How radical sermons fuel insurgency

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Everyone, including the government and military top brass, is seeking an end to insurgency and militancy in the land to enable peace to reign. As part of the solution-seeking measures, there have been calls for the regulation of radical sermons by the two major religions in the country. IDACHABA SUNNY ELEOJO writes.

It was Karl Marx who once described religion as the opium of the masses. When he propounded the theory centuries ago, like a prophet, he was of the view that if religious matters are not handled properly in any society, its consequences could be lethal. It has been found out that one of the triggers of religious insurgency in any society, whether Christians or Muslims society, is radical sermons being churned out by religious leaders to their ardent followers.

Recent developments in Nigeria and other countries have shown that not only is it right for a society to enforce strict religious sermons, it is proper to administer punishment whenever there is any infraction to the peace of the society. For instance, according to a report by Africa Research Institute, as at the time the Late Muhammad Yusuf, leader of Boko Haram became popular in 2003 he was already entrenched in Islamic activism due to his association with Muslim radical preachers in Nigeria, Chad and Niger Republic.

The report said, “In the 90s, he was a member of a Shi’a sect, an Islamic movement in Nigeria under the leadership of Ibrahim El-Zakzakky, but came to support a stricter interpretation of the Qur’an than what the sect stood for.

“As of 2001, he had moved away from Shi’a doctrine to align himself with Sheikh Ja’afar Mahmud Adam of Kano in the Izala Movement. When Sheikh Ja’afar later broke away from that movement to form the Salafi Organisation Ahl Al-Sunna, he made Yusuf leader of its youth wing. Yusuf was seen as the likely heir to Sheikh Ja’afar on account of his brilliance, but after meeting Muhammad Ali, he became further radicalised, adopting a stricter, Salafist interpretation of Islam that he found a home for within Boko Haram.

The report noted further that extremist preaching still continues to prevail in the region as leaders of Islamic sects such as Aljana Tabbas (paradise is certain) may not be as direct as Boko Haram’s in saying ‘go and kill,’ but they do preach that a Muslim, for instance, should not shake hands with a Christian. The institute stated that, “Such attitudes would only start to change when the Nigerian government attends to the region’s socio-political and economic environment. As it is now, the state is seen as predatory, rather than as the facilitator of development. This is because its representatives are simply unable or, with some exceptions, unwilling to set about eradicating chronic poverty and improving education.”

Strict regulation

Writing on the urgency of creating a preaching regulatory agency in the country, an Islamic Studies scholar, Alhassan Bala, said, “The issue of Maitatsine In Kano back in the 80s and the Kaduna religious crisis were clear signs of bad approach to preaching by what one can call unprofessional or extremist scholars. This, indeed, remains the challenge in most of the northern states until today.

“Boko Haram, which started when Muhammad Yusuf, became an extremist and in spite of this he was allowed to preach openly without any resistance or regulation from the government just because of the fear of not trampling upon his freedom of speech and freedom to practise religion, has now left the country in limbo.”

He noted further that, “That naivety has, therefore, led us to our knees where the Boko Haram insurgency has perfectly made the land a fertile ground for other prototype strife being battled from all corners.”

Taking a further swipe at those he referred to as charlatans in the uniform of the clergy, he said, “It is instructive that so many scholars knowingly or unknowingly are used to uttering statements that are capable of causing war between followers of the two major religions in Nigeria. This can be traced back to the fact that they might not be that professional to preach since preaching in Nigeria is not regarded as a profession as many who have no deep knowledge about the teachings claim to be imams or pastors.”

Talking from experience, he said, “It is pertinent to note that as a graduate of Islamic Studies, I got to realise that most if not majority of Islamic preachers have no qualities to even stand and say anything regarding the Qur’an or the Hadith, but the sad reality is they form the bulk of the ones preaching, delivering sermons in the nooks and crannies of the country.

“As a graduate of Islamic Studies, for years, I have been looking forward to a law that can regulate preaching or to have agencies for both Islam and Christianity – akin to those of pilgrim commissions – that can be registering scholars/pastors. To take home the point, one can easily draw similarly with other professions like Medicine, Law, Engineering and others where one can never practice without following a particular process leading to issuance of a licence.”

He added, “Nigerians normally forget that Islamic scholars or Christian clergymen are more than psychologists as they are dealing with the moral, state of mind and spiritual minds of the people. This has a major role in their day-to-day life. Hence the need for preaching to leaders and followers on the importance of becoming Godly rather than religious, just as some tag Nigerians as a religious country rather than a Godly one.”

