‘Bad Muslims’ and the rest of us

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By Suraj Oyewale

Like any other adjective that borders on morality, the word ‘bad’ is one that does not have a universal definition. Even making it more susceptible to relativism is the word it is qualifying in the topic of this piece. So it is necessary to open this intervention by appreciating who a bad Muslim is, in the reckoning of this writer and its convergence and probable divergence with the more popular definition of a bad Muslim.

Not a few non-Muslims believe that every Muslim is a bad person. Times without number, I have come across the ascription of potential terrorist to every Muslim. While Muslims that hide their Islamic identity are not usually spared, those that identify with their religion are especially the victims of this stereotypical imputation. Yet, many other people separate ‘Good Muslims’ from ‘Bad Muslims’, even if they quickly add that the latter are in the majority. This is the popular conception.

Professor Mahmood Mamdani, one of the top 100 public intellectuals in the world according to several reputable ratings, would however not agree with this notion. In his essay, ‘Good Muslims, Bad Muslims: A Political Perspective on Culture and Terrorism’, the Uganda-born Columbia University professor of Government , expressed the view that there are no bad Muslims or good Muslims; that, rather , there are bad persons and good persons; that, irrespective of the religious persuasion, a bad person will always be bad and a good person good.

The professor delved into many other areas, including the culpability of CIA in global terrorism, but of relevance to this article is his submission that, ‘bad Muslims’, as has been popularized, is a misapplied term that has for long been hypocritically used in isolation of its opposite – ‘bad non-Muslims’, or if we use the Islam-West dichotomy, ‘bad westerners’.

From whatever angle one views it, one thing that cannot be disputed is that some Muslims have done incalculable damage to the Muslim ummah across the globe and I don’t think whatever motivates them to do so, they can be called ‘good Muslims’. This piece therefore does not aim to compare this class of Muslims with their counterparts of other ideological or religious persuasions, neither does it seek to discuss the belief among many Muslims that global media also contributes to the stereotyping of Muslims by sometimes emphasizing the ‘Muslim’ in someone who just commits a common bad act and de-emphasizing the persuasion of another criminal that commits same evil act. Discounted for all these, the global menace of ‘bad Muslims’ may be a little less serious one, but what I genuinely subscribe to is that there are truly bad Muslims wreaking havoc across the world.

Of course, the Boko Haram plague (yes, that is what it is) is what will first come to the mind of a Nigerian reader of this article. Yes, I have Boko Haram in mind in this intervention. But which Boko Haram? The real Boko Haram, perhaps the Yusufiyyah and its offshoots. I clarified which Boko Haram because, like one Nigerian politician and former FCT minister, answered someone that threw the question ‘what is the solution to the Boko Haram challenge?’ to him on Twitter, I also agree that there are many Boko Harams now: real BH, fake BH, government BH, political BH. It is very clear that some equally unscrupulous political elements have taken over the sect’s activities. People settling political scores now hide under BH to perpetrate their evil. That is the political Boko Haram. But here, I am referring to the real Jama’atu Ahlus Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, those who believe – and appears genuine to them – that killing other people –real and imaginary enemies – is a religious duty.

The history of the Boko Haram uprising has been chronicled in the media so many times and there is no point rehashing it here. It has been reported, without any refutation, that the clash the sect had with security men when they were going to bury a dead member of theirs and leading to the killing of more members marked the beginning of the sect’s violent turn. The subsequent killing of their leader, Yusuf Mohammed, consolidated the violence. Since then, the sect has gone spiral, attacking not only security officers and government institutions, but most pitiably, Christian places of worship.

I do read the statements of Boko Haram leaders as published in newspaper reports and what I find most worrying is that these people appear convinced that their activities are act of piety and they are doing their religious service by those acts. Pray, what has a Christian place of worship got to do with expression of your grievances? Qur’an (suratul Hajj, 40) specifically forbids tearing down of places of worship thus: “……Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another,there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches,synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of God is commemorated in abundant measure…”.

