Gen. AbdulQadir Gumi (Rtd)
RELIGION`S UNIVERSALITY AND SECULAR DOMINANCE UNIVERSALITY, RELIGION AND OTHER CREEDS
- Christianity and Islam have both survived chequered immemorial heritage for 2015 and 1436 years respectively. This fact stands out against any modern and amateurish narration as to threaten their existence. Apart from the super religions, how many African tribes or ethnic groups will bury a corpse of one of them whose death is ascribed to suicide which has become the primary means of distinguishing the modern day terrorist operations? Yet, these Africans over the time have welcomed, lived with and converted to both super religions out of piety, passion and on their own volition. Uncountable converts are known to have lost traces of their ethnic origins, mother tongues and identities by affiliating elsewhere unperturbed simply on account of conversion to either of the two universal Religions.
- Which other association be it religion, nation, country, state, tribe, region, company, ethnic affiliations or even extra territorial, space or cyberspace put together is so designed as to admit converts and allow them to grow and be recognized to have access to its pinnacle and alters/pulpit based on sheer performance and merit. In all probability acceptable thoughts, definitions of terms and universal usages that have knit the world and international order together were and still are borrowed from the divine scriptures and heritage of the Universal Religions. Take the Devine scriptures out and you have a world that cannot agree on simple basic terms as ‘ responsible, reasonable, good, nice, tolerable, fair or their opposites’ etc and consequently even on the principles of equity, good conscience, rule of law, freedom, equality, principles and directives of states policies. Take simply the hand shake between two persons and you will find it to have canonical and scriptural roots. Clearly however the secular world will adopt it and refuse to ascribe it to the Religions.
- On the other hand, the austere disposition of the Religions will not object to secular theft of its brands since they promote virtues under all circumstances. Secularism stealthily then dominates the space it did not reap and then some other creed, ideology or academic personality will claim ownership of what has already been of Devine and immemorial roots. This notion goes for so many proverbs, adage and established sayings that are attributable to other than their Devine origins and yet no due or apologies are reserved or at all admitted. We can always plagiarize Devine scriptures or adopt them as our own with no provision for secular space to object and claim damages. How much do we ascribe the modern day concepts of freedom, equality, liberty and justice diligently to their religious roots even in passing as to earn the blessings of the Lord that we all seek for help. Methinks secularism seeks to sweep all universal religions to private domains and lockers without any one defining its own encroachment limits as if it is fair on it to set rights and limits for its own self. Secularism and the secular space must own up to the much it has stolen from the Religions as to be worthy of self-standing and survival in its own right? This standard should go with all other creeds and dogmas that creep in along or under the secular space shadow.
SECULARISM AND THE WINDOW FOR OBNOXIOUS PERFORMANCES
- It is radical irony that the moment secularity attains higher grounds of moral dominance, other creeds creep in to enjoy freedom and liberty that was completely knocked out earlier by religious propagations unperturbed. The same obnoxious performances that are tribal, cultist, animist, juju and African cultural performances that could not rear their heads when religion was supreme only reappear when secularity has driven the Religions aground. The fear in the case of modern day terrorism, however, is the want of a villain to hang when no one is there to speak for religion. Religion becomes the victim when it is otherwise the ultimate solution to all vices. It is then called names and attributed to forms of behavior only known to animists in the past the while we all are expected to look on as normal.
- The slaughtering of a human being as practice attributable to Islam is similar to suicide attributable to Jihad. Cannibalism, rape, use of civilian population for shield, infants and women as cannon fodder has only been sourced from outside of the Quran and Prophetic traditions. How unfair then, that the practices known to animists and pagans abhorrence and which endeared many to Islam and Christianity, are now attributed to Islam in official quarters unperturbed. The responsibility for the rebranding of Islam with pagan practices can only be lodged on those who refuse to allow Muslim stakeholders to have free hand in the counter narrations utilized by the operation against the BH itself. It is then understandable why both Muslims and Christians will be the main victims and yet they are accusing each other of complicity to the blossoming survival of vices such as ethnicity and tribalism. Others are cult and fetish practices that include ironically the cutting and mowing of human beings and body parts for rituals and obnoxious illicit gains. Coincidentally a caption just appeared on my ‘sms alert box “I have eaten feces for eight years”-Man confesses’.
