Perhaps, it was the Mathew Effect that made Professor Kpareogi’s recent article on the plight of the Yoruba Muslims in their own lands so famous that it generated so much response as if, until the piece was made public, nobody was aware that Yoruba Muslims, who were in the majority in the Southwest, have been under powerful religious subjugation by the Yoruba Christians.
But even a casual observer will not fail to notice the recurring crisis across the Yoruba land over the use of Hijab by Muslim female children in the schools. Some of these sartorial choice crises trended long enough to attract the attention of everyone while some have to be settled at the courts. The infamous ruling by an Ikeja high court that because Christians would feel less righteous in the presence of Hijab wearing children, Muslim children should not wear Hijab to their schools, is still fresh in our memories. Delivering the judgement on 17th October 2014, Justice Modupe Onyearbor declared that “The non-Hijab wearing students will feel inferior to those who are putting on Hijab.” The judge, therefore, banned the use of Hijab for Muslim girls till an Appeal Court put aside that judgement.
The sartorial choice struggle is, perhaps, the most glaring among the many struggles being fought by the embattled Muslim majority in the region, this is mainly due to publicity it is generating and the will to resist the subjugation by the new generation of Muslims who firmly believed in self-determination. The case of Barrister Firdaus Amata who refused to jettison her constitutional right on December 12, 2017, an action for which she was denied entry into the International Conference Centre by the Body of Benchers, highlighted one of such struggles.
Apart from the Hijab struggle, the most glaring inequality the Muslims are struggling with is the fact that despite being the majority in the region, not a single Islamic court exists in the whole region. They are forced to either take their cases to the imposed Christian common law courts or Customary courts. This is more worrisome given that Islamic courts existed in Yorubaland long before the arrival of the colonial armies who abolished them and imposed their own courts. Islamic courts existed since 1842 in that region, according to MURIC.
Even the Yoruba Muslim’s peaceful move to introduce sharia courts in Yorubaland through constitutional means was fiercely tamed by the Christians in that region. On May 27 this year, the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) was eloquent in its submission that the introduction of Shariah Law in the South West should be ignored by the Senate.
Nothing highlighted how the Muslims in Yorubaland are struggling to free themselves from Christian subjugation than the declaration by some Muslim groups that they are not in support of the Oduduwa Republic as they will face persecution if actualized. This belied the widely believed notion that the Yorubas are homogenous and that religion plays a second or third role in their lives. It proves that for a long time, the Muslim majority were silenced into submission out of fear of “social ostracism”. Their passiveness was fully exploited by Christians and misunderstood by northerners.
Now that the passiveness is giving way to the rising tide of Islamic awareness in the region, things are getting clearer that the hyped religious tolerance in that region was indeed the domination of Christians over Muslims.
Ironically, this is coming just as some voices are maintaining a hyperbolic but erroneous assumption that the North is the den of religious intolerance even as facts are contradicting them.
Sheikh Nuru Khalid is among those who seemed to have fallen for this fallacy recently. In his clamour for Interfaith Dialogue, he recently claimed, among other things, that Interfaith Dialogue was necessary now given the bad light in which the terrorist organizations, like Boko Haram, are painting Islam and the high level of religious intolerance in the North.
If the Sheikh is right on Interfaith Dialogue’s effect on religious intolerance, he is very wrong on the Boko Haram claim. He is also very wrong in his charge that Muslims are to be blamed for religious intolerance in the region. Because of all the religious crises in this part of the nation, over ninety per cent were NOT caused by Muslims; they were just defending themselves.
Therefore, to insinuate that Muslims are to blame for religious intolerance in the country is insidious even if said in good faith, because it is a BIG lie.
It is flabbergasting to assume that had there been an Interfaith Dialogue, Boko Haram wouldn’t have happened, because among the reasons the terrorists have for fighting is what they called the systematic downplaying of religious teachings in order to please non-Muslims.
It is evident that both the terrorists and the Sheikh have agreed on the same erroneous definition of Interfaith Dialogue. Both seemed to give Interfaith Dialogue the definition of Syncretism. Many people speak about syncretism while they think they are discussing Interfaith Dialogue.
To differentiate between the two terms, just take the stands of late Nnamdi Azikiwe who said “We must forget our differences”, and that of late Sir Ahmadu Bello (Sardaunan Sokoto) who replied, “No, let’s understand our differences…” What Azikiwe said is syncretism while the stand of Sardauna connotes Interfaith Dialogue.
I don’t think anyone who knows that Muslims are the majority of the victims of Boko Haram or understood their mission will honestly insist that an Interfaith Dialogue would have been an antidote to their aggression.
Finally, while I am not saying (the Muslim) North is totally devoid of religious intolerance (this depends on your definition of the term), it is not true that we are the purveyors of intolerance, rather, we are at the receiving end of religious intolerance. This could be discussed in another piece.
Muhammad Mahmood writes from Kano.