Lamu Muslim clerics are campaigning for a county bylaw prohibiting Muslim women from riding boda bodas.
The leaders represent Muslim organizations, including the Coast Inter-Faith Council of Clerics (CICC) and the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK).
They claimed that the boda boda operators were flouting Islamic laws as well as Lamu’s culture and heritage by allowing female passengers to ride their motorcycles.
The popularity of boda bodas, they claim, has increased promiscuity between married and unmarried women.
Speaking at a community social meeting at Lamu Fort over the weekend, Lamu CICC branch chairman Mohamed Abdulkadir, Lamu County CIPK chairman Abubakar Shekuwe and other Muslim leaders expressed their concerns about the number of Muslim women seen riding motorcycles.
Women who ride motorcycles, they lamented, display parts of their bodies that offend Islamic teachings.
Ustadh Abdulkadir also noted that children were dropping out of school to engage in the boda boda trade, especially on Lamu Island.
He said teenage pregnancies are also on the rise as boda boda operators give school girls money and lifts in exchange for sex.
“Lamu is a historic town with its own religious and cultural aspects. This town is populated mainly by locals who profess the Islamic faith. We are annoyed to see our women and girls riding boda bodas and exposing their body parts,” did he declare.
“This goes against Islamic teachings. There is an urgent need for a city law to be passed to prohibit boda bodas from operating here or Muslim women from riding these motorcycles.”
Cheikh Shekuwe said motorcycles are generally not a suitable form of transportation for women.
In Islam, it is wrong for a man and a woman who are not husband and wife to be close to each other.
Cheikh Shekuwe said that motorcycle transport involves contact between the operator and the passenger.
He cited higher divorce rates on Lamu Island and blamed the Boda Bodas.
He asked why county officials were taking too long to remove the boda bodas from Lamu town.
Lamu Old Town is arguably Kenya’s most unique and beautiful Swahili town, but the growing number of Boda Bodas is rapidly eroding efforts to preserve its cultural richness.
The old town was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 due to its well-preserved culture and centuries-old heritage.
Cheikh Shekuwe expressed his fear that the city would lose its Unesco status if a formula is not introduced to move the boda bodas out of Lamu Island.
“Muslim women who are transported by bicycle are not allowed in Islam because it lets them expose their thighs publicly. How can you, as a woman, allow these sensitive parts to be seen by everyone? belong only to your husband, ”he said.
“You ride motorcycles and leave them visible like that. To make matters worse, you even hold on tight to the pilot. You don’t even make the effort to at least sit on your side with your legs dangling. “
He added: “It is inappropriate and that is why promiscuity is on the rise. We have received complaints from married women running away with boda boda runners. They even end up getting divorced by their husbands. something must be done to stop this, otherwise, even Lamu’s heritage status will be a thing of the past. “
A report from the CIPK office, Lamu office, shows that before the introduction of boda bodas on Lamu Island in August 2015, cases of divorce and other marital problems reported to the office were three per week.
However, since the introduction of the boda boda activity, the number of cases now stands at 8 cases per week.
“We attribute the situation to these boda boda as we have witnessed first-hand cases of recently divorced women married to boda boda operators. This clearly shows that the two are interconnected,” Mr. Shekuwe said.
Hindi Jamia Mosque Imam Noordin Abdullahi Lamu West said the boda boda industry has created jobs for many young people.
But the discipline has been a challenge for many runners, he said.
Some boda boda operators, especially in remote areas of Kenya, he said, have no morals as they prey on innocent schoolgirls who see them as wealthy village heroes.
But he said banning boda bodas was not an option.
He said women and teenage girls should be banned from riding motorcycles, as has been done in Garissa County.
He called on religious leaders in Lamu and the country to come together and deliberate on ways to prevent Muslim women from making boda boda.
“You can’t take the north pole and the south pole of a magnet, put them together and expect them not to attract each other. This is exactly what women and girls and bikers do. There is no social distancing during boda bodas. Girls, married women and horse riders have feelings, ”he said.
“They exchange numbers and end up having sex. Let us come together as Muslim leaders and speak with one voice to prohibit our women from using motorcycles as a means of transportation. We will not be the first to do so. Garissa did it. “
The Lamu County Assembly named MCA Amina Kale opposed the proposal to ban boda bodas in Lamu Old Town.
