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Mis-Understanding Islam

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Professor Ademola Dasylva At 70: A Labourer In The Vineyard

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Toyin Falola

There could be a thin and almost fully blurred line between piety and extremism. The first is a well-meaning zeal for religiousness or political ideology. The other, extremism, is a dangerous overzealousness wrapped in fanaticism and crassly blind ignorance. All over the world, religious and political extremism have been on the rise, and a careful study of cases will prove that both forms of extremism work hand-in-hand. Political ideologies are the foundation of any state, the summation of various beliefs and stances, and how these interpolate to create dynamism and governance. A fundamental feature of democracy is varied political ideologies, and side by side with political ideologies are religious beliefs.

Karl Marx defined religion as the opium of the people, but religion has played and continued to play bigger roles than being an intoxicant. Nonetheless, Karl Marx’s definition of religion presents a strong case for the existence of religious extremism. Religion serves as a strong fiber in the fabrics that make up society. Humans have always been religious. While the definitions of religiosity differ, one thing is constant: the average human’s metaphysical nature and searching for answers for things beyond his comprehension. It is this same metaphysical nature that pushes the human to believe in the One, a being who is more powerful than humans, to whom the qualities beyond human comprehension and inexplicable existence of some things can be tied. This Being is at the heart of religions, and the average human’s ardent belief or proclivity to believe makes religion a very powerful social tool.

The powers of religion, when explored by religious leaders, prove influential on political issues. This has been and will always be—from the Anglican Church’s influence on Great Britain’s Royal Household for centuries, which led to the Church’s influence on many matters of national concern, to the Pentecostal denomination’s exertion of influence during the Donald Trump administration in the United States of America. The US President, considered the world’s most powerful person, made some decisions that made sense to and aligned with his religious beliefs by seeking to broker peace between Israel and Arab nations and assenting to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, though Palestine and Israel are in contention for the city. A careful analysis of Trump’s moves proves that the decisions could be based on the influence of Pentecostals, who believe that the Biblical prophecy that Israel will return to its erstwhile possessed land is a milestone towards Jesus’ second coming. With the influence of religion and its effect on politics, it is extremely dangerous for religious extremism to seep into society.

Extremism abounds or has abounded in every religion of the world at one time or the other. As there are extremists in other religions, so are there extremists in Islam too. Extremists do not see themselves as “extremists;” they rather see themselves as pious people, the only true adherents of the beliefs of their religion. This is the reason they perpetrate their evil acts without the slightest form of remorse. They are so knee-deep in their fanaticism that they justify their extremism with alleged religious backings. One thing must be remembered about religious extremists: they have a close affinity with but are not the same as pious religionists. These extremists are people who have studied their religion’s texts and teachings and have listened to leaders and scholars in their religion. They are people who at one time slipped and fell into an aggrandized trance of what their religion should be, its superiority to other religions, and a warped mentality of converting others to their religion.

Another peculiar thing about Nigerian Islamic extremists is that they pride themselves in their deeds and lay claims to Islamic statutes and tenets as the backbone of their extremist views and deeds. These extremist deeds inform societal perceptions of what Islam is, and the chief danger of these acts is that they cause people to throw a blanket of generalization over Islam as a whole. An extremist suicide bomber in the marketplace will be seen and referred to as an Islamic terrorist. A mass murderer on whose neck the blood of many church worshippers trickles down is tied to Islam. Is there anything like Islamic terrorism when Islam is said to be a religion of peace?

During the Toyin Falola Interviews with Sheikh Abdurrahman Ahmad, the issue of religious extremism related to Islam was raised. The politically motivated terror groups who double as self-proclaimed religious movements have greatly affected societal notions of Islam and what its religious ideals are. There are many exaggerated and overblown perceptions of what Islam is and who Muslims are, and these paint Islam and its adherents in a bad light. One powerfully negative thing about perceptions is that people do not go out of their way to change their opinions about you. So long as people believe you are bad, they care less about finding out if you have changed. Changing people’s impression of you rests solely on your shoulders. Societal perceptions of Islam and Muslims are gross, and they are sadly existent among Muslims themselves. These societal perceptions are what lead to statements such as, “You do not look like a Muslim.” How should a Muslim look? The battles against these perceptions are needed and must be fought.

