Hakeem Baba-Ahmad

October 15, 2014


Mount Arafat

File photo: Muslim pilgrims gather to pray at Mount Arafat near the holy city of Mecca during the annual pilgrimage. AFP PHOTO/FAYEZ

By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad
“Society performs for itself almost everything which is ascribed to   government”.
Thomas Paine, 1737-1809.

I spent the last two weeks in Saudi Arabia among Islamists. These are  Muslims who recognize the imperatives of complying with the demands of   their faith to visit Makkah for the Hajj, and are blessed with the   means to do so. There were millions of us, all submitting to the   incomparable awesomeness of the entire exercise.

The bewildering mix  of race, age, status, gender, nationalities, sects, political leaning,  wealth and poverty, humbled by a breathtaking environment undertook a  ritual that had been performed exactly the way we did for more than   1400 years. For four days, millions of Muslims stood in total   submission to Allah Subhanahu   Wa Ta’ala and prayed.

File photo: Muslim pilgrims gather to pray at Mount Arafat near the holy city of Mecca during the annual pilgrimage. AFP PHOTO/FAYEZ

File photo: Muslim pilgrims gather to pray at Mount Arafat near the holy city of Mecca during the annual pilgrimage. AFP PHOTO/FAYEZ

Everyone was there with their private packet of prayers and requests,  but virtually everyone shared one prayer in common: that Muslims the   world over will overcome the challenges they face with such seeming   impotence. You got to know of this when, as I was privileged to do,   you mixed with Muslims from all over the world, the category of   pilgrims who are knowledgeable, informed, involved and passionate   about their faith.

Muslims from the Balkans and former USSR speak   about the stresses of living with violence inspired by groups bent on   pushing back frontiers of oppression from non-Muslims powers. Asian   Muslims and millions in many Arab countries speak of unending violence  as Muslims take on each other in a vicious struggles to establish a   particular version of Islamic system.

The Middle East speaks of blood   and guts, of Israel’s callous savagery, the unyielding support it   enjoys from the US and its allies, and of the desperation of   generations who have known only war with Israel as the basic stuff of   life.

The Maghreb speaks of turmoil and vicious battles to assume the  power to determine how much influence the Islamic faith is allowed in   public lives of Muslims. West and East Africa bleed from weak  governments and determined groups that have made massive inroads into  lives of citizens using terror to prop up Islamic systems.

In Central  Africa, Muslims are under attack for just being Muslims. European   Muslims are torn between being Muslims and being Europeans. Muslim   leaders fawn at the feet of America and beg it to fight their battles  for them. They are resented by their people for being weak and   corrupt, for abandoning the interests of Islam, and being the cause of   all the fate of Muslims.

There were Muslims from all parts of the world who worried over the  perception that Muslims are engaged in a global war with every type of  enemy including fellow Muslims, and they cannot understand exactly   what the issues are, or how they should judge who is right or wrong.

They resent the term Islamist applied by the Western media to every   group that takes up arms and claims to fight for a cause, provided   they are Muslims. They worried that the global Muslim community is   being weakened by multiple assaults from self-inflicted intra-Muslim   conflicts as we see in Syria, Iraq, Iran and many other parts of the   Muslim world. They lament the damaging image being created for Islam   as a faith rooted in violence from which the rest of the world should   put much distance.

Every Muslim now knows of Boko Haram, and wants to know what it  represents or if it can get what it wants. Muslims from all over the   world are curious over how Boko Haram , Al Shabbab and AQIM managed to  grow into what they are, the social context that gives them succour,   and the attitudes of other Muslims towards them. Everyone wants to   know if the spectacular emergence of the Islamic State (ISIL) will   inspire more Muslim uprisings or serve as impetus for groups under   arms to dig in.

The Hajj provided an opportunity for much soul-searching among  Muslims, but in truth, there was more pain and anger than studied  analyses over the state of Islam in the world. On those rare occasions   when discussions moved away from lamentations to the search for  solutions, a few difficult positions struggled to emerge. One is that the   Muslim world is not one world at all: it is a patchwork of Muslim  communities each labouring under fairly unique stimuli and challenges.

While it has common irritants such as the brazen impunity with which  Israel justifies its security, or a West which both protects it and   makes much capital from the weaknesses of Muslim countries, or the humiliating capitulation of leaders of Muslim countries and communities, it is important to understand the basic differences  between the goals of Chechnian Muslims, ISIL and Boko Haram. There   will always be a Muslim group somewhere that will take up arms in the   name of the faith, but a world in which the vast majority of Muslims   live in peace with themselves and non-Muslims is feasible. More than   that, it is now an urgent necessity. The detailed fatwa issued by the   world’s leading Muslim leaders a few weeks ago hints at a new thinking   around isolating Islam from terror.

Much as we think our version of the threats posed by Boko Haram are   very serious (and they are) they pale in comparison with those in many other parts of the world. This is very fortunate for us in Nigeria   (and Africa) because it means our own threat is still within the   bracket of those that can be contained and, in the longer term,   eliminated. But this is not to be assumed. The current appearance of   success by the Nigerian state against terrorists must be supported and  sustained. Our neighbours must be more actively involved in the fight   to destroy the rump of the terrorists. Defeating Boko Haram militarily   is only a first step towards dealing with this threat. The Northern   Muslim establishment must undertake a deep and thorough search into   its weaknesses and limitations. Long before it challenged the Nigerian   state, Jamaatu Ahlil Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad (JASLIWAJ) was  pre-eminently a challenge against mainstream Muslim leadership and  establishment. Its remote nourishment is still there in abundance: in   sects that resist reforms in Islamic education, in poverty and corrupt   and indifferent leadership. These have to be faced by religious and   political leaders in Nigeria with courage, sensitivity and knowledge.

Some very big obstacles will have to be confronted and overcome.   It will be a monumental mistake to assume that some of the most basic   problems which generate alienation and anger among Muslims in Nigeria   can only be solved by government. Nigerian Muslims lend themselves to   weak governments to use, or tolerate practices and weaknesses that   weaken Muslims and create conditions which breed fringe groups. It   will be equally naive to assume that having a Muslim President alone   will dramatically transform the state of Muslims in Nigeria. In a   Nigerian state whose structure does no favour to Islam as a religion,   the Muslim community will have to assume prime responsibility for its   condition.

I spent the last two weeks with Islamists more deserving of the name   than terrorists who serve anti-Islamic interests. For us in Nigeria,  the real fight against Boko Haram will have to be fought by Muslims,  because the Nigerian state cannot respond appropriately to the complex   interplay between faith, society and economy which breeds groups such  as them.

If Muslim leaders do not move with courage and speed to plug   the many loopholes in their unity and disposition that will be   exploited for the 2015 elections, they will be made even weaker. Then   groups like JASLIWAJ will find even stronger impetus to rise against a state they will claim is patently anti- Islamic.