Thursday, June 23, 2011

A BRIEF ENCOUNTER WITH HIS EMINENCE


If you have been following the intrigues leading to my removal as the English Translator of the Khutbah at the National Mosque, a function I’ve been exercising pro bono for seventeen years, this piece will interest you.
More than any other piece in this column, PDP AND THE NATIONAL MOSQUE has proved to be an article of unsurpassed currency and incalculable feedback. I’ve heard of people who bought many copies of LEADERSHIP of Friday, 10th June, 2011 for free distribution; others made photocopies of the column and gave it to any that could not lay their hands on the paper. On my blog (www.abubakrsiddeeq.blogspot.com) where it was also published, the article recorded an all-time high page view of over 12, 000 readers from around the world, with the United Kingdom topping the list by over 8, 000 visitors, followed by about 2000 from Nigeria; the remaining 2000 or so came from the United States, Malaysia and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Others were Qatar, Canada, Egypt, China, etc. Many brothers and sisters copied the piece, pasted it as e-mail and forwarded to all their contacts, urging them to also forward to as many people as possible; the coverage was so extensive that I, the author, got a forwarded message of my  own article from a hitherto unknown contact!
The responses from readers showed that the Ummah is alive in allegiance to its Maker and His Deen; that it is grieved when the sanctity of any masjid is defiled or Allah’s votaries are maligned in any way. Text-messages kept coming in relating the authors’ anguish at what happened, beseeching Allah to make firm my foothold, and admonishing me to be patient until Allah’s decree comes to pass. Many brethren obliged me with copies of people’s comments from the forwarded messages they sent them on the write-up depicting similar concerns as those expressed in the SMS-messages.
The phone calls I received on the same piece were equally massive, and unlike text-massaging which restricts one to expressing their thoughts in words, callers were able to speak with me directly and even proffer solution to the issues contained in the piece. Quite a number of them would prefer the preservation of their anonymity in this column but I’ll relate the purport of their counsel. The telephone calls were so many that I have chosen to confine myself to only a few. In Abuja, my family and I have a father (the meaning of whose name is The Servant of Allah) to whom we run first before any other person on anything that has to do with us. We actually visited him at the peak of this debacle but we did not discuss the issue as it was something that has to do with the Ummah as a whole and not a personal or family matter. Were we to raise the issue during that visit he would have contacted the protagonists or whomsoever can influence any decision no matter how highly placed they may be.
After reading the interview I granted the Daily Trust of Friday, 17th June, 2011, The Servant of Allah called at a time when I was in the presence of His Eminence, Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar III; (I’ll return to this later). I could not respond to the call, obviously. At the time of Asr prayer I returned the call, informing him why I could not answer the call earlier. ‘Since you are still with His Eminence,’ he said, ‘we shall speak later. But quickly, why didn’t you mention this when you and your wife came to me three days ago?’
Sir, I deemed that out of the purview of family matters’; I answered, ‘I’ve reported what happened to Allah and then to the entire Muslim Ummah for their information. I’ll send the address of my blog sir, in a text-message, so you can read the article that brought about this Daily Trust interview.’
Okay, do send the text, but before then, since His Eminence is now involved, do not insist on getting any formal correspondence before you go back to your job as you stated in this interview. Please just go and continue; your written document is with Allah, and only He can reward you for what you’ve been doing for all these years.’
The Servant of Allah called after two days; ‘Only now have I been able to read the article from your blog;’ he commenced, ‘you are absolutely right in what you stated, but I take exception to three points: 1) when you mentioned the special prayers at the National Mosque you said whatever that means. You know very well that was not the first time such prayers were offered in the mosque and you were part of it. 2) Saying that people were made to park their cars miles away from the mosque was an exaggeration. 3) If elections were flawed, allow the courts to say so.
‘However, you have taught me a lesson in this write-up. Throughout my stay at the State House, Abuja, we’ve organised and sent security personnel to the National Mosque, and whenever anybody took exception to that we’ve always cited the presence of the military and the police within the precincts of the two holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah for security purposes. It is only today that you drew my attention to the fact that the forces are there to protect the multitude of worshipers and not leaders….
I responded by saying that was the first time somebody dissected the whole piece in the manner in which he did, stating what they take exception to and what they accept; and that I was humbled by his analyses, fatherly advice and kind words.
Muslim members of the Diplomatic Community in Abuja have shown a lot of concern after reading PDP AND THE NATIONAL MOSQUE. They called my phone several times to affirm that the content of the article was a true reflection of what happened in and around the mosque on that day, and encouraged dialogue as the best way of resolving the issue. Also, they advised that I return to my duties at the mosque should I be called upon to do so. Since both the Chief Imam and the Executive Secretary of the mosque have separately called me to meetings after the unfortunate incident of my removal, the diplomats opined that I should have responded to the summon.

