Recent acts of violence, fanatical hatred and intolerance particularly across Northern Nigeria should be of concern to thoughtful and peace loving Muslims across the country. The history of Islam in Nigeria has been stained with so much blood that any Muslim who, by some stretch of imagination still maintains that Islam is a religion of peace should begin to contend with this harsh and threatening reality.
It has become increasingly difficult to entertain the notion that Islam is a religion of peace. Tell that to the families who loved were recently killed by muslim fanatics in Niger, Kano or Abuja. It is becoming a commonplace notion that Islam is a religion of violence or that Islam evokes fear, force and hatred across the country. Suspicion and mistrust seem to becoming the defining characteristics of Muslim–non Muslim relationship in the country.
In fact, this year, there is hardly any week that passes without some act of violence or destruction by ‘suspected Muslim fanatics’ somewhere in the country. Most of these savage acts take place in Northern Nigeria and they reflect negatively on the way Islam is perceived across the country and the world. Though the federal government has been fighting to neutralize Boko Haram militancy, these merchants of hate, death and destruction are still killing and maiming people. Boko Haram militancy has in fact metastasized and today one hardly differentiates between the killings that are perpetrated by herdsmen and the terror that is unleashed by Boko Haramites.
There is so much commonality between acts that are perpetrated by ‘Muslim youths’ and the bloodletting activities of these peddlers of Islamic hate and harm. In fact the Boko haram militancy has morphed into ‘Muslim youth’ or ‘Fulani’ herdsmen attacks. One seldom differentiates sharia police extremism and Boko Haram fanaticism. Horrific instances abound of these marauding ravenous monsters.
Recently there have been reported acts of violence by ‘Muslim youths’ across the region. It is either they are protesting blasphemies against Islam or Prophet Muhammad, or they are reacting angrily to acts that violate the Ramadan or they are incensed that non Muslims are preaching or practicing their faith as in the most recent case.
The latest report says that on Friday July 13 2016, ‘irate Muslim youths’ attacked and destroyed a catholic church in Baki Iku in Niger State. These youths, numbering over 200, stormed the church building; some of them scaled the wall, after their Jumat prayer and attacked members who were praying at the church. They claimed that Fridays were for Islamic prayers and that the worshippers had the right to worship only on Sundays. They beat up and injured the church workers and chased away the worshippers.
The police claimed that they had made arrests and pledged to bring the perpetrators of this act of violence to book. Unfortunately, this would likely be the end of the matter. Like in most incidents of violence, vandalism and arson by ‘Muslim youths’ in Northern Nigeria, the perpetrators would go unpunished.
Sadly, ‘Muslim youths’ who commit similar or worse crimes are hardly prosecuted for their crimes. Police may make arrests, if at all, but that is usually a stopgap measure to create the impression that something is being done. After a while, the suspects are released and ‘normal’ life goes on. I mean there is so much impunity in the land. We cannot continue like this. Something has to be done.
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The Islamic community must do more to rein in these militants and combat the activities of extremists in their communities whether these fanatics are members of Boko Haram, or they are Fulani herdsmen, or members of the Sharia police or ‘Muslim youths’. All these shades of Muslim extremism must be tackled and defeated.
To all the sheikhs, ulama, imam and others who claim to be the spiritual, intellectual and moral leaders of the Ummah in Northern Nigeria, you must begin to acknowledge that there is a serious problem in your Islamic house and community. You should ensure that mosques are no longer places where attacks and killings are planned, and that Jumat prayers or any of such activities are not used to incite violence and hatred.
You should not only be heard of or seen protesting when Muhammad is cartooned or a Quran is burnt or a beauty pageant is staged. You should be seen equally marching on the streets and protesting when ‘Muslim youths’ attack and burn down churches or kill blasphemers because these acts of violence, hatred and intolerance are giving Islam a bad name and image. Those who maintain that Islam is not a religion of peace say so not because they hate the Islamic faith, but because of the hateful behaviours of some Muslims towards others. People say that Islam is not a religion of peace not because of what non muslims do to muslims but due to what muslims do to non muslims as in this case.
So when you refuse to speak out or stand by while Muslim youths launch attacks after Jumat prayers at your mosques, it is difficult to discount that you are not aiding and abetting their criminal behaviours. When you use your preachings to incite hatred, you are complicity to the atrocities they commit. I want to take Islamic politicians and intellectuals from Northern Nigeria to task.
Many of you have contributed to the growing fanaticism in Northern Nigeria because you have invested much of the political capital in schemes that perpetuate ignorance and brainwashing. You have devoted much of the resources in the region to funding sharia schemes, building mosques, sponsoring higher Hajj and lesser Hajj to Mecca, to Quranic indoctrination, paying imams, finance sharia courts when we have state courts, to instituting sharia police when the state police are there, to giving financial rewards to Christians who convert to Islam when your people are languishing in poverty and penury.
Instead of putting in place programs and schemes that provide young people with effective education, create jobs and attracts people of all faiths and none to come and live and work peacefully in the region, you prefer to legalize discrimination and exclusion of non-Muslims.
Many of you boast about how passionate you are about Nigerian unity and how you are ready to go to war again to keep Nigeria one. But in practice you are ready to sacrifice, that Nigerian unity on the altar on Islam or sharia law. Is it not a sad thing?
Some of you have not disguised your hatred and disgust for those agitating for Biafra or other separatist groups that exist and operate in Southern Nigeria. But you have not thought of how your divisive, exclusivist, discriminatory Islamic politics in Northern Nigeria is fuelling these agitations. Can’t you see some causal connection between sharia agitation and Biafra agitation?
You are correct in thinking that agitations for Biafra could lead to the dismembering the country, but you are also contributing to dividing and disintegrating Nigeria by imposing sharia law on non-muslims, by refusing to separate mosque and state, by privileging Islam and providing a social and political atmosphere where ‘muslim youths’ kill, maim, behead and hack to death real or imaginary infidels with impunity.
Look the issue is not particularly Nigerian unity but keeping Nigeria united and addressing those issues that give justification to separatist agitations and sentiments. That has been the main challenge because the country is already at war and one of the main reasons for this war is Islamic fanaticism, which you politicians in Northern Nigeria have refused to tackle head on.
So if you are passionate about Nigeria’s unity then you need to confront the challenge of Islamic extremism. You need to root out this problem. I mean, how can you rightfully claim that you are desire the unity of this country when you endorse that Nigerians who do not profess Islam be treated as second-class citizens in the name of sharia implementation?
Tell me why I or anybody else would take your claim to keeping Nigeria united seriously when you are not committed to treating Nigerians of all faiths and none equally? How do you convince us that you are committed to Nigerian unity when you turn a blind eye when ‘Muslim youths’ rampage, attack and kill non Muslims for blasphemy, vandalize and burn down churches, slaughter those who are preaching or practicing other faiths or beliefs with impunity?
Enough of this apathy and indifference to acts of religious hatred and intolerance. Enough of this discrimination and bloodletting in Northern Nigeria.
Leo Igwe is a human rights activist and the founder of the Nigerian Humanist Movement. He was the Western and Southern African representative to IHEU, the International Humanist and Ethical Union. He can be reached by email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.