I challenged the Sheikh on changing people’s negative perceptions of Islam. He sought to know the mechanisms that could be put in place to this effect. Getting people to change the negative preconceived notion about Islam is the responsibility of Islamic leaders. They must leverage whatever channels are available—media houses, schools, institutions, etc.—to change people’s perceptions of the religion. It is high time Islamic leaders rose to tell the world that: “This is not us; stop creating stereotypes!” Islamic leaders must liberate the people from the claws of extremism and negative perceptions by providing verses of the Quran that are wholesome in combatting extremism. Why do extremists act the way they act? Why are they so buried in their extremism? Why do they ruthlessly commit atrocities? What could be running on their minds? What could give them peace of mind and fulfilment at the thought and action of killing, maiming, displacing, and injuring people? We cannot tell if these extremists know full well that they are extremists and hold extremist views or if they are just crass perpetrators of violence buried in ignorance.

Further on the need to combat Islamic perceptions, Ms. Lemu was spurred to ask questions on how Islam can stop religious extremism and lead Muslims on the right path of where piety ends and where extremism starts on the map of religiosity. The battle against religious extremism must be concurrently run with the battle against the derogatory views about Muslims for lasting and sustainable changes. If focus is placed on changing perceptions and extremism is left to blossom, the battle against negative perceptions will be lost. Also, shifting the focus to combatting religious extremism alone will not be effective in the long run because negative opinions will continue to run in the background. And if no action is taken to change people’s views, their mindset will not change, and the negative beliefs about Islam will persist. Ms. Lemu asked to know if there are ways to change their perceptions and mentality, and Sheikh Ahmad did consent to her question.

In response, Sheikh Ahmad said that while there is the need to change people’s negative perceptions of what Islam is and who Muslims are, perceptions can hardly be influenced, as they are shaped by what people see and the happenings in society. Suppose Boko Haram continually claims to be a religious body while wreaking havoc in society, it will be difficult to convince people that Boko Haram is not what Islam is. He further said that the Toyin Falola Interview is an example of actions towards reshaping the negative perceptions about Islam, as it is an avenue for many to learn what they did not know about the religion.

According to the Sheikh, extremists would use their ideological background to justify their extremist views no matter the country they belong to. In other words, extremist views vary according to ideological backgrounds. The single objective of extremists is to stick blindly to their warped beliefs and justify their extremism at any given time, using their atrocities. Extremism has militated against the correct portrayal of Islam and people’s perception of the religion. Suicide bombers and terrorist groups all lay claims to doing as the Holy Book instructs. Extremism should never be seen as a product of the religion whose ideologies were misinterpreted and blown out of proportion by the extremists. Islam is not responsible for Boko Haram and Al Qaeda’s irresponsibility, neither is Christianity responsible for the Lord Resistance Army’s extremism.

Problems arise that we may adapt and find our way around them; however, the onus rests on the faithful adherents of a religion to internally combat extremism. At the rise of extremism in Islam, well-meaning Islamic leaders came up with strategies that could help curb extremism. The Sheikh said this need for internal combat against extremism led to Islam putting “Al Hishtihaj” as the pathway and the “Makharathi” as the compass to show Islamic adherents whether they are on course or have veered off towards extremism and radicalization. Sheikh Abdurrahman Ahmad has also contributed to the fight against Islamic extremism in Nigeria through the “Dawah Inoculation,” a program to teach Muslims how to identify instances where views are becoming extremist. While all Muslims cannot become scholars, the Sheikh admonished that the average Muslim should create awareness against non-Islamic ideas, as every idea in Islam is geared towards achieving social good.

This is the fourth report on the interview conducted with Sheikh Abdurrahman on May 2, 2021. For its entire recording, see https://fb.watch/5eN6-jkkUu/

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Opinion

Where Are Secular Lawyers?

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Witch Burning, Impunity And Abuses Linked to Witchcraft Beliefs In Benue State
Dr Leo Igwe

By Leo Igwe

This question has agitated me over the years, and it persists. At a recent event in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state, a participant introduced herself as a member of the Christian Lawyers Association of Nigeria. Christian Lawyers Association? I wondered, Why Christian lawyers? Why should lawyers associate based on faith? Do we have a traditional religious lawyers association? Jehovah Witness Lawyers Association? Bahai Faith lawyers? Hindu Lawyers? I mean, why the religionization of everything in this country?

In northern Nigeria, the Muslim Lawyers Association exists. This organization is active. It features prominently in cases, especially those that concern religion, Sharia, or Islam. I guess there would be Sunni and Shiite Muslim lawyers associations. In 2022, over 30 Muslim lawyers came forward to defend those suspected of murdering Deborah Samuel in Sokoto. Meanwhile, no member helped prosecute the suspects. Muslim lawyers have strongly supported the execution and imprisonment of suspected blasphemers. They constitute the legal wing of Islamic separatism in Nigeria. This religious slant in practice, profession, and association of lawyers is disturbing and needs to be critically examined.

