Yusuf Yariyok, Ph.D.Tuesday, February 4, 2003


igeria is fast becoming the Afghanistan of Africa. However the Talabalinazation of the country is not a recent development. Since the Iranian Revolution and the emergence of Wahabi extremist doctrines of Islam, some Nigerian Muslims have wasted no time in embracing such viscous, uncivilized brutality toward those who do not believe in their brand of Islam. The last twenty four years starting from 1976 have witnessed the most brutal and unprecedented attacks on nonMuslims, especially Christians, their worship and business places. These are the years in which we have witnessed the most violent religious crises in our nation's history. Muslims have reacted rather violently to issues ranging from the quoting and interpretation of the Quran (as in the case of Abubakar Bako, 1987) leading to the Kafanchan religious crises, the attempted shariatization of Kaduna State leading to the February 2000 crises where over 2000 people perished in Kaduna town.

The state was just recovering from the 2000 crises when another senseless massacre of innocent Christians was unleashed citing the publication of an article purportedly blaspheming Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by Ms. Isioma Daniel in ThisDay Newspaper. Muslims went wild over this article claiming it blasphemed Islam and that the Miss World Pageant offended Islam. To the dismay of all rational beings, it was difficult to link the killings and destructions in Kaduna to something that happened in far away Lagos. Why would Muslims unleash violence against Christians in Kaduna when it had no connection to the so-called article or even the author? As I watched the mayhem on TV and read from the pages of newspapers, the questions that kept nagging my mind were, was it the publication that provoked Muslims or was it just another stage in the grand design of Muslims to killed Christians and loot their property in the name of Allah? Why was Kaduna their best choice and how could a mere publication have led to such monstrous murder of Christians and destruction of churches in Kaduna? It is this barbaric behavior and wanton destruction of lives and property that aroused the interest of the writer on the topic.

To appreciate the writer's point of view it is necessary to give a brief history of religious crisis particularly in Northern Nigeria. The first of such confrontation started with the burning down of the Sabon Gari Baptist Church in Kano in 1976. From thence on Nigeria started witnessing religious crises of an unprecedented magnitude. Once Muslims discovered that they could destroy Christian worship places without any consequences it became a pattern. In 1977 Muslim students of Bayero University College, now Bayero University, Kano declared the university an ipso facto Islamic university, threatening Christian students to leave or face the wrath of Islam. This later led to major crisis that engulfed the whole town.

The worst of Muslim lawlessness was yet to be witnessed when Ibrahim El-Zakzaky then a student of Ahmadu Bello Univeristy led an assault on Christians in Zaria in 1978 under the slogan "Islam Only." During this mayhem, innocent motorist were stopped and their cars, buses and trucks painted with the words "Islam Only." Where there was resistance, they were smashed and the drivers dragged out and slaughtetred like animals. Many people were maimed, killed and women raped all in the name of Islam. Businesses and buildings, property, etc belonging to Christians were looted, destroyed and set on fire. Zaria town was held hostage by the jihadists for almost one week while every building on the roadway was painted with the words, "Islam Only." It was only when the Emir of Zaria was asked by the government to call the Muslims to order or should I say pacify them that order was restored.

It might interest the reader to note that all these happened under the watch of General Olusegun Obasanjo's military junta from February 1976- September 1978. The fact that we are witnessing all these crises under Obasanjo's civilian government once more comes as no surprise to any body familiar with the history of Nigeria. Muslims have discovered they could advance their Islamic agenda only under weak governments controlled by Christians. They got their way to the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) under then Col Yakubu Gowon military regime from 1966-75. They smuggled the Shari'a into the Constitution in 1978 under Obasanajo's watch. There was no clamor for Sharia under the Shehu Shagari government between 1979-1984, in fact the topic did not even come up for discussion not minding the fact that Shehu Shagari himself was among the group of Muslims that staged a walkout during the Shari'a debate in the 1978 Constituent Assembly. Once he became the President the matter was buried. Never in the whole of Shagari's four years as president did the issue of Sharia come up; he now champions the Sharia cause because he knows when and how to play the game.

When Shagari was overthrown, Buhari came with a grand design to Islamize the country but was cut short by Ibrahim Babangida. Before Buhari was overthrown the havoc had already be done. He had upgraded the Sharia from Muslim personal law to Muslim law by amending the 1979 Constitution, a phrase that was responsible for the fireworks in the 1989 Constituent Assembly. Buhari quickly began the process to register Nigeria as a full member of the OIC. Buhari's dictatorship was however truncated by Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida who, fearing the arrest of his wife, Mariam involved in the infamous Gloria Okon drug trafficking saga took over the government in a palace coup in August 1985.

