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Sunday, December 5, 2010

MY NEAR CONVERSION TO BOKO HARAM AND DARUL ISLAM

Narrating the above incident which was the outcome of my visit to the groups cannot be complete without relating it to the Coventry Cathedral’s International Centre for Reconciliation. Sometime in late 2004 I got a mobile telephone call from Gillian Dare, First Secretary (Political) of the British High Commission, Abuja, who wanted me to attend a meeting with a group from the Coventry Cathedral of the United Kingdom. Meetings like that have been organised ever and anon by the political secretaries of foreign missions in Nigeria between religious scholars and visiting clergy into the country. Often times, this type of religious get together ends with a tour of the National Mosque, and some places of interest around Abuja. So, receiving such invitations was not uncommon.
At the meeting I was introduced by the host, Gillian Dare to the team from the Coventry Cathedral – The Reverend Canon Andrew P B White, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special Representative to the Middle East and Director of the International Centre for Reconciliation; The Reverend Canon Justin Welby, Co-Director of International Centre for Reconciliation, and who I later discovered to be a quasi-walking encyclopaedia; ask him about anything under the sun, and you are sure to be inundated with up to the minute details of your enquiry. I was also introduced to two younger members of the group, Simon Lewis, and Courtland Clarkson, Project Officers for Nigeria and Africa respectively.
I learnt, in this meeting, that the Coventry Cathedral ‘is one of the world’s oldest religious-based centres for reconciliation.’ The Cathedral was destroyed in 1940, but instead of revenge, Provost Dick Howard made a commitment ‘to forgiveness and reconciliation with those responsible.’ This commitment was broadcast from the cathedral ruins on Christmas Day 1940; he declared that when the war was over he would work with those who had been enemies ‘to build a kinder, more Christ-like world.’
It was this moral and prophetic vision that brought this team from the cathedral to look into the possibility of organising an international conference on peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. Interesting! And members of the team wanted me to lead them to the Chief Imam of Abuja, Sheikh Musa Muhammad for his blessings on their spiritual assignment, and to inform him formally of his inclusion in the Local Organising Committee (LOC) of the coming conference. A date was fixed with the Imam at his Abuja residence. After the meeting, the Chief Imam gave his blessings and congratulated the cathedral for its initiative for the conference; he, however, wanted me to represent him on the LOC.
This article has its focus on Boko Haram and Darussalam as part of the groups visited by the LOC of the peaceful coexistence conference with a view to making them to key to the spirit of the event, and possibly take part.
On February 9th, 2005 we were on our way to Maiduguri and Yobe for a meeting with Muslim groups. Let me mention a new entrant into the committee, Sheikh Muhammad Sani Isah, the Imam of the famous Waff Road Mosque, Kaduna. The Imam’s inclusion in the team proved extremely useful due to his wide range of contacts with other imams in almost all the states we visited.
During our visit Boko Haram was not called by that name; Taliban was the appellation in vogue at the time, though nobody, including security operatives with all their implants or imbeds (secret police posing as members to gather information) within the group, could establish any link between the Taliban in Kabul and the one in Maiduguri and Yobe.
The situation in Maiduguri and Yobe at the time of our sojourn was tense, an aftermath of a protracted skirmish between Taliban and the police; members of the group were being targeted, arrested and in some cases killed by security agents. This made the group to be very discreet about its activities; as usual it was still violent, reserved and unwilling to relate with people outside its fold. People were wary of getting involved with the Taliban. We threw caution to the wind; we kept searching for any opening to establish contact with the group. We got it.
The Taliban members can rightly be described as a group of educated, runaway youths from affluent homes. Educated, because 90% of its members have seen the four walls of a university lecture hall, have graduated or dropped out after the period of induction with the group. Most of them speak flawless English, read widely and present their argument in a convincing and intelligible manner. We heard the story of a police office sent to ‘invite’ a member of Taliban to the Station. He did not resist arrest, but requested the officer to kindly listen to them for only five minutes. He obliged. The group said to him: ‘Officer, your condition is deplorable! Your uniform is worn-out. The system you serve has reduced you to a perfect specimen of emaciation. Your counterparts in other shores are the admiration of beholders; theirs is a noble mien. Here, your superiors have diverted to their private use funds disbursed for your welfare. They have eaten up everything; you are left with no option than to extort your compatriots. Your monthly wage does not qualify you among the poorest people who live below one dollar a day; you are worse off. Is this how you will waste your life and that of your family?’
The police officer escorted his ‘captive’ to the station without uttering a word. After two days, he dropped his uniform and joined the group.
On why Western Education is unlawful, Boko Haram (which later became the name of the group), said: ‘The education system that produces our so-called elite is heretic, and devoid of God-consciousness. The environment in which studies take place is faithless with men and semi-naked women having lectures together in the same hall. Almost all people that pass through the system are corrupt, and embezzlers of public funds; everyone is trying to amass, through fraudulent means, what even his grandchildren cannot spend. Products of the system are dishonest in what they do; the religion they profess has no effect in their dealings with others; they rig elections, steal people’s votes, and rule in a despotic way.’
I take exception to their point on the mixed environment in which we learn today. I have addressed that issue on this column about a month ago. But, by Allah I could not repudiate other facts they mentioned on the effect of Western Education on our elite. There was no dissenting voice among the LOC members. Are most of our ‘yan boko (elite) not corrupt? Are they not stealing our commonwealth? Is religion not occupying the backseat in their lives? Are they not masters of election rigging? But for the fact that Boko Haram is violent, and their doctrine is not confined to these indisputable fact of the effect of Boko; but for the fact I take exception to killing the innocent and the burning of places of worship; I would not have hesitated to tread the path of the police officer!
I am sure if they were alive today they would have added keeping mute to brutality and extra-judicial killings of unarmed people by the police as part of the traits of some of our elite.


