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Late Bilkisu Yusuf, mni: A tribute

 It we chose circumstances and locations of our death, most Muslims will choose to die in the place and in spiritual conditions under which Hajiya…

 It we chose circumstances and locations of our death, most Muslims will choose to die in the place and in spiritual conditions under which Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf died. Many will give up years of the balance of life with certainty of death in the end, to achieve the matrydom associated with death in the act of worship. To the thousands who will miss this remarkable woman, however, this comfort will not shield the pain and utter sense of loss over her death. The death of Hajiya Bilkisu and hundreds of other pilgrims will trigger a serious debate over the planning and management of the Hajj. So, even her death would have been a major contribution to the manner fellow Muslims live and die.

Remarkably, on hearing of her death, many people will think instinctively of her family and the world she influenced with her life, rather than Hajiya Bilkisu herself. Her husband and family will come to mind, but in truth, her family is the legion of linkages with fellow faithfuls, advocates and community workers with which she had a life-long association. You will wonder how the chasm left by a woman who touched lives in profound a manner by simply being herself and giving bits of herself to one thousand causes will ever be filled.
You will think of the many projects, programmes and initiatives which have her as key driver, and you will wonder how they will now fare. You will think of thousands for whom she has made worlds of a difference, and you will wonder who will now look at them with her compassion and concern. You will think of professional colleagues, people she has mentored and the intimate friends she has all over Nigeria, and you will wonder how they will ever get over the pains of losing her. You will feel for her husband, children and other relations, although they have always shared her with the world and her community. In great cities and remote parts of the world, people who met her in conferences, workshops, and hundreds of fora will hear of the death of the simple Nigerian woman with a pronounced passion for justice and faith in the powers of advocacy.
People like Hajiya Bilkisu leave everyone with bits and pieces of her life to marvel at. Her unparralled humility made her a friend to the powerful and most influential, and a companion to the lowest. Her personality made her a bridge in conflicts and disagreements. Her penetrating intelligence made it easy for her to chart a course between the practical, the possible and the difficult. Her unlimited faith in the possibilities of extracting solutions out of every problem gave many discouraged groups and people the strength to go on. Her unbelievable energy and willingness to go the extra mile while others give up helped her and thousands to achieve goals that seemed near impossible. 
Thousands of people will have their stories to tell about Hajiya Bilkisu. The sum of it will paint the picture of a truly remarkable Muslim woman who crossed every barrier, yet remained true to her faith and herself. Neither her gender nor her faith became an obstacle to her dogged determination and confidence that she could achieve results, in a social context with fairly rigid lines around both. She could decline to shake a man’s hand without offending him. She could be the only woman, or the only Muslim in a room, but you will hardly notice it.
She will offer an opinion that is disagreeable without offending people. She had an amazing respect for the variety of the human spicie, our unequal human capacities and the powers of prejudice over our lives. Her deep faith touched lives, gave comfort and encouragement to many struggling to come to terms with the basics, and shed light in many areas of ignorance and darkness. Her passion for the rights of women and the girl child did not alienate men. Nor did she offend women she engaged in discussing the complex relationships of men and women in a social setting where change is both a necessity and anathema. Hajiya Bilkisu gave civil society activism respect and dignity at a time and in circles where it had very little influence. She had a unique persona that combined simple yet dignifying humility, but you could not leave any setting where she was present without a strong memory of her. She could talk to you with deep affection and passion of her family, yet she could spend weeks on end without seeing them. 
How do I know all these? I was honoured to be a marginal part of Hajiya
Bilkisu’s varied life for the last three decades. As editor of the New Nigerian, pillar of Vision Trust Foundation, FOMWAN, the Citizen group, lifelong advocate, columnist, civil society activist, fellow member of the Presidential Committee on Resolution of Security Challenges in the North (the Dialogue Committee), THE CODE   Group, Northern Media Forum. She was a mountain of strength and inspiration in the recent historic battle to wrest the country away from the Jonathan/PDP disaster. She was a lady I was honoured to call my sister, one I looked up to without her ever demanding respect.
Even as we all attempt to come to terms with the difficult-to-imagine loss of
Hajiya Bilkisu, it is important to state that the manner and circumstance of her death (and of hundreds of other pilgrims) will now have to be critically examined. The world Muslim Umma must insist on greater say in the planning and management of the Hajj, and the Saudi authorities need to accord due cognizance to the fact that the two holy cities of Makkah and Madina are properties of the entire Umma, and a balance needs to be struck between allowing the Umma greater say in Hajj affairs, and the management of a country which houses the two holy mosques. 
A few days before she left, Hajiya Bilkisu complained to my elder brother, Mahmoon that she could not reach me. She then sent me a text saying we should discuss how we can improve the plight of internally-displaced persons, if she returned from Hajj alive. She will not come back for that discussion. So I, along with thousands of others, pray that Allah subhannahu Wa Ta’ala will reward her exemplary life in this world with Aljannah.