Dr. Aliyu Tilde
A Eulogy for Darul Islam
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
As the fire of boko haram was quenched, the Niger State government seized the moment to raise its alarm over the presence of another group in its territory. In the haste of its action, the state government attempted to draw a relationship, in both identity and significance, between the vilified boko haram and the residents of Darul Islam who formed a village where sin is persona non grata. It concluded that both are deviant sects, contemptuous of government, heavily armed and very dangerous to national security.
Though apprehensive of the group, the governor avoided the scandalous path followed by his counterparts in Bauchi and Borno, whose infantile ways of handling the crisis exposed their inexperience in the art of governance – one is a banker, the other just an amateur businessman. Both are responsible for the bloodbath in which hundreds of people were massacred. As a seasoned civil servant, or reaping the benefit of hindsight, the governor of Niger State sought the advice of the federal government which, again, panicked and rushed to evacuate the village without any humanitarian arrangement or regard to their constitutional rights of its inhabitants.
In this action too, we fell short of human standards. Three thousand policemen and some evacuation trucks were made available but nothing beforehand, not even a liter of water was arranged for the inhabitants that were to be evacuated to an empty school. I wonder what our military and security personnel are learning in their command schools at Kaduna or Jaji, or even NIPSS. The two incidents clearly show their belief that Nigerians do not have any right to life or dignity. The over 4,000 inhabitants of Darul Islam were forcibly evacuated, without notice and left to suffer the hot sun of central Nigeria without water, food, shelter, toilet facilities, and so on. Here, even the governor has failed. Though it is human to fail, I expected a more humane treatment of these servants of God from the Chief-Servant who has been exerting all his energy to meet the expectations of his mandate and to whose competence and commitment few governors will measure.
Darul Islam is now history. The sixteen year old village was formed by Muslims who essentially wanted to migrate from the larger world of sin and form their exclusive enclave such that they can, according to them, practice Islam in its pure form. Here, the group does not stand alone. Their puritanical beliefs and actions have been displayed by many groups in the long history of different faiths. If we were a country given to scholarship in its thought and to civilization in its actions our reaction to the existence of the group would have been very much different.
Even a quick search into history will lead the government to understanding the history and psychology of puritanical movements. In fact, there have been more of such societies in Christianity than in Islam or Judaism. The famous being the 16th Century puritans of England who migrated to America and settled in the Massachusetts Bay in early 17th Century. From then they formed a very formidable force in the founding of America. We would have known that King James II did not crush the Puritans, but granted them the permit to form a company. America benefited a lot for tolerating them than from crushing them. They founded towns like Boston, and according the 19th Century traveler and historian, Alexis de Tocqueville, their contributions formed the main source of strength of American democracy. They were hard working, honest people that impacted on, and were committed to, commerce, religion, law and egalitarian principles. And they exist to this day. The best example in Judaism is the state of Israel which is founded on the notion of forming a nation exclusively for the “Children of Israel.”
Unfortunately, Nigeria is a country where academicians are left to rot in penury in our universities and higher institutions of learning, in contrast to their maximum utilization as a think tank for strategy and advancement in other countries. Otherwise, people like those in Darul Islam, are an asset not a risk to our society so long as they remain within the confines of law. They should not have been evicted. They would have been encouraged because this nation is thirsty of their kind, of people who would shun sin and attempt to live honestly, instead of those who would loot the treasury with pride. Their psychology is the same as that of the puritans of Europe and America. Who knows, Darul Islam, would have grown to be our New England, our Boston, or our Massachusetts.
