Thursday 9 February 2006

The people are high on opium - IV

Usher in the lady engineers
And so continues my journey down the annals of the memory of Muslim encounters beyond home.
We usually do encounter ladies taking up engineering courses especially, mechanical and civil engineering which at times is considered physical and quite manly for the fairer sex.
In Nigeria where male chauvinism can be overbearing ladies might not just be the butt of nuisance and sexist jokes, but some men would scheme to cause serious embarrassment to the ladies just to make them both uncomfortable and unwanted.
As it happens, the ladies who take up engineering are usually made of sterner stuff than puny men can throw at them.
They not only excel in academic activity, but also beat the men in craft too.
Whilst I was down in the South for the entrance examinations to secondary school, the aunt who gave me lessons was a budding Electrical engineer.
Overalls without a manicure
In polytechnic, we had a lady who rolled up her sleeves in the mechanical engineering class as she would so soon be under a car, as she would have her overalls caked with precipitation of motor oils; hands that would have a manicurist hire industrial heavy duty tools, she was gutsy.
Then in my class, as I was studying Electrical engineering, there was a lady whose demeanour was such that no one called her by name.
Rather, she had the appellation Haja – inferring she had performed the Islamic pillar of visiting Mecca. What was striking beyond her manner was her mode of dress.
She was covered all over and even wore gloves, and had a scarf whose train was just probably a few inches short of Princess Diana’s wedding train.
Protocols for a handshake
That in particular had us musing to each other, quietly; the danger of the scarf getting caught in the moving parts of the lathe our curriculum including crafting bric-a-brac out of sheet steel like bottle openers.
She never shook hands with men, but I once had the honour of having my hand touched in greeting, a rarity that exuded mutual respect.
Both ladies were lovely Muslim girls, one a tomboy and the other as pious as Mother Theresa. The former mildly secular the latter rather devout and sometimes given to serious religious debate, but both utterly reasonable.
The might of the lecturer
Lecturers in higher educational institutions in Nigeria then could be quite interesting and megalomaniacal without sanction. They could as easily mark you down subjectively as they could score you well for devoting your every waking hour to excelling in their course.
To say they were prone to jealousy if they felt you were not committed to failing all else to barely passing their vocation would be an understatement.
Beyond our tuition fees, lecturers even produced cheap and poorly produced tutorials that they charged for and sometimes set their tests verbatim out of the tutorial.
Woe art thou – if your hard-earned and meagre resources did not augment the salaries of lecturers as they prey like vampire bats on their wards.
Qurani-Biblical Mentors
However, it was lecturers engaged in religious activity that exercised the worst type of abuse of power. Whilst we are used to Christian proselytising, the Islamic version was definitely a new development.
It was not more the Jihad, but a battle of the minds, the war for the will and the fear of failure; all colluding to convert you to other faiths.
Many at school sometimes suffered temporary apostasy as one who held the key of your success and failure called on your service with impunity and left you helpless that resistance meant instant failure; the reality of understanding futility in the face of lawlessness.
One such lecturer lead a Muslim group that met on Saturday evenings sharing the word of the holy book and debating with each other about the parallels with Christianity and the superiority of observed service to quiet faith.
Spiritual Islam – eyewitness account
The whole class was invited to a feast that celebrates the revelation of the Qu’ran; we all graced the occasion as we sat outside in rows listening to the preacher reveal the gems of paradise found in joining the group.
Suddenly, a young girl seemingly had seizures, convulsed and began to stutter as someone took the role of interpreting the “revelations” from god.
By the time we knew what was going on, a good few ‘virgins’ became convulsed in this mass hysteria as we all watched with incredulity.
Never had we seen people of an Islamic persuasion display the manifestation of some form of spiritual possession and activity reminiscent of the white garment traditional Nigerian churches.
Have no hand
We left soon enough as all the leaders of the meeting had to withdraw to receive and decode the message from afar – none said anything about the event – but when we next mentioned it amongst friends – we were in stitches for hours on end.
They would definitely have had our hands cut off from the wrist if we deigned to caricature the lecturer talk less of you know who.

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