Thursday, January 13, 2011


A summary of the doctrines of Boko Haram and Darul Islam could be: separation from the larger society and worldliness; rejection of modernity and progressive education; belief must be matched by practice, hence their rigid and strict application of the text. I have seen a community in America that shares these beliefs and practices them.
At the end of our stay in Washington DC during the 2010 International Visitor Leadership Program, we left for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Before arrival at our destination we stopped for lunch and a tour Amish community of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
This is a peaceful, non-violent community that chooses to be different, to live life according to its understanding of the Scriptures. The American government let them be, accepts them as they are, and respects their beliefs; it did not banish them from their homes, as we witnessed with Darul Islam, or rout and kill them extrajudicially, as the Nigeria Police did with Boko Haram (of course, anyone might argue that the Amish community did not take up arms against the American government and people and they would be correct! However, they would have also forgotten that the Boko Haraam group were not fighting anyone until the government law enforcement agencies started attacking and killing them). No wonder then that the theme of our Philadelphia, Pennsylvania visit was ‘Religious Freedom, Tolerance and U.S Constitution.’ My respect for America increased tremendously! The system is simple: you will not be hindered in any way from practicing the religion you profess, but you must do that without infringing on the rights of others or hurting their religious feelings.
The beginning of Amish people (1525) dates from a group of persecuted radical Christians nicknamed ‘Anabaptists’ at the time of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. They sought a return to the simplicity of faith and practice as seen in the early Christian church in the Bible.
The Amish stress that belief must result in practice. ‘By their fruits you shall know them’ (Matthew 7:20). The emphasis is on lifestyle; hence, they tend to be cautious on technology and involvement with the larger world. They refrain from driving cars; their mode of transportation is by horse-drawn carriages – buggies, they call them. It is only in movies depicting life in years gone by, or the dramatized version of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and similarly themed settings that I see carriages like that.
The dressing is ‘plain’, maintaining the highest standard of simplicity and humility; how one lives reflects their faith, our tour guide informed us; clothing is simply another expression of their deepest convictions. It does not mean that these people desire to be odd; they purpose instead to practice humility, simplicity, non-conformity, and modesty.
Men and boys wear dark suit coats which have no lapels and fasten with hooks and eyes. Trousers are made in the traditional broad fall pattern are usually held up by suspenders. Shirts are made of solid coloured fabric. Shoes are black for dress up, but often brown for work. Broad-brimmed hats made of either straw or black felt are worn outdoors. The hair is blunt cut and combed front in bangs. Long beards are the mark of an adult man but they do not wear moustaches.
Women and girls wear dresses with full skirts made of solid coloured fabric (a vivid contrast to the nakedness we witnessed in other places); frequently blue, green, grey, purple or, for some occasions, black. An apron is nearly always worn and a cape often covers the bodice of the dress. Black shoes and stockings are proper for going out.
The women and girls do not cut their hair. They wear it parted in the middle and combed back from the face, then twisted into a bun at the back of the head or nape of the neck. A white, or in some cases black, cap-type head covering is worn in obedience to the biblical instruction in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. When going out, especially to church, women put a large bonnet and shawl. No one wears jewellery.

                                              An Amish family in a buggy
Like the people of Boko Haram and Darul Islam in Nigeria, the Amish are not comfortable with Boko, western, progressive education. They question whether attending high school and university lead to greater wisdom or obedience to the Creator. They are not, by this position, against education or learning. Far from that! Learning from others is an important value. It is the popular version of education offered by America’s consolidated public high schools that especially troubles parents of this faith.
An Amish teenager and an average American teenager would probably know about the same number of facts (the Amish child knows less about science, technology, and the arts, but more about soil, animal and plant care, and basic skills like carpentry, masonry and food preservation). In addition the Amish child is bilingual, has an enormous sense of security, and has learned to foster values as a way of life.
The Amish want their children to learn basics such as reading, writing, and arithmetic. This they offer in a local one-room school (similar to the one operated by Darul Islam) with a minimum of worldly influences. Athletics and other worldly courses where students have to be in semi-naked sportswear are not taught here.
School for the Amish is only part of the learning necessary for preparation for the adult world. Work is educational and enjoyable. So, they opted to educate their children in the local one-room school with which they are comfortable, and not the American “Boko” system. Unlike in Nigeria where bulldozers would have been sent to demolish their dwellings and soldiers and mindless police officers set at them; the American government went to court. The landmark 7- 0 decision of the U.S Supreme Court on May 15, 1972 exempted these and related religious groups from state compulsory attendance laws beyond the eighth grade. “It is neither fair nor correct to suggest that the Amish are opposed to education beyond the eighth grade level,” Chief Justice Burger wrote. “What this record shows is that they are opposed to conventional formal education of the type provided by a certified high school because it comes at the child’s crucial adolescent period of religious development.”(Emphases are mine)
As the court pleases! So say our lawyers after such pronouncements in court.
The Amish won. Their local one-room system of education accepted for their children to attain the basics, not beyond the eighth grade. Thus they pay public school taxes and also pay the full expenses of their local system of imparting knowledge.


  1. How I wish we will have such LEADERSHIP full of justification consideration in this country.. Our scholars need to be more vibrant in order improve our good LEADERSHIP in Nigeria. This is FAIRNESS!!.

  2. Mmm food for thought. Our political system surely needs total overhaul. Indeed we need wiser political actors.