                            His Eminence, Sultan Sa'ad Abubakar III

And now, never mind the cliché, the last straw that broke the camel’s back. His Eminence, Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar III was in Abuja for the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs meeting and the Hajj Seminar organised by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). And we met. His words will forever resonate in my ears; they were coated with tenderness, Islamic brotherhood and military precision; succinct, decisive and straight to the point: ‘Ustaz Siddeeq,’ said His Eminence, ‘I’ve read your article. Your removal, the reversal of which I’ve already ordered, was wide of the mark. Revert to your English translations of the Khutbah at the National Mosque, and seek Allah’s countenance in whatever you do. May Allah bless you!’
His Eminence and the impression his words leave when he utters them make you call to mind Dawud, may Allah be please with him, who was a Messenger, a leader of his people and a military commander concerning whom Allah said: ‘We made his kingdom strong and gave him wisdom and decisive utterance.’ (Saad 38:20)
Your Eminence! Since you’ve spoken, your words are the end of discussion. We hear, and we obey! This is the type of leadership that has been eluding the Ummah for some time now. I deeply regret the wrong perception I had before this brief encounter. I did not imagine the Sultan conversing freely with people around him, smiling at what amuses him and even laughing. He answers all his calls by himself whether he recognises the number or not, reads and responds to text-messages. Humbleness in elegance; humility in royalty!
Let me conclude with these:
I am not disrespectful of my leaders by bringing to their notice what was likely to stir up ill-feelings of people towards them. The mosque should not be a place for sycophants to ply their wares or for politicians to exhibit party supremacy or other sentiments. I am not a politician; I don’t know how to speak like one. I do not represent the interest of anybody other than that of Islam and the Muslims. If I spoke the way I did the other day was purely out of concern for what the people were made to go through because they came to offer the Friday prayers, which, incidentally, is the most important religious obligation of the week. I apologise if my tone suggested rudeness or my choice of words was not diplomatic enough for the personalities I addressed. I ask for the pardon of everyone and anyone who might feel some aversion at my words; I only beg you to examine the message and not the messenger.
I believe that Vice President Namadi would never have ordered the expulsion of people from observing Jumu’ah in the mosque (only a mad man would do that); but somebody was over-stepping their bounds under the pretext of protecting the VP. I have not regretted what I said on that day because it was not out hatred or disrespect but out of love to the person of His Excellency, the Vice President. I will continue to draw his attention to anything that will hamper his relationship with the Muslim community and the entire citizens of this country.
See you at the National Mosque, insha Allah!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

