28 July 2011

Nigeria: The Christian Clergy And Islamic Banking


In its edition of August 6, 1994, The Economist published what in local media parlance we call a supplement on "Islam and the West." The 18-page pull-out by Brian Beedham was an anti-thesis of sorts to the famous thesis by the Harvard University professor of Politics, the late Samuel Huntington, that an apocalyptic clash was inevitable between Islam and the West.

"Are Muslims and the people of the West doomed to perpetual confrontation?" Beedham asked. "Not," he answered himself, "if they both see that this is a moment for change."

The two civilizations, he said, have their differences, of course. "Few westerners," he said, "believe that God dictated the Koran, and no Muslim believes that Jesus was the son of God."

However, in spite of these differences, he said, the two shared a large number of convictions. "A Muslim and a westerner both believe, more clearly than most other people, in the idea of individual responsibility. They can exchange opinions about the nature of good and evil, or property rights, or the preservation of the environment, in something like a spirit of brotherhood," he said.

In the third of the seven-part section of the survey, subtitled "The cash-flow of God," the author concluded that Islamic economics may not be as special as its adherents say it is, but it deserved more than the dismissal it often got from non-Muslims.

"The economics of Islam, in short," he said, "is not as special as its enthusiasts claim; but neither does it deserve the usually ignorant sneer it gets from non-Muslims."

In Nigeria since the recent announcement by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, that Islamic banking is to start in earnest shortly, it has been getting worse than an ignorant sneer from non-Muslims. What it has been getting is a total rejection especially by the Christian clergy. This rejection is clearly rooted more in sheer Islamophobia, the irrational or extreme fear of Islam, than in ignorance.

From the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Oritsejafor, to the Catholic Archbishop Lagos, Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, the clergy have been united almost to the last in speaking up against Islamic banking.

However, whereas the CAN president has been threatening brimstone and fire at every opportunity, and whereas Reverend Joseph John Hayab, former Secretary of the Kaduna State chapter of CAN and presently the Special Adviser on Religious Affairs to the Kaduna State Governor, Sir Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa, has said the introduction of Islamic banking in the country might provoke a crisis worse than that which trailed the introduction of penal Shari'a in most states in the North, Cardinal Okogie has merely threatened to go to court should Islamic banking commence in the country.

The rejection of Islamic banking by the Christian clergy is clearly irrational, as we shall see presently. It also shows the clergy's disconnect with its laity - that is if the CBN governor is to be believed when he said about 60% of the shareholders in the putative Islamic banking sector are non-Muslims. And there is no reason not to believe him; you may say anything of the man but no one can accuse him of getting his facts wrong since he became the CBN governor.

Reverend Hayab says in the interview with Sunday Sun (July 24) where he warned about the consequences of going ahead with Islamic banking that he has no quarrel with interest-free banking. "Non-interest banking is ok," he said. "But when you attach it to faith, it is just like the manner Shari'a came up...If the sitting governor of the Central Bank is the one saying it must be, then people will start asking questions."

The more senior clergy than Hayab, Archbishop Sunday Ola Makinde, the Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, spoke in a similar, albeit more fear mongering vein in an interview in the Sunday Vanguard of July 17. "The whole thing," he said, "appears as though some people want to Islamize the country and drop the Holy Quran from the desert to the ocean; but we cannot sit and look at this. If they called it non-interest banking, of course, nobody will be afraid."

These rejections seem to be based broadly on three reasons, the last two of which are related. First, there's the claim that introducing the bank amounts to Islamizing Nigeria. Then there is the argument that it is discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional. Lastly, there is the argument that Nigeria is a secular state.

All three are untenable.

To begin with the last, Nigeria is not a secular state. It is, as the Constitution says, a multi-religious state. That is why, for example, we begin every official function with prayers to the Deity. That also is why we built a church and a mosque in our Presidential Villa and in Government Houses in most states. Again that is why our Armed Forces have departments of religion. And so on and so on.

The second argument about the bank being discriminatory looks tenable at first glance; in spite of the popular understanding of the rhetorical question, "What's in a name?", there is a lot that is in a name. As that famous wordsmith, George Orwell, often stressed, words are weapons.

Even then words in the end only conjure images and in the language of politics words are often abused to convey meanings that are at variance with the substance of what they are used to describe. This seems to be especially the case with the phrase Islamic banking in Nigeria where some people seem to think the word Islam should be taboo.

Everywhere in the world, including in officially Christian United Kingdom and the ostensibly secular America and France Islamic banking is the word used to describe non-interest banking. Why we should not call this spade by its name in a country where at least 50% of its population is Muslim is really beyond reason.

If the phrase Islamic banking sounds discriminatory in name it is not so in fact. That is why it is quoted in many of the leading stock exchanges in the world and has grown over the decades since it gained popularity into a global service worth about US$1 trillion in financial assets, according to most estimates.

Lastly, to think merely establishing Islamic banking in the country amounts to Islamizing it truly beggars belief. The reason is simple. If in spite of the Jewish control of non-interest banking all this millennium, and even more importantly, their control of the global media, they have not succeeded in converting the rest of the world in to Judaism, it is incredible how anyone can believe Islamic banking can Islamize Nigeria.

Hello, Oceanic Bank

In the last several weeks Oceanic Bank has been texting me an alert on the account number 0007250966. I have never had any account with the bank, so obviously the alert is in error. I hope someone in the bank's management will read this and get them to stop sending me someone else's bank balances.

(Editor's note: This article was originally scheduled for publication yesterday.)

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