Shariah and our Welfare
Since the introduction of shariah, we have written a number of articles in this column regarding a number of issues as they arise. Generally, the articles were hailed whenever they appear to be in defence of a practice under shariah. However, whenever they appeared critical, they were avoided, disregarded and at times dismissed as mere journalistic comments that weigh only as much as any other article in a newspaper. It is sad to mention that this is not only the attitude of government officials but also that of the commoners whose rights we are attempting to protect by making such criticisms publicly.
More saddening is the fact that even scholars are not exempted. Though no one to date could find fault in our claims on issues regarding shariah, most of them were against airing such critical views publicly. They would prefer that they be given as an advice to the governments concerned quietly and privately. I often remain silent when such issues are raised in conferences or meetings, knowing well that time will vindicate me.
And time has met my expectation. I was not therefore surprised when, while browsing the Internet recently, I came across an article written by one of such brothers who were critical of my public exposition of matters regarding shariah. He criticised the actions of Zamfara State government regarding rulings given in cases that he saw had to do with gender and class. A week later, I saw the same article published as a lead comment on this magazine. He condemned the caning of a single teenage mother and the amputation of Jangebe’s hand, supporting, as expected, his arguments with views of other Islamic scholars. I wonder why he did not send it privately as an advice to the Zamfara State government. After reading the article, I could not help saying, “You are welcome.” He was fuming over what I precisely said one and a half years ago and on which he preferred should have been an advice given privately and quietly.
A week later or so, a conference was held in London on shariah implementation in Nigeria. I did not attend it, but I have learnt about some of its deliberations, courtesy of BBC Hausa Service. In the conference, an issue came up, I think from the presentation of our learned brother, teacher and guide, Mal. Ibrahim Suleiman. It had to do with the issue of shariah and quality of governance. The point he made was that shariah is supposed to improve the quality of governance. This is an indisputable fact.
However, the fact was disputed. In an answer to the question by a reporter of the BBC Hausa Service, asking why there is so far no signs of tangible improvement on the quality of life of people in states that have proclaimed shariah, another learned brother came to the defence of the governors, arguing that it is not proper for people to set utilitarian goals for shariah, for the simple reason that it is God that determines the condition of living of people. This fatwa is dangerous. I was glad that objections were raised on how such governments failed to show any departure from the past practice of waste. Another learned brother gave an example citing how they sponsored people for pilgrimage. In his response to the charge, the Zamfara State Governor, while conceding the authenticity of the charge, blamed the people who approach government seeking such favours.
These issues are not at all surprising to me. I expected them. Based on the strength of my conviction I gave advices before hand, one and a half years ago, on how the need for caution and due care in dealing with them, at the risk of being misunderstood. And indeed many were happy to misunderstand me. It now appears that the intelligentsia are unhappy with how shariah is tamed in the courts and restricted from reaching offices and government houses. The question is often asked, why should Jangebe lose his hand and criminals in offices do so only at the mild expense of losing their jobs? If that question could be dismissed hitherto as hypothetical, a nastier case has arisen that challenges government to become more self-critical. The District Head, Aliyu Danjibga, was convicted of doing away with five cows left in his custody by a vigilante group. Instead of being carried to a shariah court where he will be forced to return them and lose his job, he was taken to a magistrate court where he was charged a token N5,000.00. The government has so far claimed that the prosecution in the magistrate court was done to discredit it. It needs to revert the decision of the court through appeal or whatever because the court in the first place lacks jurisdiction to decide over the matter, according to the provisions of the shariah penal code. Only doing so will convince us that shariah application is egalitarian.
The shariah issue has come up when administration in Nigeria has been rendered captive of selfish tendencies and practices. Entrusted officials intercepted resources that were meant to be shared among citizens through the conception and implementation of well-articulated public policies. So corrupt ridden are such officials that nothing was conceived or done except if it will result in the material benefit to officials. People seek appointments not to serve the society but to exploit it; they think of none but themselves.
As such, resources have unjustifiably been concentrated in the hands of few unproductive elite. The worse part of the scenario is that the wealth gathered by this group is not used contribute in anyway to harness the productive capacity of the society as the classical economics of Adam Smith would have suggested. It is not invested meaningfully but hidden in foreign accounts beyond the orbit of local market circulation. When they are forced by crave for luxury to spend part of it locally, it is nothing beyond the purchases of foreign products.
