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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Discourse 99: No to Mullah Dictatorship

Friday Discourse (100)

NO to ‘Mullah Dictatorship’

Our centennial article is likely to be controversial, because in it we chosen to support the artistes in Katsina in their conflict with some clerics (ulema) over the position of their profession under the Shariah. The Katsina State Shariah Commission has issued a fatwa in response to a plea by Performing Artistes and Artisans Association, Katsina State, whose members were prohibited from performing by some clerics under the leadership of Malam Yakubu Musa. But recently at the meeting of the National Council for Shariah, the cleric has vowed to continue with his campaign in spite of the fatwa that did not favour his views about social gatherings and musical performances.
This article discusses the issue and where we feel the solution lies.
The return of shariah came along with a number of bans on some habits and practices in our society. Some of these prohibitions like those on alcohol, adultery, theft, breach of trust, etc. were expected because Islam has expressly abrogated them. These prohibitions, being fundamental to the shariah code and the religion, have not attracted much criticism and do enjoy our full support.
The second category of prohibitions has remained controversial. Such prohibitions include the ban on ceremonies like wedding and naming ceremonies, mostly attended by women; the ban on praise singing; the ban on musical performances, both folk and modern; the segregation of women in public transport; regulations regarding women trade and dress; etc. Most of these are not mentioned in the shariah code, understandably for the simple fact that the code is a penal document, not a code of conduct. Here, governments, organizations and individuals have gone forward and backward and opinions have differed on the legitimacy of such prohibitions and the roles to be played by authorities in executing them.
For those directly affected by the policies however, the reaction is obvious. For instance, on abolition of buki (wedding and naming ceremonies) in which women are worse hit, a girl from Gusau was once told about a wedding ceremony in Jos and she suddenly cried, wai wai wai, garin dadi na nesa (O God, the sweet is far away!). But since they have been used to male domination, the reaction of women has remained silent.
Not so with men, however. Some of them have become vociferous and violent because the bans have touched on their means of livelihood and profession. In Katsina, Malam Bature Tanimu Gagare confronted the clerics who unilaterally imposed a ban on live performance of traditional artistes. I was not surprised that at a point even the Izala mosque was pelted with stones by the disgruntled artistes and their supporters in addition to the physical confrontation that took place in Dutsinma before the eyes of the state governor. Mai-asharalle, who was also a victim of the ban, has long recorded a new song disparaging the ulema.
The conflict as understood by the artistes was given by Malam Gagare in an interview published in the Weekly Trust of 17 August 2001. He said:
“As the Secretary General of the Performing Artistes and Artisans Association, Katsina State, I had a job to do – principally to smash the mullah dictatorship endangering our profession and, by implication, our culture. The wind that swept the false ulema and humiliated the Izala sect in Katsina was simply a reaction by the youths, the musicians, artists and other Muslims, towards a very dangerous blend of dictatorship and Sharia in the state. Now, of course, our association has stood firm and routed the false mullahs…”
Take ceremonies for instance. It has been twenty-four years since our naming and wedding ceremonies came under attack by some ulema, especially from the Izala sect. Though they have rightfully questioned the obligatory status some of the practices were accorded traditionally, nevertheless, they erred in condemning them as bida’ (innovations) that must be scrapped. Their reason was more economic than religious, to the best of my understanding. Families with poor income were practically finding such ceremonies cumbersome such that many families greeted a revolt against them, championed by Izala, as a sigh of relief. The same thing applies to other commitments in formulation of marriage: toshi, kayan aure, lalle and so on.
We do not mind the revolt in as much as such practices are not elevated to the levels of prohibition (tahreem). In families that can shoulder them, we see no reason why relations from both sides will not celebrate over a marriage, for example. It is a social gathering important in keeping tight the knot of blood relationship. For our female folk, it is the only time for their socialization, when they relieve their nerves of their long period of stay indoors. It also offers them the opportunity for exchange of ideas and mutual assistance that should in fact be promoted rather than discouraged.
In fact, until of recent children were considered as assets and source of delight, so parents were glad with their arrival. Imam Malik used to slaughter two rams on the day of naming his child, one as aqiqah and the other for entertaining his guests. In addition to rams, our grandparents used to slaughter bulls and distribute the meat to guests, relations and the needy. What fault is there in a father showing his appreciation to God for blessing him with a child through collective prayer and a ceremony where people including the poor are entertained from His bounty?
Well, shariah came and these ulema were quick in seizing the opportunity to lure some governments into institutionalising their renunciation of such practices without a conclusive proof in jurisprudence.
