The Hysteria of a Malfunctioning Robot: A Response to Muhammad Mahmud’s Misinterpretation of Texts

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Dear Mahmud,

I think you have just made it into the Guinness Book of Records as “the most sophisticated illiterate ever identified in the history of public discourse”. For this, I ought to have sent you a private mail congratulating you for this ignoble accomplishment. However, I feel that your education should be done in public and to the records of especially the social group whose emotions you have appealed to. Before we get into this response to yours, I strongly advise that you start with the prelims–go and read my earlier essay, “Scholars of Misinterpretation, Misquotation and Blackmail” (Blueprint, August 9, 2013). It will prove to be foundational since it was aimed at reactionaries like you, even if slightly more distinguished, who approach texts with the sole aim of misunderstanding them. It will, at least, enable you read what I have written below as opposed to reading what you think I must have written.

Now, I will list below your more intriguing distortions and then provide the actual statements set out in my piece “A Letter to that Nigerian-Palestinian”, which was a wake-up call to that citizen whose empathy has not roused him to stand in solidarity with the victims of tragedies going on in his house, but is now involved in the pro-Palestine campaign:

First, I wrote my letter to “that Nigerian-Palestinian”, did you notice the particular definite article used–that? Go back and read the title and note my refusal to pluralise the definite article. To pluralise, to use “the” for example, would mean generalising and you ought to know that that was deliberate, but your emotions seem to have dispossessed you of the elementary grammar chanted by kids–Singular and Plural. But then, that’s of lesser importance.

Of that Nigerian-Palestinian’s hypocrisy, I wrote: “You see, it’s not the way you internationalise your empathy that disturbs me, it’s this seeming pretence that all is well in your backyard while you weep over the blazing fire in faraway Gaza.” In self-defence, and stubborn exhibition of your trademark ignorance, you wrote: “You assume that my call for the world to stop the genocide in Gaza is a direct contradiction of my efforts, which you seem not to be aware of, to stop atrocities in my country.” Further, you state that “(w)e have been more than half as passionate about our problems than the happenings in Gaza.” Dear Mahmud, thank you very much for being just a little above HALF as passionate about Nigerian happenings as compared to Gaza’s. Surely, since you have not pretended that all is well in Nigeria, since you have even gone further to feel half as passionate about local happenings, you cannot yet be that Nigerian-Palestinian my letter is addressed to, can you? Did you miss the simple logic of this, Muhammad Mahmud? You also mentioned Pakistanis as examples of grieving people who stand up for Gaza, without acknowledging that they are not like “that Nigerian-Palestinian”, for they have never stopped fighting for the redemption of their country, and their famous daughter, Malala, who came to Nigeria as an NGO owner, even took a bullet to protect her country from the pervasive ideology of some psychopathic members of our “brotherhood of faith”.

Second, in your bid to rebel against being referred to as “humanist”, you exhibit a fifty kobo sophistry, claiming “I am not a humanist. I am a Muslim whose religion… revere(s) and sanctif(ies) every soul, be it that of human or animal,” ignorant that humanism is a term for all acts of kindness done either as Muslim or non-Muslim. Islam extols humanism, so all the good things you have done to those “souls, human or animal”, as you are enjoined to as a Muslim is humanism within an Islamic framework. If you understand my explanation, can you now see why the sophistry of your submission is off-putting? Your allegiance to a “Brotherhood of Faith”, admitted by your own mouth, is humanism within an Islamic framework, yet you failed to grasp this simple relationship. How did you fail to grasp this, dear Muhammad Mahmud? Was it in your hurry to write a response to my letter? Or are you simply exhibiting the symptoms of that intellectual shallowness, often seen among your members of social group, those set of persons who have seen Islam as an ideology that must be exclusively opposite to other social ideologies?

My third note identifies your intellectual insularity: it is your tragic deconstruction of the simple word “antisemitism”. I had warned against antisemitism, especially from those shallow-minded fellows who co-opt the entire Jewry as foot-soldiers of Zionism, disrespecting the Jews who have stood up against the genocide in Gaza in the process. In your words: “It looks more likely that you are more in need to read more than me. You need to understand that the Palestines (sic) are also Semites.” Haba! Antisemitism doesn’t mean “anti-semites” or “the hatred of Semites”, it’s not a term for racial, but sociological, labeling. It means, as you would have seen if you had bothered to check it up, “prejudice, hatred of, or discrimination against JEWS as a national, ethnic, religious or racial group.” Obviously, with this embarrassing gaffe, you’re more in need of one book above all and should you send me your postal address, I shall buy you one–a dictionary. But this gaffe is typical of you and your ilk and in the case that you do not understand how you came to such an embarrassing error, let me explain your process to you simply. You activated the literalist mindset which you adopt in interpreting religious texts, in your understanding of common “antisemitism”. Do you see the ruin of herd-type methodology?