Governments would have negotiated with them over a period of time and get them live up to their commitment as citizens to law and order. Once that is done – and now there is ample evidence that the group was pacific – their town would have grown like other towns and its puritanical identity would have been diluted to a ‘tolerable’ standard. Even now, government would have instead moved in to establish a police station; their leader, Abdulkarim, would have been incorporated into the Mokwa District Council as a village head of Darul Islam; a public school would have been opened; and a Shariah court established to settle their disputes and ensure compliance with the law; after all, Niger is a signatory to Shariah law. If they had resisted any of these, we would have had enough grounds to confront them. But up to the time of their eviction, and going by all the information published on them in the media or pronounced by the government and security officials, these bayin Allah did nothing wrong to the Nigerian state. We were simply apprehensive, perhaps paranoid, in the aftermath of the last boko haram crisis.
In the end, we earned the shame of regret emanating from the knowledge of their innocence. Public opinion is overwhelmingly on their side, judging form text messages sent to foreign radio stations. Security officials have combed all their houses and not a single ‘dangerous’ weapon was found. They never had any conflict with law enforcement agencies. Even on the day of their evacuation, they responded with the dignity of the learned and conducted themselves with the decency of the innocent. That morning, I listened to the ever informative BBC Hausa Service report, gane mani hanya, which discussed its findings on the group. In the report, I learnt how the group was committed to learning, both Islamic and Western, earning a dignified living through farming, and their commitment of its residents to peace. Yet, in that report, the Commissioner of Justice was insinuating that they are a dangerously armed group, unacceptable deviant behavior, and so on. By evening, the same station started reporting how one of the greatest crimes in the eyes of God – forceful eviction of people from their homes – was meted on them. In the end, no weapons were discovered. Nothing.
But from boko haram to Darul Islam, if we will pardon the negligence of governors Modu Sherrif, Yuguda, and Babangida about the rights of citizens in Islam, we cannot exonerate their disregard for the Nigerian constitution. The last two are university graduates and must have accustomed their ears, if not their minds, to the guarantees enshrined in our constitution: guarantees to the freedoms of religion, worship, conscience, expression, association and movement; above all, it guarantees the freedom to life and the presumption of innocence of every citizen until he is proved guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. Their failure lies in the stupidity to divorce this knowledge in the hour of need because compliance by these constitutional provisions entails the combined plucking of thought, patience and ingenuity. Why would they be patient when some of them have urgent matters to attend to? And the reader knows what ‘urgent matters’ I am referring to.
But beyond them, Yar’adua must load himself with a bigger culpability for displaying superior credulity. He has been, hitherto, an activist, a teacher, a governor and from an aristocratic stock. Yet, when it mattered most, he was unable to pull these credentials together to sort things constitutionally. Instead he sought refuge in panic and the credulity of accepting security reports on their face value, as he did before in the Jos crisis of last year. He has forgotten that he has a military which many of its members take pride in saying they are trained to kill, instead of saying they are trained to save, lives. He also overlooked the fact that some of his policemen have killed innocent citizens just for N20 at roadblocks. Caution would have accompanied his command. He is known to be diligent and painstaking in taking decisions. On both occasions, it appears, he took leave of them.
No one denies the President the responsibility to pursue any armed groups like boko haram. No sensible person is restraining him from keeping vigil on puritans like the residents of Darul Islam, all in his effort to guarantee the safety of our society. What the majority are rejecting, including all human rights groups, is that he must stick by the rule of law, an item on his seven point agenda on which he has made so much noise but which he abandons at the slightest sign of challenge. Nigeria, he and the governors must understand, is no longer the ancient kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, Songhai, Benin, Oyo, Sokoto or Borno. This is a modern republic that guarantees justice for every citizen, a signatory to a number of conventions that attests to its commitment to the values of civilization.
Talking about the philosophy of Darul Islam members, I do not subscribe to the migration or isolationism but I, like all other citizens, must rise to alert government on the duty to honor our rights. Ordinarily, I would like charismatic people like the members of Darul Islam to choose Umar in place of Abu Zarr, May Allah be pleased with both of them. Instead of fleeing, let them remain within the domain of sin and join many who are trying their best to mitigate it. Mankind and sin are inseparable, for God must answer His name “the All-forgiving.” If we were not to sin and seek God’s forgiveness, as narrated in a tradition of the Prophet, He would have wiped us out and bring another creation that will disobey his command but seek his forgiveness and He will forgive them.