While giving an insight into a recent development, the Islamic scholar said, “The most recent issue exposing the consequences of not having such regulatory agencies was that of Abduljabbar Nasiru Kabara, a son of Qadiriyya sect’s founding leader Kano. His dangerous sermons had led the Kano state government to hurriedly ban him from preaching. His blasphemous statements recorded during his Tafsir and other classes for his students convinced the state government to wade in.

“It is indeed important to note that during the debate on Saturday, July 10, 2021, organised by the state government which erudite Islamic scholars from Manhaj Salaf, Izala, Tijjaniyya and Qadiriyya all asked the so-called Islamic cleric on his claims; he couldn’t answer one question convincingly. Not answering was not enough for him when asked to repent, he refused insisting that he should be given more time, and there should be another debate.”

For Bala, “Imams and the likes in all parts of the country must get clearance if they want to conduct any preaching. Only those who study Islamic Studies should be allowed to comment or teach regarding Islamic affairs.

“Any person who wishes to engage in the interpretation of Qur’ān should undergo serious screening to ascertain that he has proper knowledge of Tafsȋ r; such as: the knowledge of Arabic grammar, rhetoric, morphology, science of Hadith, knowledge of history and Sirah (Biography of the Prophet (SAW), science of Qur’an such reasons behind revelation of verses, knowledge concerning variants readings, Fiqh (Jurisprudence), Usul-al-Fiqh, as well as other fields that can assist in conducting Tafsir successfully.

“These would help in no small measure towards the country’s fight to curb extremisms which countries like Morocco has fully implemented and has been working for them. There is no better time to say there should be supervisors that would go round, just like the measure taken by the Sardauna of Sokoto decades ago in which whoever refuses to abide by the rules and regulations, norms and ethics of Islamic preaching should be banned and punished according to the law.” He said Imams and the likes in all parts of the country must get clearance if they want to conduct any preaching. Only those who study Islamic studies should be allowed commenting or teaching regarding Islamic affairs.

CLEEN Foundation in its submission on ‘Youths Radicalisation and Affiliation with Insurgent Groups in Northern Nigeria’ noted that “The violent activities of the Boko Haram sect in Nigeria, which draws its members largely from the youth, have underpinned growing concern over youth radicalisation and religious extremism in northern Nigeria.

“The ideology of the sect is premised on the orthodox Islamic teaching slightly resembling that of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which treats anything western as completely un-Islamic and abhors conventional banking system, taxation, jurisprudence, civil service and western education as infidel or inimical with the tenets of Islam. It is the rejection of these institutions that earned the group its popular name – Boko Haram, which means ‘western education is forbidden’.”

It noted that, “The ideology that secular education is forbidden is not new in northern Nigeria, but said those with such beliefs have never been violent to enforce such beliefs on others, but the group under Yusuf’s spiritual leadership and command strove for self-exclusion of its members as the activities of his group became more worrisome from 2004 when students, especially in tertiary institutions especially in Borno and Yobe states, who constituted the sect’s members withdrew from school, tore their certificates and joined the group. By disassociating and joining the group, they self- alienated themselves from the large society and became more indoctrinated by the ideologies inculcated in them.”

Probable causes

According to Kamal-deen Olawale of the Religious Studies department, Ekiti State University, the root causes of religious radicalisation relate to the structural environment in which radicalisation and possibly violent extremism can take hold.

“Violent extremism is the product of historical, political, economic and social circumstances, including the impact of regional and global power politics. Growing horizontal inequalities are one of the consistently cited drivers of violent extremism. Critically, unemployment or poverty alone is not the only push factor inciting violence and extremism: perceptions of injustice, human rights violations, social-political exclusion, widespread corruption or sustained mistreatment of certain groups, are also considered important push factors. “When all these horizontal inequalities come together for a particular group, radical movements and violence are more likely to erupt.”

A state’s failure to provide basic rights, services and security not only contributes to growing inequality, it also creates a vacuum that allows non-state actors to take control over state sovereignty and territory.

“There is a risk that failed political transitions with weak institutions, law enforcement and checks and balances provide fertile ground for violent extremism.”

Some years back, Nigeria was acclaimed to be the most religious country in the world; hence, Nigerians in their culture respect and revere religious leaders more than any other person in their lives. It is also true that Nigeria today houses the highest number of religious worship centres both Christians and Muslims. However, that has not been translated into benefit for the needed peace the country has been yearning for. May be a little enforcement may be the antidote to religious disharmony.

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