Mecca — When renowned Nigerian Islamic scholars converged on the Mount of Arafat and Plains of Muna in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, they set aside their differences and prayed, ate and lived together. Can these scholars extend the same conciliatory gesture to their followers in Nigeria? Weekly Trust asks.
Over four million Muslims from various parts of the world, all dressed in a two piece white garments, converged on Mount Arafat on the 9th day of Dhul Hajj, equivalent to October, 25 2012. Parts of these humble servants were 95,000 Nigerian Muslims who participated in this year's Hajj, which is the fifth pillar of Islam.
In a small tent not far from the Jabal-ul-Rahma (Mount of Mercy), were some prominent Islamic scholars from Nigeria -also seeking for their creators' forgiveness.
Though some of these scholars have been known to engage in hot exchanges, with some of their supporters even clashing over sectarian differences, they all set aside these primordial frictions and embraced each other, prayed together and freely interacted.
Sheikh Dahiru Usman Bauchi, a prominent scholar of the Dariqatul Tijjaniyya; Sheikh Abdullahi Bala Lau, the National Chairman of Jama'atu Izalatil Bid'a Wa'iqamatus Sunnah (JIBWS), among other clerics, all forgot their sectarian differences and prayed together.
Many have had causes to say that the house of Islam in Nigeria is being torn apart by sectarian crisis, mostly between the Darika brotherhoods, the Izala/Salafi groups and the Shiites, mostly over primordial issues.
The insurgency by the Boko Haram has, in the last two years, added to the decades-long challenges facing Muslims and their leaders, particularly in northern part of the country.
However, in far away Saudi Arabia, at the instance of Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar, who is also the leader of the Nigerian delegation (Ameerul Hajj), the Islamic scholars showcased conciliatory gestures towards one another.
The unification of purpose among the Muslim leaders was not restricted to the north as scholars from other parts of the country were involved. Among those scholars in Arafat are the Baba Addini of Lagos, Sheikh AbdulHafeez Abou and Chief Imam of Imo State, Sheikh Dawud W. Onyeagocha, Dr. Aminudeen Abubakar, Sheikh Tijjani Bala Kalarawi - all from Kano - and Sheikh Sa'idu Hasan Jingir from Jos.
The clerics, who spoke and prayed at the sacred Mount of Arafat, all advanced the need for unity among Muslims.
In Arafat, Sheikh Tijjani Bala Kalarawi told Weekly Trust that "we want unity among Muslims. Mosques are places of worship of Allah alone. They don't have names. There are no Izala or Dariqa mosques, they belong to Allah and only Him is worshipped there."
The cleric said "we are instructed to pray in all mosques, behind everyone who professes that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad (SAWA) is His messenger irrespective of his creed or sect and leave him to Allah, who will judge us with what we profess on the Day of Judgment."
The National Chairman of Jama'atu Izalatil Bid'a Wa'iqamatus Sunnah (JIBWS), Sheikh Abdullahi Bala Lau told Weekly Trust in Arafat that "we thank God for uniting us here in this holy Mount of Arafat, where Muslims not only from Nigeria, but from all over the world converge professing His oneness."
"We are here today with one deen, one Qibla, one prophet and one book (Qur'an). There is nothing more precious than this. I don't think we, the Izala and Dariqa will sit under the same shade like this. But this is just an indication telling the Muslim Ummah in Nigeria and other parts of the world that nothing is impossible," he said.
The Izala chief said "this meeting is a golden opportunity for us as Muslims. It is enough pointer that the two Izala factions that spent 21 years without talking to each other, suddenly became united under one umbrella. You can also see that today, I am here and Sheikh Sa'idu Hassan Jingir is also here. Just last year, we were not together. After the unification of the Izala factions, other Muslim groups are equally here with us, courtesy of the Sultan of Sokoto, who is the Muslims leader in Nigeria.
"This tells you that Nigerian Muslims are united and it is very beneficial that Muslims are united. We want not only superficial unity, but also our hearts should also be united under the holy Qur'an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)," Sheik Lau said.
Sultan Sa'ad Abubakar told Weekly Trust that the development in Jedda and the essence of bringing together the clerics is "to show that Islam is one. No matter what sect you belong to or how you say your prayers, first and foremost, you are a Muslim. We are all worshipping Almighty Allah. We worship Him the way you read and understand your book and leave the rest to Him. But don't tell somebody that you are doing wrong. Don't pass judgment."
The Sultan said the Ulama team was formed last year. "When we saw the positive outcome of the various sects, the same team was brought back again this year. And it was not just Izala and Dariqa, but the several sects across the country, including groups from the South Western part of the country such as Ansaruddeen, among others.