Look, a lawyer is a person trained to offer legal services. A lawyer is trained to represent an individual or organization in legal matters. S/he applies the law to specific cases, religious or nonreligious. The legal profession should be carried out without religious bias or favor. The law should be practiced to further justice, equity, and fairness, not in defense of a particular faith or belief. In practice, the law should be faith/belief blind. Unfortunately, this appears not to be the case in Nigeria. The tendency of lawyers to associate along religious lines is entrenched. As in other sectors of the society, religion has hijacked the legal profession and association. Lawyers practice and are pressured to practice law along religious lines. That is the raison d’etre of the religious (Christian/Muslim) lawyers association. And it is worrisome.

It has become pertinent to ask, where are secular lawyers? Put differently, where are lawyers beyond belief? By secular lawyers, I mean lawyers who are not religious, that is, lawyers who are atheists or agnostics; lawyers who do not take religion seriously. Secular lawyers include those who think that religious and spiritual matters are strictly private affairs and should not be the basis for legal practice, profession, and association.

Nigeria needs secular lawyers for the following reasons. First, based on section 10 of the constitution, Nigeria is a secular state, although not explicitly stated. Nigeria has no state religion. But theocrats often contest Nigeria’s secularity and openly propose that sharia and their religious books are superior to the constitution. The country needs lawyers to defend and uphold its secular character and help prevent the slow undoing of the secular gains and progress that Nigeria has made. Nigeria needs lawyers who can champion secularism. And secular lawyers can fulfill this need.

Second, Nigeria needs secular lawyers to professionally and constitutionally handle cases linked to faith or belief, such as witchcraft, blasphemy, and apostasy allegations. Lawyers who practice or associate on grounds of faith cannot be trusted to handle these cases because they are likely to compromise. They are likely to sacrifice their profession on the altar of their faith. For instance, it is a challenge to find lawyers to defend victims of witchcraft accusations because most lawyers, as people of faith, believe in the reality of witches and demons. Even though witchcraft accusations are against the law. Religious lawyers cannot be trusted to render professional services to victims of witchcraft branding. The same thing applies to cases of blasphemy and apostasy accusations. These accusations are linked to religious beliefs. Many lawyers do not want to profess law in ways that violate their faith. So, faith is a factor in hiring an attorney or getting a reliable solicitor.

In cases where Christians are accused of blaspheming Islam or insulting the prophet of Islam, Christian lawyers volunteer. They offer to help. Religious (Christian or Muslim) lawyers consider it a duty to defend their members. Christian lawyers defended Rhoda in Bauchi or the Christian barber, Elijah, in Kano. Muslim lawyers defended the suspected murderers of Deborah Samuel. But it is more challenging when the accused is a nonbeliever, an atheist, or a nonreligious person. Religious lawyers are reluctant to take up the cases. Religious lawyers cannot be trusted or entrusted with these cases because of concerns over religious bias.  Christian lawyers are guided by their christian faith and muslim lawyers are guided by their Islamic faith in their legal practice and representation.
So secular lawyers are needed. They can be trusted to represent in these cases because, in principle, they are free from the faith baggage that encumber legal representations by christian/muslim lawyers. Nigeria needs secular lawyers to keep church, mosque and state separate, and to ensure state neutrality on religious matters. It needs secular lawyers to tackle religious oppression, persecution and tyranny. Nigeria needs secular lawyers to uphold the rule of law and defend the freedom of religion or belief of all.
 Igwe, PhD,  is a board member of the Humanist Association of Nigeria.

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Minister Dangiwa Versus Cement Cabals

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Felix Oboagwina

By Felix Oboagwina

Wednesday, 31st October 2023, CEO of BUA Cement, Abdul Samad Rabiu, paid a visit to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in Aso Rock. As he walked out of the President’s office, journalists swarmed round Rabiu. To cut this narrative short, the billionaire businessman said he had come to assure the President that by March 2024, a bag of BUA Cement would start selling at N3,500 instead of N4,500 for which it then sold. The market leader, Dangote Cement, retailed for between N5,000 and N7,000 per bag. The hike not only alarmed but frustrated users because just two months earlier, Dangote Cement sold for a lower price of N3,500 max. The jump in price annoyed Nigerians. Thus, when the media went to town with Rabiu’s assurance of crashing the price, the news provoked much happiness nationwide.

Easier said than done, however, Rabiu’s optimism quickly evaporated into thin air. Mysteriously, thereafter, the price of cement went crazy and bizarre. The popular 50kg bag of cement flew to N10,000, then N12,000 and landed at N15,000. This year, Dangote Cement PLC reported a profit of N166 billion for first quarter of 2024.

