Keynote Address delivered at the 4th General Assembly of Muslim Ummah of South-West Nigeria (MUSWEN) held on the 17th November 2019 () at University of Ibadan By
Muibi O. Opeloye, Ph.D, FISN,
Professor of Islamic Studies
Chairman, MUSWEN Education Committee
It is for me a great honour to be asked to give a Keynote address at this august occasion of the 4th General Assembly of the Muslim Ummah of South-West Nigeria (MUSWEN). The theme of this year’s General Assembly tagged ‘Muslim Unity and the Contemporary Political Challenges in Nigeria’ consists of two main concepts which call for clarifications viz: (1) the concept of polity (siyasah) in Islam and (2) the concept of ummah (nation). Arising from these clarifications we shall be examining how Muslim unity could affect Nigerian politics on the one hand and on the other hand, how polity could affect Muslim unity and in the process examine what inherent challenges are faced by the Muslims politically in the country.
1) Islam and Politics
Politics/polity has been defined as activities geared towards influencing the action and policies of a government or getting power and keeping power in a government. In other words, being in politics makes it easier to influence government’s action and policies. Islam as a way of life makes political participation halal. Surah 28:77 of the Glorious Qur’an in this regard declares: “And seek ye the abode of the hereafter in that which Allah has given thee and neglect not thy portion of the world, and be kind as Allah has been kind to thee…” This passage unarguably legitimises politics as it makes it crystal clear that Islam is not only about the hereafter, it is also about the world. We should recall that Allah’s messenger Muhammad (SAW)was a Prophet and a State’s man. Moreover, politic for a Muslim must be a form of ibadah as Surah 6: 162 reads: “Say: (O Muhammad) my salat, my sacrifice, my living and my dying are for Allah, the Lord of the worlds’’. The import of the verse is that whatever a Muslim engages in whether socially, economically, professionally or politically must be conceived as worship to attain the pleasure of Allah.
2) The Concept of Ummah
The Qur’anic concept of Ummah or nation is different from the prevalent ideas of nationhood. The concept of nation according to the Qur’an is based upon being one ummah or believers in one religion. Therefore, Muslims all over the world are one ummah or one nation. That is to say country, land, geographical boundaries, language, race, tribe or colour are not the basis of nationhood in Islam. A common ideology forms the basis of a nation among the Muslims and that ideology is Islam (Chaudhry: 2009). Race, colour, language or place of birth are accidents of nature while adherence to one particular ideology or religion is individual’s own choice. This is why Nigerian Muslims whatever part of the country they belong form one ummah under the leadership of the Sultan. The word ummah occurs 51 times in the Qur’an. I will cite few that make the concept clear. Surah 21:92 reads: Inna adhihi ummatukum ummatan wahidatan, wa ana rabukum, fa’buduni meaning ‘Truly this your ummah (nation) is one, and I am your Lord, therefore worship Me (alone). Surah 23: 52 re emphases it when it declares: Inna adhihi ummatukum ummatan wahidatan, wa ana rabukum, fataquni. Verily, this your ummah is one, and I am your Lord, therefore, fear Me (keep your duties to) Me. In Suratu Baqarah ayah 143 the ummah is described as ummatan wasatn, that is a just and balanced nation, that it may be a witness against mankind. And in Al-Imran ayah 110 the ummah is described as the best community evolved for mankind, that should enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency. In the light of this understanding of the ummah concept, Islam condemns tribalism (asabiyyah). Tribalism is extraneous to Islamic tenets. Qur’an in surah 49:13 explains why humans have different tribal identities when it says: Ya ayyua Nas Inna khalaqnakum min dhakarin wa untha wa ja’alnakum sha’uban wa qabaila li ta’arrafu. Inna akramakum indallahi atqakum meaning ‘’Oh makind We have created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. Verily the most honourable of you with Allah is the pious. This Qur’anic view is the justification for MUSWEN’s unfettered commitment to Muslim’s unity in the country and therefore a united Nigeria. It also explains the organisation’s reaction to the antics of some of the socio-political groups in Yorubaland who are in the habit of critiquing the loyalty of the Yoruba Muslims to the caliphate. This derives from their ignorance of the Islamic ummah concept.