But your literalist bias does more damage to your reputation than the serious one of ignorant understanding of simple words. You go on to make this dangerous confession, but as if it was an accusation: “If you have been reading and understanding the Qur’an, you wouldn’t have wasted time trying to exonerate some Jews from the horrors of Zionists. I don’t think there are a people so accused in detail, in the Qur’an, like the Jews.”

This is the difference between you and me, my ability to recognise contexts in reading the Qur’an. Your declaration here brings to mind a debate I had with a Christian some years ago. It was on a verse in the Qur’an, a verse that has become an anthem sung by terrorists who bask in the hallucinations of Jihad:

“(Q9:29) Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

My Christian friend shared in a crime with the terrorists–a destructive intellectualisation of ignorance. Deliberate or otherwise, ignoring context in the interpretation of a verse from either the Qur’an or the Bible is equally an act of terrorism, perhaps deadlier, for the mental mischief is the very inspiration for actual terrorist activities. I started with the popular events that preceded the revelation of the verse; one was an order by the ruler of Persia directing his commander stationed in Yemen to kill the Prophet. In another swish of hostilities, the Prophet’s messenger to a tribe of the Roman Empire, Al-Harith bin Umayr Al-Azdi, was tied up and beheaded; a diplomatic botch-up that led to the Battle of Mu’tah, in which the Muslims were defeated. But, the hostilities continued. Return to Sayyid Sabiq’s Fiqhu as-Sunnah, Vol. 3, p. 80, for an elaborate commentary on this!

This verse and the others in which the Jews are mentioned, are not justifications of antisemitism, as you have interpreted them. They were directives for the Prophet of Islam to protect the Muslim nation from a particular tribe of Jews. Similar verses are also found in the Bible with defend-your-ambience undertones. In one, Jesus Christ says:

“But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me. (Luke 19:27) – King James Version (KJV)”

In the other, God Himself instructed Saul through Prophet Samuel:

“Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. (1 Samuel 15:3) – King James Version (KJV)”

I restate, ignoring the historical context that necessitated the verses above is terrorism. You see, insurgency as the one unleashed by Boko Haram is born by deliberate distortion of what Jihad, the Islamic precept, entails. It’s a perverted attempt to cleanse, to fight for Allah who has clearly declared hell for such criminal engagements, repeatedly in the Qur’an.

You’re still holding on to the primordial sentiments that scholars all over the world have addressed without obeying Allah’s command that “And no bearer of burdens shall be made to bear another’s burdens.” [35:18], which is a warning that the sin of the father should never be visited upon the son. Yet you put the burden of the ancient Jews, or Zionists in specific, on all the Jews. Do you even know Professor Norman Finkelstein, whose academic scholarship has been largely on the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, is among the world’s most outspoken critics of the unsympathetically monstrous Israel? He’s a defender of Palestine. Yet your literal understanding of the Qur’an makes Finkelstein too your enemy. You’re clearly in the category of the Muslims referred to as “superficial literalists” by columnist Adamu Adamu.

Another of your unpardonable accusations is the declaration that the #BringBackOurGirls campaign is a “Christian affair”, ignorant that the campaign, which you really need to praise for finally revealing the miseries of the people of northeastern Nigeria to the world, was a brainchild of Nigerian women dominated by Muslim ladies, including Malama Hadiza Bala Usman, who is the coordinator, Barr. Maryam Uwais, Mrs. Sa’adatu Mahdi, Mrs Aisha Yesufu, among others. May Allah forgive you for this malicious accusation of His subjects. Again, also with no measure of respect and decorum, both virtues of an ideal Muslim, you assaulted the sensibilities of the Nigerian Christians, saying that “they are the ones who only condemn attacks on churches and Christians. But we, Muslims, never did that. We condemn attacks on any human being.” Do you know that it’s the corruption of an insidious ideology from our own religion that has caused them this suffering? There can’t be a spiteful remark more dangerous than yours here. Don’t you think it’s virtuous to commend the wisdom of the Christians who resist the polarising stunts and speeches of the hateful President of Christian Association of Nigeria, Ayo Oritsejafor, and refuse to take up arms to form a terrorist cult against innocent Muslims and escalate our troubles, as the Christians in the Central African Republic have done? Wait, in internationalising your empathy, why have you been quiet over the killings of the Muslims in Central African Republic? Are they lesser in spiritual worth than the Arab Muslims?