This is a usurpation of Gods power. Some people, morals as they are, are allowed to raise themselves to the status of making the lawful unlawful. It is an injustice that has been condemned by God since the period of Jahiliyya. He said: “And speak not, concerning that which your own tongues qualify (as clean and unclean), the falsehood: ‘This is lawful, and this is forbidden,’ so that ye invent a lie against Allah. Lo! those who invent a lie against Allah will not succeed.” (16:116) Jews and Christians earned the same condemnation for elevating their clerics to the level of law givers: “They have taken as lords beside Allah their rabbis and their monks and the Messiah son of Mary, when they were bidden to worship only one God…”(9:31)
The debate on music has never been conclusive. The best fatwa I ever heard regarding music is the one Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi once gave. He said: “The fault in music lies in what it says: if it says evil about someone or calls towards sin, then it is bad. If it does not, it is permissible.”
The mutasawwifah (or Sufis as they are commonly known) have been the ardent critics of indulgence in music. But they too have not prohibited it, rather, from the point of view of zuhd (forfeiture of the permissible), the worst they have taken it to be is makrouh (a distasteful act that does not attracts neither reward nor punishment). The irony is that among Sufis themselves, some orders use music in their ecstatic sojourn in zikr (remembrance of God). And the most elaborate text I ever came across regarding the position of music and poetry in Islam is a chapter in the Ihya ‘Ulumuddeen of Imam al-Ghazali. The opinion of the Imam is that “singing is a play that is makrouh that looks like something bad…” This derives from the views of people like Imam Shafi’i, Malik, Abu Hanifa (who considers it sinful), Sufyan al-Thaory and others.
However, that is not all. The greater part of his review shows that music and singing is permissible as opined by the jurists like Abu Talib al-Makkiy who cited some prominent names among companions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) – Abdullah bin Jaafar, Abdullah bin zubair, al-Mughirah bin Shu’bah, Muawiyyah and others (May God be pleased with them all) that listened to songs. He added: “Many among the pious salaf have done that – companions and those who followed them)… Even now, the people of Hijaz in Mecca listen to songs in the most sacred of days of the year, that is ‘the appointed days’ in which God enjoined His worship and remembrance…”
Let us quickly add here, as al-Makkiy showed, that what they used to listen to was not the harsh masculine voice of Abdulhalim Hafiz, Sa’idu al-Adrash, Maiasharalle, Shata or Garba Super, but the sweet melody and composition (talhin) of Arabian concubines that entertained the masters and their visitors.
It is therefore not surprising to find that throughout the Muslim world, except in Taliban territory, nowhere is folk music banned, not even in Saudi Arabia from where this puritanical theology is imported.
Hausa Music
Now let us look more closely at Hausa music. If a survey were to be carried out on various forms of music, it is my firm belief that Hausa music generally would be found among those that conform most to Islamic injunctions. Western, Indian and Arabic music are notoriously obsessed with love, not of God or anything, of women in particular. Hausa music on the other hand is largely concerned with madh (praise singing) and occasionally other aspects of life. Love does appear but only in the innocent voices of Ahmadu Danmatawalle in Sarkin Nasara, Haruna Uji in Balaraba or Jummai, and Shata in Gwamma malama, Abu da Gambo, Kyauta, etc, as well as in the recent love songs in Hausa films.
Generally, in Hausa music, we find very few engagements in the obscene that are detestable to the Shariah whether it is from court singers of yesteryears that were more traditional, like Salisu Jan Kidi, Aliyu Dandawo, Narambada, Ahmadu Dan Matawalle, Sarkin Taushen Katsina, Dankwairo and Dananace or from recent ones that are more liberal like Shata, Danmaraya (whom Gumi once gave a pass mark), Sani Aliyu Dandawo, Danmani, Ahmadu Doka and the rest. Though they cannot be said to be totally faultless or devoid of some statements that may sound distasteful to a saint, at the same time they are palatable to the larger society.
Music in Hausaland has helped to serve three purposes: entertainment, social mobilization and cultural continuity. Musicians, especially with the advent of the gramophone and modern record players, have rendered a good service in preserving and harmonizing the vocabulary of the language more than what scholars have offered over the centuries, for our scholars by preferring Arabic over Hausa have suffered the same inferiority complex that their English counterparts suffered when they, until recently, preferred Latin over English. Even the first book on English orthography published in 1568 was written in Latin!
Long before the advent of MAMSER, musicians have played very useful roles in social mobilization, with songs like Kiliya ta hannun dama by Shata, Naira da Kobo of Haruna Uji and Mu kama Sana’a of Audu Yaro. One cannot imagine other better means in an educationally backward society like ours.
Their greatest impact however is in entertainment, and here lies the bone of contention. The average human brain requires switching from one form of activity to another; otherwise, boredom will set in, leading to stagnation. Scholars enjoy the liberty of shifting from one intellectual experience to another; modern academicians in addition attend conferences and seminars at various levels where they exchange ideas with their colleagues from other parts of the world.
