Muslim clerics in Lamu want law to be put in place banning Muslim women from riding on boda bodas.
The leaders, consisting of Muslim organisations in the Coast Inter-Faith Council of Clerics (CICC) and the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK), claim that boda boda operators flout Islamic laws and the culture and heritage of Lamu by allowing female passengers to straddle their motorbikes.
This exercise, they claim, had increased promiscuity among married and unmarried women.
Speaking at a community social gathering at the Lamu Fort over the weekend, CICC Lamu branch chair Mohamed Abdulkadir, Lamu County CIPK chair Abubakar Shekuwe and other Muslim leaders expressed concerns over the number of Muslim women seen straddling motorbikes.
Women who ride on motorcycles, they lamented, expose parts of their bodies thus offending Islamic teachings.
Ustadh Abdulkadir also noted that children were dropping out of school to engage in the boda boda business, particularly on Lamu Island.
He said teenage pregnancies were also on the rise as boda boda operators give money and lifts to schoolgirls in exchange for sex.
“Lamu is a historical town with its own religious and cultural aspects. This town is populated predominantly by residents who profess the Islamic faith. We get irritated seeing our women and girls straddling boda bodas and exposing their body parts,” he said.
“This are against Islamic teachings. There is a need for a county by-law introduced urgently to either ban boda bodas from operating here or Muslim women riding on these motorbikes.”
Sheikh Shekuwe said motorbikes are generally not a woman-friendly means of transport.
In Islam, it is wrong for a man and a woman who are not husband and wife to be close to each other.
Sheikh Shekuwe said transport on motorbikes involves contact between the operator and the passenger.
He cited higher divorce rates on Lamu Island and blamed boda bodas.
He questioned why county officials were taking too long to remove boda bodas from Lamu town.
Lamu Old Town is arguably the most unique and beautiful Swahili town in Kenya, but the growing number of boda bodas is fast eroding efforts to preserve its cultural richness.
The Old Town was listed as a World Heritage site by Unesco in 2001 owing to its well-preserved culture and heritage spanning centuries.
Sheikh Shekuwe expressed concern that the town might lose its Unesco status if a formula is not introduced to move boda bodas out of Lamu Island.
“Muslim women being carried on bikes isn’t allowed in Islam as it leaves them exposing their thighs publicly. How can you as a woman allow those sensitive parts to be seen by everyone? Those parts only belong to your husband,” he said.
“You straddle motorbikes and leave them visible just like that. To make things worse, you even hold on to the rider tightly. You don’t even make an effort to at least sit sideways with your legs dangling.”
He added, “It’s inappropriate and that’s why promiscuity is on the rise. We have been receiving complaints of married women eloping with the boda boda riders. They even end up being divorced by their husbands. Something needs to be done to stop this or else, even the heritage status of Lamu will be a thing of the past.”
A report from the CIPK Office, Lamu office shows that before the boda bodas were introduced in Lamu Island in August 2015, the cases of divorce and other marital problems reported at the office stood at three per week.
Since the introduction of the boda boda business however, the cases have now risen to as high as 8 cases per week.
“We’re blaming the situation to these boda bodas since we have witnessed firsthand cases of recently divorced women being married to boda boda operators. That clearly shows that the two are interconnected,” said Mr Shekuwe.
Imam Noordin Abdullahi of the Jamia Mosque in Hindi, Lamu West, said the boda boda sector has created employment for many young people.
But discipline has been a challenge for many riders, 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 moneyed village heroes.
He said women and adolescent girls should be the ones to be prohibited from riding on motorcycles, similar to what was done in Garissa County.
He called on religious leaders in Lamu and the country to come together and deliberate on ways of preventing Muslim women from riding on boda bodas.