Something is amiss in African religiosity and sense of piety because sometimes the African holier-than-thou-ness comes across as shocking and surreal. It is difficult to understand that Africans, in this case, African Muslims and to be specific Northern Nigerian Muslims could deem it fit and appropriate to kill or threaten to kill another African of the same faith or of a different faith or none for saying or writing something critical of Islam, Prophet Muhammad or the Qur’an.
And some Muslims have gloated over this. “We do not joke with our prophet. We do not joke with our religion”. Others quipped: “We love our prophet more than our lives, more than the lives of our parents”. One imagines many more other Muslims nodding in sanctimonious approval.
Religion compels people to believe the unbelievable and to pretend to comprehend the incomprehensible. Religion makes people wallow in self-deceit and absurdities, motivating believers to commit horrible and atrocious crimes. The penchant for violence and bloodletting in the Muslim community has become mind boggling. Even as some Muslims continue to peddle the notion that Islam is a religion of peace. From all indications, this peaceful Islam has become elusive and flies on the face of reality and everyday life experiences in Northern Nigeria.
It is important to ask: what went missing in the religious formation and information of Nigerian Muslims who think it is acceptable to jail or spill the blood of a human being for saying something critical of a foreign religion, a foreign prophet, and yes a foreign deity? Look, this is not to say that religion is less superstitious if it is African; or that a prophet has more reverential capital if he is local or that a deity is less an imaginaire if it is African. No, not at all. All religions, gods, and prophets are of equal value. All religions, gods and prophets have as much worth as human beings invested on them. In fact all religions, gods, and prophets are worthless without human beings. Many Muslims may not subscribe to this proposition. They need not to. The fact remains that there is something out of synch in Northern Nigerian Muslim piety and sanctimoniousness. Bear in mind, the emphasis is on Northern Nigerian, not on all Nigerian Muslims. Nigerian Muslims are not monolithic. A relatively tolerant and more accommodating form of Islam or Muslimness is practiced in South-west Nigeria. Muslims in Northern Nigeria unlike their counterparts in other parts of the country take pride in a form of Islam that thrives on violence, intimidation, and bloodshed.
Islam is practiced in Northern Nigeria as if nothing else matters- as if humanity does not matter. Life does not matter. Nigeria does not matter. It is Islam or nothing. It is Islam or nobody. Islam in northern Nigeria is driven by nihilistic tendencies.
Of course, this narrative does not apply to all Muslims in Northern Nigeria- in Kano, Jigawa, Gombe, Yobe. Incidentally, Muslims of other climes in this part of the country have wittingly and unwittingly allowed this scorched-earth bloodthirsty form of Islam to overshadow and overwhelm them, and to become the face of Islam in the region.
Arabs introduced Islam to Africa to further their imperialistic political, economic, and cultural interests in the region. Arabs promoted Islam through scholarly teaching and preaching. They also used wars and violence, invasion, and annexation. Those who brought the religion of Islam to Africa killed and enslaved Africans. The real tragedy is not that the history of Islam in Nigeria, nay in Africa is characterized by violence and bloodshed, or that those who introduced Islam to Africa used or resorted to violence at some point. The real calamity is that African, Northern Nigerian Muslims use and resort to violence with impunity in promoting and defending this foreign religion. They kill and are ready to kill other Nigerians in furtherance of the Islamic faith, as an expression of Islamic piety or a habitual way to assuage their anger over any supposed insult on prophet Muhammad. What a shame! Northern Nigerian Muslims act as if they are entitled to violence, as if they have a monopoly of threat, force, and intimidation. The only way to be safe and to feel safe in northern Nigeria is to profess Islam even if it means threatening violence or engaging in religious bloodletting in the name of Islam, Prophet Muhammad or Allah. This is utterly outrageous and a scandalous manifestation of piety.
Muslims in Northern Nigeria need to be reminded that Islam is a foreign religion, Allah is a foreign God and Muhammad a foreign prophet. And nothing can change this fact or detract from this historical reality. The Arabic nature and culture of Islam are self-evident. Islamization is a form of Arabization. The Islamic religion has no more or less value than other religions, Allah than other gods, Qur’an than other sacred texts, prophet Muhammad than other prophets and messengers. Muslims may not or better will not agree to this. But this proposition is a fact. And look, there is nowhere in the Arab world that African religions and gods are recognized the way Arab religion, Islam, and Arab god, Allah are recognized in Nigeria. There is no Arab country where people worship African, Nigerian gods, and revere African Nigerian prophets as African Nigerian Muslims revere Islam and prophet Muhammad. Why? Muslims should point out anywhere in the Arab world that people are fighting and killing themselves over some supposed insult on an African deity, prophet, or religion as is the case in Northern Nigeria. Does that make Islam a truer, better, and more credible faith? Not at all.
Arabs, who brought Islam to Africa designated African religion as a false, ‘nonbook’ religion for a purpose-in order to impose their religious norms and cultural myths on Africa and Africans. And they succeeded in this task.
By getting Africans to embrace the misconception that Islam is a better religion, or rather the only true religion and Allah is the only true God and Muhammad the greatest messenger from God, those who introduced Islam to Africa made Africans imbibe and internalize their religious, cultural and prophetic inferiority. By making it a religious treason to question or criticize Arab cultural myths and dogmas, African muslims are affirming their intellectual inferiority?
Meanwhile, Islam is as superstitious and counterintuitive as the traditional African religion. There is nothing special about the Islamic faith and the Islamic prophet. In fact claims of an afterlife in paradise, the promise of 72 virgins, the existence of Allah and the jinns, the prophethood of Muhammad, the revelation of the Qur’an and other Islamic doctrines are like traditional religious beliefs matters of faith, not matters of fact.
Religious bloodletting will not change this reality or diminish the urgency and necessity to critically evaluate these claims. Contempt for humanity that Muslims in Northern Nigeria have rampantly displayed does not add value to Islam or African Muslimness. Instead, it reinforces the notion that Islam is a violent religion and that Muslims are actual or potential terrorists. More so, any time Muslims in Northern Nigeria kill or persecute persons of the same faith, of other faiths or none in furtherance of the counterintuitive notions as in the case of Mubarak Bala, they reaffirm their socio-cultural, intellectual and religious inferiority.
*** Written by Leo Igwe