Arabs, Islam and Nigeria
In many places, including Nigeria, that which is Arabic, Islamic and northern have been conflated and even combined to mear the thing – the clothes and robes, the hijab, purdah, etc. in a way that is not common to combine religion and every day aspects of life in other parts of the world and with different religion. In Europe Islamic schools have been established in an aggressive display of what it is to be Islamic or Arabic – exhibiting these differences in culture, clothes etc. Even so the Islamic schools have to conform to the laws and regulations covering the education institutions and systems. In short you may, in the United Kingdom or Germany have your charter educational Islamic schools but the students still do the same examination and learn from the same syllabuses as all other schools in order to get state recognized educational standards e.g. GCSE, A – Levels etc. which are requirements for entering universities and tertiary institutions.
2. Arabic knowledge built on foundation of Greek, Roman, Chinese and Indian knowledge. Its legacy was the foundation it laid for the remarkable explosion and spread of knowledge which was the Renaissance – (a rebirth after the Dark Ages), and the birth of the modern nation state. Islamic /Arab knowledge was seminal to human development (and whatever ISIS or Boko Haram is doing is not knowledge – indeed it is based on lack of Islamic/Arabic knowledge – a total regression and denial of the essence of knowledge – debasing the heights of human development for the capture of a few boys and girls and the enthroning of self-immolation in the name of “religion”.
3. It has become fashionable to trace all of the problems of Nigeria to the machinations of all Islamic cult-like grips on the levers of power: appointments to political and administrative cadres in all branches of Government, Executive and Judiciary. Legislative – are a small manifestation of this grip of power. The North is accused of importing millions of Fulani Muslims from as far as Burkina Faso into Nigeria – fully armed to support the North: there is an explosion of conspiracy theories beginning long before Usman Dan Fodio and his jihad, culminating as the conspitorialists insist, in the perfidy of the British in the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria in 1914 under Lord Lugard so that the Islamic element and programme can continue inexorably. Every single problem now arising in Nigeria is looked at from this trajectory – a deep seated Arabic/Islamic/ Northern playbook which has polluted our body politic, our constitution, or political institution etc. Since the origin of this playbook is Arabic/ Islamic perhaps we should look at the originators – Arabs and Islam. What do Nigerians know about Islam, Arabism etc?
4. ARABS, Horses, Camels, Language.
Chronic disunity was the Arab curse, (their hamartia). It was a tragic flaw which sealed Arab destiny. Nevertheless the military innovation of horses in war spread rapidly among all Arabs, while giving them great mobility and power, it also ensured that none of them gained an upper hand for long. It perpetuated an almost rebellious streak and sparked an explosion in Arab inter and intra raiding. Every tribe was open to raid and insecurity. This vulnerability attracted larger and better organized nations who soon discovered that, but something ran underneath the Arab mind: a spirit, indefinable but powerful, a latent base self-awareness, an inchoate nationalism.
Arabs are most empowered when there is more than one dominant power in their area. They did well when the Roman and Persian Empires were against each other; they prospered when Britain and France were at war, when United States (US) and NATO faced the other WARSAW power. For example Rome took over Palmyra in 272 and thus brought two great powers (of Rome and Persia) face to face. During that faceoff between the two lions of Rome and Persia, Imra al Quays, a fearsome Arab, led raids as far as 1700 kilometer while engaged in the building of the Himyari Empire.
Arabs in their phonetic language described themselves as the ‘Rat with Iron Teeth’. Their land saw empires come and go. Sharmar, Ethiopia, Persia established Empires in Arabia.
Rodent with iron teeth describes the various garbs the Arabs put on: first as mercenaries, then power brokers, metamorphosing into power breakers – then power grabbers. Even then throughout all this; the Arabs continued to display their inherent “dynamic disunity”, a central feature even which continues to play out till today. For the rest of humanity life is a journey: for Arabs, life is the road.
5. Mobility was always another theme in Arab history and was prophesized as such. “You shall be fugitives – You shall love your children’s land”. This mobility syndrome manifested itself as late as the 1950s and 1960s in restless Zeitgeist of those periods now known as the Arab Spring. The word, this restless impulsive mobility, equally applies to the super raids of early Islam, to the early migrations that preceded them as well as the flood of refugees of the 21st century. Added to this military prowess of constant mobility, the Arabs were endowed with a language that was deep in meaning, difficult to master. Its mastery was celebrated by poets, orators and speakers who gathered to compete for who was most adept in the use of language: they travelled throughout Arabia. These were the word gatherers. The rhetoric of these “word gatherers” united their tribes, creating “asabiyyah” … spirit of solidarity, powered the revolution of the wheel of fire that is the spread of Islam.
6. The Romans and the Persians and the Arabs themselves played deadly musical chairs but the Arabs believed that they never will be more unfortunate than when their kings were Persian. They hated the Persians with visceral passion. They also hated the Turks`. Both Persia and Turkey returned the sentiment of hatred of the Arabs in full measure.
7. Arab legitimacy was entrenched in their language – it rested above all in their control, not of institutions but of rhetoric of their language. Thus by the time the Quran came out it was therefore not only The Scripture of Islam, it was also the founding text of Arab as we know it with all the historical weight of the Pentateuch, a Magna Carta and a Declaration of Independence, all rolled into one. The foremost Arabic scholar IbnKhaldun said that Muhammad “gathered the Arabs together upon the word of Islam”.
This is a similar saying in St John chapter 1: “In the beginning was the word and the word was God”. “The word of God was made flesh”.
To be continued tomorrow.
Dr. Cole, OFR, is a former Nigerian Ambassador to Brazil.
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