But why would I be surprised when you have, quite unfortunately, religionised the Palestinian struggle, which you refer to as a Muslim campaign, tele-importing your bigotry all the way from Nigeria to the land of a people whose most foremost intellectual advocate was their Christian brother, the renowned literary theorist Edward Said, of blessed memory. Kindly obtain copies of of Said’s “Orientalism”, “Culture and Imperialism”, “Power, Politics and Culture”, “The Question of Palestine”, and even his memoir “Out of Place”, to properly shape your understanding of the Middle-East politics and plural societies. Add that to the list of texts I am advising, for your education.

You boast that Palestine is your second home, being the location of the “third most sacred places (sic) of my religion”–do you, possibly, mean Al-Aqsa Mosque? If you have really been reading your books, especially the history books, which is why I recommended Edward Said’s, you wouldn’t have forgotten that there’s no place called “Al-Aqsa Mosque” in the geographical expression known as Palestine. The place you call Palestine, as a basis for your obvious privileging of Gaza twice above the northeastern Nigeria, is not a religious space and has no religious sites at all–not in Gaza, not even in the West Bank. It’s simply an entity in danger of Israeli encroachment secured to the small extent that it has been by the political struggles of oppressed Arabs of both Muslim and Christian identity. Palestine, like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is a legacy of European colonialism that came into existence in the first half of the twentieth century, about a millennium and a half after the advent of Islam. I’m sure you’re one of those who see the entire landmass of those former colonies as sacred, elevating them to the spiritual state of the holy sites in their political maps. So, I am now at pains to point out the obvious, arising from simple geography, to you my dear sir. Your claim to being Palestinian (your second home) on the basis of the location of Al-Aqsa is silly, because Al-Aqsa is in the Israeli city of Jerusalem. The mosque you ignorantly refer to as your second home is actually jointly managed by Jordan, Israel and Palestine. But then, this makes you, lucky man, a citizen of multiple nationalities: Nigerian, Israeli, Jordanian, Palestinian. Congratulations!

You wrote, and I quote, that “it is not true that the Nigerian situation is similar to that of Palestine,” dismissing that comparison as delusional, but my comparison is even an understating of the situation because we’re actually in worse mess in Nigeria, being that we have no clues to what’s killing us, nothing to approach for a ceasefire and there’s no attempt by us to blur our lines of differences in confronting the politicians who have turned this country into a chessboard. Even in death, the Palestinians have more dignity than the north-eastern Nigerians. Their deaths are being televised, their identities fully revealed. As expressed elsewhere, there’s no inhumanity as having the news of a people’s misery and deaths denied, played down or unsympathetically politicised. The only tragedy worse than this may be the lack of strategy or, as some have said of the ongoing counter-terrorism, of the “will” to end these many killings. The areas of Borno occupied by Boko Haram is worse than Gaza because the eyes of the world are on Gaza, while there’s no media coverage as our people in the northeast lay dying in the den of the ideologically hollow insurgents. It is only thanks to the #BringBackOurGirls campaigners who you accuse of being discriminatory, the world loudly learnt of the happenings in the northeast, rousing a global outrage and solidarity.

You also thought that I did not recognise the efforts of outstanding northerners in counterterrorism. What distortion! If you have read my letter carefully, you wouldn’t have missed where I praised the Civilian JTF, and that my anger is not a “criticism of the northern establishment”, which of course includes the clerics and prominent figures murdered by the insurgents. Saying we’ve not done enough is a self-criticism, which may even be taken as a criticism of your unfortunate statement that #BringBackOurGirl is a “Christian affair”: bigotry. And asking you to prioritise your empathy is not a criminalisation of your pro-Palestine campaign, or romanticisation of Zionism. It is simply what it is: a call for active involvements in domestic affairs, in extinguishing our burning House. Do you, sir, know the number of our people killed and the villages no longer safe for habitation? Is it not our responsibility to document those statistics for the sake of history, just the way Hamas and its sympathisers do in their Palestine? Do we have, or are we members of, neighbourhood defence corps in our respective places of residence? Have our humanitarian supports to the victims of Boko Haram been reaching remote villages in the northeast? There’s clearly a lot we still need to do!

