Marriage should be treated as an institution – NGO Founder
In this interview, Hajiya Maryam Hassan Baba, Founder of the Northern Therapist Organization in Nigeria, spoke about the role of the non-governmental organization in accompanying people on how to build healthy marital relationships, the negative impact of divorce on society, etc.
What is your conference about?
The Northern Therapist Organization in Nigeria is a marriage institution that coaches and guides young people to build healthy marital relationships. It also helps existing couples to build better relationships. We do this through our services, which are premarital counseling and the annual marriage conference, where we have a large number of people who come together, with guest speakers who are Islamic scholars, marriage professionals and other life entities, to talk about contemporary marriage issues and how to deal with them.
The essence of the conference is to normalize discussions about marital relationships and their health, as well as how they reflect our society. If we have healthy marital relations, we will certainly have a healthy society.
We have a few people who come together to pay for our services, where we will do individual therapy on premarital counseling, but the marriage conference is a free event. Many people can come to learn about healthier ways to navigate their married life and bring it back to society.
What we want to achieve, above all, is to remind people of the importance of marriage for societal change. Also, that marriage is an institution that should be treated as such. This is because getting married is not only enough, it is very important to have a healthy relationship.
So, at the conference, there is a wake-up call for all who attend, on the importance of marital relationships and how they can achieve it. That’s why we have guest speakers like Islamic scholars who would remind us all of the importance of this as per our religion and the reward you get when you are fair to your spouse, supporting and comforting them , and how it leads to having well-grounded children who will contribute to society by not being a nuisance.
What were the successes of the first conference that motivated you to return this year?
In the first event, we had 400 attendees and guest speakers like Hajiya Maryam Lemu, Dr. Abdallah Gadon Kaya. And so far, we’re getting positive feedback on the conference from people who have helped them figure out better ways to navigate their married life.
Since then people have been calling us for another free marriage counseling so they can build a better life. The conference is aimed at single, married and about to be married couples.
Divorce cases in northern Nigeria have been on the rise for a very long time, to the point that some young people are afraid to marry. Why do you think divorce cases continue to increase each year?
The reason is that, first, we have unrealistic expectations from the bride and groom. Everyone wants different things in marriage, but at first you’ll find that the couple doesn’t want to sit down together to check each other out and see if they’re on the same page, so that’s what I expect from you is also what you are expect from me. At the end of the day, they get married and realize that what they want from this marriage is not what they got. And because of that, they are not ready to put much effort into marriage.
Secondly, there is the issue of financial hardship because as you get married you have more responsibilities. So while trying to fulfill this responsibility, especially in the northern part of Nigeria as Muslims, where more female responsibilities fall on the husband’s shoulder, he will be so overwhelmed trying to provide for the needs of the family, as the woman might simply feel neglected or ignored.
And because women can be very emotional, they’ll start to feel like they’re not being given the attention they want. She’ll start to think that’s what marriage is all about. All of these play a vital role in the rise of divorce in society.
An issue that has been gaining attention lately is patriarchy, which this part of the world is known for, as well as the growing issue of feminism, do you see a clash between these two polarizing ideas, which are helping to destabilize marriages in the region?
Yes. It is a difficult time for people now because the balance between Westernization and being Muslim has become a challenge in the marital institution, as has the gap between male education and of the woman.
The point is that as mothers, the focus has always been on the girl – taking her to Islamiyya school, even the scholarships favor the girl. You would see that even in terms of discipline, the parents pay more attention to trying to ensure that the girl is well grounded so that she can be marriageable.
So at the end of the day, you’re preparing a grounded wife, but the husband, on the other hand, isn’t as well rounded because he’s been ignored in the discipline aspect. Now, if these two people get married, they will clash because one is better grounded while the other is not. The problem is that the person who is more grounded is not the one with the mantle of leadership, so it is difficult for them to be led by someone who is less grounded. That’s to say a huge challenge for the marriage institute.
Second, for women, there is a blurry line between what is right and what is beyond limits. So, for some of them who are well-educated, education makes them feel like they can’t submit to anyone, which is contrary to what it is supposed to teach them.
We know that when they get married, there will definitely be a conflict. In this case, I would say that Westernization has brought a challenge.
Social media has also brought huge challenges because until now you could only find out about people’s married life when you were very close to them, but now all you have to do is d Open your Instagram or Facebook and you’ll just hear great stuff. And that thing that you consume affects how you think and how the institution of marriage should be. You will start demanding and comparing things that are not within your partner’s reach. You will start to have unrealistic expectations. And that will bring us back to divorce triggers.
As you said, the focus now has been on educating girls, so much so that we have more enlightened women than men; does it make it harder for women to submit? What is the output?
The way forward is for parents and religious leaders to have a balance and not focus too much on training girls alone while ignoring boys. There was a time when boys were better educated than girls and there were problems, but now it’s the other way around.
Religious institutions should do a lot of enlightenment and sensitization on the importance of educating men about religion. It is because marriage is something that comes from religion. The rules of marriage and how to manage it are in religion. If a man is the head of the marriage, he is supposed to have more knowledge if not equal knowledge. We aim for fairness, not equality. There should be a balance.
But some say that God didn’t create us to be balanced or equal, which is the basis of feminism, where some demand fairness while others advocate for equality, what do you think?
I would like to say that when it comes to achieving a goal and solving a problem, it doesn’t matter who plays the most roles, all that matters is that the goal is achieved. In the realization of a better society, which ideal marriages obviously produce, everyone should have access to it. That’s what we should be looking at. We should also look at how we used to do things and see if they worked for us.
For the sake of clarity, we are not against feminism, so it is wrong to assume that. We believe in a balanced society. We recognize that men are leaders and that women submit to marriages, and there is always power in submission. Thus, we do not give any special treatment to anyone. All we know is that in your role as a woman, you have the ability to do what you have to do, and in your role as a man, you have the ability to do what you have to do.
What is the theme of the conference?
This year’s theme is “Maintaining a healthy relationship”, which is a continuation of last year’s theme: Building a healthy relationship.
What is your advice to the general public on the importance of having a healthy marital institution?
We should know that marriage is not something you just do, it has rules and regulations. You have to know that you are dealing with another human being, so you have to be sensitive, have empathy, learn to communicate and treat marriage as the institution it is, and be fair in order to get the blessings of Allah.