One of the responses to the first part of this column came from one Omooba Ade, who emailed from [email protected] Unlike the others who commented, he couldn’t be more displeased: “Your write up did not come as a surprise to me. It’s full of bigotry from a heart suffering for want of truth. And Punch newspaper for that matter, I wasn’t surprised. Aforetime, its pitched against Muslims. You need to sit and read what you wrote again for you to see how clouded it is with misgivings. I advise you to have a rethink on your sentiments against Muslims and be unbiased in whatever you write.”

There is something about the “advice” that sounds more like a threat. I will come back to it. First, my response.

“In the write up, I referred to specific realities. It would have been helpful if you had similarly specified where it went wrong in your view.

“Our country is engulfed in bloody conflicts. We need to dissect and discuss the causes frankly in hopes of finding solutions. In Punchwise, I have done so with regard to all elements of our society, including the Christian IPOB. I have also written in rejection of undue blaming of Muslims and the Fulani for violence in Nigeria.

“So, no, I don’t have ‘sentiments against’ any group. I just have a passion for the well-being of Nigeria. I hope you do too.”

It is over a week now, and I haven’t received a response. I hope the writer shares my passion. I am eager to read his statement to that effect.

In any case, to write about the Muslim quest to Islamise others is not to hold sentiments against Muslims. It is to state what Muslim leaders of thought have said and political leaders have done.

One of the foremost scholars on Islamic philosophy and politics is the Sudanese-born Islamic scholar, Jaafar Sheikh Idris. And one of the essays he has presented at Islamic conferences and posted online is simply titled, “The process of Islamisation.” In it, he states pointedly that Islam obligates its faithful to seek to convert others as a means of establishing the ideal Islamic state.

“This attitude of sincere and convincing warning should be our attitude towards all communities and nations whether they belong to Islam or not,” Idris writes. “If (they) refuse to heed our warning, or listen to our advice (their) downfall is inevitable and we shall not be responsible for it.”

Idris states repeatedly that Islamisation does not entail violence or force. Rather, the destruction of those who fail to heed the warnings would be a divine act. In any case, “Destruction or chastisement does not befall a nation until it is sufficiently warned.”

The reality, though, is that there are jihadists all over the world who see it as a matter of duty to visit bloodshed on individuals and societies that don’t heed the “advice” and “warnings.” Christian communities are, of course, the logical targets in this regard. But so too are Muslim societies that jihadists deem not to abide by the strict code of Islam.

By the way, you couldn’t have missed the sameness of Omooba Ade’s “advice” regarding last Sunday’s Punchwiseand Idris’s Islamisation through “advice” and “warnings.”

The Sardauna’s way

In any case, Islamisation through persuasion has been a reality in Nigeria since its amalgamation. That’s how the North became virtually all Muslim. What always comes to mind in this regard is the account of the late Joseph Garba on how his community got Islamised.

Garba is probably better remembered as one of Nigeria’s top diplomats, having served for years as the country’s permanent representation at the United Nations, where he became president of the General Assembly.

Not as much remembered is that Garba was also one of the leaders of the July 1966 counter-coup, along with Murtala Muhammed, Muhammadu Buhari, and Ibrahim Babangida. And it was Garba who announced the coup that ousted Yakubu Gowon and installed Murtala as Nigeria’s military head of state in 1975.

In 1982, Garba authored “Revolution” in Nigeria: Another View. As the subtitle hints, it was a counterpoint to a plethora of civil war memoirs by Southerners. And it was here that he recounted his personal experience with Islamisation.

To begin with, Garba wrote that Sir Ahmadu Bello, the then Sardauna of Sokoto and premier of Northern Nigeria, was passionate about Islamising the North. To convert Garba’s Langtang people, the Sardauna had to go through his father, a chief.

On a number of occasions, the Sardauna would pay a “courtesy” call on his father. It soon became evident that the mission was to proselytise. It worked, partially, as the father soon began to profess Islam publicly, even as he retained much in his private life.

It was through such pressure that the Sardauna converted much of the North. The passion very much mirror’s Idris’s description of the responsibility of a true Muslim.

More than 50 years later, the concern is that some Nigerian Muslim leaders entertain similar commitments, this time regarding the rest of Nigeria. This is certainly a widely held view of President Muhammadu Buhari and some other Northern Muslim leaders.

Though they would not publicly admit it, it is by no means a wild claim. So, Nigerians would be better off openly discussing the dangers of such a quest. We can explain, for instance, why what worked in the North in the 1960s cannot possibly work in the rest of Nigeria today. Sure, that seems so obvious, but sometimes the obvious bears restating — and often.

An important point in this regard is that Christianity in Nigeria has become more fervent than ever. There is no better evidence than the surge of the Pentecostal variety. Moreover, the prosperity gospel of this thrust of Christianity is more compatible with modernity and contemporary social values.

So, as a matter of practicality, the odds of successfully Islamising currently Christian Nigeria is close to zero. Idris offers a consolatory message to those faced with such prohibitive obstacles to Islamisation.

“Does this mean that they are sure to achieve their end?” Idris asks in the essay. His answer is no. “And what then is the use of their work?”he asks further. His answer is that, “they shall …  have their real reward in the real life, the eternal life after death, and enjoy the greatest happiness of being forever in the presence of Allah.”

At this point then those on the quest to Islamise all of Nigeria can give it up, knowing that they have tried. It is the effort that counts.

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