COMMONALITY AND RESPECT: AN IMMEMORIAL HERITAGE OF ISLAM
- Islam and Christianity are two of a kind that have survived and blossomed across land and oceans with ease of appeal to mankind. Thought distinct in some aspects of beliefs, the two are strange bedfellows that share the most common of values, heritage, definitions, heroes and concepts from times immemorial. They have established partnership/neighborhoods in history and territorial space around the World to the exclusion of other religions. Hardly are they concerned with each other however except in the claims for true beliefs, virtue and virtuousness. They seem to only beg to differ in terms of who is more sincere and virtuous than the other. They struggle for exclusivity against each other making parallel claims over similar shades of virtues, definitions and all charitable interpretation to realities they look forward to in either form, trace, concept or context.
- Islam and Christianity beg to be more austere than the other and compete in denial of spine to the world while adhering to the fact that the end of matters reside not in this world but in the hereafter. They differ on the personality of Jesus for example but struggle over who reveres him more. Same struggle exist for Mother Mary, the heavens, the same set of prophets, their history and exalted life patterns etc. The axis of deliverance is also along similar direction until no other religion can claim to be closer and tolerant to any of the two beyond what they stand for to each other. They naturally also compete as to who has more appeal and accessibility to pagans, other tribal, regions, nations and sentimental attachments that will dare not claim such capacity to reciprocate the gesture.
CONCEPT OF IDENTITY OF THE COMMON ENEMY
- Islam and Christianity both concur in the belief of a common enemy. The irony is that they hardly have a dividing line in their concept of this common enemy, the Devil. Their entire struggle is on how to defeat, overcome, evade or surmount the Devil and his illusiveness. Their capacity and the zeal to make a turnabout any time the Devil is seen or realized to be on the lead is near equal. This zeal defines the painstaking character of their followers to any course of action, no matter the cost or sacrifice toward the self-purification from perceived Devil and his deceptions. This asset underscores their ability to recognize and tolerate each other as an asset in spite of their differences.
- The Devil himself of course, can only be illusive to both Islam and Christianity at the same time because they concur on the concept of his identity and method. He is therefore at his most elusive moment when the two Religions are on physical combat with each other instead of climbing over each other to locate and diminish him. The duos are therefore reliably unpredictable whenever they are glaring on a wrong, doubtful or fraudulent path. They are the most unreliable as accomplices to, abettors, accessories before or after to a wrong let along a crime.
WORLD ORDER A PRODUCT OF RELIGIOUS VALUES
- Islam and Christianity define most of the present world order, laws, conventions, court processes and procedures, universal administrative standards, basic human relations and reasonably acceptable conducts. It would seem that the same austere disposition of no self-praise is responsible to the theft of their indelible concepts by secularism and other dogmas unperturbed. Additionally, together with the outright refusal to acknowledge that the sources of all good are from the Devine scriptures we should at the least be able to own up to the Religious roots of all sound universal principles that have been accepted as the World Order today. These range from international conventions, accepted cultural practices, Laws and treaties, principles and best practices of diplomacy to neighborhood interrelationships etc. I bet it is this minimal recognition that what we beg to foretell by our opening and closing prayers to events and occasions but with little show of realism though.
- We should then also own up to our laws and the British common law as basically Canon that it is by and largely accept its comparability and complimentary roles to the Sharia law as it exists in Nigeria, Pakistan and the Sudan etc. It is believed that such recognition will enable the right atmosphere for religious security, national harmony and appropriate dues to secularity as well, whatever/ wherever it means. The prayers we also resort to in our times of adversity will also have greater meaning and deliverance having given Religion its communal dues. Strange dogmas, their sources and realism especially where they adopt and claim or copy sources rooted in the universal religions must be isolated to deny them except where they reaped for peace and the world order to reign. On the aggregate also, if the Religions have survived for immemorial past, nothing else, of a grouping or association, should compete with them in terms of space and value as to deny it its own existence.
