By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
Writing your mind weekly on the pages of newspapers could be very risky even with the most sincere of purposes. On the one hand, by being critical of society, you are certain to be in the bad books of government, if you do not become a victim of its injustice. You have then refused to listen to Imam Shafi’i who likened you to someone who struggles with dogs over a corpse. He is only safe if he leaves the corpse alone. Turn to knowledge instead, he advised in a poem: “The (world) is nothing but a preposterous corpse surrounded by dogs that wish to steal it. If you avoid it, you become safe from its owners; and if you attempt to drag it, its dogs will fight you. Blessed is the soul that lights the centre of its house, with closed doors and drawn curtains.” Mamu and any publisher wishing to tell the truth should know this. They should not be surprised if our governments do not patronize them with adverts and oil concessions of hundreds of millions of naira.
On the other hand, you also run the risk of incurring the wrath of the citizens you are alerting of danger or awakening from a slumber. Perhaps, they prefer to continue in their state of heedlessness. So do not be surprised if they retaliate with ferocity. I remember the advice of Niccolo Machiavelli where in Discourses he said, “It is dangerous to attempt to free people who wish to remain slaves, just as it is dangerous to attempt to enslave people who wish to remain free.”
We are therefore running calculated risks especially when what we say does not sound appeasing to government or is contrary to mainstream thinking. The essence of writing to me is to say something different that would likely bring about a change in perception of your readers, even if controversial. If what you said is the truth, it is just a question of time that it prevails, no matter the immediate criticisms. A writer therefore must never attempt to be a sweetheart of his readers. He must load them with sufficient dose of bitter pills if and when necessary.
And it pays. When I first brought forward the issue of moon sighting into the domain of public debate in my column in 2000, the controversy that ensued had to finally succumb to reality, regardless of the prevailing theological understandings that run contrary to scientific knowledge and common sense. At last, after ten years and numerous seminar, debates and meetings among the ulama, we are reaching a rational consensus with the Sultan for the first time announcing that the crescent was not sighted that Thursday evening. Though it was actually sighted in some places like Funtua, the mistake is pardonable; the will to be rational, to me, is more important and deserves our commendation. We will get it right many times later. Other countries make such mistakes too and they are not at all shy to announce a correction later.
The reaction on articles on boko haram came as a surprise. Immediately it hit the inboxes of my mailing list, gamji website and the newspaper stands, the reaction was immediate, plenty and overwhelmingly positive, without, I can say, any substantial objection. This was surprising because, though I did not set out to generate controversy or to appease anyone other than ‘chaji’, I just wanted to write a simple comment. But as I started, the cultural dimension of boko haram dominated my mind and I decided to carry it throughout the article. I preferred the distributive assignment of blame, rather than the restrictive one that heaps everything on the sect members. After all, it was for their love of Islam that they decided to forsake the world and follow Yusuf, living on dates and water. We provided the fertile soil for the cultivation of their ideas by denying anything western. To us, the West deserves only condemnation. Even where such condemnation is misplaced, no one stands up to correct it. So what if some of us take it to the extreme and condemn just everything. We must share the blame.
In writing that essay, I presumed that we have passed two stages on both sides of the spectrum in our relation to the West. No credible intellectual, I presumed, need to bother himself with arguing for the halal of boko, just as he should not argue for the wholesale adoption of western culture in pursuit of civilization. Both ideas are too pedestrian to contemplate now, giving our fatal experience with both. We who despised western education and culture remain backward on many development indices even within the context of Nigeria, as I indicated. Those who enforced wholesale adoption of western culture on the other hand, like Turkey, are yet to realize parity with the West as their founder Attaturk once contemplated, after almost a century of experimentation. They have to moderate their stand by allowing the reincorporation of Islamic ethics and practices in many areas from which they were earlier excluded. However, despite that, they have benefited a lot even by imitating many western habits and values. Turkey, for example, is far ahead of us in almost every aspect of development. Even the Arab countries that I called the best specimens of despotism last week are better than us, Northern Nigeria, in many respects. Our cynicism must give way to a rationality that will allow us reclaim our lost camel wherever we find it, to borrow from the parable of the Holy Prophet (SAW).
Two other issues attracted my response. The first was the sentence on hijab. Someone said I treated it with disdain; another, a friend from Bayero University, defended using hijab by children as a means of getting them accustomed to it, thinking I was opposed to that. It was neither of the two. I mentioned “enforcing hijab on babies” at the end of my discussion on dress deliberately as an objection to our obsession with appearance, instead of emphasizing the quality of our behaviour. And by babies I really meant babies, as it happens in my village. What has a baby got to do with hijab for God’s sake? Allow her to breathe the fresh air of this world before she starts to become suffocated by our bruises later in life. The Muslim women who are impressively fighting the hijab war in Europe never wore one as babies. There is time for everything in Islam. Moreover and more importantly, hijab is a religious obligation that must not be allowed to lose its significance by being relegated to nominal value of a cultural dress.
