Nigerian man with 86 wives faces a 'fatwa'
Mohammed Bello Masaba has fallen foul of northern Nigeria's Islamic laws and is now in prison.
He's not what most women might describe as a "good catch."Skip to next paragraph
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Mohammed Bello Masaba, from a small town in Nigeria, is a short, slightly built 84-year-old with no apparent income. But that hasn't stopped him taking 86 wives at the same time – and with a little help from God, he says, he may just marry a few more.
For decades, his unusual domestic arrangements drew little attention. But when Mr. Bello Masaba, a Muslim, gave interviews to local journalists and television crews claiming he had special God-given powers and challenged accepted interpretation of the Islamic holy book, the Koran, his world came tumbling down.
Bello Masaba has run afoul of northern Nigeria's Islamic sharia laws, Muslim clerics, Nigerian federal law, and even his town's traditional ruler, the Emir of Bida. Local authorities have stationed a dozen armed policemen outside the home he normally shares with his wives and over 150 children to protect them from angry neighbors, while Bello Masaba languishes in prison. Yet he remains unrepentant.
"If God permits me, I will marry more than 86 wives. A normal human being could not marry 86 – but I can only by the grace of God," a defiant Bello Masaba told The Christian Science Monitor during a recent prison interview. "I married 86 women and there is peace in the house – if there is peace, how can this be wrong?"
Such statements are heresy here. Under accepted Muslim doctrine, no mortal can speak directly with God and men are allowed a maximum of four wives at any one time.
Nigeria's religious sensitivities
The case of Bello Masaba highlights just how sensitive matters of religion are in modern Nigeria. In 2006, scores of Nigerians died in riots over cartoon depictions of the prophet Muhammad in a newspaper in Denmark. And in 2002, hundreds died in religious demonstrations against plans to hold the Miss World beauty pageant in Nigeria. And now, some are concerned that Bello Masaba could cause a similar uproar.
"In years past, he kept quiet and nobody bothered him. But when he comes out and says publicly that anyone can challenge his interpretation of the Koran, then he is creating tension," said Yahaya Abubakar, Emir of Bida seated on an elaborate throne at his palace.