Ha­jiya Bilk­isu:

Daily Trust - - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - By Amina Sal­ihu opin­ion@dai­lytrust.com Amina Sal­ihu, De­vel­op­ment Con­sul­tant, Oys­ter Con­sult­ing, Abuja

Thurs­day 24th Septem­ber, the equiv­a­lent to the 10th day of Dhu al-Hi­jja in the Mus­lim lu­nar cal­en­dar, which started as a most promis­ing day was the day we lost Ha­jiya Bilk­isu a kind, noble mother and lover of hu­man­ity and peace, to a coura­geous death in Saudi Ara­bia dur­ing the 1436 Hajj rites.

As some of us sis­ters gath­ered dur­ing the con­do­lence visit at her Ya­haya Road res­i­dence in Kaduna, we ex­pressed our pain, awe and shock even as we ad­mired the way she had died serv­ing Al­lah and we thought about our own end. We cried, we prayed for her soul and we rem­i­nisced about who she was. Aunty Oby (Ezek­we­sili) de­scribed her as ‘ac­com­plished’. Ha­jiya Sau­datu Mahdi called her ‘self­less’, I heard another sis­ter call her ‘dif­fer­ent’. I watched Mairo Man­dara her good friend re­main sto­ically silent through it all- that com­mu­ni­cated the weight of the loss more than even words could. Char­maine Pereira was calm but I won­dered what raged on the in­side. Titi Fakoya said to me later she was ‘pi­ous and de­voted’.

All these and more de­scribe Ha­jiya Bilk­isu ac­cu­rately. A net­worker per ex­cel­lence and con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist, Ha­jiya could join in any dis­course and ex­press her thoughts on any sub­ject. A pro­fes­sional and pro­lific writer, she was sought af­ter by de­vel­op­ment part­ner pro­grammes and gov­ern­ments re­spect­ful of her knowl­edge of the Nige­rian so­cio - po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment and her pedi­gree as a for­ward think­ing Mus­lim learned woman. She kept good old val­ues and was fo­cused on what was most es­sen­tial.

As some­one who has had the hon­our of work­ing with her on many projects, laughed with her and been taught many things about life by her, for me, Ha­jiya Bilk­isu’s great­est as­set is tak­ing life’s most pro­found lessons and teach­ing them in ways that are sim­ple and which stay with you for life. She did that through her writ­ings, teach­ings, fa­cil­i­ta­tion or just sit­ting and talk­ing with you.

The most en­dur­ing les­son which she taught me was; guard your word. Some years back, I vis­ited the house and we got talk­ing about some com­mit­ments made and the need to al­ways re­mem­ber and fol­low through. She paused and reached out for a slim book. She said this con­tains all my amanah (pledges and debts held in trust) should any­thing hap­pen to me the chil­dren know where to look. I was awed and she said to me but you know the long­est verse in the Qur’an is about doc­u­ment­ing your con­trac­tual agree­ments. I didn’t know then, but re­ally Su­rah Baqarah 2: 282 in­deed is. I have since kept what I call my own black book de­tail­ing my debts and fi­nan­cial obli­ga­tions which is up­dated ev­ery month by the chil­dren them­selves, as my wit­nesses.

Ha­jiya Bilk­isu taught me sim­plic­ity and hon­esty through the hi­jab les­son: Once she came into one of the meet­ing rooms where I was fa­cil­i­tat­ing a di­a­logue. She asked me where we said our salat and I showed her. Then I of­fered to give her my full length hi­jab a piece of sewn cloth with a neck open­ing so you wear it over your head and it cov­ers your arms to your hand and flows to be­low the an­kles cov­er­ing the toes. She said, uhn-uhn Amina it makes me hot. She then took her head­scarf and showed me it was two yards of ma­te­rial folded into a head tie! She un­folded the wrap­per and used it as her veil over her long gown- it served the same pur­pose and I re­mem­bered this was how our moth­ers used to pray. She smiled in her en­dear­ing way and said, of course. I fell in love then with her retro sense. No pre­ten­tions. Ha­jiya prac­ticed belief in a way that made wor­ship easy and made you want to be a bet­ter you. Here was some­one who knew her re­li­gion in and out but she kept it sim­ple, hon­est and real. I saw her daugh­ter Nana use the two wrap­per body cover dur­ing the con­do­lence and I re­mem­bered our con­ver­sa­tion with her mum.

