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Boko Haram and the Threat of Islamic Extremism in Africa

Posted: Mon, August 04, 2014 | By:

by Leo Igwe

Today, there is a growing threat of religious fundamentalism in many parts of the globe. Worldly organisations driven by otherworldly agenda are on a rampage-waging ‘holy wars’, killing, maiming, kidnapping, raping in furtherance of their destructive and divine vision of this world. The forces of dark age are trying to push back the tide of enlightenment and intellectual awakening on many fronts.

No incident has brought this fanatical rage closer to the minds and memories of Americans more than the September 11 attacks. This attack by islamic militants was an awakening experience. It changed the face of America. It changed the discourse of Islam, of religion here in the US.

this essay was first published HERE

Following the attack on September 11, a debate started here in the US, a debate on Islam and the West, not on Islam and Christianity, not on the Middle East and the West, but a debate on how to improve the relationship between the religion of Islam and parts of the world where millions of people profess and practise the faith. I mean what kind of debate is that? Instead of focusing on how to tackle the global Islamist agenda, resources have been expended rebranding the acts of Islamic terrorists and framing the violence of September 11, and similar acts of bigotry in London, Madrid as ‘a clash of civilization’, a clash of civilization? Due to this mischaracterization, capitulations and concessions have been made. Freedom of thought and expression, critical evaluation of islamic teachings and other values of enlightenment have been compromised.

But has this concession delivered the goods of tolerance and peaceful coexistence of human beings around the globe? Has it resulted to less acts of fanaticism? Has it restrained jihadists? Not at all. Instead it has emboldened muslim extremists and their theocratic allies everywhere by canonizing their acts of criminality, and barbarism.

Before our very eyes, Pakistan and other OIC countries sponsored a resolution at the UN seeking a global ban on defamation of religion and islamophobia, forgetting that religions have emerged and grown by defaming one another and by replacing a set of phobia with another.

They tend to forget that one of the greatest challenges we face today is how to tackle islam based phobia for human rights of unbelievers, of women and gay people, phobia for a secular society and separation of mosque and state, phobia for free inquiry, freedom of thought and expression including freedom to blaspheme, freedom to renounce Islam and freedom to cartoon anybody including the prophets.

We have witnessed attempts to foist on the world an international blasphemy law, a legitimization of Islam based phobia, and criminalization of criticism of religion. OIC countries have been campaigning vigorously to get non muslims to consider worthy of respect claims which we do not find worthy of believing in.

Unfortunately, there are people in the US who think that the rising wave of islamic militancy has nothing to do Islam or with the indoctrination and brainwashing going on in places like Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia. They argue that Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with the teachings and interpretations of the Quran or the Hadith and other messages of hatred and intolerance being propagated by Imams, Ulema, Mullah, and Sheikhs in mosques and in the madrases ‘schools’.

There are some Americans who really think that the rise of islamic fundamentalism is a reaction to America’s foreign policy, America’s foreign policy?

We have seen the same argument rehearsed in explaining the menace of Boko Haram in Nigeria. And I want to let you know why this argument is deeply flawed. Some people have blamed the vicious attacks by these militants on the marginalization of Northern Nigeria over the years, the poverty in the region, the coming to power of President Goodluck Jonathan or the neglect of the region by his government. But they have failed to point out the jihadist roots of the crisis.

They have largely ignored that the violent campaign of Boko Haram is linked to the way islamic religion has been translated and appropriated over the centuries. That the jihadist campaign of Boko Haram is not new to the history of Nigeria and the history of Islam.

So unless we acknowledge and address the jihadist roots of Boko Haram recruitment, mobilization and ideologization, a containment of islamic militancy is not in sight. Why do I say so?

Jihadist islam in the classrooms

It may interest you to know that as part of the English lessons in primary schools, Nigerian pupils are expected read a text on a jihadist character called Gandoki. I read this text when I was in the primary school and many generations of Nigerian kids have read it. This text is actually meant to ‘inspire children’. The text glorifies jihadist islam and religious violence. The main character, Gandoki tells children ‘who came to him to listen and learn’ from him how he waged war against ‘‘unbelievers’‘, that is those who do not profess Islam.

Gandoki gave an ultimatum to unbelievers ‘‘If you follow Islam, I will set you free, if you do not follow islam I will cut off your heads’‘.

And as part of the questions, the pupils are asked: ‘‘What did Gandoki say would happen to them if they did not follow Islam?’‘. And the pupils are expected to answer: ‘‘He would cut off their heads’‘. Gandoki went on to narrate how he killed those who did not pray to God -that is the God of Islam.

After reading these stories in schools, some of the pupils go to Koranic learning centers where they memorize similar verses that sanctify violence and bloodletting.

My question is this: What kind of ‘morals’ do we expect these children to imbibe when they are exposed to these hateful messages at a very tender age? How can persons whose minds are poisoned with stories like that of Gandoki grow up to be tolerant of unbelievers and of other people with religious and non religious views?

