The Sultan of Sokoto,His Eminence, Shaykh Muhammad Sa‘ad Abubakar is leader of over 70 million Muslims in Nigeria, the world’s largest black nation.
His profile and influence continues to rise. Not too long ago he was named the 18th most influential Muslim leader in the world. The influence of previous post British Sultans of Sokoto had been curtailed somewhat by, for instance, a rising degree of tribal sentiment among some Muslims in the country. The new generation of Muslims in the southern part of Nigeria proudly, if not loudly, accept the Sultan as their leader.
Shaykh Sa‘ad Abubakar has played a role in this new wave. The handsome self-effacing retired army general has reached out to all sections of Nigeria in a way that no other traditional leader has done: and he is still on the move. His message of peace and national cohesion places him in a different class from religious, ethnic, or political bigots. He has travelled wider than any other Nigerian traditional leader across Nigeria reaching out to other traditional and Christian leaders.
He has a lot to surmount. Among Muslims, there are still those in the south for whom tribal sentiment and a yearning for pre-eminence are more important than Sultan Sa‘ad Abubakar’s overtures for Muslim unity. They are in the minority. Generally, Muslim intellectuals and educated youths in the south of Nigeria love the initiatives of the Sultan and accept his leadership. Some of them are regularly in contact with him. He listens to them.
But, he has challenges in the north too. It would appear that while Shaykh Sa‘ad Abubakar is utilising his authority as Amirul-Mu’mineen to decide the dates for the beginning and end of Ramadan, and for the Muslim festivals as he is so empowered to do in Islamic jurisprudence, some other Muslims would have it otherwise.
His overture to the Christian community will and should definitely provide an opportunity for willing Christian leaders to reciprocate.
Over the years, since independence, some have opined that the Sultan has no further function beyond announcing the dates of Muslim months and festivals. Shaykh Sa‘ad Abubakar can and has always proved them wrong. Additionally, he would be further asserting his value to the Nigerian Muslim Ummah if he served as the hub for Muslims to submit proposals and plans for and discuss ideas about elevating Muslims in Nigeria. Also if the Sultan had a monthly broadcast to Muslims he could tell not only Nigerian Muslims, but also the world, what Islam is, what Muslims should be and how Nigerian Muslims should conduct themselves.
Such a broadcast would be the first of its kind where a religious leader is addressing all believers in Nigeria.
An area which has always needed attention is the education gap between Muslims in the north and other parts of Nigeria. This could be redressed within twenty years with planning and the authority of the office of the Sultan.
Sokoto, under Shaykh Uthman Dan Fodio, was a renowned center of knowledge. Those times could be brought back again.
This might sound herculean to some but the persona and stature built up by His Eminence in so short a time is well and truly suited for the task.
AbdurRahman A. Animasaun. Leicester, UK. firstname.lastname@example.org