So, if almost everybody that passes through our education system is certain to be corrupt, and fraudulent; Boko Haram members would rather forsake educational pursuit in our schools, and reject employment in government establishments. Those whose parents work for government refused to eat from their homes because they question the source of the parents’ income especially in cases where the household lives above its means. Working as a civil servant is abhorred in the first place, for a Muslim should only be the servant of Allah. A plain misunderstanding of concepts: civil service, and servitude to our Maker. By their understanding, if your parent is a civil servant, a politician etc, the best option for you is to (make Hijrah) emigrate from a vicinity muddled in numberless illegalities, (not the least the office that your father occupies, and the public trust he betrays through corruption to fend for the family), to a mosque, or the house of fellow member of the group.
What I do not like most about Boko Haram is the annual waleemah (banquet) that they organised to destroy certificates of new members. During such gatherings a khutbah (speech) would be delivered on the ills of our society. The citations which capture members’ journey in the ‘unlawful field’ of acquiring Western Education, and certificates obtained are rendered. Usually, a cocktail of promising minds in Medicine, Engineering, Law etc, forms a larger part of the new membership. At the end of each citation the entire academic certificates of the subject matter are torn to pieces and burnt amidst a chorus of Allaahu Akbar! (Allah is the Greatest).
No! Allah will not be pleased with what destroys the potential of the Ummah (the nation of Islaam), and the cornerstones of its future. Not a few brilliant youths have been ruined by this misrepresentation of Islaam by people who see no good in acquiring one form of education or another. In the true teachings of Islam all departments of beneficial scholarship should be pursued; they are part of the lost property of the believer; he is the rightful owner.

