad thing is I wasn’t able to take my children along. Imam fought me with everything he could when he found out I ran away from his house. He told my parents he would make life hard for me and them…and he did.
I am sorry my parents feel they have failed as parents, especially with three daughters divorced from their husbands.
I am happily married to Hakeem now and I couldn’t have asked for a more devoted husband and friend. My children will grow to know their half siblings…that is my only wish. That they would understand I didn’t abandon them, that they won’t believe the lies their father is feeding them…I pray.
(Series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)