3) The Muslim Unity
Unity of the Muslims derives from Allah’s injunction contained in Al Imran ayahs 103-105 which declare: “And hold fast, all of you together to the rope of Allah (that is, the Qur’an) and be not divided among yourselves, and remember Allah’s favour on you, for you were enemies, but He joined your hearts together, so that by His grace you became brethren (in Islam) ….And be not as those who divided and differed among themselves after the clear proofs had come to them…’’ Promotion of Muslim unity will help to promote national unity just as unity of the Christians will enhance the nation’s unity. The quest for Muslim unity is not as challenging in the northern Nigeria as it is the southern part. In the North, Jama’at Nasrul Islam has been serving as rallying point for the northern muslims, whereas in the South-west, it has been a serious challenge especially when we recall the past efforts towards forming umbrella associations like NAJOMO, led for long by Dr. Abdul Lateef Adegbite and Ground Council of Muslim Organisations established by Aare Arisekola Alao among others. Alhamdulillahi for the stability of MUSWEN and more importantly, for the cordial working relations between it and the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. At this juncture, one cannot but commend the current leadership of NSCIA, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakr the Sultan of Sokoto for leaving no stone unturned to promote Muslim unity across the states of Federation.
4) The Muslims’ Political Participation and the inherent Challenges.
This will be discussed with reference to Southwest Nigeria where the challenges appeared to be more daunting.
a) The pre-independence politics of Western Nigeria recorded active Muslim participation. This was why the Muslims could challenge Action Group which was the dominant party in the region by forming the National Muslim League in Ibadan in 1957 (Danmole, 1988). This party was an offshoot of Muslim Congress of Nigeria formed in 1950. In 1953, the United Muslim Party was formed in Lagos but fizzled out in no time. The National Muslim League led by Alhaji ARA Smith considered the Action Group dominated by Christians to be out to further Christian interests. Between 1951 and 1957, Action Group had only one Muslim in the cabinet in the person of Alhaji Dauda Adegbenro in a region with dominant Muslim population. The National Muslim League had more grounds of criticisms of the government as follows: 1) neglect of the Muslim schools for government funding, 2) the exclusion of Arabic Language and Islamic Religion on the curriculum, 3) the conversion of Muslim children to Christianity before enrolment and 4) inadequate representation of Muslims in both the Executive and Legislative arms of government. (National Archives, Ibadan; NAI/Comcol1,3296/C.362). The Action Group leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo viewed the activities of the National Muslim League with dismay and came to the conclusion that it was becoming a dangerous group planning to balkanise Nigeria in the manner that the India Muslim League balkanised India by pulling Pakistan out of the country (Daily Times, 14th October, 1957). Sensing the Muslims’ resolve not to give up in their agitation, the leader of Action Group devised a way to assuage them by establishing Pilgrims Welfare Board (Oluwatoki, 2011). The Board was to cater for the pilgrims’ welfare during hajj. Another palliative means was government’s approval of appointment of Arabic teachers for primary schools. Notwithstanding the circumstances leading to these, they have gone down in history as achievements for Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
b) In the South-western Nigeria, the challenge of government’s marginalisation of the Muslims continued during the first and second republics unabated. Muslims in the region would always have to agitate for their rights before being given. National Council of Muslim Organisations (NACOMYO) would for long be remembered for spare heading such agitations. It is during this fourth republic that the situation is beginning to change gradually. In Osun State during Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola’s regime, it was due to agitation of the State’s Muslim Community that the number of Muslim commissioners in the cabinet was raised from three to five out of fifteen commissioners. This is a state which is predominantly Muslim. Can we blame our predicament on marginalisation or is it a clear case of apathy? The table below is provided to establish whether or not the challenges of Muslims are due to political apathy or marginalisation. Marginalisation can be established from cabinet members’ appointment while apathy can be established from the number of Muslims in the Houses of Assembly.
Information collected from MUSWEN members from the respective states
As can be observed from this table, apathy and marginalisation are ceasing to be a challenge in the south-west politics considering the encouraging number of Muslims appointed as commissioners or elected as members of Houses of Assembly in the states with dominant Muslim population unlike in the past. Lagos State stands out with Muslim majority membership in the House. For this reason, 13 Muslim cabinet members out of 27 is considered as marginalisation. Oyo and Ogun State Houses show fairly balance representation while Osun State House shows poor Muslim representation thus establishing apathy. With the balance cabinet membership appointments in Osun, no case of marginalisation can be established. Senate representation from the zone also shows encouraging Muslim participation especially in Oyo and Ogun States. In Ekiti and Ondo States, apathy and marginalisation still persist perhaps due to minority status of the Muslims in the states. The fact must be admitted however, that in the present day Nigeria polity, there is growing Muslim political awareness and religious sensitivity, hence, a Muslim Governor must have a Christian as Deputy while a Christian Governor must have a Muslim as Deputy just as there is religious balancing in the appointment of Secretary to State Government and Chief of staff. As at the time of writing this paper, Ogun State Governor was yet to form his cabinet.
