THIS ISLAM, THAT ISLAM, HYPOCRISY AND THE CONUNDRUM OF INTERPRETATION.

The recent gruesome murder of Mrs Bridget Agbahime on the accusation of blasphemy against Islam at Kofar Wambai market in Kano is a most unfortunate one. Four days before that, in Pandogari, Rafi local government area of Niger state, Mr Methodus Chimaije Emmanuel was attacked and killed on the allegation of posting a blasphemous comment about prophet Mohammed on social media.

According to Vanguard news, the Pandogari mob furthered their buffoonery by burning a church, looting shops and killing three more persons including a personnel of NSCDC. As one would expect, these incidents drew the attention of the world again to Nigeria for negative reasons. They left in their wake feelings of sadness, shock and anger. More, they have again brought to the fore issues on religion and its propensity to be used for selfish and barbaric agenda. While some saw the incidents as an opportunity to exacerbate their ethno-religious hatred, others capitalized on them to further their anti-religious sentiments. 

At the heat of the moment, the majority of Muslim socio-political elites in what appeared to be a conspiracy maintained a criminal silence akin to complicity. Where they spoke, the annoying phrase, “we should learn to respect each other’s religion bla, bla, bla” which serves to show their disregard for the dead, was always inserted. It was a case of elite grandstanding disguised as condemnation. Their decision to keep mute or pay lip-services in the name of condemning the act is an understandable hypocrisy. The Kano and Niger mobs are ready tools in the hand of the elites. They use them to fight their egotist wars couched under the sentiments of religion and ethnicity. They know it will be akin to self-destruction if they become very firm in condemning such barbaric acts. Any strong condemnation of religious bigotry from the elites will make them lose grip of their major support base whom they have long subjugated with lack of education. Some intellectuals who one would expect should know better also help to abet these crimes. The case of one Hassan Mahmoud Mohammed, a lecturer in Gombe state university who openly supported the despicable act of the mob in his Facebook wall is a very pathetic testimony. The only people who were very vocal in their condemnation of these acts of mindless barbarism buoyed by unthinking bigotry were some middle class Northern Muslims and some other Muslims from other parts of the country especially the South-west.

In what appeared to be a clear derision of the dead, the president in his official reaction to the Kano incident inserted a preachment about learning to respect each other’s faith so that we can know each other and live in peace. That insertion sullied the entirety of the president’s response. It presented itself as a covert victim-blaming thus, making the inexcusable act of savagery appear like a cause-effect situation. It is even more worrisome that some persons offered themselves as apologists in an effort to defend that major presidential gaffe. These apologists failed to understand that it was an unjustifiable goof. By inserting that line in his statement, the president showed a lack of authentic information on what really happened. The true account of the event has shown us that there was no case of blasphemy on the part of the victim. However, even if there was, there is NO justification for murder on the basis of religion. A belief that denigrates the sanctity of human life does not merit any respect by sane humans.

As an aside, the Kano incident which is my major focus has further shown us the laughable malpractice we have here as journalism. That the victim has been assigned different surnames and age is saddening and a mockery of journalism. I cannot even vouch for the one I am using here. Journalists whose duty it is to dig up facts have resorted to hearsay in their report of an event that is trudging at our national consciousness. The proliferation of blogs and other news sites which gives even non-trained bloggers the role of journalists has not helped matters. But if we are to forgive the mistakes of the bloggers, what do we say about the mainstream media whose conflicting reports have continued to be an advertisement of confusion?

While tempers flared and ethno-religious animosity raged, I saw and have continued to see from different points of the debate what I term a partitioning of the religion Islam. I have observed what I term arguments for “this” and “that” Islam. Liberal and moderate Muslims have been very vocal in calling out the perpetrators of this dastardly act. They have argued that what the irate mob practice is not Islam. In their defence of Islam as a religion of peace, they have quoted different Surahs of the Koran where it is commanded that the general answer to blasphemy is to respond with patience, beautiful preaching and graceful avoidance. In furthering his defence of what I term “his own” Islam, Murtada Muhammad Gusau, the chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’at Mosque and Alhaji Abdulrahman Okene’s Mosque, Okene Kogi stated that “the biggest enemy of Islam is the ignorant Muslim whose ignorance leads him to intolerance, whose actions destroy the true image of Islam…”.

The big question then is “what is the true Islam?” “Who teaches what this true Islam is?” I argued somewhere else that the main problem with the major religions of the world i.e Islam and Christianity is the lack of a centralized authority in the interpretation of their holy books. It is a problem of hermeneutics. Anyone can just read the Bible or Koran and interpret it to his/her taste. It was interesting to observe that while those who condemned the act quoted portions of the Koran in defence of their stance, those who supported it also used portions of the same Koran. They quoted and brandished gleefully passages of the Koran in support of their resolve to fight and kill for a god. In the same way, any Christian extremist who decides to take people’s lives can still find portions of the Bible to use as defence. This clash of interpretations arouses my curiosity. This is where the moderate leaders of Islam need much work. Such passages of the Koran which are used in perpetrating these dastardly acts must be well interpreted to these mobs in the streets. Such moderate voices as that of Gimba Kakanda, Murtada Muhammad Gusau should be offered more platforms for the enlightenment of the masses. The task of hermeneutics should not be left in the hands of rascals who seek for opportunities to foment trouble. The umbrella body of Islam must converge to discuss this issue and proffer centralized solutions to this hermeneutical conundrum. The time for the blame game of “this” and “that” Islam has passed. It is now time for proper orientation. If the moderate Muslims are sincere about their stance on what the “true” Islam is, then they should move from their defence of Islam to preaching the true Islam through any possible medium. The mobs who perpetrate these acts are mostly not in the social media; therefore, the preaching should be taken to the streets. In this enlightenment process, formal education is key. 

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