Babangida, who in the eyes of the Muslim world was viewed as a carnal Muslim moved swiftly to prove his critics wrong. To perfect the Islamization process started by Buhari, he surreptitiously and secretly completed the registration process began by Buhari, thus registering Nigeria as a full member of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in January 1986. Babangida did this not necessarily because he was a devoted Muslim or even committed to the Muslim cause but simply to please Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries that had doubted his commitment to Islam which was a condition for their support for his government. He also figured out that a polarized Nigeria along religious lines would help him perpetuate his stay in power. This dirty trick worked in his favor as it soon polarized the country along religious lines leading to the bloody Kafanchan Religious Riots of 1987 in which over 250 churches were destroyed in one singly day, Sunday March 6, 1987.

Babangida himself was so overwhelmed by the amount of destruction that he described the riots as a "Civilian Coup d'etat." To clear the smoking gun, Babangida then set up the Justice Karibye-White tribunal to try those identified as the main culprits. Only a few perpetrators where later jailed for terms ranging between one year and five years. The Kaduna State Government White Paper indicted only Christians from the southern part of the state accusing them of masterminding the riots. The paper vindicated the Muslim students who attacked and held Christian students of the College of Education, Kafanchan hostage for over five hours while declaring Rev. Abubakar Bako the main speaker at the Christian program a wanted person. Abubakar Bako, who himself was an ex-Muslim was accused of quoting and misinterpreting the Qur'an. To date, Abubakar Bako remains a fugitive and is on the wanted list of the federal government while Aisha Mohammed, the main culprit who jumped into the pulpit, seized the microphone from the speaker and started beating him was vindicated and remains a free Nigerian.

Without any sort of condemnation or punishment to the Muslims, this single act by the federal government and especially the Kaduna State government gave Muslims a clear indication that they could kill Christians at will any where and at any time without any repercussions. It didn't come as a surprise to any one when Muslims attacked the peace-loving Kataf people in Zango Kafaf Town in 1992. This attack led to the complete destruction of the town. To prove their case that the riots were sponsored by the Babangida government, the Kataf people piled up the weapons used by the Hausa-Fulani Muslims in the town's Central Mosque. These sophisticated weapons had labels such as "NA/FGN" indicating the weapons were supplied to the Muslims by the federal government since they had the Nigerian Army labels on them. On his visit to Zangon Kataf, Babangida was so stunned by the amount of destruction feigning ignorance of the weapons and promised to bring the perpetrators to book. Once more the Babangida government set up a mock tribunal which was ordered to indict only the Kataf people.

To settle his long-term feud with General Zamani Lekwot, a prominent Kataf son, the tribunal sentenced General Lekwot to death while his younger brother was sentenced to ten years in prison. General Lekwot and other prominent Kataf sons and daughters were accused of planning the riots. The main brain behind the crisis, one Alhaji Mato, uncle to the then Kaduna State Governor, Alhaji Dabo Lere and cousin to Babangida's Secretaty to the Federal Government Alhaji Ibrahim Aliyu was shielded and accommodated in the Kaduna State Government Guest House by the governor. Many prominent Kataf people were fired from the Kaduna State civil service while others languished in jail for nearly one year without trial.

What then is the relevance of this long history? It is meant to establish the fact that the Nigerian government has done practically nothing to stem the tide of Muslim assault on other religions, particularly Christians in Nigeria. It is an established fact that most Muslim-led Federal governments come with an agenda not to move the country forward but with a religious agenda that allows them to loot the treasury. When hither to individuals such as Yerima Sani in Zamfara State who rigged elections to become the governor of the poorest state in country declare fatwa on a non-Muslim it comes as no surprise to any body. What is actually surprising is the fact that President Obasanjo could not call him to order for inciting and disrupting public peace. In civilized countries Governor Sani should have been asked to resign his position and be brought under the full wrath of the laws of the federation for inciting public disorder leading to the murder of over 300 people. Sani goes about his business and is on his way to being reelected for a second term. Voila, this is Nigeria where law and other don't work.

Sani and his cohorts act on historical evidence that if you are Muslim and are in power you can say and do anything and get away with it. Sani knows historically that Christians in power are incapable of calling such fanatics to order neither can they tackle the religious question. Obasanjo could not do it during his first time as a military head of state neither does he have the political will to do so now. Since his second coming, Obasanjo has failed to boldly tackle the problem of the application of the criminal aspects of the Shari`a. Rather, he has been issuing conflicting statements on the issue. He speaks boldly while abroad and swallows his words once he gets back to Nigeria. He even prides himself in introducing the Shari`a in 1978 and claims it as an inalienable right of Muslims to be governed by the Shari`a law.

