.The Sufi sect of Tijaniya was founded in Algeria in 1784 by Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Tijani
It is obvious that most Nigerians in Diaspora never knew about the existence in Nigeria of a section of Sufi Muslims called the Tijaniya sect. Not until last week when they became news. The sect was founded in Algeria in 1784 by Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Tijani. Soon after, it quickly spread across nations, acquiring a huge population of followers from countries in North Africa, West Africa, South Africa and Indonesia among other nations. And although there were other Sufi sects of Islam, Tijaniya was reputed to be the most populous.
Ibrahim Niasse, a Senegalese-born Sheikh is said to have revived the once-moribund sect in the 20th century and, since then, people are known to travel from far, across the African continent, to visit his shrine. Three main daily practices distinguish members of this sect from other Sufi Islamic sects: asking the forgiveness of God; sending prayers to the Prophet Muhammed and affirming the oneness of Allah. Yet, within this sect are several factions.
Nine leaders of one of them, known as the Haqiqa (Realist) Group, made news last week when they were convicted in Kano after being accused of blasphemy. An Upper Sharia Court sentenced the nine persons to death for blasphemy against the Prophet of Islam.
We are told that the trial was conducted in secret, and details of its proceedings are yet to be made public. Even the name of the judge who conducted the trial is being kept secret. The offence, which was committed in early this June, erupted in protests on the streets of Kano metropolis. And although the demonstrations were promptly quelled by law enforcement agents it was not before parts of the court where the trial began had been burnt down, coercing the authorities to assign the case to another court.
A statement by the State Sharia Court of Appeal said the nine persons were found guilty under section 110 and section 382b of the Sharia Penal Court law year 2000. Accordingly, they were sentenced to death. The statement revealed that some Muslim faithfuls in Kano had actually threatened violence if the accused were set free. And as a matter of fact, news of the judgment prompted jubilation from a section of Kano residents.
But here in the UK, most Nigerians in the Diaspora received the report in the media, that an Islamic court in the glamorous northern Nigerian city of Kano sentenced nine people to death for “insulting” Prophet Muhammed with a mixture of awe and caution. Awe, because they felt that something was definitely wrong in Nigeria’s march towards a democratic and united nation to warrant a law court to prescribe capital punishment for anyone perceived to be “insulting” even God Himself, not to talk of His prophet. Caution, because no one was really sure what the law makers in this instance actually wanted to achieve.
The alleged offence was said to have been committed at the beginning of this month (June 2015) at a religious gathering in honour of Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse, the Senegalese founder of the Tijaniya sect which is said to have a large following across West Africa. During the gathering, the nine Nigerians – eight men and a woman – were reported to have said: "Niasse was bigger than Prophet Muhammad."
That alone was the statement that sparked off the unrest. The venue was burnt to the ground by an angry mob and nine leaders of the sect were arrested.
According to reports credited to Kano’s Religious Police boss, Aminu Ibrahim Daurawa, and relayed to the BBC, the accused Nigerians were all Muslims. They had pleaded guilty to the charges when their trial came up in the court. But because of last month’s burning down of a section of the court by angry protesters, the trial had been hastily held in secret. "There is a consensus among Muslim scholars that insulting the Prophet carries a death sentence," Mr Daurawa told the BBC. “We quickly put them on trial to avoid bloodshed because people were very angry and were trying to take the law into their hands."
In Northern Nigeria, more than 12 states which are predominantly Muslim introduced Sharia law after the country returned to civilian rule in 1999. This is the first time a death sentence is being handed down for blasphemy in the country. Death sentences had in the past been issued for other offences such as adultery but none has been carried out, possibly for fear of the outrage of the international community. However, convictions like this, being carried in the media across the globe leave a gaping margin in the nation’s march towards true democracy. Anyone who has followed my writings since last year will notice that I am always emphasising “true democracy”. The reason is because there is “fake democracy” much as there are fake marriages and fake currencies. Nigerians must not advertently or inadvertently sandwich themselves into a position that will ultimately only facilitate their self-deceit. I think they are too experienced in the things of life to want to self-harm themselves in that way.
I have heard people of other religious faiths ask why Muslims are the only people willing to fight on behalf of their Prophet at the slightest provocation. They ask why Muslims cannot sue anyone who they feel has faltered to court [as they did in the present circumstance] and get redress from the law courts without recourse to violence? They ask: what is the value of human life in Nigeria? They ask why a country like theirs which is working hard to be recognised a frontline democracy in Africa is still attempting to make two different sets of laws for one united nation. What does the constitution say about capital punishment within the concept of the lower customary and sharia courts? How justifiable can this position be, which Nigerian Muslims are about to take? In comparison with their Muslim brothers, how are Nigerian Christians or indeed the world-wide Christian Community likely to react if Jesus, who they accept not just as a Prophet but as the only Son of God was perceived to be blasphemed against, or insulted by a non-believer?
