Kemi Olaitan in Ibadan writes that the Muslim Ummah of South-west of Nigeria recently gathered to canvass for religious tolerance by entrenching a culture of harmony among all faiths
A renowned emeritus professor of history, University of Ibadan, late Prof. J. F. Ade Ajayi, in one of his many collections on religious pluralism and tolerance among the Yorubas, said in most traditional African societies, the Yoruba tribe often regards religion as an aspect of culture that requires no controversy, competition, or crusades of evangelism.
In the beginning, he said there was a common belief in one Supreme God who manifested his essence in variety of spirits and natural phenomena. God was worshipped through various deities, who controlled these spirits and natural phenomena. Each individual, family or state had its own deity, which was worshipped, and pacified, he averred.
With such a background and coupled with the civilisation which seemingly placed Yorubas in the vanguard as the most educated and accommodating set of people, religious crisis had hardly been witnessed in the land, arguably in the last few decades.
It was against this background that the Muslim Ummah in the South Western Nigeria came together in 2008 under the aegis of Muslim Ummah of South West of Nigeria (MUSWEN), to entrench culture of religious harmony among other adherents of different faiths and serve as a vehicle for propagating Islamic tenets by giving voice to the people of the religion. Ten years down the line, the organisation had evolved as a voice for the Muslims in the region.
At the grand finale of the 10th anniversary of the body, which held recently at the International Conference Centre of the University of Ibadan, President Muhammadu Buhari, lauded Muslims in the region for their religious tolerance. Buhari said since Islam is a religion of peace, it behoves on Nigerian Muslims to always promote peaceful coexistence even in the face of provocation.
Speaking at the occasion which also served as the N5billion launch of its International Centre, the president, who was chief guest of honour and was represented by the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, assured of the readiness of his administration to continue to promote religious tolerance in the country. He then commended MUSWEN for giving “a voice to Muslims in Southwest Nigeria, noting that the region has continued to contribute immensely to the development of Islam and the peaceful coexistence of all in Nigeria”.
Also, the Sultan of Sokoto who doubles as the President – General of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), in his speech, warned Muslims against violence, urging them to remain calm and use their religion to entrench culture of understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence.
According to him, whenever the Muslims are denied their rights, they should not use foul and abusive languages. “Let’s show decorum. Let’s show people that we are Muslims. We should not use foul languages. We can be aggrieved, but don’t let us allow grievances to make us turn violent”, he counselled.
The keynote speaker, the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi 11, insisted that the ongoing killings and destruction of people’s property in some parts of the country is not part of Jihad as being speculated in some quarters. Sanusi maintained that the national security should not be threatened or undermined all in the name of Jihad.
The Emir added that, “killing people in the name of Jihad is not Jihad. Allah does not prohibit us to cater for and take care of people. So what we see with people destroying the peace of the nation is not a Jihad especially when your freedom to practice Islam is not tampered with. And we have to take it as our responsibility to say that this is not Islam.
“We must keep the promise with those we promised. Those who are leaders, you are expected to fulfil your promises to the people when you assume office. It doesn’t matter if you ask God to make you president, governor, Emir, principal. It does not matter but you promised Allah that you will take care of people but you failed.
“Islam does not allow a Muslim to take away property of the people unjustly, who does not fight you. Fight only those who fight you. Even, there are rules in the war, you don’t fight the children, the aged and women.”
On his part, Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State, who was the host governor, urged South-west Muslims to continue to embrace peace as the 2019 general elections are fast approaching.
Ajimobi, who noted that it is only in the atmosphere of peace that meaningful development can be witnessed, commended MUSWEN leadership for promoting religious harmony in the region.
The organisation’s chairman, Board of Trustee, Prince Abdul-Jabar Bola Ajibola, who stressed the need for unity among Muslims in the zone with credible leadership, noted that in the last 10 years, MUSWEN had made conscious efforts to have robust engagement with its internal and external stakeholders.
He said MUSWEN had taken genuine steps that have set the Ummah in the region on the path of development and progress, adding that the body had recorded some modest achievements especially in the areas of education, scholarship scheme for female medical students, empowerment scheme through zakat, free medical and professional development opportunities among others. Guided by the time-honoured principles of Islam, he said MUSWEN would continue to work for a united Ummah, united Nigeria and united humanity.
The President of MUSWEN, Alhaji Sakariyau Bablola, said the group had “in the past 10years provided leadership for and helped enhance peace and unity amongst stakeholders in the region. Besides, the body has taken genuine steps that have set the Ummah in the region on the path of development and progress”.
Babalola however appreciated those that contributed to the feat, assuring a better future for the body and entire Muslim community in the region.
The Executive Secretary, MUSWEN, Prof Dawud Noibi, said: “The vision of MUSWEN is to serve as a united and effective voice for Muslims in the region under a strong, veritable and collective leadership. The overall aim is to raise the profile of the Muslims in this part of the country.”
Noibi bemoaned the marginalisation of Muslims in the region in the area of education and socio -political matters while alleging that the media paints wrong perceptions about the religion.
“As a result, Muslims of the region, have for a long time been short-changed in many ways. Despite our large proportion in the population, we are marginalised by successive governments both in educational and in socio-political matters.
“The ethnic-based organisations that emerged in the region have purportedly spoken for the entire region without consultations whatsoever with Muslims. On many occasions the stance of these organisations on issues at hand were detrimental to the image and welfare of Muslims.
“The media too, both national and foreign seem to have adopted that wrong understanding. Our people must also be adequately educated about the need to conduct themselves in a peaceful manner before, during and after the elections Muslims must resist the temptation to partake in any form of electoral malpractice. We must all be guided by pristine Islamic values at all times.
“In the same vein, all Muslim candidates must ensure that they distinguish themselves as men and women of unblemished character and attestable competence. They must be ready to serve the nation in whatever capacity conscientiously and responsibly. They must be legacy driven and work for the good of all. They must shun corruption and all acts that have hindered the nation’s progress. They must be ready to serve as good ambassadors of Islam. “ he said.
Dignitaries also present at the event were Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State who was represented by Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Hon. Suraj Adekunbi; representative of governors of Ondo and Ekiti States; Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN) and Mallam Yusuf Ali (SAN) respectively; Chairman, Oyo State Muslim Community, Alhaji Kunle Sanni; Chief Imam, University of Ibadan, Professor Abdulrahman Oloyede, among other Muslims from the region.