I was seated in a tea stall in my neighbourhood, among an entirely Muslim clientele, when a conversation between two fellows struck me. One was a provision store owner in one of the illegally occupied parts of Life Camp and his colleague was just who I may call “a random hustler”—a fellow you may dial to supply you with water, do your laundry and even run an errand for a small fee. Both were people of amazing faith in God, in the future, in a kinder destiny. Though on the surface, they seemed similar being both homeless and living in the mosque, their worldviews would never co-exist. They were debating a post-prayer sermon delivered in the neighbourhood mosque a day before which the store owner disagreed with. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to condemn your good neighbours’ religion in that fashion,” the store owner said of the preacher’s sermon. He added, “There is always a need to respect one another in any religion!” I followed their conversations not only because the store owner panders to commendable political correctness, but in my amusement at the private exchanges of fellow Muslims. Especially among the supposedly unenlightened of the lower social classes, those who grow up in closed societies where the foreign is either inferior or unacceptable!
Last week, I followed the arguments against perceived unresponsiveness to terrorism among Muslims by some non-Muslim social critics who are not in the know of the frictions amongst Muslims along the lines of personal, ideological, cultural and sectarian differences. In their unjust reviews, terrorism thrives on the silence of the “moderate” or politically correct Muslims. Loudest among these are from professors Wole Soyinka and Okey Ndibe, who both insist that Muslims must “take back” Islam and “stand up to be counted” in their justified outrage over the killing of the middle-class citizens in Nairobi and of the socially subaltern citizens we mourn in north-eastern Nigeria. I do not consider their criticisms as mischievous, even though Soyinka has always struggled with the temptation to condemn an entire faith for the sins of some confused members. I was thus happy that this time Soyinka candidly observes in his commentary “Humanity and Against”, that “as for their (the terrorists’) claims to faith, they invoke divine authority solely as a hypocritical cover for innate psychopathic tendencies.” Gbam!
I testify to the corruptions of religions. I am a witness to the sheer lack of ability among my Muslim brothers and sisters, which is also so among Christians, to tell adherence apart from fanaticism. The line between the two is too thin; many, as I always offer, don’t know it when they cross the line. Fanaticism is when you obey the commands of your God without respecting the “live and let live” principle of existence. You’re a fanatic unless you respect that your neighbours and friends and fellow citizens who practise other religions are under no obligation to follow your Way. That they only owe you one thing: respect!
As a younger person, I witnessed an interesting drama that still remains with me. Once, I returned from the Koranic school with a revelation: never prostrate, kneel, squat or bow for anyone aside from Allah. I was afraid because it was going to affect my relationship with my beloved mother, and also because I was cautious about losing my spot as her favourite child. In my culture, it’s a mark of respect to squat or kneel down while greeting elders, and here my mullah asked me never to do this again. Even to my own mother. I invited Mum to the room and told her that I was going to offend her and that it was not meant to disrespect her—that thenceforth I was going to stop kneeling or bowing whenever I greet her. The following day, while we were in school, she stormed with other neighbours whose children and wards were also affected by the “revelation” to challenge the mullah’s ways. They called the mullah an “Izala”—a member of a religious group promoting what it views as abhorrence to “innovations” while promoting an adherence to a strict orthodoxy of their own strict interpretation. The parents said his attempts to corrupt us had failed. We, the children and wards, were then taken out of the school!
This and the example of the provision store owner are just instances from the many resistances to extremism and contested fundamentalism within Muslim communities. To the outsider, Islam has been taken over by extremists but among us they are simply a bunch of confused minority in whose minds are riots of identities and consequent loss of humanity. Muslims have always been sensitive to deviancy, so asking them to take back Islam reeks of the campaigners’ ignorance of the frictions within. You can only take back what has been taken over; there are two sides to everything, and here the statistics still favour the “moderate”. Every religion has always in the hands of two sides at every time and in every issue, every article of faith, sometimes in the hands of more than two schools of thought and practice even. In the case of this escalating terrorism, one may only rightly ask the government to regulate religious activities. Let’s at least recognise the efforts of the “moderate” who have suffered to challenge religious aberrations, to my mother and to every Muslim who have been risking their lives to stop the productions of religious robots. What method hasn’t been set up to defeat the ideologies of these insurgents? And if you’re expecting the Muslims to take up arms against the terrorist, the Civilian JTF are already up in the North-East. That our fanaticism devolves into terrorism is not due to the silence of the Muslims, it’s the insensitivity of the government. Yes, the only option right now is government—to defy this “Freedom of Worship” blackmail by regulating and stamping out any religious activity, especially education that threatens our existence. You don’t have to be Turkey’s Mustafa Ataturk to protect your citizens from the religious corruptions. Theirs is not religious, I agree! You’re not religious until you’re humane; you’re human first before you earned any other label. And until you’re able to reconcile your love for whatever you worship with your love for the humankind, my last words remain: May God save us from us!
By Gimba Kakanda
Blueprint Newspapers (11/10/2015)
@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)