Poverty and crime
With no viable industries to employ them, and with pressing social responsibilities surrounding them from all angles, people have no option left but to see government through the same spectacle as does its officials. There is little wonder then if masses, with no jobs to earn a decent living, kept knocking at the doors of government and its officials, begging for one favour or another that will mitigate their suffering. Those that could not make the crawl to the government offices naturally fell prey to the temptation of crime.
If Jangebe had the benefit of quality education and employment in a factory, he would have stood a lesser chance of graduating into renowned cattle thief. I think that is why he made public his desire to henceforth focus on education. Corruption and lack of vision of officials that we mentioned above has engendered large scale poverty which in turn has transformed society into a factory that has in the past produced thousands of Jangebes; it is producing them today; and it will continue produce them in the future, unless its engine is somehow stopped.
I am not unaware that crime has many factors, depending on the society and the class of criminals in question. Someone may even be quick to argue that reported crimes are more rampant in technologically advanced countries where, like in the United States, the statistics are counted in seconds and minutes. This argument could also be supported by the existence of white-collar jobs – the popular term used for on the job illegality – and many other trends.
Though these arguments are valid for crimes born out of rational calculation – where the risk of apprehension or even punishment is low and the gain is high – criminologists are nevertheless unable to find a more powerful crime factor than poverty. Let us not forget that a high national income that is inequitably distributed between citizens will only prompt crime. That is the case with countries like America and Britain. Recent statistics for example have shown that 25% of Americans are living under poverty. Being poor in America means many disadvantages. It means living in neighbourhoods that have poor educational facilities that reduces the opportunity for the citizen to acquire high competitive skills. This in turn results in unemployment. In such an environment, crime abounds and it presents itself as the only choice before the mass of dropouts and the unemployed.
As for the white-collar crime (fashi da biro) that was valued at $200 billion per annum in America alone at the beginning of the last decade, though criminologists have written less on it than on organized crime, we cannot hesitate to ascribe it to the debasement of values inherent to capitalist society that compels citizens to see no good in anything except if it will fetch material wealth. I have in an earlier article narrated how in 1950 Sayyid Qutb met a white American who told him that the only god he knows is the dollar.
Our society on the other hand is still traditional. Non-material values, preached by Islam, are still held in high esteem by citizens and, wherever possible, they guide their actions. Their minds are still simple. We do not need to wander into any long discourse before we accept the hypothesis that if our people were better equipped with the economic skills of survival, our society will definitely record one of the lowest crime rates in the world. That is the only thing missing. The excruciating poverty that SAP and other programs have recently exacerbated. The plight of families gradually pushed their children into delinquency as a necessity for survival. In Islam, there is a well-established dictum that both poverty and ignorance breed blasphemy. I will not be surprised if the teenage single mother canned in Gusau is found to be one of such victims of economic deprivation.
Now the most annoying thing is that our poverty is self-inflicted. I vehemently oppose any attempt to find fatalistic reasons behind it, as proposed by some of our learned brothers. Take the case of Zamfara for example, which is in no way different from that of any other part of the North. In a state with fertile soil, rains and the massive dam at Bakalori; with a federal subvention of not less than four hundred million naira monthly; with a population characterised by industry for which the Hausas – the predominant tribe in the state – are well known; with minerals deposit beneath the ground waiting to be mined; with the esteemed values of Islam that has settled in all the cultural strata of the region over centuries; it is absolutely difficult to explain the prevalence of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment without indicting the leadership.
The primary responsibility of the leadership is to harness the exploitation of resources to achieve a better standard of living for all its citizens through in-depth planning, hard work and prudent management. That is the best way to protect lives and property. If in the past the secular disposition of state governments has hindered the achievement of such goals because everyone disbelieved in the system, now we have in place governments that proclaim the very cultural values of their subjects. Shariah, as could be deduced from the huge dome of literature written on Islamic leadership, puts the responsibility for welfare of citizens under its jurisdiction squarely on the neck of leaders.
History has testified that this was the standard by which our past leaders whom we consider as good examples lived. When someone came to the Holy Prophet complaining about poverty, the Prophet did not preach to him or source charity for him. Instead, he gave him an axe for cutting wood, suggesting the importance of job creation.
We must not forget the reign of Omar bin al-Khattab the second Caliph, and that of his grandson, Omar bin Abdulaziz. The latter is often remembered by the manner in which his administration focussed on equitable distribution of wealth and attainment of social justice, which he exemplified in many ways and for which he worked round the cloak to ensure that it was achieved. In an often-narrated ruling that we mentioned earlier in this column, when the Arabia was hit by drought in a particular year, he advised people to ensure greater security over their possessions. Then he went ahead to suspend the punishment on theft, clearly relating crime to the inadequacy of society to provide for all. He would walk the night to see if anyone has slept hungry. Through that he left a regard legacy of administrative diligence.