The reader might question the relevance of this long history to the topic under discussion. It is important to give the history to justify the fact that the practice of Islam especially among the Nigerian elite is untoward, unorthodox and a display of stack ignorance of the faith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). How could a governor declare fatwa without regards to the teachings of Islam? Thanks to the real Muslims in Saudi Arabia and the leadership of the Supreme Council for Islam Affairs (SCIA) in Nigeria that quickly reacted to the statement and issued a sharp rebuke on Governor Sani for his ignorance. The one thing that is clear from the November 22 riots in Kaduna is that Muslims have a right to blaspheme Christianity and get away with it while no one has the right to talk about Muhammad or the Qur'an.

It is an open secret that Nigerian Muslims hawk provocative audio and video tapes on every nook and corner of our major cities blaspheming the Person of Christ. There are such tapes played from loud speakers either on the streets or mounted on trucks and buses describing the Bible as fake or abridged. Others say that Jesus is not the son of God and that the Bible is not the word of God. Besides hawking provocative video and audio tapes, there are provocative sermons and lectures on radio and television as well as vehicles with mounted speakers plying streets and villages all preaching provocative messages against Christianity, yet Christians have not taken arms against Muslims. The late Abukabar Mahmoud Gumi once described Christianity as nothing, but a faith of paper. Specifically, Gumi said Christians go to church on Sundays only to look at beautiful ladies, sing, dance, and have pleasure. Gumi also said Christians don't pray while Muslims pray five times a day. All such blasphemies would have been enough to provoke Christians into violence but Christians have restrained themselves not as an act of cowardice but because the Bible does not encourage such violence.

How would Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) have reacted to Ms. Daniel's comment and what does the Qur'an say? It is a laughable matter that Nigerian Muslims will go about killing people unconnected with an event all in the name of defending the cause of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). How did Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) respond to his critics and blasphemers? Let's take a look at the Qur'an for answers.

Fatimah T. Sakr, a prominent Muslim scholar and wife of a prominent and famous Muslim scholar in the United States wrote: Fighting in the cause of God is one of the most misunderstood issues in Islam (Submission), even by those who consider themselves Muslims. Many of the so called "Muslim" scholars have confused the issue by their personal opinion that has NO support in the Quran. Most of these deviant opinions originate from false teachings found in the books of Hadiths and sunna. Hadiths and sunna books are a collection of fabricated stories about prophet Muhammed that have all kinds of cruel inhumane and corrupted opinions that contradict the Quran, contradict itself, and contradict as well any common sense. Most of the corruption we see in the "Muslim" world today comes from these man made books that were collected over 200 years after the death of Prophet Muhammed. Prophet Muhammed himself never advocated any books but the Quran and even instructed his followers NOT to write or collect such books. Please see our Hadiths and Sunna section for details. Prophet Muhammed himself NEVER waged any war except for self defense and never lived except by the peaceful words of God in the Quran.

She goes on to state that the Qur'an clearly defines for the believer what is expected of him or her in response to aggression. The Qur'an speaks against violence in 2:190-191. Even though Allah would sanction war in certain circumstances but he does so only in self defense. The Qur'an states: Once the Sacred Months are past, (and they refuse to make peace) you may kill the idol worshipers when you encounter them, punish them, and resist every move they make. If they repent and observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) and give the obligatory charity (Zakat), you shall let them go. GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful (9:5). In this verse God sanctions war only as a means to defend Islam and it should not be done in the month of Ramadan. If the Muslim (believers) must have been attacked and their enemy has broken the truce he has made with them they are admonished to fight to defend themselves.

The Qur'an teaches that the Muslim should resort to peace rather than violence. If they resort to peace, so shall you, and put your trust in GOD. He is the Hearer, the Omniscient (8:61). [9:4] If the idol worshipers sign a peace treaty with you, and do not violate it, nor band together with others against you, you shall fulfill your treaty with them until the expiration date. GOD loves the righteous (9:4). …if they leave you alone, refrain from fighting you, and offer you peace, then GOD gives you no excuse to fight them (4:90). If one of the idol worshipers sought safe passage with you, you shall grant him safe passage, so that he can hear the word of GOD, then send him back to his place of security. That is because they are people who do not know (9:6).

This verse teaches that even the non-Muslim must be granted safe passage by the Muslim if he seeks it even during war. Muslims are urged to defend themselves just as any nation of the world as in the case of the US fighting against terrorism. God gives the Muslim believer the right to fight in self-defense if every peaceful means has failed.