Instead, she proposed regulations to control them.
Ms Kale said the number of road accidents in Lamu is increasing as many boda bodas are young men and children who are not even trained.
On the issue of women on motorcycles, Ms Kale said it was best if they were allowed to ride motorcycles only in emergencies.
“The boda bodas have created jobs for our young people. Banning them is not appropriate. Let there be legislation to control them. My fellow citizens should stop riding the boda bodas unless there is They should also cover their bodies well and avoid holding onto the drivers, ”she said.
Lamu Island Boda Boda Association President Abdallah Bakari said not all bikers have bad intentions towards their clients.
He said his organization strives to instill discipline among members and ensure that only adult operators operate a boda boda business.
“I agree. Boda bodas are immoral in most parts of Kenya, but our members here are serious in the business. It is their only income. We cannot ban boda bodas in Lamu,” did he declare.
“The sector absorbed many young people who engaged in thefts, assaults and burglaries. Residents were previously trapped and stolen from their valuables in broad daylight, but these cases have declined significantly since the introduction of the boda boda trade.
Amina Abuli, a Muslim woman and elder from the Boni women’s community in Bar’goni village, said she used boda bodas and did not intend to stop as motorcycles were the only means of transport for his remote village.
Ms Abuli said that banning women from making boda boda is unwarranted as they depend on them to access their only Hindi market, which is about 21 kilometers from Bar’goni.
“It is wrong to prohibit women from using boda boda. In places like Bar’goni, Basuba, Bodhei and other villages inside Boni Forest, the only mode of transport is boda boda, as vehicles cannot access our villages due to the bad state of the roads. Pregnant women go to hospitals and those who go to markets like Hindi use these boda bodas to reach those places, which are remote and inaccessible on foot. Those who intend to ban us from riding on the boda bodas should try to understand our dilemma, ”Ms. Abuli said.
Zainab Athman, a resident of Matondoni on Lamu Island, says she cannot stop using boda bodas because she has asthma and cannot walk long distances.
“For you to walk from the village of Matondoni to the old town of Lamu, one can spend up to an hour but with a boda boda it is only ten minutes. So why delay my trip because I am a woman Muslim and that I am not allowed to ride motorcycles? ” Ms Athman said.
Haki Africa Deputy Executive Director Salma Hemed called such a proposal unconstitutional and discriminatory, especially for the female gender.
Ms. Hemed says riding a motorbike is a choice because no one is required to use boda bodas.
She insisted that boda bodas have been introduced across the country to facilitate the movement of people and goods from one place to another because they are affordable.
So she says that no one should decide how women should travel.
“I do not take the general view that other Muslim women are prohibited from using boda bodas in Lamu. It is unfair to prevent us from using boda bodas. First, no one is required to get on these motorcycles. It’s a choice. Second, these boda bodas help our movements. In Kenya, the citizens enjoy freedom of choice, movement and many others. For our religious, trying to introduce such restrictions for our women is a violation of the Constitution and should end, ”Ms. Hemed said.
She proposed that Lamu women be encouraged to dress decently and engage in boda boda business where these boda boda women will be used to transport only other women.
“Women worn on boda bodas also have the choice to dress decently and ensure that their body parts are not exposed as claimed. I also call on religious leaders to encourage women to adopt them. boda boda stuff. They can dress decently and be used to wear only their fellow men, “she said.
Lamu Maendeleo ya Wanawake President Fatma Salim said it is up to Muslim women to respect themselves if they are to use boda bodas in their daily movement.
Ms Salim said banning women from riding motorcycles was not the right option.
“It depends on how you value yourself first as a woman and secondly how much respect you have for religion. As for me, I didn’t and I don’t intend to. get on a boda boda because it is against Islam. I urge our women, especially those who are young, to only use boda bodas in emergencies, “said Ms. Salim.
Lamu Old Town has over 300 boda boda operators.
But the city’s narrow streets could only allow travel on donkeys or on foot, and the introduction of motorcycles and tuktuks cluttered spaces and eroded the city’s traditional way of life.