Nor would we impress God by being angels, for no space exist, no matter how tiny, between the heavens and the earth, except there is an angel glorifying His name, as narrated in another tradition. Our salvation therefore lies more in repentance than in purity, which is utopian. The life of mankind entirely is that of trial and those would impress God the most who seek salvation in His forgiveness: “Every son of Adam commits mistakes and the best are those who seek forgiveness,” said the Prophet.
However, this is only a matter of preference for their isolationist philosophy is equally supported by verses and traditions of the Prophet. In Nisa, God tells us about the interrogation of some people who tolerated evil, refusing to fight it on earth. Their alibi was that they were weak. He would ask them, “Wasn’t my earth wide enough for you to migrate?” In Kahf, He praised the youths that withdrew from their corrupt society to live in a cave. Finally, the Prophet (SAW) himself foretold the fate of Abu Zarr, who later had a misunderstanding with Umar on accumulation of wealth. The Prophet once saw him and said, “May God have mercy on Abu Zarr! He will live alone, die alone and rise on the Day of Judgment alone.” Abu Zarr, left Medina, lived alone and died alone. His body was discovered by travelers who buried him. Yet, I prefer the choice of Umar because I believe our case is not that hopeless and, as the members of Darul Islam would now realize, the earth has indeed become so small that there is nowhere to migrate to beyond the reach of corrupt authorities. God will certainly reward members of the group for their courageous intention and attempt.
As corruption takes its toll in Nigeria, indignant groups like boko haram and Darul Islam will continue to emerge under various names or different forms and in other religions as well. Government’s resolve to uphold human rights will be tested, as it was disappointedly tested in Zaki Biam, Udi, Jos, and during the past few weeks. It is my wish that in its subsequent encounters with Nigerians, unlike in previous ones, government will turn around its record of shame and earn a medal of civilization. I am not in any way accusing any of the four – Yar’adua, Yuguda, Madu Sherrif or Babangida of deliberately targeting Muslims because they will have nothing to gain by so doing and I am not pure enough to doubt the commitment of anyone to his religion. I am only blaming them for panicking and abandoning in the process their reason that would have guided them to the rule of law. Leaders must remain calm in the face of the storm.
Finally, this essay is a eulogy for Darul Islam, the village that was forcibly abandoned, not for its members. By its evacuation, Government has certainly squandered the chance for creating our Boston in the “power state”. Yet, I will plead with the former inhabitants of the village, as they disperse to their various states of origin, not to return and cry over its ruins as the ancient Arab poet would do in recollection of Lubna, Laila, Su’ad or Salma. Rather, they should try to reintegrate into the larger ‘sinful’ Nigerian society and use their charismatic nature to rid our human society of evil as much as possible.
I will also advise that their eviction must not be the end of their grouping. They must maintain their contacts (happily the gsm and internet are here) and activities as a group, enjoining good and prohibiting evil, in accordance with the Qur’an and Sunnah and within the ambit of law. Let them retain their beautiful name – Darul Islam – in Diaspora, openly operate like any other organization in the country, and even seek government’s registration where necessary. They have every right to freedom of association like any other Nigerian in pursuit of their belief. Nigeria needs their type more than it needs the corrupt officials that ransack our treasury and spread corruption. Let them form business in farming, education, trade and industry as their American counterparts once did.
And who knows, one day, perhaps after our ‘sinful’ and barbaric generation has perished, the country will be civilized enough to tolerate them, giving them the chance of reunion, to form another city, like Boston and Massachusetts, of learning and piety. They must not lose hope. As Majnun Laila once put it, wa qad yajma’ullahush shatitaini ba’ada ma yazunnani kullaz zanni an la talaqiya, “the two (lovers) that separated could be reunited by God after they have lost every hope of reunion.” As democracy gains ground in the country, that dream may become real sooner than later.
19 August 2009