NATURAL ANTIDOTE TOWARDS EACH OTHER
- The duo of Christianity and Islam have not only come a long way but would seem to have evolved as natural anti dote for the survival of each other in times of distress. This conclusion may not be farfetched from their identical definition and outlook on the Devil called Shaitan or Lucipher and his descendants from among the humans and Jins. The Prophet Muhammad SAW asked Muslims who could not bear the Meccan Pagan persecutions as an interim measure to first migrate to Habasha (now in Ethiopia) and to seek for protection from a sincere Christian King Najjashi and this turned out successfully. Again a tradition related that when the Jews (also people of the Book) fasted on the 10 of Month of Muharram to mark the day God saved them and drowned Pharoah, Prophet Muhammad SAW said the Muslims were the most deserving of fasting on that day but that they should add another day of fasting in order to contrast with the Jewish way (Sahih Bukhari). The choice of Christianity and indeed Judaism as a responsible neighbor to Islam and Muslims is therefore, by Devine decrees.
- The Quran has distinguished Christianity as most (Surah 5.82) sympathetic and devoid of arrogance thereby being closest to Islam no matter the challenge of one against the other and in many verses described Christians in the best of light. The Quran concedes that there are good and bad of either, just as the good in either are also hard to come by. The Muslim is enjoined to fulfill all rightful obligations towards the Christian the same way the Christian is expected to fulfill all righteousness towards the Muslim. Chapter 5 verse 47 enjoins Muslims in their day to day relationships” to ensure that ‘the people of Injeel (the holy Bible) live and judge according to what has been enjoined there in” as a foundation for mutual coexistence. ”Chapter 5 Verse 5 made lawful to Muslims the Christian food which he has prepared for himself. It has also decreed marriage to Christian women provided the marriage fulfils all righteousness, dowry is paid, the relationship is not built upon extra marital intimacy or taking of advantage without due recognition and acceptance of her parents. The venue for the marriage to Christian women can only therefore be at her parents abode. Thus by divine revelations, the Christian is there for a Muslim and vice versa. It is also natural and conventional that when a Muslim picks the Quran the Christian will not pick some other than the Bible for counterpart relationship and vice versa. The space for their common enemy or any other intruder will naturally also close in.
PAGAN COMMUNITIES AS MUTUAL GRAZING GROUND
- The Northern Nigerian experience is a clear testimony that Islam and Christianity had a latent understanding that pagan conversion to either of the two Religions was the acceptable minimum. They seemed soft with each other on conversion space over time to the extent that each feels as good with the conversion of an outsider or a pagan to either. Muslims and Christians seemed to have peacefully succeeded in turning the pagan areas as grazing grounds for converts and any conversion to one is bringing home a faithful closer to either. Together, the relationship transmuted to what became Indirect Rule with the Bayiah (Islamic allegiances) to rulers residing in the traditional institutions while mundane loyalty, also distinguishable under the Sharia, went to the British colonialists. To date the Bayiah remains a formal allegiance to the traditional institutions, district and emirate by emirate, while citizen allegiance constitutionally rests with the Government of the day discharged through voting, polls and election rights. Therein lay the invaluable roles of the traditional institutions with or without constitutional recognition of their existence.
- The British clearly could not tolerate animist and pagan attributes and for that they employed direct rule for Christianity to occupy all administrative and mundane space in the Southern Nigeria. The British had no moral authority then to deny Islam flourishing in the North being equally a universal religion with the two coming a long way from time immemorial. It therefore adopted the indirect rule in the North in order that it could peacefully share space with Islam and also have the leverage for its economic and commercial pursuits unhindered.
MUTUAL BENEFITS FROM CONVERSION
- Conversion of one to either consequently brings a pagan and any third party closer to either Islam or Christianity. This has by congruity made grazing for converts within the same location mutually beneficial, acceptable and to the chagrin pleasure and understanding of both. This was, as earlier said, the spirit that kept the duo going in complimentary roles until they merged in places that included the pre-colonial Northern Nigeria. Similarly, they did same in Sudan and other parts of Africa, the Middle East etc within civility, mutual understanding and minimal combat. I ones asked an Islamic clergy how he felt whenever his style of preaching on radio question and answer sessions was copied or imitated by Christian preachers. He simply smiled in approval, and that it meant no harm and is for common good. It is also in that light around 1987, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, when asked on Nigerian politics said that he (a Muslim Clergy) will vote or vouch only for a Muslim candidate but that Christianity ‘was nothing’ ie not a hindrance. The import in the context of his comment using his infrequent English tongue was that, as a Muslim clergy, he will vote/promote a Muslim candidate in principle but that Christianity and by extension its candidates are harmless. They can have their way, are neither a problem nor a hindrance, if so conceived by the situation on the ground.
