Deborah Samuel, a 200 Level student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto
Professor Campbell Shittu Momoh, formerly of the Department of Philosophy, University of Lagos, founded an organization called the National Association for Religious Tolerance, NARETO.
The major aim of the organization among others was the fostering understanding among adherents of different religions and reduce dichotomy and disturbances often motivated by religious bigots and fanatics. This to him, his organization NARETO, would in the long run foster national cohesion from the inherently divisive tendencies of the different religions in Nigeria. Momoh was responding to the growing spate of religious riots that had taken place from the 1980s up to the 1990s when the association was founded.
He simply could not understand why all the religions claim to preach peace but vent violence at the slightest provocation and as well often dreaded for that. While discussing religious tolerance and the peacefulness of religions he told his students that it is easy for every religion to claim to preach peace. But that the peacefulness of every religion can only be assessed in the face of a provocation. In other words, how the adherents of a religion react to provocation on religious matters is what determines the true tenets of the religion offended. He based this on the fact that the revenge by the adherents of the religion does not gratify God since the same God is also the creator of the offender and that even if the offender is killed, it does not make better the lives of those who killed to make offender. This was the position of NARETO. The position of the organization and its founder has continued to resonate each time there is religious mayhem reminiscent of the current one that claimed the life of Deborah Samuel, a second-year student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto.
There has been a great outpouring of emotions since the incident like any other one before it. Christians have unequivocally condemned it without any reservations and called for justice, not that Christians are in support of the blasphemy of any religion or its founder that was used as an excuse for the dastardly manner in which she was killed as though she was condemned under the Babylonian vampirical Code of Hammurabi in the digital age in which we currently live in. The video of the gruesome murder of the young lady did not portray peace typical of the claims of the adherents of a peaceful religion going by the position of NARETO.
This is what has agitated the elite Muslims, who have condemned it, while some are justifying the act. The fact that some are condemning it and others justifying it brings a division among Muslims over what should be the right reaction on the issue of blasphemy or insult to the holy prophet. Among those that condemned it to include eminent personalities in the Muslim umma, the Sultan of Sokoto and Sheikh Abubakar Gumi and other great personalities. If indeed the mob crowd was wrong for their action, why is it that at any time issues of insult against the holy prophet, a (fatwa) death sentence is pronounced against the offender? Once that is done in no time followers are already out for the life of the person, without trial. Is Islamic law against the trial of an offender? Otherwise, there would not have been Muslim lawyers or Muslim lawyers would not have clients.
Parents of the late Deborah, Emmanuel Garba (right) and Alheri at their hometown, Tungan Magajiya in Rijau Local Government Area of Niger State
On the global scale, while some Muslims and even Islamic clerics condemn the reprisal killing of a supposed blasphemer, some uphold it and want it carried out at all costs. In 1988 the Iranian British author Salman Rushdie released a book The Satanic Verses and the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini felt he insulted the holy prophet in the book and pronounced fatwa on him to the delight of his followers. Rushdie then went into hiding even after apologizing. He is obviously still alive because he lives in the United Kingdom. If as an Iranian he lives in Iran or even visits undisguised, they would have killed him by now since there is no pardon for anyone on whom fatwa is pronounced. The way the issue of insult against the holy prophet of Islam has been used to perpetrate murderous acts globally is such that has left mankind at a loss as to what and what constitutes the insult so that people will be aware of such and be careful about it. In 2005 there was the issue of Mohammed cartoon in a newspaper in Denmark. The ripple effect of the reactions that took place across the world claimed many lives and property in any place the revolt took place. At the same time the protests were going on, many Muslims were still in condemnation of it and called for calm.
This brings us to the question of the propriety, legality or acceptability of fatwa on anyone with the adherents of the religion being divided on it. In the case of Nigeria, this confers a heavy task on the National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, to apply some restraints over the declaration of fatwa on anybody without the clearance and permission of the body. If this is not done, the attitude of the adherents of the religion will put the religion in a bad light and put them where there would appear to be insubordinate to their leaders and head of the religion in Nigeria. The body should act as a regulator of the practice of Islam in Nigeria so that all Muslims would be on the same page on any matter. It is obvious that Muslims are never divided on the truly established Islamic principles like the five pillars of Islam, the days of events like the eid celebrations, all of them site the moon on the same day and mark it together without any opposition. If that is the case, why should they be divided on the actions of their adherents over a case such as that of Deborah? It all points to the fact something urgently needs to be done about the issue of insult to the prophet.
The NSCIA should be the body to declare when the prophet has been insulted or blasphemed to avoid people taking the law into their hands. Issues of blasphemy against the religion and the holy prophet should be reported to the NSCIA for a thorough investigation. By so doing the NSCIA would have helped to avert the unnecessary loss of life that the leaders of the religion in Nigeria have condemned every time such takes place. At the rate it is going, if care is not taken anybody could wake up and wrongfully accuse a person he is not on good terms with of blaspheming the holy prophet only to have him mobbed and possibly killed. It would then help to control anger and actions that would portray the religion in a bad light any time someone is accused of insulting the prophet.
This would also help to ensure that the issue of insult of the holy prophet is not trivialized and that the peace of the religion is not a matter of calm after the storm. Also they would have by then established a capacity to demonstrate peace in the face of a provocation that is the hallmark of a peaceful religion according to Momoh and his organization NARETO. Even if it is only in Nigeria that this is achieved in the Islamic world, Nigeria would have stood out clearly from the rest of the pack.
Iroh, PhD, lecturer in History and International Studies, Anchor University, Lagos.