29 September 2013

Nigeria: Beyond Islam in Nigeria


Almost all the newspapers of Thursday September 26, 2013 reported that the insecurity in Nigeria is an effort to overthrow democracy in favour of theocracy, a government where God would be the president of Nigeria.

It should be noted that even in a theocratic government, God uses human beings as instrument to execute the divine laws. For instance, in Africa, Islam, through human agents has had some positive influence in the religious, economic and political life of many Countries. They are: Algeria, Angola, Benin Republic, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Western Sahara, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Looking at the life of Saudi Arabia where the call to Islam originated from, one is tempted to look beyond Islam in the enquiry of the root causes of the violence in some parts of Africa. Islam being a total way of life ought to enrich all aspects of life in Africa. The use of Arabic numerals can be traced to Islam. That a person can recite the whole Qur'an means that a true Muslim has the intellectual potential to contribute positively to the technology and civilization of any nation. Saudi Government is able to honestly manage the oil wealth of their country because of their religious conviction and intellectual disposition. This is to say that Islam is not synonymous to ignorance as some adherents tend to portray. It is obvious today that we are reaping the fruits of ignorance and not what some people call "radical Islam". It is difficult to manipulate an enlightened person even in abject material poverty.

In Edo State of Nigeria, Auchi that has a very high population of Muslims in Edo North is one of the most peaceful communities in Nigeria. Life in Auchi is not defined by religion. Muslims, Christians and adherents of traditional religion live together in peace and harmony. This has encouraged dialogue of life and social engagements. The traditional ruler of Auchi is known for his conviction that he is not the Otaru of Auchi Muslims only but the Otaru of everybody irrespective of religion. The royal family of Auchi has the highest number of graduates in Auchi kingdom.

In most of our meetings with Christians and Muslims in Interreligious relations; some people often look out for the Muslims from the Northern part of Nigeria. A lot of people believe that Islam in the North is different from anywhere else in Nigeria. Some people have taken the insecurity in the North to mean that all the Muslims in the North are violent. On the contrary I have personal experiences that make me think otherwise. In 1991, I went to New Benin market in Edo State Nigeria to change some dollars into naira. Three months after, I went to the same "malam" from the far North of Nigeria for the same business. Immediately the man saw me he said, "I have been praying to Allah that I would see you again. The last time you came to change money; I discovered that I did not give you the whole money in naira. 'Walahi!' Islam teaches me that I should not cheat anybody". I was amazed at the man's honesty when he handed me a sealed envelope containing the balanced money which he kept hoping that one day, he would see me. Other examples of wonderful honest and loving Muslims from the Northern part of Nigeria are numerous. When we were young we find it safer to trade with the Northern Muslims because of their honesty and sincerity. This is why I think that we should look beyond Islam in finding solution to the insecurity that is presently ravaging Nigeria and other parts of the world. It is alleged that Christians find it difficult to acquire land to build Churches in the Muslim dominated areas of Northern Nigeria. Is this the teaching of Islam or the manipulation of Political leaders?

The history of Islam in Nigeria appears to reveal that some people and group of people have deviated from the true teaching of the prophet of Islam (SAW). In Nigeria, it is possible to identify the Sunni, Shia and Ahmadiyya Islam that originated from India in the 19th century as a reformatory sect. In Christianity, the community of Jesus Christ existed as a single Church for almost sixteen centuries. It was easy to identify the Church as One, Holy, Apostolic and Universal. The message and interpretation of Islam was one and universal during the time of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). The efforts of human beings to proliferate the message of the prophets by forming sects and denominations have not promoted the unity of believers in the history of religion.

The era of 1970-1980 witnessed the rise of Mohammed Marwa Maitatsine, who started a religious revolution in Kano. Maitatsine claimed to have had divine revelations to purify Islam by attacking traditional mosques and congregations. The work of Abiodun Alao on "Islamic Radicalisation and Violence in Nigeria, retrieved March 1, 2013" reveals that Muhammadu Marwa, the leader of the Maitatsine group was killed in 1980, he was succeeded by Musa Makaniki who was also executed in 2006. Another leader of Yan Tatsine, Malam Badamasi, was killed in 2009. At the dusk of Maitasine revolution, it was clear that their agenda was far from true Islam.

In the Encyclopædia Britannica, Chicago, 2007, the essay on Othman Dan Fodio affirms that "in the early 19th century, Islamic scholar Usman dan Fodio launched a jihad against the Hausa Kingdoms of Northern Nigeria. He was victorious, and established the Fulani Empire with its capital at Sokoto". One would have expected Sokoto to be the citadel of terrorism if our current security situation is a purely Islamic agenda. It is worthy of note that we do not hear of terrorist activities in Sokoto even when Alhaji Shehu Shagari, was unjustly overthrown in a coup by a fellow Muslim. Therefore, we need to go beyond the claim that the terrorist want to overthrow democracy for Islam. Beyond Islam, let us examine other possible causes like politics, ethnic bigotry, material poverty and outright manipulation of others. Is it not possible that the same people who are financing this terrorist agenda are those who have lost relevance in the democratic process? Let us search deeper and not be distracted with this game that is dressed in a religious garment.

The writer is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja and Consultor of the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (C.R.R.M), Vatican City.

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