- Sheikh Abubakar Gumi`s statement was in utter comparison to paganism and other objectionable traits that he considered as ‘something’ objectionable, worth resisting or to have to challenge among the Nigerian elites. That was why some of his senior off springs attended missionary schools unperturbed. But the media then quoted him then out of context and the hype it triggered never allowed a clear explanation until in 1992, when now Prof Ismaila Tsiga took the matter up with Malam in his book ‘Where I Stand’. He then explained his position before his demise (pages 184). In the same tone also Malam, as we fondly call him would always assess any Christian or Muslim leader, not by his physical achievements but by religious affinity and disposition. His impression of Gowon for example was positive and considered his reign as that of a benevolent Christian. He would praise the Gowon regime for its respect for Religion and was proud that the Armed Forces Chaplaincy was consulted in decision making at the highest levels of the military Government.
- Malam, on the other hand sounded care free towards the Gen O Obasanjo military Regime because he could not place his religious inclinations (pages 205 of Where I Stand). Even among Muslims and to his disciples, Malam maintained impressions, positive or negative, mostly, only towards his pupils and those he considered religiously inclined and remained mostly blank and uncommitted towards anyone whose religious disposition was not forthcoming. This singular attribute is believed to be a propagation attitude that kept him concerned with his own business while allowing others to keep their own concerns.
- This is the background within which Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, with penchant for conversion of his neighborhood to Islam became legendary. Times without number he allowed the media to broad cast the conversions mainly to teach the simplicity of non-Muslim access to Islam. It was common then that pagans were mainly discouraged by our traditional and cultural settings as to be heavily indebted before they are accepted as converts to Islam. Sometimes ram or other offerings were demanded on them as primary conditions for conversion and this is not required anywhere in Islam. The publicity attached to the congregational conversions during his Tafsir (commentary of the Quran)at the Sultan Bello Mosque were never meant to show case Islam ahead of Christianity as many would want to insinuate but to reaffirm the simplistic nature of conversion to Islam in order to nip unnecessary traditional servitude placed on voluntary Muslim converts. It was meant to further facilitate their integration into the Muslim community at the cheapest convenience prescribed by the Sharia and for the society to also benefit from them.
- I dove my heart for Prof I Tsiga with the words salam alaikum (peace be unto you) for the novel compilation in the book ‘Where I Stand’. The more I read it the more I realize that it has documented the foundation for the containment of Boko Haram about 23 years ago and yet gave in to its occurrence with explicit manifestations that the book has so profoundly predicted. It was Incident delight one day that Col USA Giwa-Amu (of blessed memory), a learned colleague, who was then President O Obasanjo’s aide de camp , called me up to appreciate ‘Where I Stand’ and how the book improved his perception of life like no other in the past. Accordingly he claimed to have been indisposed to his official engagement for 3 days to be able to have uninterrupted reading of the book ‘Where I Stand’ from start to finish
MORE ON THE INDIRECT RULE IN NORTHERN NIGERIA
- The Indirect rule produced more deliberate Christians in the Northern Nigeria because the conversions also gave equal space for Islam as an alternative. The opposite existed in the South where everyone including Muslims had to conform to colonial identity to be integrated. Thus, while the Indirect rule left clear pagan communities in identified zones and with time and option to go either way, the direct rule in the South cloaked the pagan communities with the Christian garb whether or not they actually converted and lumped them all as Christians. Those yet to convert on their own volition were compelled to identify with Christianity as no other option was available for integration. The pagan communities till today are therefore believed to be more distinguishable in the North. Although the situation has created very deliberate and identifiable Christian North who are as amiable and peaceful like their Muslim brethrens, it has on the other hand also become a source of major friction when Muslims, in their usually casual disposition fail to distinguish between Christians and their pagan kith and kin since they normally would be living together in their mist.
