By Bashir Adefaka
Alhaji Sarafa Tunji, a former Secretary to Ogun State Government and Minister of Mines and Steel Development, is the choice of Yoruba Muslim leaders as the new Baba Adinni of Yorubaland. He will be turbaned in Abeokuta, Ogun State capital, on Tuesday. Tunji speaks on issues affecting Muslims in this interview.
The last time we heard of a Baba Adinni of Yorubaland with all the glamour that came with it was during the time of the late Chief MKO Abiola, which makes it seem that, for somebody to be considered for that religious title, he must be a man of timber and caliber.
What worked for your selection; or is it because you, like Abiola, come from the same place?
I think that question should be directed to the Ulamas of the League of Imams and Alfas because, in Yoruba parlance, it is said that ‘no wise man can install himself as king just as a knowledgeable cannot confer chieftaincy title on himself.’ No matter how beautiful a crown is, in Yorubaland, nobody carries and puts it on his own head. The kingmakers crown the king. So, that question should really be meant for them. But you will recall that about 12 years ago, all the Imams in Ogun State came together and installed me as the first Baba Adinni of Ogun State. And since I left office, I have tried as much as possible to make sure that I bring them together. And I must tell you that my concern as somebody who has occupied exalted positions in this country is in religious harmony and I have promoted that.
And what do you intend to do differently in promoting religious harmony in the region?
In promoting religious harmony, you have to unite the Muslim Ummah because, sometimes, intra-religious conflicts can be worse than inter-religious conflicts. A good example is the Boko Haram insurgency in which, unknown to some Nigerians, many Muslims have been killed. In fact, Muslims are more victims of Boko Haram than people of other religions. So, the challenge that we have in contemporary times, even across the world, is intra-religious conflicts. In many countries, you usually have the Sunni fighting the Shi’ites. The conflict in Syria is intra-religious. Talk of Iraq and Iran, the problem you have there is more of intra-religious conflict.
So what did you find out has been the cause of those intra-religious conflicts and now bringing your findings back to Nigeria, what is your thought about domesticating solution?
The challenge that we have is, if we don’t act and achieve an appreciable unity among the Muslim Ummah, the problem will continue. For instance, extremism is not something that starts suddenly. It is a gradual thing and if you don’t have a situation whereby everybody meets and reviews the situation, it will continue. I believe that it is better to prevent a crisis, to neutralize a threat rather than waiting for that threat to become a conflagration and you can only achieve this if people are united. The League of Imams and Alfas, no doubt, happen to be the people that provide leadership. If you look at it in the context of the Qur’an, imamship is about leadership and they are also in a vantage position to reach the Ummah through their Mimbar (podium) for whatever message they want to convey to the Ummah. It is a veritable source of communication because, every Friday, they go to the Mimbar; five daily prayers, they are with the Ummah and after every turn of prayers they can pass messages and the Ummah believe more in their messages than the messages of other people.
But somebody from outside the region will then say the Yoruba Muslims are trying to design Islamic practice based on self-volition. Or are you saying designing your unification effort is based on the dictates of the Qur’an and Hadeeth of the Prophet?
Of course yes. The practice of Islam is anchored on three legs: the Qur’an, the Hadeeth and the Fiqh. Islam is knowledge driven and the knowledge is based on the Qur’an, the Hadeeth and the Fiqh but we have a situation whereby some of these things are bastardised. You will even attend some gatherings and ask yourself, “Am I in an Islamic gathering?” For instance, you go for a Nikkah and immediately after the Nikkah, what you have is flow of alcohol especially while the Ulamas are still seated. There must be a way of coming together to spell out how Nikkah and other Islamic gatherings should be conducted and things that must be brought near those gatherings. That is what I mean by unifying Islamic practice. You can do engagement and wedding, but if you must perform Nikkah at that ceremony, it must be an Islamic setting. These are the issues but people may not know.
And if we don’t talk among ourselves and bring it to attention that intoxicant is not part of Islam, how do people know? It is not about extremism. My religion is my religion and it must be practiced in normal way. There are some parts of our culture that are not out of Islam but, if you are not knowledge driven, you will not be able to know which one is allowed and which one is not allowed. There are some Arab cultures that are not part of Islam but some people will copy same thinking that they are Islamic cultures. It is just like some will say they want to be copying the Jewish behaviour and take it as part of Christianity, when Jews themselves are not Christians. So, these are the issues. Unless there is proper education, people will not be able to know and these are the areas through which extremism creeps in.
