NO COMPULSION IN RELIGION
Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Abubakar Gumi is not only a knowledgeable Islamic scholar; he exemplifies the character of a Muslim nurtured from an early age in a virtuous environment. Having been taught and raised by his late father, Sheikh Abubakar Mahmoud Gumi, he serves as a role model for the spirit and virtue that Muslims can aspire for and attain.
In the spate of the recent unabashed religious threats and violence by misguided elements, it has been necessary for notable and respected members of the Nigerian Islamic society to speak out on the outrageously arrogant and aggressive stance that people purporting to speak and act on behalf of Islam have taken. Up until the recent sermons Sheikh Gumi has given, in which he has contradicted much of what these elements claim, a very minute number within the Nigerian Islamic society have had the courage and persuasion to speak out. Few Scholars have been brave enough to set the record straight on the fact that the individuals and groups presently attacking the peace and stability in Nigeria by claiming an Islamic affiliation are operating with a vile distortion of the noble and peaceful teachings of Islam.
It is regrettable that Islam, a religion of peace, harmony, goodwill and brotherhood has been used by unruly people to justify unwarranted acts of violence such as suicide bombings, threats and other forms of violence. At the very base of Islam is the quest for freedom, justice and equality and when a Muslim uses Islam to threaten and condemn another because they do not share the same faith, that discrimination is totally foreign to the pure teachings and doctrines of Islam. In the Quran, God bestowed honour on every single individual, no matter their background, race or tribe. Liberty and everything that emerges from it are some of the great favours God has given us and concepts such as kidnappings, threats and the kind of unprovoked violence we are seeing in Nigeria today towards people of a different faith to Islam are not part of the true teachings of Islam.
It is so shocking that people claiming to promote Islam can issue an ultimatum in which they threaten a Christian president to convert to Islam or face their wrath. Under Islamic dispensation, it is clearly taught that “There is no compulsion in religion…” The Qur’an was very clear on the issue of forced conversion by stating, “Had your Lord wanted, all the people on earth would have believed. So will you force people to believe?”
Throughout history, Muslims themselves were being the targets of forced conversion during the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades and the Communist era of the 20th century and first hand Muslims understand how unacceptable such a notion is. Threatening people who don’t convert to Islam, persecuting non-Muslims and treating a society in the unjust manner that extremist elements have been doing most definitely is not what Islam is about. When one reads in the Qur’an that Allah encourages Muslims to deal kindly and justly with anyone of any faith who has not fought Muslims for our faith and driven us out of our homes because God loves the just, one wonders why anyone would want to put a negative interpretation to what is clearly a message of patience, peace and harmony between different faiths cohabiting.
The second source in Islam, after the Qur’an, are the statements made by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), who in his lifetime gave a clear view on the persecution of non-Muslims when he stated, “Whoever kills an innocent non-Muslim will not even smell the fragrance of Paradise.” How could such statement possibly be compatible with the extremist ideal for Islam to force itself onto others? Instead, it makes it clear that no non-Muslim is allowed to be harmed because of their beliefs.
The one doctrine that is used by extremists to lend credibility to the notion that Islam encourages violence is the concept of jihad. The word Jihad brings into play the vision of a marching band of religious fanatics with savage beards, short trousers and fiery eyes, brandishing swords, screaming in Arabic and attacking everyone and everything in their wake.
However, the true spirit of Jihad in Islamic terms means to endeavour and strive in a noble way. Over time this meaning of Jihad has been eradicated or at least diluted. The critical juncture in the Islamic world requires reviving and recapturing the true and pristine meaning of Jihad. Jihad can be divided into two broad categories. First is Jihad-e-akbar. This is Jihad against one's own person to curb sinful inclinations, which is the purification of self. This is the most difficult Jihad and hence in terms of rewards and blessings is the highest category of Jihad. The second is Jihad-e-asghar. This is Jihad of the sword. This is communal Jihad and presupposes certain specific conditions. The Quran speaks of fighting only as a self defence and this is the very condition laid down in other verses of the Holy Quran as well. The so-called verse of the sword in the Islamic scripture is often taken out of context as if it inculcates an indiscriminate massacre of all non-Muslims. The Quranic words such as “kill whatever you find them” apply only in cases of self defence, they do not apply to unprovoked wars and battles. The Muslims who interpret these verses in any other manner commit a travesty of the lofty ideals of Islam. There is not a single instance in the life of the Holy Prophet where he offered the alternative of the sword or Islam to anyone.
The Holy Quran does not make Jihad, in context of an article of faith. The sayings and traditions of the Holy Prophet render it into a formula for active struggle that invariably and incorrectly tended towards a militant expression. Suicide bombings, violent threats and killing those of different faiths are contrary to the purview of the real spirit of the Islamic Jihad. The presentation of Islam as a crude and barbaric religion which gives itself the right to cause unwarranted human and material suffering and destruction under the guise of Divine authority is not the kind of Islam we find in the precepts of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
The basic unity of the followers of all faiths is emphatically stressed in the Holy Quran and the creation of discord and disunity by terrorism or otherwise has no place in Islam. Islam is an all-encompassing codes of values and conduct and with those values, those of us that practice it must use its teachings as a ground of hope to progressively promote unity and accord in Nigeria rather than mischievously and maliciously using it as a justification for violence.
The Holy Quran teaches that God has sent His revelation to all people from time to time. Jesus Christ and many of the Prophets of the Old Testament are mentioned by name and they are all honoured and revered by all true believing Muslims. Indeed, the Quran requires belief in the truth of all the Messengers of God and requires an affirmation in them all wherever they appeared and therefore it seeks to bring about reconciliation between the followers of different faiths and to establish a basis of respect and honour among them. The Quran says: “Surely, those who believe and the Jews and the Christians and the Sabians - whichever party from among these truly believes in Allah (God) and the Last Day and does good deeds, shall have their reward with their Lord, and no fear shall come upon them nor shall they grieve.”
In the Holy Scriptures, both Christians and Muslims are taught that God is the Source of peace and the bestower of security. And since the doctrine of peace and security are His will, the establishment of that peace and maintenance of security must, therefore, be the constant objective of all Muslims and Christians alike. Those who choose to exact a campaign of violence and threats against others who have done nothing to provoke them must take a break, revaluate Allah’s message of peace and harmony and understand that, only through conformity to the spirit of peace, patience, conscience and the promotion of human welfare can we achieve a society where all can co-exist.
Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Abubakar Gumi is a beacon to the inherent justice in Islam and a brave Scholar, especially when examined with the lenses of the present Islamic society in Nigeria. Like his father, he lives a life outstanding in its dedication to the cause of Allah. Nigerian Muslim extremists especially can learn from him when he explores them to follow Allah accordingly and advises them that there is no compulsion to Islam.