Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Hard View (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.

Hannatu Musawa
Twitter @hanneymusawa


  1. Thank you Hannatu for this wonderful piece. In another famous Hadith, Allah's Messenger Muhammad (SAW) said: "Beware! (Oh Muslims). Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-muslim (including) minority, or curtail their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the day of judgement". (Narrated by Abu-Dawud)

  2. Hannatu, thank you for another thought provoking piece. You know I am your greatest friend and ally on Sahara Reporters. Don't mind all those jealous guys and girlies that want to snatch you away from me. Na me first like you.(You get facebook page, make I go like am?)
    Now to the koko of the matter.
    You have touched on a very sensitive and important subject. The guys behind Boko Haram are criminals - pure and simple. Just like the Taliban in Afghanistan,al-qaeda in Irag and Yemen they use Islam to justify violence. They have no understanding. As a christian, I know that the three main faiths all grew from the Middle East. It is no coincidence. But the ignorant do not know this!
    Look at what the so-called islamists are doing in Mali. Destroying the tombs of great Islamic leaders and scholars. How barbaric.
    The Boko Haram Criminals are not any different from the criminals and terrorists that shoot up people in malls, cinema/theatre halls or Hindu Worship Places.
    Boko Haram has taken advantage of Nigeria's precarious political situation to unleash an attack on the defenceless. The sad side to this is if a criminal group starts attacking and destroying mosques and killing muslims. What then happens? I grew up having muslim relatives, inter-marriages and so on and Boko Haram can never and will never destroy that.
    Hanney dearie, this is a security challenge. I hope our leaders neva chop all the money wey den suppose use protect people.
    In the meantime, Christians should form a defence force to guard and protect churches. That move is in order.

  3. A beautiful piece I must say, I can only hope that a vast majority of people reading it will understand, especially the Northern muslims who confuse ethnic hubris with religious passion and the Christians who maay view this as mere platitudes.
    To buttress your argument one of the most basic Hadiths; that on the rights and obligations of a neighbour on a muslim. It states your neighbour is closer to you than your own brother muslim and a neighbour is I believe fourty houses left,right,back and front. With this, one marvels at the attitude of some mulims when they hear of these killings. One cannot help but sense a certain schadenfreude-to borrow your new word- I believe that years of turning a blind eye to ill-educated preachers and allowing them indoctrinate our youth to their violent and skewed concept of Islam has gotten us here. But its nice to hear and know that there are muslims able to talk against this mayhem.

  4. I am not a Muslim and I am not verse in the language of the Holy Quran. Therefore, given your reputation for authenticity and background in the faith, I do not have any cause to doubt the veracity of the quoted verses in your treatise. To a considerable degree, you have succeeded, though theoretically, in convincing me, and may be most non-believers, that after all, your religion also promotes peace and love for non-believers. If I take that as true, I may be compelled to also conclude that the deep-seated feeling of resentment that most non-Muslims have against the religion and some of its followers is traceable, not to the scripture itself, but the diabolical interpretation and teaching of the scripture by those vested with power to teach and minister to the adherents of the faith. You cited copious verses from the Holy Book to support your position about peace, love, tolerance, and acceptance of people of other faiths by Islam. In a nutshell, it is then more about the teaching and not necessarily the letter of the Holy Book, based on what I am learning from your treatise. Therefore, taking everything you have written as a true account of the Holy Quran, it is my opinion that the solution to the ongoing religious war in Nigeria lies first at the door step of the leadership of the faith who distort and propagates antediluvian messages.
    You wrote “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.” Well stated, but how do we reconcile that with the bloodbath going on in Nigeria right now? It is simply irreconcilable.
    Therefore, every faithful adherent of the faith in Nigeria must stand up to rescue the faith and Quranic studies from the stranglehold of those with perverted doctrinaire. Every community must rise to protect itself. Every vigilante group must reorganize to protect their women, their children, and the helpless. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Every struggle has a meaning. At this juncture, I would like to remind every insurgent group and those behind them that making peace with your number one enemy is not a sign of weakness; it takes greatness to accomplish that. We shouldn’t forget the Camp David Accord between Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, brokered by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. No one thought it could ever happen, given the aftermath of the Six-Day War. Today, the two neighboring countries live in peace. Why not us?

  5. One thing I am very sure of is that you can not advance the coarse of Islam with suicide bombing. God has given man a free will to choose between good and bad, but he council you to choose good. If you force anybody to follow your religion, sooner he will cause trouble in the sect. These are the same people that misinterpret the Quran and give Islam a bad name.