PDP AND THE NATIONAL MOSQUE

You can describe the events I relate here as inauguration drama at the National Mosque, Abuja. It was Friday 27th May, 2011, a day designated by the Presidential Inauguration Ceremonies Committee for a Special Inauguration Juma’at Prayers (whatever that means) at the National Mosque.
Battle-ready and stern-looking security forces (a combined team of military, police and SSS) blocked all access roads to the National Mosque; it looked like a mosque under siege. Cars conveying worshipers to observe their weekly religious devotions were turned back; they were told to park miles away from the mosque and trek. That was not all; Muslim faithful were subjected to thorough, humiliating searches with metal detectors. They were asked to remove their caps, empty their pockets and leave their bags outside the mosque. It was quite reminiscent of the Abacha years in the same mosque. Not since military rule have we witnessed the use of state organs of coercion in such a brazen manner; not even when the president (Yar’Adua) was to be inaugurated. Many left in anger and observed the prayers in other mosques vowing never to pray henceforth at the National Mosque. No one was spared as the instruction, according to these men in full military and police fatigue, was that ‘no car should be allowed into the mosque premises.’ Thus, unless your vehicle was preceded by a police escort jeep to indicate the importance of the occupant, you were turned back; whoever you might be. Only top government functionaries, ministers, etc. could have access to the mosque. Only two ambassadors – that of Malaysia and that of Indonesia (if I’m not mistaken) – made it to the mosque on that day from the diplomatic community in Abuja. Even the Chief Imam who was to lead the prayers did not find it easy passing through the invincible barricade created around the mosque. Remember this is the largest mosque in Abuja and that it serves the entire central business district of the FCT on a day when all civil servants were at work.
In Islam self-effacement is the norm especially in your way to the mosque where all worshipers – from heads of state to ordinary people – stand before their Lord in the same row and declare Allaahu Akbar, Allah is the Greatest! Quite a number of honoured people, former this and that, who the unthinking may deem very ordinary because of their humility; such worshippers quietly left and saw no point in identifying themselves to security personnel whose demeanour was of combatants in a militarized zone.
The result of the presence of these assault troops was conspicuous inside the mosque as it was half full; or shall I say half empty. It was the first time in its close-to-three decades of existence that the National Mosque, Abuja was half full during Friday prayers. The beginning of a new era indeed!
During my turn to discharge my weekly function of translating the Khutbah, sermon from Arabic to English, by which time the Vice President, Namadi Sambo, the then Secretary of the Federation, Yayale Ahmed, the IGP, Ringim and all (Muslim) ministers were already seated; I urged the privileged worshippers who made it to the mosque to kindly turn and see the scantiness of people in this hallowed place of worship. ‘You’ve made people park their cars miles away from the mosque;’ I said, ‘when they are used to parking them close to the mosque, thus providing further security of such vehicle due to the presence of other worshipers around. Now, with the cars far removed from the mosque premises their security is not guaranteed. Remember that among these worshipers are the aged, children and women who had to trek this long to come in here.’
I drew their attention to what was going on outside the mosque of excessive and humiliating search on people who were just approaching the mosque to observe the Friday prayers. I concluded my saying: ‘Whoever gave this order of harassing Muslims, subjecting them to demeaning search and scaring them away from the mosque should ask himself if this will make people to love their leaders or it will make them hate such leaders.’ I let the dignitaries know the implications of their actions and I reiterated that if we, the clergy, did not let them know these, Allah would ask us and that we would not be helping them that way.
After the Special Prayers for the inauguration of the new government of Jonathan and Sambo, the Chief Imam had to make the following remarks: ‘I wish to draw the attention of our brethren,’ said the Imam, ‘to the fact that the tight security around the mosque is a temporary operation. The officers have exceeded their bounds; nobody instructed them to drive away worshipers from the mosque. Let those who are present convey the message to those who could not come in today that next week there will not be any hindrance to access the mosque by anybody.’