Some years ago, humanists in Nigeria campaigned for the removal of this text. But our petitions to the publishers and policy makers fell on deaf ears.

Jihadist Islam in Pre Independent Nigeria

Jihadist Islam predates Nigeria’s independence. A ‘famous’ Islamic figure in Nigeria is Sheikh Usman dan Fodio. Usman dan Fodio is highly respected among muslims in the country. Many of them regard him as a role model. In fact one of Nigeria’s Universities is named after him. Dan Fodio was a muslim teacher, preacher and jihadist who lived in the Hausa state of Gobir. He fell out with local authorities including his former student who later became the ruler of Gobir, Yunfa, due to his ‘reformist’ views and opposition to the violations of sharia. He was forced into exile. From exile he launched a jihad. Does that action sound familiar? Does it sound like something which Prophet Muhammed also did? Dan Fodio Jihadists over ran Gobir and killed the ruler, Yunfa. The jihad swept across most parts of what constitutes the present day Northern Nigeria. It led to the establishment of the Sokoto caliphate, with dan Fodio’s son, Mohammed Bello as the first Sultan.

Jihadist Islam in Post Independent Nigeria

At Independence, Nigeria inherited a northern region dominated by political islam and an unfinished jihad charactized by competing views of politics and sharia. While some muslim clerics have communicated their so called reformist ideas and opposition through preaching only, others like Uthman dan Fodio have at a point taken up arms against ‘unislamic’ governments and authorities or anyone opposed to their preachings in order to press home their demands for an islamic state or a stricter enforcement of sharia. One of such preachers was Mohammed Marwa. Mohammed Marwa founded the Maitatsine sect.

Like dan Fodio, Marwa was a self-acclaimed Mujaddid- an islamic reformer. He built some followership through his preaching and later launched a jihad in the 80s against local state authorities. The armed struggle led to the death of over 4000 people. Jihadist Islam in Nigeria has found expression not only in reformist movements but also in violent protest and reactions by muslim militants to any event or program which they consider a violation of sharia Hundreds of people died in the violent protest staged muslims against the visit of an American evangelist Reihard Bonnke to Kano in 1991. Many Nigerians were killed when muslim militants protested the staging of Miss World Beauty Contest in Nigeria.

Muslim fanatics beheaded a christian Igbo trader Gideon Akaluka. He was accused of desecrating the Koran in December 1994. They severed his head while he was in police custody, spiked and paraded it on the streets of Kano. A similar fate befell a christian female teacher in 2007, muslim students chanting Allah Akbar lynched their own teacher for allegedly desecrating the Koran.

Shortly after Nigeria’s return to civil democratic rule in 1999, islamic theocrats imposed sharia law on the muslim majority states in defiance of the nation’s constitution. Opposition to the process sparked violent clashes between christians and muslims in Northern Nigeria. Thousands of Nigerians lost their lives to sharia riots and the cycle of violence orchestrated by state and non state jihadist groups.

But one Mujaddid was unimpressed with the way sharia was being implemented.

That was Muhammed Yusuf. Yusuf used his preaching to build the followership of Boko Haram. He rallied people against western education. In 2009, Yusuf was killed in police custody and his group took up arms against the state in furtherance of the campaign to impose a stricter regime of sharia and establish an islamic state. Through its local support and international network, the group has launched several attacks, raids, suicide bombing and killings and kidnappings in many parts of northern Nigeria including the capital Abuja.

French forces halted the move by islamists in Mali to over run the country and turn it into an islamic state. Islamic militant group, Al Shabab is waging similar campaigns in East Africa. The islamic state of Sudan sentenced a christian woman to death for apostasy in what is clearly a case of a state sponsored jihad against the human rights of women and gender equality. A family member came out and openly supported the execution of Meriam Ibrahim on the ground that it was a way to avoid incurring the ‘wrath of Allah’!

Sudan has made it clear that there is no freedom of religion in the country thanks to the sharia that is in force in the country. Profession of Islam is not by choice but by force-by force of paternity not maternity. That means if one’s father is a muslim, then the person are a muslim willy nilly.

Once a person is born a muslim, he or she remains a muslim. The person cannot change his or her religion. This rule applies specifically to the muslim faith. Converting to Islam presents no problem for the theocrats in Sudan. Renouncing Islam is apostasy and apostasy is punishable by death.

A new dark age looms in Africa and in many parts of the globe. The forces of jihad, theocracy, nihilistic ideologies, religious tyranny are holding many societies hostage. Should we stand by and allow those drunk with religious fantasies to destroy our world?

The world looks up to atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, skeptics and secularists to muster the promethean courage and help bring the light of reason to humanity. We must once again rise up to this challenge of loosening the grip of religious dogma on the minds, morality, law, education, politics and human rights of people across the globe. ——-

Leo Igwe - as a member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, has bravely worked for human rights in West Africa. He is presently enrolled in a three year research programme on “Witchcraft accusations in Africa” at the University of Bayreuth, in Germany.


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