The Need for Unity among Muslim Minorities in Nigeria

By Muhammad Ajah
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There is no better time than now when the unity among Muslim minorities in Nigeria is more pressing and demanding. Events of nowadays have shown that the worlds can only be a better place when peace, unity and humanity prevail.

But the proverb that says united we stand, divided we fall, comes to fore in the issue of the Muslim Minorities of the Eastern Nigeria. What could be expected when members of a group, which definitely acknowledges its fewness in a society, pulls one another on the throat?

There have been prolonged tiffs among the Muslims of the region. It is either on the basis of alleged denial of certain fundamental opportunities by their state governments or that they see themselves as threats to individual pursuits and gains.

Whether it is Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Imo, Ebonyi or any of the States of the South-South where Islam remains a misunderstood and poorly-fed child, the Muslims have one problem or the other to settle among themselves. One of the commonest and recurring tiffs arise from leadership tussle, struggle for the one to be recognized by the government of the day or for the Muslim Pilgrims' Welfare Board.

Such struggles which often have led some to the extreme to castigate themselves on the press, attempts to present the Muslims in this area as laughable characters who are already described by their own family members of different religions as mere attachments to Islam. In these regions, but more particularly in the Southeast, Islam is misconstrued and unfortunately referred to as a Hausa religion and Igbo Muslims as Hausas or Muslims who accept Islam for money. This is not so because I have come across many whose parents were Muslims and they have never lived in the north.

But, this portrait of an Igbo Muslim is not hidden to the Muslims themselves. It is displayed to them in words and actions. They know where they are and the difficulties they face. But instead of coming together to pursue collective demands, they engage each other in unnecessary fight over worldly things. Despite such tendencies has never led to loss of lives or even physical exchange of blows, it has caused the entire Igbo Muslims great losses in different ways.

One, some of the State governments have only limited their recognition of their Muslim subjects to the constitution of the Muslim Pilgrims' Welfare Boards where for the leadership, Muslims are left to fight over the years. The fight over who becomes what or who gets what in the Board often spans hajj periods for which it is established and some states fail to show up or are poorly represented for the hajj exercise.

It is interesting to quote here what Rev. Fr. C. Aham Nnorom, Ph.D could postulate in a paper titled “Islam in Igboland: Lessons in History” which he delivered at the International Conference on Igbo Studies A tribute to Simon Ottenberg, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. Hear the respected Reverend speak, “…. Igbo Imams, Sheikhs, Alahajis, Alhajas and mosques, once few and exotic, are now a common sight in one of the most homogeneous Christian regions in Africa.”

In a three day conference tagged, “Understanding Islam: Creed and Tenets”, once organized by the National Council of Muslim Youth Organizations (NACOMYO) in Enugu, lectures on the importance of unity of the Muslim Minorities as well as the whole Ummah flooded the stage. It was clearly enunciated that to achieve such unity, personal ego, greed for worldly chases and all the impediments to societal progress and human development must be purged out of the minds of the Muslims. The methodology of da'wah according to the pure teachings of the Holy Qur'an and Sunnah, the importance of media for da'wah in an Islamic Minority, the role of comparative religion and challenges facing Muslims in the east mostly attracted the attention of the participants some of who were visiting the Southeast for the first time.

A similar conference was organized by the Jama'atu Nasril Islam (JNI) in Port Harcourt, where the Sultan called for the unity of the Muslim Minorities in order to achieve a common cause which is the preaching of peace, love and good neighbourliness. A host of speakers harped on the need to inspirit the Igbo Muslims and make them relevant even in their own homes. With all these, one continues to wonder why the perceived acrimonies persist among the Muslim Minorities and why lip services have always been the bane of disunity among them. Was it really so with the earlier adherents?

The questions that arise are: if the arrival of Islam in the region could be traced to the 19th century: say between 1880 and 1900 when it is believed to have begun at the Igbo Eze division of Nsukka in the present Enugu state and some parts of Owerri capital of Imo state, how many Igbo have embraced Islam compared to the fast spread of Christianity in the North? Again, what is it that makes the Reverend think that Islam operates in almost cult-like nature? Is it because the Igbo Muslims are extraordinarily patient amidst alleged denials or because they do not mount loud speakers on daily basis along the roads and in every empty spaces to attract audience or praise God? It may be, too, because they do not speak in one voice because of their divided house.

What is, however, paramount is that Muslims should come together to advance the cause of their belief in their own land. This task demands manpower and funding because history has shown that both Christians and Muslims are not the original dwellers of the area, but the Christians have dominated the place through heavy support from their brethren both home and abroad.

Even Christianity and its followers have their core setbacks in Igboland. The Reverend Nnorom thus acknowledges, “…All the same, it is, however, in the cultural and religious realms that we face the greatest danger to our survival as a people. Culturally, the Igbo are an endangered species, a gloomy and frightening prospect that is a product of the increasing criminal neglect of the Igbo language and heritage by the Igbo themselves. But even by far more troubling is the state of our double religious heritage: Traditional Igbo Religion (TIR- also known as Odinani) and Christianity. The former is gradually becoming extinct, while the latter is yet to be fully born. Thus we are an “usuistic people,” (like ụsụ, the bat- neither an air nor a land animal) – confused, divided and caught between the primal and irresistible force of our ancestral faith and the young and brash attractions and promises of a novel and universal religion. In fact the present state of Christianity in Igboland is not unlike the situation in North Africa before the Islamic conquest: Booming and prosperous in terms of numbers and physical infrastructures but foreign and weak in terms of spiritual compatibility with Igbo culture. This is because Christianity, the overwhelmingly predominant religion of Ndigbo, is yet to become Igbo culture. And until religion becomes culture, it lacks the spiritual, philosophical and ideological powers that facilitate its ability to discharge its social and historic functions, especially in times of crisis.”

Therefore, instead of quarrelling over trivialities, Muslims of the East should engage in diverse professions, fundamental researches and data generation, survey of occurrences for development and maintenance of good norms and practices, opportunity, management, knowledge and information processing.

Also, the establishment of da'wah machinery, fostering good relation between the Muslims and non-Muslims, promoting unity and understanding among themselves with their full socio-economic and political empowerment, reaching out to policy makers through the Nigerian leadership, transparent commitment to the cause of Islam, scholarships for Islamic programmes in both print and electronic media in the area and establishment of a Da'wah Trust Fund would turn the pendulum of da'wah in the right direction.

These should be done by the Igbo Muslims themselves. They have to put their personal differences aside and discover why the Almighty Allah has made them Minorities in their environments. They should not expect too much from anyone except from themselves. The misery condition of the world shows that only those who struggle get their right, however long.

However, despite the fact that da'wah work has not much been aggressively pursued, the simplicity, manners and dealings of the Muslims in the regions have been extremely fruitful in spreading the religion. The Muslims must preach and display peace, truth, equality and justice which accord their religion the strength and confidence to spread naturally.

Muhammad Ajah wrote from the FCT, Abuja ([email protected], 08055247005)

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