d) Arising from the problem of apathy is the challenge of financial wherewithal to contest elective positions. Qualification to contest election in Nigeria is not how intelligent or how experienced the contestant is, neither is it about integrity of the person, but how much money one can throw around. This is a factor constituting serious impediment to political participation and it is the reason for godfatherism in Nigerian politics.
e) There also is this big challenge of perceiving democratic system of government to be kufr system from which Muslims should refrain. This is the reason why we have boko haram, ISWAP or ISIS who preach that Muslims should have nothing to do with any ideology that is western, advocating return to pristine Islam as practised by the salaf. The question is where in the world in our contemporary time is the pristine Islamic system of government practised? We can hardly find any, not even in Saudi Arabia in view of the recent happenings in the country. As rightly observed by Sharif Chaudhry (2009:378), no specific political system or form of government has been prescribed by the Qur’an, though there are principles of Islamic political system derived from Shari’ah. M.M Sharif (1963) mentions 16 of them including Shura. The challenge we are therefore confronted with is how to adapt the prevailing varied systems of government to conform with the principles of justice and welfare of the governed as prescribed by Islam, whether monarchical or republic, presidential or parliamentary, federal or unitary. The politicians may not want to hear this, but to the citizenry what matters is how benevolent and beneficial any system portends. Does the system meet the people’s expectations? After all we have seen many non-democratic governments impacting positively on the society, an example of which was Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew who ruled the country for three decades and transformed it to a first world nation. Democratic system can be wonderful if it operates within the rules of the game and imbibes Islamic principles of fear of Allah, justice, accountability, transparency, selflessness, truthfulness, trustworthiness etc.
f) There is also the challenge that arises from the antics of Nigerian Christians who often see any government’s move in support of matters of Islamic interest as an attempt towards Islamisation of the country. We can always recall the controversies generated by the issues pertaining to shari‘ah status in the constitution: Membership of Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), Islamic Banking, hijab in the public schools and Arabic and Islamic studies in schools etc. Some of these are matters bothering on Muslims’ rights while some have to do with national interest. This type of attitude undermines harmonious and peaceful Muslim-Christian relations. Islam frowns at any action that could cause disharmony between Muslims and Ahlul Kitab (People of the Books i.e. Jews and Christians). This accounts for the preponderant Qur‘anic passages encouraging friendly inter-religious relations. Let us cite few examples. 1) Surah 6: 108 which enjoins the Muslim thus: ‘Revile not ye those whom they call on besides Allah, lest they out of spite revile Allah in their ignorance…’ 2) Surah 9: 6 which declares: ‘And if any one of the idolaters seeks thy protection, then protect him, so that he may hear the word of God, and afterwards convey him to his place of safety. That is because they are people without understanding’. 3) Surah 3:64 which instructs: ‘Say O People of the Scripture, come to a word that is just between us and you, that we worship none but Allah and that we associate no partner with imHim and that none of us shall take others as lords besides Allah. 4) Surah 60:8-9 which enjoins Muslims to deal kindly and justly with adherents of other faiths. It is in recognition of passages like these that Islam is known to be a religion of peace and preaches peaceful relations. However, exceptions to this peaceful stance of Islam are instances of noticeable treachery, hostility, hatred, conspiracy from the people of the scripture, then Muslims should be on their guard. This is when we are warned not to take them as confidants, friends and protectors. It suffices to quote from Qur’an, Surah 3 :118-120 which reads: ‘‘O ye who believe, take not as (your) bitanah (i.e consultants, protectors, helpers or friends) others than your own folk, who would spare no pains to ruin you; they love to hamper you. Hared is revealed by (the utterance of) their mouths, but that which their breast hide is worse…. Lo you are those who love them, they love you not and ye believe in all the scripture. When they fall in with you they say: we believe; but when they go apart they bite their finger-tips at you for rage. Say: Perish in you rage! Lo Allah is aware of what is hidden in (your) breasts. If a lucky chance befall you, it is evil unto them, and if disaster strike you they rejoice thereat. . But if you persevere and keep from evil, their guile will never harm you, Lo. Allah is aware of all they do’’ (Cf Surah 4:144; Surah 5: 51; Surah 5:57; Surah 60:1). I leave every individual to determine whether this passage describes the attitudinal posture of Nigerian Christians to the Muslim ummah in Nigeria.
