12 August 2010

Nigeria: Sheikh Habeebullah Al-Ilory: The Making of OON Award


Sheikh Habeebullah Adam Abdullah Al-Ilory Was Recently Conferred With the Award of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (oon), an Appreciation of His Contributions to National Development And a Nudge for Him to Do More to Promote the Nigerian Project. He Was Among the 86 Nigerians So Honoured. the Chief Imam of Lagos, Sheikh Garba Akinola, Was Also Honoured With the Oon Title.

The award is particularly instructive for the Muslim ummah in general and Islamic scholars in particular because it gives the lie to claims - and costly erroneous belief among the current generation of Muslims in Nigeria - that you can only succeed or be reckoned with in Nigeria if you acquire western education.

This does not in any way imply that Muslims should not seek education modelled after the western civilisation, as unacceptably being championed by the Boko Harams. Muslims are in fact mandated to seek all varieties of knowledge, one of the two qualities the Holy Qur'an says distinguish human beings from one another. The other quality is piety.

But the award on the scholar throws up a challenge to the Muslim community to back their thirst for western education with strong, unadulterated Arabic and Islamic knowledge, especially in this age of what Professor Samuel Huntington called "the clash of civilisation."

To scholars of Islamic moderation (wasatiyyah) like Sheikh Qaradawi and Sheikh Habeebullah himself, knowledge - not necessarily the rising armed struggle by some Islamic political movements - appears to be the best means of salvaging the ummah from the clutches of poverty and suppression by a world system somewhat skewed against Islamic beliefs (civilisation).

That President Goodluck Jonathan conferred the award of OON on Sheikh Habeebullah underlines the pivotal roles the scholar and the Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies (Markaz) Agege are playing in socio-political and cultural development of Nigeria.

Son of the phenomenal late Sheikh Adam Abdullah Al-ilory, Sheikh Habeebullah was born in 1958 and is the Rector of Makaz, author of many scholarly works and a member of many local and international organisations such as the Islamic Crescents' Observation Project (ICOP), the Muslim Ummah of South West Nigeria (MUSWEN), and Kwara State Jam'at Nasrul Islam. Although the scholar is himself deserving of the honour, the award in a way assuages the feelings of the injustice of successive Nigerian governments not honouring his late father, despite his huge contributions to socio-religious and political development of the country.

Sheikh Adam Abdullah Al-ilory (1917-1992) was a household name in the Muslim world, a scholar the News Magazine in 1999 categorised as one of the most outstanding personalities in the 20th century Nigeria, and a rallying point for the ummah. At the grey twilight of the 20th century, the management of that magazine thought of putting together in a chronicled document, the most prominent 100 Nigerian men and women of the 20th century. The publication was entitled 'People In The News 1900-1999: A Survey Of Nigerians Of The 20th Century'. And the sheikh effortlessly made the list, seven years after his demise. In what underscored his scholarship, the late sheikh was honoured by world's oldest university, the Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt, 1989. His scholarly work is widespread throughout Nigeria, North Africa, Middle East, and South East Asia. His students and many other scholars have further spread his work in the West. Among many other things, he was an erudite jurist, linguist and historian.

The late sheikh singlehandedly revolutionised the learning of Arabic and Islamic jurisprudence when he established the Markaz on April 16, 1952.

"The uniqueness of Markaz is not to be seen in the quality of education taught to the students alone," writes columnist Femi Abass in his article on Markaz' Scholar's Week.

"The modern teaching methodology and reformation with which the Institution is characterised confirm that uniqueness. It was in Markaz that the use of chalk and blackboard for teaching Arabic and Islamic education was first introduced in Nigeria. Hitherto, the teaching instruments were wooden slate and local ink. It was in Markaz that a curriculum was first introduced which classified studies into subjects while pupils were distributed into classrooms according to their levels. It was in Markaz that pupils of Arabic and Islamic education first wore uniform and sat on chairs rather than floor while writing with pencil or pen in notebooks. It was in Markaz that examination was first introduced as a means of assessing and promoting pupils from class to class while certificates were issued to madrasah graduates as a measure of their level of education. It was in Markaz that such facilities as dormitories, library, printing press and clinic were first provided for students."

Sheikh was believed to have initiated the formation of the League of Imams and Alfas of the South West Nigeria in 1967. He served as the group's Secretary General until his death in 1992. Besides, the sheikh was also the architect and leader of the 10-man committee that translated the Qur'an from Arabic into Yoruba. In this regard, the late sheikh was to the Nigerian Muslim community what the late Samuel Ajayi Crowther, translator of the Bible to Yoruba, was to the Christendom in Nigeria.

A very powerful orator and vociferous preacher who used his Friday sermon as well as his Ramadan Tafsir (exposition of the Qur'an) to create Islamic consciousness among all Muslims in West Africa, he never spared any government of his time on issues of corruption, human rights abuse, democracy, economic mismanagement and flagrant abuse of office.

Despite these great contributions, the political establishment despicably denied Sheikh Adam a place in the list national honour recipients.

Measured against this background, plus his own rising profile among Islamic scholars of the 21st century, the OON conferred on Sheikh Habeebullah was an honour well deserved. A member of the Nigerian government delegation to the 2007 Hajj, Sheikh Habeebullah was among the few scholars the United States Department of State under George Bush Jnr invited to discuss the challenges of the religiously volatile 21st century in Washington. Under him, Markaz has grown from strength to strength. Both the University of Ilorin and Al-Hikmat University now admit holders of Markaz Diploma to pursue some degree programmes. The Usbuu' Sheikh (Scholars' Week) Sheikh Habeebullah initiated in 1998 to keep the legacy of intellectualism aglow is one of the largest gatherings of scholars in Africa.

And during Ramadan the tefseer held in Markaz (session of Qur'an exposition) is one of the most intellectually engaging in the country, tackling all contemporary issues in the world - from politics, technology, science to the raging controversy over the permissibility/ boundary of analogical deduction in Islamic jurisprudence - especially as they affect the Muslim world.

Shekh Habeebullah attended Ahmed Memorial Muslim School, Agege; Ahmadiyya College Agege, Lagos; Markaz, and obtained a diploma from Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt. He is winner of Kuwait University, College of Shariah Fellowship 2003; International Visitors Programme State Department, U.S., 2003; and International Award on Moon Sighting Committee, Dubai 2010. He is Publicity Secretary of League of Imams and Alfas of Yorubaland, and Rector of Markaz.

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