The other is the issue of our relationship with our Christian brothers in the North especially. In that article I tried to alert us to our fading political relevance even within our brothers in the Middle Belt because we have amalgamated the West with Christianity; so if the West is an enemy as many of us are quick to believe, so are Christians, including those we share the same country, region or land. We are led to this trap by the lack of proper comprehension of European history. Our underlying boko haram attitude has impeded us from reading wide enough to recognize that Europe has relegated Christianity to the background since the 17th Century. Yes, the Pope and the Queen are there, but how many Europeans go to Church or even believe in God? Europe is indeed in need of Islam but the Muslims are not forthcoming in the discharge of their divine duty of da’awah. The stereotyping of Christians here at home also prevents us from reaching out to them, from understanding the true nature of our spiritual and temporal relationship, and from living in peace with them. We need to be broadminded such that we can understand the issues at stake between us, discuss them openly, and open their hearts to a better understanding of Islam. To me, this is a divine task which we have exchanged for acrimony, discord and hate. There is little wonder if we are not living in peace with them or if we have lost their sympathy. That being what it is, we must kindle the torch of mutual understanding based on knowledge, civilized values and recognition of our mutual rights.
My call for us to embrace civilization was seen as unwarranted or implying that we are not civilized. But I was vindicated just a week after when our ulama – people who are supposed to be the most learned among us – started to expose their weak understanding of the most fundamental aspects of today’s humanity: human rights and the rule of law in particular. My attack on them in the last article was no doubt deliberate. From their utterances it was clear that many of us do not value life as much as required by Islam, the constitution or the conventions to which our country is a signatory. The end, when it suits us, justifies the means. This is Machiavellian, not Islamic. I completely agree with Yusuf Qardawi who said the means in Islam – rule of law in this case – is as essential in Islam as the end.
This was not the first time that many of us are celebrating the impunity of government. In Sokoto, we have seen a sustained attempt by government and the Sultanate to obliterate Shi’ites and their sympathizers. To be labelled a shi’ite in Sokoto tantamount to a death sentence. A mob was following a thief one day, shouting barawo,barawo. The guy was running for his safety. Then one of his chasers cried Shi’a, Shia. The thief stopped instantly. He said, wallahi ni ba shi’a ba ne, ni barawo ne, that is, “I am not shi’ite; I am only a thief.” This may sound funny to us but it was not funny to the thief. He knows that being shi’ite will instigate the people to hack him to death in a matter of seconds.
The state of our mental health – as the sociologists will put it – has deteriorated to this level. I must commend the leaders of Shi’a and Darul Islam, unlike the leaders of boko haram, for not taking the law into their hands. Had they contemplated otherwise, their liquidation would have been graciously welcome by many establishment ulama.
I am not shi’a, Darul Islam or boko haram member; not for a day, if I must confess. I also condemn any action that they have committed, like the alleged killing of Danmaishiya by some shi’ite members in Sokoto or the confrontational disposition of boko haram in Maiduguri. But I think as citizens we should all be civilized enough to recognize the rights of other citizens if we want our country and this poverty ridden region to live in peace. Our starting and ending must be the law. It must be followed; otherwise, if it comes to the turn of our sect, we should not expect any kind treatment from the government. We are not even consistent in our stand. Were we not the people who condemned America for handing over Saddam to be executed by the Iraqi authorities on Eid day? Why did we have sympathy for Saddam who caused the death of over 1.5million Muslims and at the same time praise the extrajudicial killing of Foi and Yusuf simply because it was done by the agents of Yar’adua?
That returns us to the question of the romance between our ulama and government. I criticized leaders of JIBWIS last week because they supported the extrajudicial killings based on their assessment of Muhammed Yusuf as khariji. I have replied those who asked me questions regarding this through the internet and SMS. JIBWIS ulama have no locus to use that name against Yusuf. They are just giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it. Yusuf was their member in Maiduguri; until recently, he even used to sit in for Sheikh Jafar whenever the latter could not turn up in the town for tafsir before forming his own mosque as it has become fashionable among our ulama. What they do not share with JIBWIS ulama is his hard stand on boko and, perhaps, his accumulation of weapons or confrontation with authorities. But these are not enough grounds to call him khariji, going by the classical definition of the term, if we will be sincere. Yar’adua is undoubtedly Muslim, but he is not a khalifa running an Islamic government. To the contrary, he is a head of a secular government. So I cannot see how a revolt against Yar’adua can justifiably qualify anyone to be called Khariji. These extrapolations are dangerous since they are done at the expense of life.
I am so concerned with our ulama because they are getting too close to government at the expense of our safety as a nation. Their subscription to government ordinances – good or bad – is tarnishing their image as custodians of moral rectitude. They are the correcting side of our leadership; if they become subservient to rulers, I am afraid, they will inevitably become part of the evil the latter commit. There are so many incidences pointing towards this direction but I am running short of space. That is why I call on all of us to listen to them with a critical mind. Thank God, we have every liberty in Islam to do so since the word of everyone is subject to acceptance or rejection, except that of the Prophet, as Imam Malik aptly put it. Islam has given us all the freedom of thought we need. We must not abdicate it in exchange for the whim of other fellows.
So apart from these few criticisms, as I said, the reactions have been very positive, plenty and encouraging. It shows that the door of dialogue on many pressing issues is open. No wound is healed unless it is opened, cleansed and treated appropriately. We must celebrate our constitutional right to freedom of expression. It is still a dream to Muslims of many countries so much so that they have to migrate to the West, ironically, to enjoy it. In Nigeria, it is free. Let us therefore celebrate it by utilizing it. It is our only protection from a fascism that will force us to migrate to the West as it has done to our brothers elsewhere.
Next week I intend to reprint Farewell Ramadan. There have been many requests for it.
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4 September 2009