Untold stories of Islamization in Nigeria – Part I
“Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth has been made clear from error. Whoever rejects false worship and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. And God hears and knows all things.” (Quran 2:256)
He was a star during the First Republic. He had all it took for men to become men during that period. A lawyer, he was; a successful politician, he was. Sweet in speech, shrewd in business, combative in spirit, and charismatic in conduct, one thing he wished never happened to him was to have Muslims in his family. He detested Islam to death; he anathemized Muslims to hell. Even then, he courted Muslims. He used them. He patronized them. He sponsored some of them on Hajj. He did all those because he knew that, truly, Islam can be said to be indigenous to this part of the world. He knew, like all scholars of Nigerian history, particularly that of the Yoruba, that Islam came to the old Oyo Empire in the 14th century; that it was centuries later that the other faith staged its presence in the area.
But despite that historical reality and after having found fame as a lawyer who was well-schooled in the creed and ideology of her Majesty, the Queen of England, his abhorence for Islam and Muslims knew no bounds. Ironically, however, he had an elder sister who was an al-Hajjah. She was born, like our lawyer-politician, into a family that had long been Muslim. In fact, it was our lawyer-politician who sent her and her husband on Hajj. But, unlike her brother, she never went to the white man’s school. To attend the white man’s school during the colonial period was to forsake Islam. Excepting the lucky ones in Abeokuta, Lagos, and Oyo, the Rasheed that went to that school during that period had to become Richard, Fatima had to become Rebecca. To be Muslim during that period was to be the inferior, to be prepared for inferiorization.
Now since al-Hajja did not go to school or rather could not go to school, that meant she was destined never to emerge as a member of the crème-de-la-crème of the Yoruba society of the mid-20th century; the emergent political class of the Western region. The latter knew the language of the colonist. In fact, they spoke English better than the Queen. They became the prince and the princess, the king and queen in waiting. They were those destined to inherit the ‘empire’ that the colonist was fated to leave behind. And they did inherit the land; theirs is this land, de facto.
One other thing was true. Children of those who did not go to the white man’s school had a rough road to tread. The options that were available to them were extremely limited – either to remain on the periphery of existence and make the best of the destinies written for them or send their children as wards in the homestead of those who have gone to England and came back. al-Hajj wanted the best for her daughter. She eventually sent her daughter to the homestead of the avant-garde, the tokunbo lawyer and politician. Al-Hajja sent her daughter to live with his cousin, the lawyer-politician.
Here is the first story of the stories that were told to me only last week by Professor D.O. Whenever our lawyer-politician had to go to his place of worship on Sundays, his family used to take his Muslim niece along with them. According to him, he did not want the girl to feel lonely whenever she was left behind at home while the rest of the family went for worship. As expected, the Muslim in the girl gradually began to give way to the other faith.
Brethren, there is no better way to “Islamize” the nation than to expose its citizens to faiths other than that of the parents. Here I recall my days as a student in that secondary school in the backwater of my village. I am talking of the late 1970s and early 1980s. You dared not venture into the school in the morning without your Songs of Praise. I read the Quran early in the morning in the mosque; I had to read the Songs of Praise in the school hours thereafter. I sang: Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise. At home, I was taught to open my eyes in the Sujjud while observing my prayers; at school, I was told to never open my eyes while the morning assembly which was always conducted in Jesus’ name was going on. “Is it because we should not see the Almighty that is the reason we had to close our eyes?” I craved to know; is it because the Almighty is so visible that His visibility produces invisibility that is the reason we do not close our eyes while observing the Salat?” I became confused. A highly precocious and highly impressionable young boy that I was, I found myself torn between two seemingly conflictual ideological cues early in my life. But that experience actually and partly made me what I am today. In order to arrive at your destination in life, you have to go through the furnace and tribulations of life.
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