A few examples will illustrate the point. Dr Susannah Cornwall is a female theologian who recently claimed that Jesus may have been a hermaphrodite. As her contribution to the debate in the United Kingdom on enthroning women bishops in the Church of England, the Manchester University's Lincoln Theological Institute professor insisted that the “assumption” that Jesus was male was simply “a best guess.” In her paper titled “Intersex & Ontology, A Response to The Church, Women Bishops and Provision” she postulated that there was a possibility that Jesus had both male and female organs, and that he could have been a hermaphrodite.
She even argued that the fact that Jesus was not known to have children made his gender status even more uncertain.
Christians all over the world read Professor Cornwall’s rather delusional ranting with shock, but not one of them raised a finger against her private opinion. Mostly, they dismissed her as a misguided theologian who was bent on thwarting the Scriptures in order to offer to women positions they probably did not deserve.
Peter Mullen, a priest of the Church of England who wrote in The Telegraph refuted Cornwall’s claims. He emphasised that in the original Greek gospels, Jesus was always referred to as a male child. Not once did the original version of the Bible use the equally available feminine gender to describe him. Mullen noted that the gospel writers meant that Jesus was a man. “If masculinity is recognized by particular characteristics, there were circumstantial evidences that Jesus was male”, he argued. Citing the evidences, Mullen said that in his infancy stories, Jesus was referred to as a male child. On his ritual pilgrimage to the Temple at 12, he was also described as a boy.
Chris Rosebrough, host of the radio programme, Fighting for the Faith, also dealt with Cornwall's claims in a subsequent broadcast and accused her of rejecting sound doctrine in her paper.
Rosebrough anchored his contention of Jesus' masculinity in the fact that on the eighth day of his life he was taken to the Temple and was circumcised according to the Law of Moses. That Law never made any provisions for any form of female circumcision. Nor was female circumcision part of the teaching of the Scripture. "If Jesus was not a male child, why would he be circumcised?” Rosebrough queried.
In 2005, a Roman Catholic group in France sought the interdiction of a commercial poster which depicted twelve women in similar positions as the Twelve Apostles in the famous Leonardo da Vinci painting, The Last Supper. Not one Christian raised a voice of protest against the producers of the poster. It was just not enough to rampage and protest about. They rather went to court.
More recently, a Professor in an Iowa College in America claimed that as a Christian, he believed that Jesus was a Muslim. The eminent scholar ignored the historical fact that Jesus preached some 2,000 years ago in the Middle East and that the emancipation of Islam was only dated six centuries later. How then could Jesus have been a Muslim?
Yet, Robert F. Shedinger, who wrote “Was Jesus a Muslim?” insisted that his research convinced him of Jesus reasoning as a Muslim. Shedinger said the issue arose when a Muslim student challenged his teaching about Islam, and he thought again not only about Islam, but about all of religion. He then saw Islam as a social justice system instead of a religion, and discovered that he thought the same about Jesus. “I discovered that Islam was a social justice movement and I think that is who Jesus was in the first century. So I concluded that Jesus was more like a Muslim.” Astonishingly, he described his book as “a call” for Christians and Muslims to work together to promote social justice, claiming that his idea was to improve understanding between Muslims and Christians.
Now that Nigerians have put a new government in place, it behoves all and sundry to put in all necessary efforts to enable President Buhari take them further into the Promised Land. Nigeria is known across the world as a secular country that has a huge capacity for endurance and forgiveness. Even the fact that courts in the North sentence people to death for whatever reason and the death sentences are never implemented makes a mockery of our seriousness with the laws we make in the eyes of the international community. That is why President Buhari has to come in here and commute the death sentences to something else – may be a few years of community service with minimum wage payment.
Let Nigerians showcase that they are willing to lead other African countries in this march towards true democracy and the building of a great nation. Let them not be in a hurry to forget that their “one love” doctrine is the bond that ties them together. Let them not forget that their greater joy lies in staying together. Let them not forget that it is in learning from each civilisation that they perfect their form of democracy. Let them not forget that there is no age when a man can say: ‘I have known it all!’. Muslims and their Christian brothers must work hands in every situation that challenges their country’s march towards greatness. That is the smooth road that will lead them to true democracy.