National Head of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Nigeria, Alhaji (Barr.) AbdulAzeez Alatoye, talks about religious harmony, Boko Haram insurgency, insecurity and other issues with SIMON UTEBOR
What does Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Nigeria represents?
Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at represents the renaissance of the true Islam in the way the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) presented it to the world. There have been some additions, subtractions, but what Ahmadiyya does is to put Islam in the right perspective. And putting it straightway in the way things work nowadays, Ahmadiyya believes that Islam is peace and has nothing to do with violence because that is the name and that is why you have the logo of Ahmadiyya – ‘Love for all, hatred for none’. The stand of Ahmadiyya is that religion is personal between an individual and God and nobody should put himself in the position of God to say they want to punish somebody for not practising their religion or for not being in their sect – that is not Islamic.
Islam means peace with God and peace with mankind and that is what Ahmadiyya has come to preach and that is why we say Islam is a religion of love because that is what Muhammad taught us and that is what Ahmadiyya is doing right now.
If Islam is a religion of peace as you have explained, why are Boko Haram insurgents killing, maiming, kidnapping and terrorising people in Nigeria in the name of religion?
You need to know that what religion came to do is to reform human beings and the extent to which you see a human being behaving is the extent to which that individual has accepted their religion. That is a general principle, including for Islam. Islam has come to reform everybody that has accepted it but don’t forget that before they even accepted Islam, they had their natural traits, natural tendencies and human beings have a tendency to do evil. We can see Suratu Yusuf, chapter 12 of the Holy Quran, verse 54, when Yusuf was able to overcome the evil temptation to sleep with the wife of the King of Misrah and people said he was a super human being. And he said something in Arabic: human beings are created with the tendency to do evil except for whom Allah has shown mercy.
It is the natural instinct of the Boko Haram people to fight in a violent way which is their natural tendency; they need to move up by accepting Islam in the real way the Holy Prophet has preached it because the objective of those who fight for certain things generally, is to control territory, including Boko Haram. They want to carve out their territory. They are also fighting for power because they want to exercise some powers. They want to use power for economic influence. Those are the three major things you will find anywhere in the world where people are violent. It has nothing to do with the religion. In fact, it is negative for such a religion.
People practising a religion may be happy that it does have a group of violent people, and you think the religion is peaceful – it is just that there hasn’t been a group of people in that sect who wants to use the religion to carve out a territory to become whatever they want to become – president, governor or king of that territory. We need to look at the issue of Boko Haram from that perspective because it seeks to capture territories, power and economic influence. Which one of these is a pillar of Islam? None! The pillars of Islam are five.
In the days of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW), he was asked what Islam was and he identified the pillars of Islam as five. The first is to believe in the Almighty Allah’s godliness. Godliness is the foundation of Islam. By so doing, you are expected to behave in a very decent way to people. Second, a Muslim must pray five times daily so that they don’t remain dirty. They must keep communing with God. If you have communion with God, then your life is going to be excellent. The next one is to pay zakat – you should give to the underprivileged, take care of the oppressed, love your neighbour, take care of your neighbour and share with people. There is always love in sharing.
Also, you fast – it means you become holy at all times, you should always have good thoughts and the fifth pillar of Islam is to travel for the sake of Allah and that is the Hajj. It is the first house Allah built for mankind. You go there and pray for the good of mankind. Of the three things the Boko Haram insurgents are fighting for, which one of them is among the pillars of Islam? There is no pillar of Islam there. Islam itself is being tainted with blood by their actions and so, it will not be fair for anybody to say it is Islamic terrorism, it is nothing like that. Islam has no room for terrorism at all. Islam is peace and it is all about peace for humanity.
If you say Boko Haram is not fighting for Islam, are you saying that the group is politically motivated?
Absolutely! Boko Haram has political intentions. The insurgents are not interested in worshipping God but to acquire political power. If you want to worship God, you have to demonstrate it on the television and on the radio. You have to preach to people – nobody stops you from preaching to people in a very peaceful way, so why are you waging war against the state? You can only wage war against the state to make sure you capture political power, for all those objectives that were listed.
This is an ungodly way of saying you want to capture territory, using the name of God, Islam, the Prophet, and everything people know to be peaceful in a very violent way. It is quite deceptive and very ungodly.
So, what advice do you have for the government in this regard?
There have been a lot of issues concerning government and Boko Haram. With all due respect, there is no way one can understand why the government is not able to contain Boko Haram. The government has the military power, aerial power, naval power and all the power God has given to it. However, I think the government has to look inward. Why are these things not working? It is abnormal to say that, for instance, miscreants are overpowering the police and the military. There is a proverb that says, “If a monkey has somebody supporting it, that monkey is going to kill a dog.” Therefore, if money is allocated for the military to go and clear the area boys but the money finds its way back to the area boys, they will fight back at the military.