Verses of Qur’an also abound that render unjustified, attacking non-Muslims that are peaceful or indifferent to Islam. Allah warns us Muslims in the Holy Qur’an not to begin hostilities, embark on any act of aggression, violate the rights of others, or harm the innocent. I do not know how innocent worshippers in the Madalla Church or the ones in Church of Christ and St Finbarr’s in Jos, constitute problems to Muslims. I find it unimaginable that someone will perpetrate such fiendish act and imagine a place in the good books of his Creator.

Exterminating innocent souls is seriously detested not only in the Qur’an but also common sense, except one with a hardened mind and no conscience. How a Muslim will think killing people that did not commit any offence is right and still thinks he is not a bad Muslim is beyond me.

Basic Islamic history tells us how Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), whom we all claim to follow, related with non-Muslims, especially Christians and Jews, in his time. The story of how King of Ethiopia, a Christian, sheltered and protected Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his followers after they migrated from Mecca due to persecution by their kinsmen, is one of the elementary teachings we all read in Islamic traditions. We all also know how Abu Talib, Prophet Muhammad’s disbelieving uncle was so protective of him in his lifetime. These are ways non-Muslims have been helpful to Muslims in history. Unprovoked and misdirected attacks at them, whatever the motive, are therefore not only bad, they are indeed sinful (haram), for they violate the commandments of Allah and His messenger whom we all claim to follow.

Perhaps the most striking of Islam’s documented manner of relating with Christians can be found in Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) ‘Charter of Privileges with Christians’, original (Arabic) copy of which is still available in Topkaki Museum, Istanbul, Turkey, and reads (in English translation):

“This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.

No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries.

No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.

No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.

Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”

It is therefore our duty, as good Muslims, to speak out against the activities of our bad brothers. And I am narrowly defining ‘good Muslims’ in this context to mean those that shun acts of unprovoked aggression, because I am aware that shunning violence is just of the many good deeds that make someone a good Muslim, it is not the only thing. We cannot continue to remain silent and cry victimization while the activities of these fellows are staining us. The prophet (PBUH) taught us that ‘when you see evil, correct it with your hand(i.e change it) ; if correcting it with your hand is not possible, correct it with your mouth(i.e speak against it); and if that too is not possible, correct it with your mind(i.e detest it) – and that is the least of faith”. It therefore behooves us Muslims to correct this evil of violence with whichever of these sanctioned methods is available to us. While writing against it is the least some of us can do, I believe our Ulama (scholars) will do better by making maximum use of their knowledge and mimbal (pulpit) to correct this menace. Violence benefits no one in the end.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Suraj Oyewale for your brief and insightful write-up. Never thought that the Revered Prophet Muhammed(PBUH) gave this advices in the Quran. Having read your write-up,i am of the oppinion that BH and their group/ sponsorers dont represent this religion other than their self interest. But the blood of ordinary and innocent Nigerians are flowing on the streets/Christian places of worship,as a result of BH attack on their… places of worship. Still wondering why the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs refuses to conderm the sect publicly for their unholy acts which is forbidden by the Prophet Muhammad(PBUH).
    Christians/Moslems are dying almost, everyday as a results of BH activities. How far do we go or thread on this path of destruction of lives and properties before peace arrives Nigeria again?

  2. Thank you Suraj Oyewale for your brief and insightful write-up. Never thought that the Revered Prophet Muhammed(PBUH) gave this advices in the Quran. Having read your write-up,i am of the oppinion that BH and their group/ sponsorers dont represent this religion other than their self interest. But the blood of ordinary and innocent Nigerians are flowing on the streets/Christian places of worship,as a result of BH attack on their… places of worship. Still wondering why the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs refuses to conderm the sect publicly for their unholy acts which is forbidden by the Prophet Muhammad(PBUH).
    Christians/Moslems are dying almost, everyday as a results of BH activities. How far do we go or thread on this path of destruction of lives and properties before peace arrives Nigeria again?

  3. suraj,thanx for ds write-up …..it came @ d right time …but one thing ,why cant the muslim leaders stand up against these so called boko haram.

  4. suraj,thanx for ds write-up …..it came @ d right time …but one thing ,why cant the muslim leaders stand up against these so called boko haram.

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