Darul Islam


Darul Islam was more than a mere group; it is a community on the outskirts of Niger State. This was a peace-loving community. Members of the LOC for the Peaceful Coexistence Conference of the Coventry Cathedral were welcomed; with a few introductory remarks to the leader of Darul Islam on the purpose of our visit, we (Muslims and Christians) were ushered into the masjid (mosque) without discrimination. I want to see another group of Muslims in this country that will admit Christian clergy into its mosque for the purposes of dialogue and interfaith discourse! I am saying this because whenever we take Christian (foreign) visitors for the tour of the National Mosque the ignorant among the people would look at us with disapproval, and suspicion.
The leader directed a crier to summon people in Darul Islam to the mosque for ‘an urgent and important matter.’ And within 15 minutes there were no rooms for the faithful to seat in the mosque; every available space was occupied. Many leaned on the walls, and many more stood outside behind the windows. Women in complete Islamic attire, and children were at the rear of the masjid; you could not hear even the slightest din. Everything was calm, peaceful. Nobody uttered a word without the consent of the leader (Ameerul Mu’mineen).
With the permission of the leader, I briefly introduced the LOC members to the Darul Isalam community, and stated our mission. Later, The Reverend Canon Justin Welby, Co-Director of International Centre for Reconciliation, directed a number of questions to the leader of the community. ‘Sheikh,’ he began, ‘we wonder what will make you choose to stay here, far away from civilization, and basic amenities of modern life.’
‘You are right Reverend,’ started the leader of Darul Islam, ‘we chose to be here because we want to be governed by Allah’s Laws. Darul Isalam means the abode of peace, Islam; whoever comes here will be in peace. We don’t belong to any sect be it Izala, Tariqah, Shia or what not. We are Muslims for that is what Allah calls the adherents of Islaam in the Qur’an. We don’t fight anybody, kill or destroy property. Darul Isalam has its market, ‘health centre’, a school for our children where they are taught Islaam and what will not harm their faith of the so-called Western Education, and even abattoir. We farm what we eat; we need nothing from anywhere. We are content with what Allah has provided for us here. Our wells are overflowing with water, these Lister engines you see around our mud-built houses are the source of energy that illumines our homes; we are not in need of NEPA. Ours is a modest life. The Governor (Abdulkadir Kure of the time) personally came here to plead with us to leave, that he has earmarked a large plot of land for us within the city. We showed our gratitude to, and prayed for him; we made him understand that we prefer to stay here. He conceded, and left us alone. It may be that he had seen that we pose no threat to anybody; we are peaceful.’
Unfortunately, this peaceful community of Darul Isalam was banished from its home after the Boko Haram uprising in November 2009. It was the outcome of an AIT Kakaaki Programme that featured two Abuja based Imams: Fuad Adeyemi of Alhabibiya Academy and Nurudeen Khalid of NASS Mosque. During the programme Imam Nurudeen spoke about ‘another dangerous group called Darul Isalaam in Niger State.’ The group, he said, does not recognise the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. AIT used this part of Imam Nurudeen’s intervention as a clip in its news for almost 2 days running. Of course that drew the attention of the authorities, and the Niger State Government in particular. The next thing we heard was the banishment of Darul Isalam from Niger State.
Just before I wrote this piece one of the Project Officers attached with the Coventry Cathedral, and member of the LOC of the Peaceful Coexistence Conference visited me in my office. I asked him about Darul Isalam and what his reaction was when he heard that they were driven away from their community. His response was succinct: ‘It was a shame that such peace-loving folks were expelled from their dwellings...’
It is sad to note that in spite of the hard work exerted by the members of the LOC to the conference in meeting all that mattered in this country including the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, in risking their lives by travelling to distant and remote places, and in holding meeting with violent groups, the event could not hold. I will not go into the details of how the conference was thwarted and by whom.
Finally, for those ‘indigenes’ who killed hundreds of ‘settlers’ and stuffed their bodies in wells, I refer them to the Litany of Reconciliation on the Coventry Cathedral website which reads as follows:
“COVENTRY LITANY OF RECONCILIATION
Following the bombing of the Mediaeval Cathedral in 1940, Provost Howard had the words 'Father Forgive' inscribed on the wall behind the Altar of the ruined building. These words are used as the response in the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation, which is prayed in the ruins every Friday at noon, and is used throughout the world by the Community of the Cross of Nails.
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,
Father Forgive.
The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,
Father Forgive.
The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,
Father Forgive.
Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,
Father Forgive.
Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,
Father Forgive.
The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children,
Father Forgive.
The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,
Father Forgive.
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Of course I neither call my Creator ‘Father’ nor do I believe in the doctrine of the ‘Original Sin’. The words that aptly describe the situation in Jos are what I am calling their attention to. O Allah, the Best of those who show mercy, please forgive.

2 comments :

  1. This is quite deep and insightful. Thank you Mal. Abubakar.
    Ibraheem Dooba

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  2. Mal, I was having problem accessing my mails until this morning and thank God I did and thank you for not just the information but for doing the things you did

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