Untold stories of Islamization in Nigeria – Part 2
Back to Omo Al-Hajja, divine ministration eventually came her way. When it was time for the girl to tie the marriage knot, she was betrothed by a man who professed the faith of her mother. “What did our lawyer-politician had to say?”, I asked Professor. “O! Yes. The lawyer-politician simply discarded the event. He said: “that girl eventually went back to the religion of my sister!”.
Now here comes story number two. Yes; the “untold story of “Islamization” of Nigeria. The incident happened in Ibadan. Ibadan has been the political capital of the Yorubas and is now the capital of Oyo state. Islam has had close contacts with the people of Oyo as early as the 14th century. In fact the first mosque was built in Oyo-Ile in 1550. Islam was established in Iwo in 1655, it spread to Iseyin in 1760; it got to Saki in 1790, it arrived Osogbo in 1889. The cities of Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ijebu-Ode, Ikirun and Ede had had contacts with Islam long before the Fulani Jihad of 1804. If in doubt as to how Islam had become the religion of Lagosians as early as the 18th century, ask historians about how the first mosque in Lagos was constructed on Lagos island in 1774. This is the truth – and as Uthman b. Fodio said in 1804, our conscience has only one nourishment – the truth.
He was a Christian from a humble background and from the South South, Professor told me. He was young, very energetic and highly industrious. He was a son of those who never travelled. Neither her father nor her mother knew the ‘word’, or the ‘world’. The only word and world that were familiar to them was the Bible and the Church respectively. Poverty and the necessity to survive the harsh economic condition however pushed the boy out in search of home-duties. He was brought to serve as house-boy in Professor’s modest house. On arrival, he introduced himself as a devout Christian. He requested of his master, our Professor, only one thing not two- that he be allowed to go to the Redeem Church, which was close by, for service every Sunday.
Scholars of Islam would always argue that forcible conversion to Islam is nugatory in Islamic law and jurisprudence (read Quran 2 verse 257 and Quran 105). The boy ought to have known that if he needed religious freedom, he had found one the day he stepped in Professor’s house. Thus he was told to never have any fear about his faith; that he would be granted complete freedom to practice his faith as he deemed fit. Thus the bearer of the Cross found shelter in the homestead of the bearer of the Crescent. Just as it happened during the 7th century when the early Muslims found shelter and security in the palace of Negus, the Christian King of Abysinnia, a Christian boy found succour and comfort in the homestead of a Professor of Islamic studies.
But here is the climax of the story. Each time the boy wanted to go to church on Sundays, he would go to Professor and request for pocket money. Professor constantly obliged. One day he was asked exactly what use did he constantly put the money given to him to. Calmly and with feelings of happiness written on his face, he told Professor D.O that each time he collected his pocket money on Sundays, he used to donate same to the church as tithe. He did that for a whole year before he went back to his parent not as an Islamized boy from the South South but as a young Christian whose religious dignity and identity had suffered no erosion even in the house of a hard-core and first rate scholar of Islam! The teacher of my teachers had also contributed indirectly to the prosperity of that Redeem Church even at a time the sight of Islam and Muslims was anathema in the reckoning of some compatriots of mine who knew Christianity better than Christ.
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Afis Ayinde Oladosu is a professor of Middle Eastern, North African and Cultural Studies, Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies,
University of Ibadan, Nigeria