Are these the women chamas from hell?

Are these the women chamas from hell?

The upsurge in numbers of Muslim women joining chamas is commendable, however, extreme measures applied to ensure they submit their weekly or monthly contributions is a source of concern. In other instances as Nasra Kassim found out; proceeds are also channelled towards non-viable economic activities

Tough economic times coupled by the desire to improve their livelihoods are the major reasons why women from all walks of life are adopting the chama based informal cooperative society model.

Chamas are groups of people organized in such a manner whereby they pool their resources together with the sole aim of investing their savings in income generating activities.

From the local mama mboga to the career woman, chamas are the in-thing and for quite a while now; their formation at the grass roots level has been spreading like wild bush fire as they are said to have friendlier and flexible terms compared to established financial institutions.

In as much as chamas are the way to go, it is the extreme methods applied towards raising the required weekly or monthly monetary contribution; lack of prudence in investing; the outright consumption of riba (interest) among others that are a source of concern.

According to investigations, Marhaba Life and Style has learnt that Muslim women are participating in various chamas with different goals depending on their need. These include school fee, food, investment, merry-go-round and table banking chamas among others.

Thus, there is seems to be an urge to go overboard and will stop at nothing to ensure they raise the required monies.

House hold budgets are skimmed off or out rightly diverted towards fulfilling their pledges when their turn is due.

In the process, it is causing unwarranted friction and tension as families face neglect. 

Surprisingly, a good number of husbands in many homes are in the dark as to whether their wives belong to these chamas.

For the better part of the past two years of his marriage, Ali Guyo and his children from Nairobi’s Huruma-Kiamaiko area have been accustomed to being vegetarians despite the fact that he provides what he says is a ‘good  amount’ towards the house hold budget.

“Hapa tumezoea kulishwa majani (We are accustomed to being fed vegetables),” he laments.

The grooming of his children is no better, they are always in tattered clothes and have become a laughing stock of neighbours.

Guyo confides to Marhaba Life and Style that he once queried the wife about the situation in his house only for him to stir up a hornets’ nest.

“Nilijibiwa vibaya sana- na tangu siku hiyo, nimenyamaza, lakini...?” (I once sought answers as to where money was being channeled but got rude answers. I have since maintained my silence) says a worried Guyo.

Though he has no ill feelings towards the wife behaviour, what annoys him is that he has never been informed of the kikubi (chama) but stumbled upon the news from her friends.

He has resorted to taking his children ‘out’ occasionally to nearby restaurants to ‘eat something better’ and yet to see anything tangible from the wife’s association with the chama.

Aziza Wanjiru-a mother of two from Pumwani-Majengo in Nairobi admits to using such tactics to enhance her chances of applying for a bigger loan.

“The end justifies the means,” she says since such tactics have seen her put her two children in school as well as advance her small business.

In Kibra, Nairobi, many Muslim women in this area are knowingly into chamas whose loans have a riba (interest) component and seem to be comfortable with it.

“What can we do about it since everyone is in these chamas?” they ask.

Whether it is out of sheer greed or not, peer pressure among these women is said to be another driving factor such that they are willing to look the other side and partake in the consumption of riba to keep up with the rest.

“It is only after household items and furniture are attached for failure to repay the loans plus accompanying interest that reality sets in,” says Khadijah Hussein who withdrew her membership from a previous chama.

Marhaba Life and Style has also learnt of the shocking levels in the lack of prudence in investment decisions.

“Negative peer pressure is forcing many Muslim women to engage in extreme house makeover episodes through purchases such as exotic curtains, majlis sofa sets, carpets among others. Some invest in weddings while others just take loans without clear objectives,” adds Khadijah.  

“There are those who invest in gold ornaments-only to be worn during weddings and other social occasions for purposes of showing off.”

With such, Marhaba Life and Style  sought the opinion of Dr. Hassan Kinyua Omari-the host of Islamic Finance-a radio show on Muslim radio station, Iqra FM 95.0 and also a lecturer at the University of Nairobi.

Firstly, Dr. Hassan wishes to commend Muslim women for making the right decision to form chamas.

“Personally, I always advocated for the formation of chamas and assisted Muslim women and men in releasing that goal,” he says.

Secondly, he wishes to confirm that Islamic fiqh allows for women to skim off/take money without the knowledge of the husband only in instances that he is irresponsible and stingy.

“It is allowed for women to get money from their husbands who are well off but stingy, drunkards or outrightly irresponsible,” he says.

To prevent such a scenario, Dr. Hassan advises men to strive and initiate some form of income generating activity for their wives.

“Even if it is a grocery stall, you shall have empowered her such that she stops preying on your cash,” he says. 

Apparently, during our research, a number of Muslim women in these chamas were of the opinion that existing Islamic banks have no room or products targeting women at the grass root level.

“Many feel that these banks serve a certain class of women hence we have no option but join chamas that have riba,” says  Khadijah Hussein.

It is also emerging that though the women are keen to put aside some cash for investment, lack of basic financial management know-how is another obstacle.

When Marhaba Life and Style brought it to the attention of Taqwa Sacco chairperson Dr. Ahmed Yusuf, he says that the institution offers training to such groups but they need to get organized first.

“They do not need to go on a spending spree but should come to Taqwa Sacco,” he advices.

According to Dr. Ahmed, Taqwa Sacco has a product that guarantees each and every member receives their monies when their time comes.

“Initially, the first few benefited but in the event a member defaulted or dropped out, others would suffer. At Taqwa Sacco, all will receive their dues,” he says. 

Dr. Ahmed also says that the idea behind chamas is to inculcate a saving culture but the spending spree defeats this noble purpose.

“Muslim women chamas are welcome to be given advice on how to manage and conduct their business in an Islamic friendly manner.  They can visit our website for more details. Then, they should write and provide us with details, contacts of their group and we can organize to meet them,” Dr. Ahmed recommends.

Better still, respective chamas can organise their chairperson, secretary and treasurer to visit Taqwa Sacco offices at Jamia Plaza.

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