Sadly, the biggest challenge to debating an issue of humanitarian interest through the prism of religion is the usual blackmail by the self-righteous party that a dissident exists “in a bid to please the West, whereas the modern civilisation is not western. What you call western civilisation is an evolution of the collective efforts of renowned scientists, explorers, inventors and scholars from different races and continents. So your boast of being a shariah-compliant Muslim is an everyday arrogance that no longer shocks me; yours was meant to slant or stifle this debate. But of course I won’t let you achieve either of these aims. I know for a fact that you exist in a political space of western-type liberal democracy, perhaps as an interest-earning customer of a Guaranty Trust Bank, one whose savings are being invested in forbidden ventures, conditions that mock your claims of being shariah-compliant. Herein lies the typical hypocrisy of it all.

Islam is being misunderstood largely because of the activities of fellow Muslims. The Muslim World has retrogressed over the years, with the rise of vastly ignorant, illiterate and intolerant followers who have given Islam a bad image in their operations as terrorists and unruly protesters. This decline is tied to generations of Muslims refusing to heed Allah’s “Afala ta’qilun”, stated in thirteen verses in the Qur’an, while pretending they are submitting themselves to Him.

Many Muslims who venture to discuss social realities and challenge impositions of divisive ideologies have all been called names, dismissed as apostates and hypocrites by these mobs who are ever unwilling to tolerate dissenting views. The irony was even experienced this week: a good friend of mine who once labelled me an apostate, challenging that I made a clearly un-Islamic statement in a piece, has also been declared an apostate. For endorsing the rumoured report of Inspector-General of Police’s ban on hijab, a type of which wasn’t specified, in public places. I sent him a congratulatory message for finally discovering the danger of debating Islamic legislations in a society this insular. On Facebook, some deluded Muslims even threatened that Boko Haram would be a “child’s play” if the IGP goes ahead with the reactionary decision, without even bothering to confirm the report and then employ civil engagement in expressing grievance. Are these dangerously programmed robots your idea of “shariah-compliant” Muslims?

This is why I expected you and other “true” Muslims who have not been labelled apostates, to write instead to the robotic Nigerian Muslims, of whom that “Nigerian-Palestinian” is a member, who embark on vandalising and burning structures in their hometowns on learning that some relevance-seeking cartoonists in faraway Denmark has published a caricature of the Prophet, that an inconsequential Indian-Pakistani author has published a blasphemous book or that a prominent leader of another religion has disparaged a practice of the Muslims.

Islamophobia, which is a hatred for Muslims, just the way Antisemitism is of the Jews, is a result of the behaviorally flawed such as the Nigerian-Palestinian and crime-minded malcontents such as those that comprise pseudo-religious mobs. Intellectuals should not, pandering to sophistry or any lowest common denominator, give such people a pseudo-ideological impetus to do things that are clearly unislamic and criminal.

I’ll leave you with the emotional outburst of my friend, Aminu Adnan, an indigene of Kano who, on reading the debates generated by my piece on Tuesday, shared this depressing commentary:

“I find it hard to understand. 18 terror attacks were recorded in Kano in the last 52 hours, although most were averted, but more than 15 people died. In the same time, more than 56 people were killed in different attacks in Adamawa State. These are happening under our noses and we don’t find empathy for that? Yes, the Gazans are Muslims, therefore our brothers; but what about the brothers that are closer to you? Are the Palestinians better Muslims because they are Arabs? The way most of us think really sickens me. I am sure the casualties of Boko Haram from the last 3 years alone outweigh all the people killed since the start of the Gaza conflicts, but I don’t see them carrying ‘pray for Borno’ placards. Say what you want but wallahi your priorities are with your brothers closer to you before those that don’t even know you exist. You see the Gaza violence on TV, but yesterday my cousin lost both legs in the explosion in Hotoro, we are not even sure he’s going to live, and you have the guts to play the universal humanity card in my face? I feel sorry for you and your inferiority complex.”

I hope to read another of your highfalutin rejoinder soon, because I have a lot more to say. Wait, you also cast doubts on my belief in prayers without bothering to know why I signed off all my essays with “May God save us from us”? As much as I pray, I believe that prayer is not a substitute for inaction, and no civilisation has ever been built by amens!

Yours sincerely,
Gimba Kakanda.