However for the majority of us – their students, followers and ordinary citizens – life apart from prayers, involves very little of books. Daba (gossip centre) is where we spend most of our leisure time. If it were not for sports and modern means of entertainment – the radio, video and television – life would have been really dull.
Amidst our boring routine, which varies substantially from the rich carte du jour of the scholar, the world of entertainment comes handy. It presents us with a sport competition, a drama, a film, a song over the radio and television or a live performance in the open village or town theatre. Our ears and eyes would listen and watch something more educating than our indulgence in gossip. Hence, whenever a live performance or competition is in the pipeline, the atmosphere is filled with excitement and fervour; at the theatre and the field, our minds are allowed to experience a thrill similar to what the scholar enjoys after discovering an exciting poem in Shuara’u or the diwan of Abu Tammam or that of Ahmad Shauqi. We thus return to our homes refreshed from our habitual boredom.
What we need is reform – not ban – on our music and art generally. For a ban we need a stronger authority from the Almighty, beyond the disputed stands of the ulema of the past and present. Since we have no basis in religion to abrogate them, we should find means of making sure that we educate our artistes on what are likely to be contraventions of Islamic ethics regarding their professions. For example, in words they must desist from abuse, vainity, blasphemy and anything that will lead to sin; in action, they should avoid alcohol, women and intermingling of the two sexes.
They should be allowed to freely feature in our ceremonies, gatherings and theatres that I believe must not be scrapped by clerics or government, for every nation has its customs with which it is identified among thousand others. What is important is that no custom should be elevated above, or should violate, the provisions of Islam on any matter. For example, I detest the recent innovations of male artistes performing before women who will dance to the tune of their music at naming or marriage ceremonies. This is reminiscent of Jahiliyya and, to me, terribly repugnant. I also strongly abhor cameramen shooting women at ceremonies. They get right into their houses and bedrooms where only women congregate, thus encroaching on their privacy. It is partially our fault because if we were a bit more liberal with our sisters, we would have trained some of them to become photographers and cameramen such that they could cover their affairs exclusively.
If no principle of Islam is violated, those who can afford ceremonies must be allowed to gather and celebrate their marriages and the naming of their newborns; we must also be allowed to celebrate our festivities, be it sharo, dambe or fishing festival, without any tsangwama (resent) from our ulema or government.
Government must not allow people to usurp its authority. It must not encourage them to take the law into their hands or to, on their own, constitute a body to oversee law enforcement because they are bound to commit more mistakes than they can solve. Ordinary citizens must not be allowed to interpret the shariah code to mean simply anything that their understanding of Islam warrants, going about in pick-up vans asking every couple on the street the nature of their relationship. This act is itself a violation of shariah because it is hinged on unfounded suspicion and presumption of guilt without any evidence.
In implementing shariah, agents of law enforcement, not necessarily the Nigerian Police, must be appointed by government. Matured procedures must also be followed. I was shocked that a deputy governor would lead a gang to stop a vice in a city as large as Kano; or, worse still, a governor supervising the burning of lorries carrying beer. We appreciate their commitment and understand that their frustration arises from the refusal of the Nigerian Police to cooperate with them in shariah implementation. Still, shariah has its criminal procedure code that should be patiently obeyed, not withstanding the frustration. Otherwise, we will be encouraging anarchy that is likely to backfire one day, as it repeatedly happened in history.
Finally our ulema must look at our society with a graceful eye. They must know that we cannot all live to their standard of zuhd (forfeiture of the permissible) because the opportunities that life offers us differ substantially. And if they will press government to turn every mubah (permissible act) or makrouh into haram (a punishable crime or sin), then they are bound to attract more enemies than disciples. We subscribe to Islam as much as anyone would claim, but we will stand firm against any dictatorship that will grant ordinary mortals, with no divine authority whatsoever, the powers due only to God and turn us into the slaves of their whims. Alhamdu lillah, Islam is a religion of freedom, not dictatorship. If service to shariah is their intention, then they should know that shariah has greater challenges in the waiting. They are thus free, to our utmost delight and staunchest support, to fight corruption in offices, rigging in elections, robbery on our roads, the rising illiteracy in our society, and the biting poverty from which our masses suffer. These are the true functions of shariah, not policing.
We therefore appeal to the Shariah Commission in Katsina to remain firm on its fatwa that legalizes folk music once it is done without violating Islamic rules regarding association or speech. We gave a similar advice earlier to Kano State government on the issue of Hijab and regulation of Hausa film industry.
For Bature Tanimu Gagare and his group as well as other people involved in the fields of writing, music and drama, let them continue to work hard to preserve and promote our culture without violating the provisions of Islam. If that is their aim, they must be resting assured that our answer is the same as theirs: NO to mullah dictatorship.

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