In Nigeria, the dominant cement brands are Dangote, BUA, Lafarge and Elephant. For a country of 250 million, being serviced by four brands sounds like a monopoly or oligopoly, when a few companies exert significant control over a given market and together control prices by colluding with each other to promote uncompetitive prices. Today, manufacturers blame the skyrocketing rates on the falling value of the Naira. From the N700 per dollar pre-May 2023, the Naira had gone to exchange for N1,600 to the dollar, although it has now dropped to about N1,200. In addition to using the unhealthy Naira as scapegoat, cement makers blame the high cost on expensive gas and manufacturing equipment.

However, in the midst of the darkness, a silver lining appeared to appear from the midst of Tinubu’s cabinet ministers.

There are 46 ministers, although 13 of them wear the title of Junior Minister or Minister of State and 33 substantive ones. Suddenly, two substantive ministers called cement manufacturers to a meeting. The meeting by Dave Umahi, Works Minister, took place first on Monday, February 19, 2024. At that meeting, the minister and manufacturers fixed the price of cement at between N7,000 and N8,000 max.

The following day Tuesday in Abuja, Ahmed Dangiwa, Minister of Housing and Urban Development, also met representatives of the Cement Manufacturer Association of Nigeria (CEMAN). And there things exploded. Dangiwa displayed uncommon knowledge of all the tricks and shenanigans. He told the producers the implication of their pricing: “This is a crisis for housing delivery. An increase in essential building materials means an increase in the prices of houses.”

For Dangiwa, the reasons for the price hike were insufficient to justify such outrageous pricing. He confronted them with the bare facts, that the government stopped cement importation to enable local companies to increase output and lower prices.

Then he dropped the banger: “Government can open the borders for mass importation of cement, the price will crash, but you will have no business to do.”

When CEMAN said the association “does not interfere with the pricing of cement,” Dangiwa hit back with, “One person cannot be selling at N3,500 per bag and another selling at N7,000 per bag and you cannot call them to order. The association is expected to monitor price control; otherwise, the association has no need to exist.”

Where the President and the Works Minister pacified and appeared to have lost touch with reality, Dangiwa spoke to manufacturers in the language they understood. He threatened them. Government, Dangiwa said, could fling open the borders to tame prices.

He told them: “We know that some of the key components of producing building materials, especially cement, are locally sourced, so the recurring disproportionate increase in the price of cement is unacceptable and unreasonable. Key input materials such as limestone, clay, silica sand, and gypsum within our borders should not be dollar-rated.

“You cannot continue to give excuses and blame it on the dollar all the time. The worst part is that other building materials manufacturers take a cue from cement manufacturers, and once they see that you increase your price, they do the same. Recently, this is happening almost every week, and it has to stop.”

Fact is Nigeria has been hijacked by cartels. They have the country by the jugular mercilessly. Like cartels the world over, the Nigerian business profiteers nurse the motive of profiteering at all costs. Governments have been unwilling to confront them and break that hold today. Past pro-people regimes behaved otherwise.

General Murtala Mohammed imported Argentinean beef to force down the price of meat in the market.

General Gowon goes down in history for the Cement Armada. Ships upon ships upon ships of cement harboured at the Apapa Lagos port and crashed the price of the product.

In his own time, when the price of cement rose astronomically and the country complained, Goodluck Jonathan, in May 16, 2011, invited producers to Aso Rock and gave Dangote, BUA and others 30 days to crash cement price to N1,000. They succumbed.

While that drama played out, four cement manufacturers in February 2013 wrote to Jonathan to demand import licences, calling themselves “Cement New Entrants Stakeholders.” They each wanted to be granted papers by Jonathan to import 5 million metric tons of cement. According to them, granting import licences was a sure way of forcing down cement price to between N500 and N1,000 per bag and breaking the current monopoly of the “cartel” in the industry.

There is much to learn from this engagement. Monopolistic profiteering dictates cement pricing in Nigeria. The monopoly flaunts every excuse to justify the high price, which the proposed independent importers told Jonathan was “making Nigeria to be classified as the country with the highest price of cement in the world” with the ex-factory price then fixed between N1,400 and N1,800 per bag.

That is the way to go. Good history ought to repeat itself. Open the borders. Grant licences to import. Create competition. It will amount to a win-win for Nigerians because cement imports will create a new line of businesses as well as jobs through the value chain of importation, ports, clearing, re-bagging, warehousing, marketing, advertising, distribution and retailing. This the Housing Minister Dangiwa knows as a professional architect, a player in the building industry and a politician who wants to deliver pocket-friendly housing to the masses.