We can see from the above verses that the Qur'an specifically addresses the issue of war and how the Muslim should respond. In all the assault of Muslims against Christians in Nigerian, none of the conditions prescribed in the Qur'an had been followed.

In regards to blasphemy, let's again turn to the Qur'an for answers. Pakistan happens to be the only country in the world that has a blasphemy law. Apparently the Nigerian Shari`a law was fashioned after that of Pakistan. It is defined in section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code in the following words: "Use of derogatory remarks, etc. in respect of the holy Prophet (PBUH) by word, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by importation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiling the sacred name of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life, and shall be liable to find . . ." (Brigadier (Rtd.) Nazir Ahmad).

According to Ahmad, this concept of blasphemy and the prescribed punishment are both contradictory to the Qur'an and the Prophet's conduct. The Qur'an prescribes restraint, and distancing from the blasphemous persons or situations. The emphasis is on restraint and forgiveness. The Qur'an points out in the following verses what the Muslim should do in regards to blasphemy.

"When ye hear the signs of Allah held in defiance and ridicule, ye are not to sit with them unless they turn to a different theme." [Qur'an 4:140]

"And when they hear vain talk, they turn away therefrom and say: "to us our deeds and to you yours; peace be to you." [Qur'an 28: 55]

"Hold to forgiveness, command what is right; but turn away from the ignorant." [Qur'an 7:199]

"Have patience with what they say, and leave them with noble (dignity)." [Qur'an 73:10]

"And the servants of Allah . . . are those who walked on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say 'Peace'" [Qur'an 25:63]

"Allah is with those who restrain themselves." [Qur'an 16: 128]

". . . But they uttered blasphemy . . . if they repent, it will be best for them, but if they turn back, Allah will punish them." [Qur'an 9:47]

Depending on your understanding of the Qur'an, there are at least fifty-seven verses that have a direct bearing on the subject and more than 250 others which emphasize the need for forgiveness, forbearance and compassion in the Muslim community. In his lifetime, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was subjected to all kinds of verbal and physical humiliation. He narrowly escaped assassination and had to migrate to Medina (hijra). He was accused of forgery " . . . nay, he forged it." [Qur'an 21:5], was stigmatized as a man 'possessed' with evil spirits [Qur'an 23:70] and 'mad' [Qur'an 68:2]. How did Muhammad react to these? His personal reaction, as well as those of all his devoted Companions was a strict adherence to the teaching and letter of the Qur'an. Nasir Ahmad reports, "One of his regular tormentors, a woman (wife of Abu Lahab) once had to break the daily ritual on account of ill health. In obedience to the Quranic injunctions, he called on her to offer his services in her household chores."

The Qur'an sets strict limits on punishment for any and every crime as noted in the following verses.

"And if you punished, let your punishment be proportionate to the wrong that has been done to you; but if you show patience, that is indeed the best course. [Qur'an 16:126]

"The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto: but if a person forgets and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from Allah." [Qur'an 62:40]

"Twice will they be given their reward, for that they have persevered, (and) they avert evil with good." [Qur'an 28:54]

All the above verses emphasize forgiveness and reform even in murder cases. If the Qur'an emphasizes forgiveness, forbearance and compassion, where does Sani Yerima and others that have a twisted notion of Islam derive their authority from? Does the blasphemy charge against Isioma Daniel touch even the outer fringes of the letter and the spirit of the Quranic position on the subject? I doubt it very much. Sani Yerima was quoted a few months ago after his shoes were stolen from the Government House Mosque in Gusau as saying that if and when the thief was caught he should have both his two hands and legs cut off. Could the outburst by Sani Yerima and his cronies simply be termed ignorance or blasphemy against the very religion they claim to be protecting? Why is it that the Council of Ulama and the Shari`a Council did not declare the utterances of Sani Yerima blasphemous? Could it be possibly said that the learned cabals of Islam are hiding the truth from the public? I challenge them and the learned Qadis to rise to the defense of the religion of Allah and his Apostle from being blasphemed by those who use it as a tool to rise to political power.

Unfortunate, the Secretary of the Council of Ulama, Dr. Dandatti Ahmed was the first to fire up Muslims to rise and defend their religion in his press release on Ms. Daniel's article. He came short of declaring a jihad on Christians if the government failed to act. But how could a democratic government have reacted to the expression of free speech protected by the very constitution they swore to protect? If any thing, the Council of Ulama bears responsible for the Kaduna Mayhem since they called on all Muslims to rise and defend their religion. It was expected that the Council of Ulama (the learned mallams or mullahs) could have shown more responsible, knowledge and wisdom of the religion of Allah and educated all Muslims on the stand of the Qur'an on the issue by urging Muslims not to take the law into their hands. Instead they chose the ignoble path of being led by emotions rather than seeking the advice of the Holy Qur'an and igniting the riots. It is little wonder therefore that they could not call such ignorant and blasphemous Muslims as Sani Yerima and his cronies to order.