g) Disunity which politics could cause among Muslims in a multi-party polity like Nigeria is another challenge. The country currently has ninety-one (91) registered political parties, two of which enjoy wide popularity viz All Progressives Congress (APC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has accommodated so many, in recognitin of freedom of association but, the truth of the matter is that the number is too unwieldy and it makes conduct of election cumbersome and expensive. In our view, a manageable number will suffice. Muslims should be free to belong to parties of their choice but, that should not be a reason for disunity. In point of fact, in advanced democracies, members cast their votes in consideration of national interest, regardless of party affiliation. The same principle should apply to the Muslims when it comes to matters of Islamic interest. This is why it is disheartening that till date, no single State House of Assembly in the South-west has deemed it fit to pass shari‘ah bill despite the agitations of the Muslim communities of the various states. These agitations stemmed from the reality that Shariah dispensation of justice predated the colonial era in many parts of Yorubaland especially Ibadan, Ede, Iwo and Ikirun. (Makinde: 2018). It is the reason that gave birth to the present day Shariah panels in the zone. According to Makinde, for more than a decade, shari‘ah panels have been operating privately in the South-western states of Lagos (May 2002), Oyo (December 2002), Osun (April 2006) and lately Ogun (January 2018). This underscores the urgent need for the establishment of shari‘ah courts in the states as provided for in the Nigerian constitution and to do so without further delay is in tandem with democratic ethos.
h) Challenge of what one should or shouldn’t do as a Muslim in government is another big issue. The Qur’an describes Muslims as Khairu ummatin ukhrijat li nas i.e ‘the best community evolved for mankind’ which presupposes that Muslims in every human endeavour should be models to be emulated. In other words, in the context of this discourse Muslims should refrain from the prevalent corruption (fasad) in government. The Qur’an in Surah 30:41 has said it all when it declares zaharal fasad fil ard bima kasabat aidi nas meaning ‘’Evil (sin and disobedience) has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of men earned’’ Without doubt there will be challenges as there are always challenges. As a nominee for an appointment that requires interaction in the Parliament, one may be faced with the challenge of being expected to ‘wet the ground’ before the interaction. What would you do as a Muslim in a situation where others have complied? Yet, another challenge could be at the convention of the party primaries where it is the norm for different candidates to solicit the delegates’ votes with money, when only one of them will be elected. Refusing to be part of the game is to be seen as a spoiler as one will incur the wrath of the party members back at home expecting the booties from the primaries. How would you deal with such a situation? Another scenario is when as a Commissioner you have to be in the Governor’s company at the cultural festivals such as Osun Osogbo, Olojo festival in Ife or Eyo festival in Lagos or you are even the one to represent the Governor? Considering the gravity of the heinous sin of shirk in Islam how does one deal with the situation? It is for reasons like these that many Muslims will not venture to go into politics!!!
To make democracy bring about good governance such that will be beneficial to the people and impact positively on the society it must imbibe applicable Islamic political principles in the following ways:
1) Wealth should not be the criterion for eligibility for public office. Such virtues as qualities of head and heart, education, wisdom, mental and physical health should be the criteria.
2) Islam does not concede any exemption in favour of the ruler as all are equal before the law. Immunity enjoyed by the rulers in the modern day governments is a form of exemption which encourages permissiveness and permissiveness undermines good governance. For this reason, the immunity clause should be annulled.
3) In recognition of the Nigerian constitutional provisions Shariah courts should be introduced in the South-western Nigeria to replace the shariah panels functioning in the various states of the zone.
4) The multi-party system that recognises ninety-one political parties is unwieldy. The number has to be drastically reduced. I consider seven be manageable and it is so recommended.
5) The alleged corruption involving the judicial arm of government has become national embarrassment and it calls for urgent reform by taking a cue from the principles of Islamic judicial system characterised by integrity and justice. In like manner, the parliament should emulate the principles of the Islamic consultative council (majlis shura) and work in harmony with the Executive for the progress of the society.
6) Muslims in the Parliament should regardless of their party affiliation always unite to support not only matters of Islamic concern, but also matters of national interest in furtherance of national development.
1) Chaudhry M.Sharif (2009): A Code of the Teachings of al-Qur’an, Adam Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi.
2) Danmole H.O. (1988): ‘The Religious Factors in Nigerian Politics: Awolowo and the Muslims, 1957-1983’ in O.O. Oyelaran et.al (Eds): Obafemi Awolowo: The End of An Era? (Selected papers from theNational Conference on ‘’Obafemi Awolowo, The End of an Era)’’ held at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife from 4th-8th, October,1987), Ile-Ife, Obafemi AWolowo University Press, pp 874-898.
3) Makinde, A.K (2018): ‘A Chronicle of Shariah Practice in Yorubaland’ in Opeloye, M.O. et al (Eds) Islam in Yorubaland: History, Education, and Culture’ Unilag Press, Akoka.
4) Oluwatoki, J. A (2018) ‘Islam and Politics in South-western Nigeria’ in Opeloye, M.O. et.al (Eds) Islam in Yorubaland: History, Education and Culture, Unilag Press, Akoka.
5) Sharif, M.M (1963): A History of Muslim Philosophy, Vol.1, Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesdaden.