Mannequins and erections | An in-depth view of the Hisbah mannequin ban in Kano

It is a given, that you can’t help but roll your eyes when you read a headline like, ‘Kano Hisbah bans the use of mannequins to display clothes in shops to curb immoral thoughts.’ Also, unless you have immersed yourself in the local culture sans presumptions of what it entails wholly and in part, it is a natural response to think or say with a shrug of dismissal, “Those Northerners and their eccentricities. They will be fine las las.” And they are. I know because I asked them.

Here is what news does.

It presents you the surface of a pressing issue, and sometimes when it really tries, it digs just a little more into the said issue to give you an immediate picture. Yet, pictures by their very nature only capture the moment – one moment when the shutter blinks and holds in place what it saw there and then in the split-second occupied by the click of a camera outside of which life goes on in a million-plus combination of possibilities that could exist. You don’t get to see all the rest of the possibilities that may or may not have eventually played out outside that moment – outside your picture. The same thing happens even in in-depth news reportage. Unless a story is followed to its logical conclusion, and all its multiple strings are tied into one cogent piece. But who has the time for all that when even they have lives to live outside the story? Also, that’s what books are for.

A swirl of frenzied reportage, a think piece or hundred, and heated Twitter conversations that last a day or just over a day, and any story dies a natural death – like all news stories do. And that is where human interaction comes in.

A visit to Kano, an immersion in the city from its outskirts to its heart, a conversation with a Tricycle (Maruwa) full of Hausa Muslim Kano men, and a one on one with one’s heterosexual adult brother – these things reveal a lot more than any news commentary can hope to achieve however much resource goes into its execution.

3 strangers and a Maruwa driver.

Not expecting to see a Tailor shop with a mannequin display following the recent ban, a glimpse of one in a shop while speeding by a street leading to my Aunt’s place sent me into a frenzy that made me break the first rule of safety every mother’s son knows, “Don’t talk to strangers.”

Snapped somewhere in Gwale, Kano.*

I asked the driver, “How come this one shop has mannequins displayed since it is banned?”

His hiss was a give-away that would naturally have led me to discovering just what he told me, “It is only people who allow the Hisbah the license to try nonsense in their area that they force their ban on.”

It is a sentiment I understand because I know the workings of a Shari’ah state. This is how that works:

  1. Get a large majority who agree with your theology and its terms of engagement – even if they don’t believe these things need to be enforced.
  2. Rile up the polity with incendiary messages that get your hardcore fans spitting fire and brimstone against any slackers who think it is okay to allow ‘irresponsible’ people to be doing something that could jeoperdise their chance at heavenly reward.
  3. Swoop in to douse the tension by advising the public that this is in all their interest so chaos doesn’t ensue.

And just like that, you have your Shari’ah state.

Never mind that dissenters will continue to dissent. People who believe differently will manifest their different beliefs exactly how they see fit. You will tire eventually from all that labour of trying to control human behaviour and slack yourself.

The Islamic principle behind the ban, one passenger chipped in, rides on the back of a solid foundation.

“I believe what they are doing is right,” he said barely masking a disdain at the driver’s remark, “The Qur’anic ruling on Zina is to not go even near it, and if these things make people think about Zina then it is a good thing they are banned.”

Zināʾ or zinah is an Islamic legal term referring to unlawful sexual intercourse.

I asked if they make him feel that way, and his response was, “I am married to two wives, this is not about me.” A response that implies that if he wasn’t married it will very likely be about him.

The other passenger agreed with him, and the driver sighed loudly and drove on.

I mentioned how silly it is to be aroused by an inanimate object, even if I understand it is as human as anything. Millions of people are presently masturbating to the random naked pictures of women and men on the internet right now – the keyword is picture which is not the real thing. He and his supporter held firmly on to my latter observation and not the former, which I thought and still think is only natural. We can only rise so much above our nature, after all, and we can’t even do that unless we allow ourselves. These are men who have settled on never even considering allowing themselves that license.

I was done with my query, for that day. Having extracted the opinions of 1 married man and 1 single one – both of whom are in support, and 1 single guy who isn’t.  I figured for balance, it will make sense to ask family and establish whether how you are raised and the people you interact with help in forming how you see the world. I asked my younger brother what he thinks about the ban and whether mannequins in fact arouse men. He should know, being a 21 year old brimming with sexual energy.

“It is a bizarre regulation even if they have their reason, which I think is personal to them and they should be dealing with their problems and not imposing rules that stop no promiscuous person from being one,” he replied. He believes that mannequins do put a sexual thought or two in many a Hausa Muslim man’s mind because some of his friends have mentioned it in casual conversation many times, each time in the heat of a sexually charged joke, so it is easy to pass it off as a joke too.

“It does make some of them think of sex with a woman or a woman’s naked body at least,” he said, “But even God understands thoughts, while they follow behind actions, are not in themselves a sin until they do become action.”

The Islamic clerics that okayed the ban understand this principle too, which makes me wonder if the basis for okaying such absurd ban is the belief in the lesser capacity for discernment of the Kano population they rule over.

The clerics might have, in compassion, thought to help these poor lot who can’t know better to execute their religious obligation of avoiding fornication – Zina. Blessed be their compassionate edict.

Snapped a walking distance from the Emir’s palace in Kano*
Snapped somewhere on Zoo Road, Kano.*

Meanwhile, the same people continue to raise a silenced but nevertheless defiant middle finger to these know-it-all clerics each time they roll out their voluptuous and/or chiseled mannequins and doll them up in the latest local fashion for the admiring gaze – on the clothes – of their customers as well as that of the sexually repressed men and women who are made uncomfortable by the inexplicable sexual pull of a ceramic life-size doll.

* Photo credit – Adamu Aminu Ado.

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