"Some of the clerics said it never happened like that. They rode in the same bus, lived in the same tents in both Muna and Arafat, together and interacted freely. They lived together and moved around together. What was done was to show unity of purpose among the religious leaders in the country. So, many of them were far away from each other for many years. Thus, there is misunderstanding and misconception and they were thinking negatively about each other. But when they all came together, they understood each other," he said.
He explained that time has changed and you can't hold someone with something he did 25 years ago. "You know stereotypes and misperception are very terrible things. By coming together, you create greater understanding and exorcise stereotypes. The various sects understand each other, but not necessarily abandoning their sects or understanding.
"By this, it doesn't mean that Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi, for instance, had left his Tijjaniyya brotherhood and joined Izala or Sheikh Bala Lau had abandoned Izala and joined Tijjaniyya. With this development, the era of somebody calling someone Kafir (infidel), will be the thing of the past. That is what we are trying to achieve," the Sultan said.
Though they were not represented in Arafat, the Shiites, under the auspices of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria under the leadership of Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, said, unity among Muslims is what they have been craving for in the last two decades.
Weekly Trust reports that a similar gesture at uniting the Muslim Ummah in Nigeria was replicated about 48 hours after the Arafat gathering, in far away Zaria, Kaduna State. A delegation led by the national youth leader of Izala, Uztaz Aliyu Rabiu Ladan visited the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky at his residence.
Uztaz Ladan said the essence of their visit was to bring unity among Muslims and de-emphasize sectarianism.
Receiving the delegation, Sheikh Zakzaky re-iterated the importance of unity in Islam, saying disunity among Muslims only benefits enemies of the religion. "The enemy at all time seeks to widen the gulf between Muslims in order to achieve their evil objectives," he said. The Izala delegation prayed Magrib and Isha'i behind the Shiite leader.
Malam Abdulrahman Yola, the Chairman of the Islamic Movement's Committee on Unity Week, told Weekly Trust via telephone that they have been organizing a unity week annually where scholars from various sects and regions are invited to come and talk about unity.
"In the last 12 years, under the leadership of Sheikh Zakzaky, we have been organizing a one week 'unity week' from 12 to 17 of Rabiul Auwal, where scholars from various sects and from across Nigeria and neighbouring countries are invited to deliver lectures on the need for unity among Muslims," he said.
"In fact, from next year, we are going to replicate the same programme at both zonal, states and local government levels where various scholars with various thoughts will be invited to talk on unity. Unity is what we have been advocating for," Malam Abdulrahman said.
Dr Ahmad Gumi,in his residence in Mecca, told Weekly Trust that "in Islam, any effort which brings two people together is commendable. So, any move by anybody to unify the Muslim Ummah and reduce the sectarian difference among the Muslim Ummah is a welcome development and should be supported by any well meaning Muslim."
The cleric who delivers the annual Ramadan Tafsir at the Sultan Bello Mosque, Kaduna said "the only thing I will add here is that from experience, when leaders of sects come together, they commit themselves to the fact that they agreed on unity, but when they get back to their sectarian enclaves, they usually change and start abusing other sects. I am not pointing finger at a particular sect, but I am pointing at all sects. This is because the tendency is that after years of preaching on a particular way, it will be very difficult to suddenly come and say this is the right way.
"The idea is that the Ulama and the traditional leadership seem so influential, but in reality they are not. To actually achieve unity, we have to go to the grassroots as well as the political class, they should unite and support one of them," he said.
According to Gumi, "the traditional rulers always support whoever is in power and the scholars will always support who sponsors their programmes. In effect, these two groups that people think are powerful are actually dependent. The solution is for the masses to unite under a non-sectarian, non-political umbrella whereby Muslims can come together and elect their representatives.
"I recall that when the Federal Government increased fuel price by more than 100 per cent early this year, it was only the Nigerian Labour Congress that organised nationwide protest against it. No single Islamic organisation raised a finger and no traditional ruler spoke against it. This goes to show that they are institutions that cannot do the job. They may want to do it, but can't, because they are incapacitated. So, we have to go back to the people," he said.
He said there is need for a platform where every Muslim, irrespective of his sect, or political affiliation or even his status, can join as a member.
Other Nigerian Muslims expressed the hope that these peace-making moves will bring an end to the verbal attacks and sometimes violence unleashed by Muslims on their fellow brethrens.
A pilgrim, Yakubu Ishaq, told Weekly Trust that "we are looking forward to the end of this terrible development where clerics turned their rostrums and pulpits into platforms of attacking any view other than theirs.
"In some places, Muslims kill their brothers and sisters for the simple reason that they follow a school of thought other than theirs. It is sad. We hope what the clerics did here will be transported back to their various followers in Nigeria," Ishaq said.