- The truth is that the Christian mix with pagan communities in terms of cohabitation is more out of evangelical than tolerant disposition towards paganism. Muslim evangelism keeps the pagan at a further distance because the Islamic admission processes and recognition of converts, simple as it is, seems yet more formal than that of Christianity. And it is in this regard that the Muslims have to be more stringent and careful in reciprocating mutual recognition to their Northern Christian brothers who live amidst the Northern pagan communities. References and propagations to pagans are easily misunderstood by Christians to feel derogated or despised when no effort is made to distinguish that the message was not primarily directed or referred at Christians and vice versa. And how much training do our clergy receive to be able to make particular preaching while distinguishing pagan from the Christian communities. The recognition of pagan as against the Christian North and its shades of character presentation may elude some Southern Christians who live or visit the North for the fact that the South was constructed differently. A reference to pagan in the North, most cases will not be understood by a southern Christian and care must be employed to protect him from taking offence, in obvious show of affinity to his Northern Christian brother. These are areas of emphasis for interfaith dialogue because the desire to continue to propagate on the pagan communities is still as urgent as it has ever been in the past.
THE RESILIENCE OF NORTHERN COMMUNITIES TO FORGE ON TOGETHER
- The long history of unblemished togetherness and mutual trust built earlier by the way the North was carefully constituted and reconstructed by forefathers is what has kept the fragile peace in the North unshaken. The heritage and trust built in are very formidable to break by transient mischief. It is marvelous and until recently that, the Gwari or the Fulani for instance will out of sheer instinct to accommodate others, move further away from an established habitat or domain to give way unnoticed. This could even be giving way to some developers who encroach discourteously to take over their homes. Sometimes this is done in their very consciousness but they readily offer the benefit of doubt presumably because of past indelible mutual trust that was unparalleled. Again how many times throughout the North that a passerby, would by over speeding kill a child with his car, carry the corpse to the parents inside villages and the parents will simply collect and bury their loved ones. This they do without any charge on the passerby and instantly let it go as an act of God and destiny to the admiration of all. This unequalled quality cuts across both the Muslim and Christian communities of Northern extraction having come a long way appreciating each other and their peaceful coexistence. What could have gone wrong to reverse such an old time harmony in just a short while of our recent history beats all imaginations. Raising material pedestals over and above a populace that were hitherto molded with deliberate religious leanings and propagations, in quantum never seen in recent history is one area to look at for solution.
ARMED FORCES AS THE BEST EXAMPLE OF NIGERIAN RELIGIOUS HERITAGE
- The Nigerian Army and later Armed Forces probably remains the best example of Christian and Muslim convergence at creating and recreating Nigeria with a unique federal character comprising only the Muslim, Catholic and Protestant religious space. The model is designed in such a way that it occupies all the useful space for Muslim, Catholic or protestant in the barracks and in its tight regimental setting. The pagan or any other space seemed unintended and no personnel at the same time could be trusted without a Religion. Even conversion from one to another of the approved Religions must be subjected to scrutiny to ensure that God is not taken for mundane advantage.
- Just like the Nigerian adopted law and legal system avoided recognition then for African traditional laws at Independence, the Nigerian Armed Forces also evaded any space for pagan and traditionalists for enlistment and commission purposes. A pagan therefore must belong to or adopt one of either to be admitted until recently when Religion started to be a weapon of hate and division among personnel. If our growth were healthy some criteria would by now have been put in place for any new religion, sect or denomination, having satisfied some set down universal standards to be admitted into the barracks formally and for the benefit of regimentation, equality, predictability and due process. Why not for paganism or animism if someone with locus can make presentation acceptable to set standards. But still at that one recalls how Islam has or Christianity in the Nigerian setting discovered useful neighbor and antidote for the lapses in one another as they beautifully occupied the space that left no room for conflict, the Devil and other incongruities at least until recently.
….Gumi can be reached at [email protected]
To be continued