By Gimba Kaknda

@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)

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7 thoughts on “The Hysteria of a Malfunctioning Robot: A Response to Muhammad Mahmud’s Misinterpretation of Texts

    • Gimba, you are a strong moral voice in our society. He who has conscience let him take heed to what you what you have written. Well written and articulated.

  1. A very instructive piece!!!
    How I wish every Nigerian, irrespective of clan, Tribe or religion could hold the same view as the write’s. Gimba Kakanda, I still mavel at your personality, your stand for Truth, Justice, and fairness. You are a rare gift to this Nation. Keep the good works!

  2. Gimba, I appreciate your writing, and I really love your ability to move past cliched rhetoric to present the common humanity in everyone. You also do a great job of pointing out the danger of taking verses from scripture out of context in your choice of the violent words of Jesus in Luke 19:27. Since you have provided the context for the Qur’anic passages taken out of context, let me provide the context for these biblical verses, for those readers who won’t look up the whole chapter. Luke 19:27 is actually part of a story Jesus was telling about a powerful king and his servants. The words were, therefore, not those of Jesus, but those of a character in a story he was telling. Storytelling was and is still a common teaching device among Jewish rabbis. You can read the whole chapter here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2019 Knowing genre and context is essential in reading the Bible, a collection of books of poetry, drama, proverbs, prophecy, history, letters, etc. Cherry-picking verses could actually mean taking the words of Satan for the words of God. The book of Job, for example, is written in the form of a play with parts spoken by God, the Devil, Job, and his friends. There are long passages from Job’s friends, who are later told by God that their interpretation of Job’s suffering is wrong. So if someone opened the Bible at random and read a verse and applied that to their life without looking at the larger literary and historical context, they could actually be in danger of doing something that God has explained elsewhere is wrong. This is why scriptural study, scholarship, and teaching is so important, and why both Christian and Muslim apologists get it wrong when they try to attack another religion by picking on verses like this out of context without looking at what scholars have said about it first.

    The passage from Samuel is much more troubling, and generations of scholars and theologians have wrestled with the genocide described as being “God’s will” in these historical passages. The scholars I follow look at the violence attributed to God as the language used by writers to describe and justify what was happening, rather than God actually telling the people of Israel to engage in genocide. So, in this case, it would be important to look at the book of Samuel, Judges, I and II Chronicles, etc, as historical writings by Israelite historians and understand how such historians used language. American Jewish author Naomi Wolf recently posted on her facebook page that she had been reading scriptures in the original Hebrew and realized that common interpretations she heard about passages that gave the land of Palestine to Israel were wrong. She writes:

    “Again and again in the “covenant” language He never says: “I will give you, ethnic Israelites, the land of Israel.” Rather He says something far more radical – far more subversive — far more Godlike in my view. He says: IF you visit those imprisoned…act mercifully to the widow and the orphan…welcome the stranger in your midst…tend the sick…do justice and love mercy ….and perform various other tasks…THEN YOU WILL BE MY PEOPLE AND THIS LAND WILL BE YOUR LAND. So “my people” is not ethnic — it is transactional. We are God’s people not by birth but by a way of behaving, that is ethical, kind and just. And we STOP being “God’s people” when we are not ethical, kind and just. And ANYONE who is ethical, kind and just is, according to God in Genesis, “God’s people.”

    Christians believe that Jesus explains God’s purpose throughout history and that scripture must be read through the contextual lens that he provides. Wolf’s reading of this passage in the original Hebrew seems to fit more into the sort of ethical teachings of Jesus than the politicized usage of language to give power to a specific ethnic group or nation.

    Thanks again for pointing out the importance of context when reading scriptures, whether the Qur’an or the Bible or other religious texts.

  3. Pingback: Gimba Kakanda: On Three Essays, and On Representations. | Richard Ali's Blog

  4. Well written.

    This is only meant to put in context the quote from Luke 19:27, which story begins in the twelfth verse, of that chapter. Something, I believe carmenmccain has gracefully highlighted.

    On Jesus Christ abuts the whole biblical text. He is the string that passes through from Genesis to Revelations, binding the books into one.

    And He is the Friend of man, not Jews alone, or Palestines, or Asians, or Africans -but man, all men, every man, everywhere, in every age, from the beginning till the Last Day

    The Friend, and the Hope. That is the context that binds up all those many words in the 66 booklets, and delivers the non-religious, non-intellectual, but wholly restorative counsel of God.

    Again, very well written.

    Kudos Sir.

  5. we have brilliant men in this country. as I read gimba his writings and intellect reminds me of bishop Mathew kukah. I have been educated.

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