There is something also going on there; money meant for ammunition is being shared by some individuals and they are pushing people to face those boys. It is also ungodly on the side of the people in government, not necessarily on the leadership. The leadership might be honest to say we want to fight Boko Haram but immediately after that, they release funds, but some people will start scrambling for the funds. At the end of the day, Boko Haram is waxing strong. Boko Haram is now like oil and gas for some people. Some people are making money from there but it is blood money and God is going to ask every individual that is concerned with Boko Haram to account for the roles they played.
What you are saying is that there is insincerity in the fight against Boko Haram?
There is serious insincerity and it cuts across high, middle and low levels. At the lower level, it is minimal but at middle and higher levels, that is where it is coming from but there is retributive justice. I will only plead that whoever is involved in not allowing peace to reign in the country should desist and should remember that the Almighty Allah is going to hold them accountable. All of us, especially as Muslims, do pray: ‘Oh Allah, please lighten our accounts for us.’ Your account will remain light only if there are no evils there; your account will be very heavy if there are evils there, and killing of another human being is one of the greatest offences. In fact, it is the third greatest offence in Islam.
The first one is worshipping any other thing other than God, the second one is disobedience to your parents/elders, the third is killing, while the fourth one is telling lies. We tell a lot of lies in this country. Boko Haram is not telling people their objectives and those who are trying to contain it are not saying the truth.
What is your position on the plan to train repentant Boko Haram terrorists abroad?
That is a very regrettable direction to take. It then means that everybody should be Boko Haram members. They are saying children that are not able to go to school should all take arms against the state. For me, it is absolutely illogical. How do you reward somebody who killed with “the best reward in life?” Is the principle of God that he who does evil will find himself in paradise? The right way to go is to take care of the people 100 per cent so that nobody will have any reason to think of doing evil, and if anybody wants to do evil, he will be on his own.
What is your advice?
My advice is that government should be people-oriented. If they have people-oriented policies, there will be no need for people to be in the bush. We need to pay attention to education, that is, get people to be educated. If you really want to take care of the people, then take away street people and nobody will be able to recruit them into violence and militancy.
In your address during the 67th annual conference in Lagos in December 2019, you described the social media and hate bills before the National Assembly as a distraction. What do you think the government should have done in this regard?
There are a lot of things that need to be done. What I said then was that they should focus on the welfare of the people. If you have done what is good, would you be talking about hate speech? Who will they be spewing hate against? And even if there is hate speech against you, leave the person because people are going to listen to them and address them appropriately. That is what I meant. I am not in support of any hate speech – Islam does not like it at all.
The teaching of Islam is that you should always say what is right, but the idea of chasing people for hate speech stems from the fact that they are not doing what they are supposed to do. Hate speech will continue. Somebody who is hungry has to be angry and you are saying he should not talk, he will talk. My advice is that government should focus on how to alleviate the poverty of the people, poverty of idea, poverty of standard of living, poverty of cultural values, tell the truth and get our society to be reliable and trustworthy. They should eliminate the issues of tribalism, religious favouritism, among others.
In what ways does your organisation ensure peaceful coexistence between Islam and other faiths, particularly the Christian faith?
Annually, we have what we call national peace symposium at Ahmadiyya Jama’at Nigeria. It is always held in Abuja and for this year, we are looking at having it on July 11. What we did in the past conferences was to invite Christians, Hare Krishna members, Buddhists, traditional worshippers and people who practise other religions.
Human beings are all created by God and the first thing is for us to make sure that there is peaceful coexistence and one has the right to one’s religion. Religion is personal; it is between you and God. If you are able to demonstrate good behaviour to the people and they join you, good luck to you, but do not force anybody. What Ahmadiyya does annually is to organise a peace conference and give awards to people who have demonstrated peaceful qualities at the highest level. Our award winners include Archbishop John Onaiyekan – he is a fantastic human being and a man of peace. We have awarded Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd.) because he always mediates, so we are honestly looking for peaceful people irrespective of religion.
There have been allegations that the Federal Government is plotting to Islamise Nigeria. What do you think about this?
I honestly do not see it as a genuine fear and that is one of the things that cause a lot of distraction in this country. You cannot Islamise anybody if the person does not willingly accept the faith under certain moral code conducts. You cannot force anybody to become a Muslim. The Holy Quran says there is no force in religion, so you can’t force anybody. All these political statements, with due respect, are things that we are using in this country to get followers, sympathies, and cause disaffection and uproar. A lot of people are getting benefits from making this kind of declarations. Muslims do it, Christians do it and with due respect to them, Ahmadiyya will never do that.
Some Christians have alleged that Boko Haram is being used to persecute them. What is your reaction to this allegation?
We should come together to fight evil – we should not give anyone the chance to divide us along tribal, religious, and nepotistic lines. Whatever it is, we should not allow evil to divide good people because if good people do not come together to fight evil, evil will always have a way of dividing them. Boko Haram is killing both Muslims and Christians. They do not have respect for any human being; who they have respect for is anyone who wants to join them in capturing territories.
They are using it for political reasons. That is the truth of the matter. It is just to divide us; we should unite. Anytime they kill any person, Christians and Muslims must say the evil people have killed another good person and they will be weakened by that unanimity.