The Qur'an states, "My Lord has indeed forbidden trespasses against truth and reason" [Qur'an 7:33]. It does seem that Yerima Sani and his cronies blatantly transgressed against the Qur'an and should be brought before the Shari`a council to account for their sins. Failure to do so brings disrepute the religion they claim to protect and the world would like to know if they are not deliberately distorting the religion of Islam for their own selfish ends. The world will also like to know who is actually blaspheming Islam, is it Abubakar Bako, Isioma Daniel who was exercising her rights to free speech or the Shari`a apostles andtheir cronies? Under Islamic laws Sani Yerima and all the Muslims who participated in the November 22 killing of Christians transgressed against the Hadood Allah- the limits set by Allah and the Prophet's conduct. It is highly abominable for such Nigerian Muslims especially Shari`a advocates to insinuate that Allah and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in any way are deficient or inadequate in dealing with blasphemy or to take it upon themselves to try to outdo them. This approach is not only uncalled for, but is in itself blasphemous.

It is coincidental that the jihadists of November 22, 2002 and other Muslim-sponsored murderous crisis for the last twenty years in Nigeria have often quoted the Fatwa pronounced on Salman Rushdie to justify their acts of violence against Christians. What a shame that the good name of Islam has been darkened by the murderous directive issued by certain Muslim leaders and endorsed by their supporters that Salman Rushdie must be assassinated as a result of his making blasphemous remarks about the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)) in his book, "Satanic Verses." The same ignorance is extended by some Muslims in Nigeria who justify their murderous acts against Christians, Abubakar Bako (1987) and Isioma Daniel (2002). According to Nazir Ahmad, no one doubts the fact that Salman Rushdie is guilty of blasphemy but this is not an offence for which the death penalty is prescribed by the Allah or Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as already noted above. There is no such instruction contained in the Holy Qur'an and I challenge the protagonists of the death sentence to come out with supporting evidence from the Holy Qur'an to justify their claims. It is an anomaly that none of them calling for Salma Rusdie's, Abubakar Bako and now Isioma Daniel's heads, has quoted a single verse from the Holy Qur'an as a basis of authority.

It is pertinent to state that those calling for the murder of Rushdie describing him as an apostate from Islam are doing so of their own accord without any authority from the Qur'an. The Qur'an actually gives the apostate the opportunity to repent and rejoin the flock. If the apostate person chooses not to rejoin the religion of Allah, it is only Allah that has the authority to punish and will do so in the world to come. Allah gives no such authority to humans. The Qur'an states: Those who believe, then disbelieve, then again believe, then disbelieve and then increase in disbelief, Allah will never forgive them nor will He guide them to the right way ( Qur'an 4:138). This verse clearly expresses that those who renounce Islam have opportunity to re-enter if they chose to. The verse gives no human being the power to execute or put to death, if this was the case or if death were an automatic punishment, there would have been no offer for an opportunity to return to Islam. In fact, there is no such mention of punishment by death in Qur'an. If anything else, the Qur'an clearly states that God offers humankind the freedom of choice. There is no mention in the Holy Qur'an or anywhere else of any punishment for an apostate to be meted by humans. The consequences of his/her apostasy in this world and in the next life lie solely in the hands of Allah. One is free to accept or reject whatever beliefs one chooses. Allah says in the Holy Qur'an: There is no compulsion in religion (2:257). It is the truth from your Lord; wherefore let him who will believe and let him who will disbelieve (18:30).

Islam recognizes the right of freedom of conscience and freedom of belief. As far as one's religious beliefs are concerned, one is answerable to God alone. No man has the right to punish another for his/her choice of belief. There is absolutely no compulsion whatsoever in Islam and no punishment of any kind permitted in the Holy Qur'an for apostasy. The Qur'an indeed guarantees human rights, freedom of faith and conscience to all people, both Muslims and non-Muslims. In matters that bring disagreement between Muslims and non-Muslims, God is the judge and not man. My prayer is that our Muslim brothers and sisters in Northern Nigeria would take to heart and more seriously the prayer of the Prophet: Guide us on the Right Path (Qur'an 1:6) - Amen.


Nazir Ahmad (Brig. Rtd): The Blasphemy Law of Pakistan
Reprinted from Vol. XXII, No. 1 Hamdard Islamicus, Karachi, Pakistan © 1998

Fatimah Sakar: Fighting Muslim Wars.

Muhammad Ali: The Holy Qur'an