          Dr Mohammed Halliru Bello, PDP Acting National Chairman


Dr Mohammed Halliru Bello, PDP Acting National Chairman, was visibly upset, came to me when worshipers started dispersing and said: ‘Ustaz Siddeeq, why are you inciting the people against the government?’
This was a simple question that required an equally polite answer. At least in print it looks so, but the belligerence with which it was uttered, impossible to be reproduced in a prose, made me answer in like manner. ‘On the contrary sir,’ I said, ‘what I’ve said today is right in every letter. What I did was to call attention to what actually happened and to which everybody here is a witness.’
But what is wrong in having security around the mosque,’ retorted Dr Bello, ‘when you see security forces around the Holy Mosques of Makkah and Madinah? Imam’s remarks were better than yours; he was mild, not mischievous.’
Many people restrained me from further angry exchanges with the PDP Acting Chairman within the precincts of the mosque. I obeyed. But Dr Bello kept talking, went to the Chief Imam and made the same complaint, threatening to deal with me in the sense that the word is used in Nigeria when you desire to visit your vengeance upon someone, especially if you occupy a lofty position. As you shall see later, it seems he carried through his useless threat. Useless because only those who feed off people like him would hesitate to tell the truth where it concerned their principal. Those who collect gratification for selling Allah’s Words and their conscience are the only ones on whom threats like the one Bello made would make any impact.
The presence of security forces around the Two Holy Mosques, Dr Bello should’ve known, was for the safety of the multitude observing their devotions; they are not there to guard any froward potentate and product of flawed elections. There is no reason why people who claim to have been voted into power by the majority of Nigerians would be afraid of the electorate who gave them the mandate!
Outside the mosque I met the Executive Secretary of the National Mosque, Alhaji Abubakar Ibrahim Jega who said to me: ‘Ustaz, you’ve acted righty. You’ve exculpated us by this intervention otherwise people would’ve blamed us for allowing this build-up around the mosque. The Imam was also right in what he did; he acted like Abubakar, the first caliph; while you acted like Umar, the second………..’
It is indeed ironic that, just a day after the incident at the National Mosque, during the Special Inauguration Inter-denominational Service, the National Christian Centre did not witness the heavy security presence visited upon the National Mosque in a similar ceremony. The Christian Centre was full to the brim; no vehicular hindrance; no worshiper was denied access. This is indeed the beginning of a new era!
Wallahi, by Allah, if what happened at the National Mosque that day were to be in a church the government would have formally apologised to the Christian community in Nigeria for the embarrassment meted on its faithful by security agencies around their places of worship. But with the Muslims, anything goes; and who cares?
The mosque has its aegis and sanctity which must be respected by all who come in to offer prayers. It is a place where truth is told to all regardless of status or rank. If leaders err they should be guided to their error so that they can amend such mistakes. The mosque should not be a place where those in authority come only to be placated, aggrandised and prayers are offered for their wellbeing and protection.
The corollary to the above threat by Dr Bello was stopping me from rendering the weekly khutbah from Arabic to English. The same Executive Secretary of the National Mosque who made the conscientious and fatherly statement as quoted above wrote an internal memo addressed to the Chief Imam to the effect that my services are no longer needed in translations of the khutbah because I went out of my way to discuss an issue that was not the object of the sermon. They are now looking for a replacement. There was an awkward interregnum in the mosque last Friday as I sat with other worshippers waiting for an English khutbah that never was. This disenfranchised all that do not speak Hausa and Igbo, let alone Arabic that day from getting the message of the khutbah.
Dr Bello and the PDP have more to do: instruct the LEADERSHIP Newspapers to close this column, stop my weekly radio and television programmes, or better still, arrest and lock me up for good. In that way this ‘little upstart’ will be silenced for most of the time the Power to the People has vowed to vote on our behalf! That is easy for PDP. Be whatever you want to be; a corrupt government official; be implicated in kickbacks and bribery scandals within Nigeria and beyond; do whatever you like, you will remain a saint and even occupy high position in the land provided you do not do what is displeasing to the largest party in Africa, otherwise, EFCC is there to do the dirty job!
To his credit, after the scene he made just a week earlier, Dr Bello Halliru Mohammed, PDP Acting National Chairman was the first to say salaam, Muslim greeting to me when he came into the mosque last Friday, 3rd June, 2011. He has proved to be better than me in line with a tradition of the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. But some people who saw this salaam-rapprochement said it meant: Now that you are ‘fired’, how are you enjoying my requital? I did not see it from that angle. In my own defence, I did not see him enter the mosque as I was reading the Quran. I felt a tap on my shoulder and I looked up to see Dr. Bello gesturing a greeting with his arm poised in ‘ranka ya dade’ fashion. I returned the greeting, by the way.
I bear no grudge against anyone, for I know the origin of this decision. I was expecting it. My prayer is for Allah to recompense the services I have rendered as a volunteer, not receiving any wages in translating the khutbah for the past seventeen years. I trust Allah will keep rewarding me every Friday for I did not forsake that task on my own volition; I was hindered by the powers that be.
This reminds me to advise the new translator, whoever he may be, to discard any personal agenda or agenda by proxy to gain from translating the khutbah or to suppress telling the truth; damning the blame of any blamer. It is a new era like I said, a sad, dark and gloomy era!