Omar is almost the best specimen of Islamic leadership after the Prophet. He saw leadership as a social responsibility that he had to account for on the day of judgement. For this he used to shed tears enough to soak his pillow when he goes to bed. So fossilized is his belief in accountability that he feared that God will query him on the Day of Judgement about a sheep that would stray in far away Iraq, saying, “why did not you repaired the road for it O Omar?” He also used to say, “the poor are more eligible to charity than the Haram in Mecca.” In fact, during the last days of his life, he was reported to have inclined to the “communist” interpretation of a verse of the Quran on keeping surplus wealth earlier given by Abu Zarr. He said that if God were to grant him long life he would seize the surplus wealth of the rich and redistribute it among the poor.
In one of his night vigils, Omar met a mother attending to a pot on fire and surrounding her were her children. He approached them to find out what she was doing, without disclosing his identity. She replied, “God is the judge between us and Omar.” He inquired, “What is the fault of Omar.” She replied, “He is our leader but does not care about us.” She then told him that she placed stones on fire to give her hungry children the false impression that she is cooking something for them until they would be overtaken by sleep. Omar immediately rushed to the treasury and fetched food for her. His company in the night vigil advised them to leave, after having brought the food items. Omar refused, saying, “I will not leave until I witness the children rejoicing out of satisfaction, just as I found them crying when hungry.”
It was not surprising that during the tenure of his grandson, the caliphate prospered to the extent that it failed to produce the poor that were eligible to receive Zakat. And whatever would be said about the affluence of the Abbasid caliphs like Rashid or Mamun, one thing clearly stands out: despite their moral shortcomings, they maintained the prosperity of the caliphate to the extent that the goal of other nations was to destroy Baghdad, which the Mongols eventually succeeded in doing. So prosperous were their tenures that their intellectuals had the tranquillity that enabled them to leave behind a legacy of literature and science. They surpassed other nations not only in conquests but also in agriculture and industry.
This is what we expect of our shariah-compliant leadership today, if not in whole, at least in semblance. We strongly believe that our leaders today should depart sharply in their conception of social responsibility from the selfish indulgence of the recent past. They are supposed to show the highest degree of vision, hard work and frugality that will result in making their states stand out in sharp contrast from others that are not advocates of shariah. In the world of today, that will not be achieved by preaching alone, or increasing the risk of crime through severer punishments, but by diligent planning using all modern techniques that would harness productivity in every sector of their economies.
We do not encourage them to distribute rations to people that are strong enough to fend for their selves. That is the right of the weak that could be funded from Zakat. Generation of wealth and its distribution has undergone changes over the last 1400 years. Hausaland, which before colonization knew nothing called unemployment, has its traditional industries weeded out by modern means of production, thus rendering a lot of its population jobless. Acquisition of modern skills and infrastructure of production has therefore become necessary.
Such governments must intervene at this crucial moment, in a typical Keynesian way, if you like, to re-energise the economy though taking measures that will increase demand. We expect them to focus on securing the future and harnessing skill acquisition through reforming education; they must seek the assistance of experts in various fields to bring out the numerous areas that could be exploited to create jobs and invent industry; they must be the best examples in fighting corruption; they must re-institutionalise the principles of accountability and prioritisation; they must avoid lavish and unnecessary appeasement of pressure groups that are interested only in procuring contracts and sponsorship to pilgrimage and the like; above all, there is an urgent need to institutionalise social justice where people will be treated equally before the law and where resources are equitably shared between citizens. People must be given, as the Holy Prophet once did, the axe to cut and sell wood if necessary. Shariah means hard work, both on the part of the governors and the governed.
Shariah must translate into tangibly positive indices of economics and justice that will be enjoyed by all citizens in states where it reigns regardless of class, religion or gender. There is no need running away from the utilitarian function of Islam. That is what the Holy Prophet once promised his companions in Mecca. He said, in a hadith reported by Bukhari, “God will establish this affair to the extent that a camel rider will have nothing to fear between San’aa and Hadhramaut except God and the wolf that might eat his stock.” That promise was fulfilled yesterday. We await its fulfilment today.
It is our sincere hope that this advice will not fall on deaf ears, as did those before it. We do not mean to hurt anyone. And our last prayer is that all Praise is due to God, the Lord of the Worlds.
24 April 2001