Ap­pre­cia­tive en­quiry: She showed that one could be ac­com­plished yes, but what truly counts is what you give to oth­ers. This be­gan with re­spect. In the late 1990s, Ha­jiya Bilk­isu was part of a team that es­tab­lished Abantu for De­vel­op­ment in Nige­ria; a Pan African in­ter­na­tional NGO for girls and women. Ev­ery­one who knew her knows about her pas­sion for the rights of girls and women. She com­mit­ted time, energy and re­sources to the take off of Abantu. By far what awed me and has stayed with me since on that pro­ject is her les­son on ap­pre­cia­tive en­quiry. Sim­ply put, you can­not as­sume the com­mu­nity does not know the is­sues just be­cause they can­not speak Queen’s English. If we are to change the re­al­ity for the bet­ter for girls and women we must un­der­stand their point of view, up­hold the good and find mu­tual ways of help­ing them un­learn the harm­ful. How do you com­mu­ni­cate an is­sue whose mean­ing in the lo­cal lan­guages you do not know, she asked us then. Ap­pre­cia­tive en­quiry de­manded that we re­spected in­dige­nous knowl­edge. She helped un­ravel our core word then which was ‘gen­der’. We learnt it was called ‘jinsi’ in the Hausa lan­guage.

Ha­jiya Bilk­isu never shook hands with the op­po­site sex. I don’t quite man­age it but I be­came quite con­scious of it when I saw her gen­tly ex­plain to a high rank­ing man, why she could not take his hand. Out of cour­tesy, I could not refuse older males who put out their hands, ex­cept those I thought should know bet­ter. She how­ever had no scru­ples about it. Once I had to as part of pro­to­col brief­ing to DfID ahead of their meet­ing with her on the Gen­der in Nige­ria re­port, in­form them that she does not shake hands with men!

The wa­ter les­son: Funny enough, I have al­ways mea­sured Ha­jiya Bilk­isu’s so­phis­ti­ca­tion by her love of amala. Though a north­erner, her love of that south west sta­ple meal should be the envy ýof any Yoruba per­son. It could be her one solid meal of the day and it was usu­ally lunch. Once af­ter a bowl of amala I of­fered her a drink of wa­ter. She said no, I would only drink wa­ter af­ter two hours and room tem­per­a­ture wa­ter at that. I have since learnt that this was a health­ier way to live. I have not al­ways matched Ha­jiya Bilk­isu’s record of two hours but years af­ter that les­son, I have re­mained very health con­scious.

Re­spect the rules who­ever you may be. Re­cently, she was to fa­cil­i­tate an event - a key role by all stan­dards. She got to the gate hav­ing for­got­ten her in­vi­ta­tion card. The young mem­bers of the plan­ning team, who didn’t know her, re­quested she showed her cardý. She in­deed went back to fetch her in­vi­ta­tion card and came back slightly be­hind sched­ule so I had to fill in for her, for a short while. Some­one else would have thrown their weight around and said ‘don’t you know who I am’ it was the last time I saw her and the last les­son in hu­mil­ity she taught me.

A very cos­mopoli­tan per­son and true citizen of the world, you could tell this by the di­ver­sity of peo­ple who came to con­dole the fam­ily; young, old, Mus­lim, Chris­tian, men and women across dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups and na­tion­al­i­ties. You know, when peo­ple pass and you say they were a rare gem out of po­lite­ness? In her case she ab­so­lutely was/ is an amaz­ingly rare gem. The global civil so­ci­ety com­mu­nity is in mourn­ing. We have lost an Icon.

Ha­jiya Bilk­isu made life seem so sim­ple. With her, ev­ery­thing ap­peared doable. She was quintessen­tially hu­man. She lived in the best of ways and died in the best of ways. Ev­ery Mus­lim wants to die af­firm­ing the one­ness of Al­lah and in the ser­vice of that Almighty. She got both wishes. May Al­lah ac­cept her Sha­hadah and grant her Al­jan­natul Fir­daus. May Al­lah light for her a light in her grave, as she has lit in many lives.

May Al­lah grant the souls of all those who passed in the 1436 Hajj in­ci­dent, for­give­ness and their fam­i­lies suc­cor and pa­tience, Amin.

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