In the South-West, we thank God we don’t have issue with inter-religious conflict. The way the world is going now, the challenge is no more inter-religious. It is more of intra-religious….
(Cuts in) But somebody will also tell you that in the South West there is a lot of inter-religious conflict with pockets of anti-Islamic attitude going on in the institutions and the rest of that. What about that if you say no problem about inter-religious conflict in the zone?
No, when I say no problem, I am categorizing the problems just to their levels and categories. All those ones that you talked about are problems that are surmountable. But, when people start killing people, that goes beyond the educational, social and other institutional issues. It is what extremism brings. But if you are talking of political, educational and other differences, they are there and they have not just started today but we have continued to manage them. But if it gets to the taking of lives, definitely you can’t compare it. They are not comparable.
To say somebody is Baba Adinni of Yorubaland, what role is he expected to play in the Muslim Ummah of Yorubaland and how do you intend to carry yourself your into playing that role after your installation?
The essence of Baba Adinni is that you must be in a position to bring the Ummah together. The leader of the League of Imams and Alfas provides the Islamic leadership but he needs support. Your own position as Baba Adinni is not a frontal but a back-up role. Yes, the way we are, one can say we are the leaders but there cannot be a leadership without followership. We are the Ummah and so, we should always strike a balance. In contemporary world, things are changing. Hundred years ago, people travelled to Hajj on foot, the Prophet travelled to Hajj on camel. Can you now say because of that you must go on Hajj on foot or on camel? We must be able to strike a balance and that is one of the roles that a Baba Adinni must be able to play in support of the leadership of the Imams. Yes, things have changed technologically but it was part of the things the Prophet of Islam himself, Muhammad (peace be upon him), had predicted. But the fundamentals of Islam have not changed. And so the issue now is to make sure that the Imams are on the same page on the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and Hadeeth through a constructive engagement by learned scholars. Like this conference we are doing now, we having not less than 10 professors of Arabic and Islamic Studies as resource persons.
That is major. Professor Is-haq Oloyede, Professor K. K. Olosho, Professor Ishaq Akintola and so on and so forth. So, if it is about Islamic Religious Knowledge, come and say it the way you see it. That is the issue: bring the academia, bring the Imams, bring the Ulamas, bring the youths and let’s continuously have an annual conference where we meet, review the situation and whatever we conclude, we move on. That is the essence.
But if you don’t create a forum that will allow everybody to meet, how do you engage yourselves?
You see, there are two issues that are involved: politicking and the society. It is only when the society is at peace that you can politick. That is number one.
Number two is that we should thank God for the presidential system of government that we have. If we run a parliamentary system, then the opposition and government thing is a permanent feature. Every day you are reminded ‘we are in government, you are in opposition’. In the presidential system, after every election, it is the people, the society that should matter until after three years. Then you get to the last year of politicking. That should be the way we should operate. Immediately after election, the loser congratulates the winner and it is about the people. Then those things that you have to offer, you send them to the man who has won the election. If you are politicking for the people, then it should be the people that matter and not your party, not your person! Parties are usually the vehicles for getting into power. So, the issue of having permanent opposition or permanent government, I don’t believe in it. It is about the people.
And in Ogun State, we have tried to establish that. The governor (Senator Ibikunle Amosun) is the chief host of this conference, irrespective of party differences. The President (Muhammadu Buhari) is sending a goodwill message. So, we have put our political beliefs apart. The people should be our major concern. How do we ensure that extremism does not get here? And that is important because, if extremism gets here, it doesn’t differentiate between APC and PDP or between Christians and Muslims.
What Nigeria is witnessing in Boko Haram in the North-East, does it discriminate between Christians and Muslims? Does it discriminate between APC and PDP? Does it discriminate between classes? Everybody is a victim. We must realise that the issue at heart, which is more important, is the welfare and security of the people. It is more important than the party you belong to. And after every election, the concern must be your people.