He had similarly maintained this humane stance when, as Managing Director of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN, 2015–2022), he packed several human-faced, pro-people policies into his tenure. He processed N39.5 billion worth of refunds to 247,521 retired Federal housing contributors. Under him, FMBN made available NHF mortgage loans to 5,900 beneficiaries as well as home renovation loans to 77,500 people. He, also, led efforts to develop the Diaspora mortgage loan. This innovative scheme specifically aimed at assisting Nigerians living abroad to own homes without the weeping tales of getting duped by relatives or friends in Nigeria.

Minister Dangiwa knows that ONLY the cartels’ insatiable greed propels the price of cement sky-high. Exorcising this evil begins with taming the profiteers and making them sell cement to Nigerians at the N3,500 per bag that CEO of BUA Cement, Abdul Samad Rabiu, promised Tinubu at Aso Rock.

Oboagwina is an author, journalist and publisher, reachable via foboagwina@gmail.com

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Money Without Family Relationship: A Time Bomb!

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The Futility Of A Marital Chase
Dr Hope Nwawolo

Money Without Family Relationship: A Time Bomb!

By Hope Nwawolo

Recently, l came across a trending post of a 72-year-old pensioner, who was said to have worked all his life to raise his kids. The writer of the post claimed the man was abandoned by his children whom he trained in expensive schools, at home and abroad.  It was further disclosed that his 65-year-old wife, had relocated to live with her children abroad, on the excuse of taking care of their grandchildren. The writer went on to paint the gloomy picture of the man as a bachelor once again and battling with high blood pressure and other old age ailments. He cautioned men that women love their children more than their husbands, so they should plan for their future. He erroneously put the number of such women at 97%.

This piece is in response to the above biased claim which is also capable of causing friction in homes striving for unity and togetherness. He may just succeed to plant a negative seed of distrust and discord in the minds of fickle-minded men, who before reading the article were enjoying a blissful relationship with their wives. It may also be possible that the writer is a disgruntled person who did not succeed in marriage or relationship and believes the same must be for all men.

When we see people like the writer portrayed, we should ask a pertinent question. What was the man’s relationship with his wife and children when he was ‘struggling’ to fend for them? Unfortunately, some men fail to realize that there is so much more in family life than money. In as much as money ‘answereth’ all things, it cannot be exchanged for lasting family relationship. 

Some men literally shove their wives aside while making the money without realizing the children see the treatment of their mothers. When some of these children become independent and financially stable, they feel obligated to compensate their mothers for the loveless treatment received from their fathers. In other cases, some men do not value family time, no matter how short, and would not understand the emotional craving of the wives and children when they really need it. Often, it is these women, that stay in the  gap in their absence, making the children bond more with  them. And instead of appreciating such women for filling in their physical vacuum, some men rather get jealous of the bond and further drift away from the children, while blaming the wife. 

Today, wise men make out time to pray, discuss, and have family outings with their families. This is called relationship building, which cannot be broken by distance in the future. The children from these homes grow up with memories of fun and family laughter. The women from such homes, have strong relationship with their husbands and will not stay more than one month when they go to visit their children. You will hear them say to the children, “Please, l want to go back to my husband.”  Why is nobody talking about them?

There are also couples who travel together to visit their children from time to time. So what stops a man from also going to visit his children whom he struggled to train? Is it that they did not invite him, and why? Perhaps they have no relationship! 

The claim of 97% women who abandon their husbands for their children is not empirical, cannot be scientifically proven, and is unfair to women. It also has the tendency to put fears into innocent men who are building strong relationships with their wives and children. I pray such men do not abandon their effort after reading such a biased write-up…for their own good! Every marriage and family is unique and should have values and principles that will bind its members together today, tomorrow, and in the future. This should override the quest for money if it cannot be combined with building lasting relationships with every member of the family.

Nowadays, while many men believe their provision of money for the home is the answer to family issues, the women sacrifice key factors that cannot be monetized, and build lasting relationships with the children. These vital factors are their tears and worries, emotional support, and constant prayers, among many others. Observably too,  some women are also contributing financially to feeding and sometimes, schools fees, as well as other necessities of the families. Despite these, they  find time to ensure that the family bond is maintained as best as possible. Unfortunately, the ego rather than complex of some men will not allow them acknowledge or appreciate the effort of these women and which the children obviously witness as they grow into independence and financial stability.

Therefore, instead of blaming women for the unpalatable fruit of old age loneliness as a result of early years of family emotional neglect, men should attempt to juggle their quest for money with building relationships that will see them through the evening of their lives, with members of the families. 

 Nwawolo, PhD, writes via 

hopenwawolo@yahoo.com

 

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