Sharia: Hiskett Diagnosed Nigeria’s—and the World’s—Islam Problem, in 1993

We want to reiterate that we are warriors who are carrying out Jihad (religious war) in Nigeria and our struggle is based on the traditions of the holy prophet. We will never accept any system of government apart from the one stipulated by Islam because that is the only way that the Muslims can be liberated. We do not believe in any system of government, be it traditional or orthodox, except the Islamic system which is why we will keep on fighting against democracy, capitalism, socialism and whatever. We will not allow the Nigerian Constitution to replace the laws that have been enshrined in the Holy Qur’an, we will not allow adulterated conventional education (Boko) to replace Islamic teachings. We will not respect the Nigerian government because it is illegal. We will continue to fight its military and the police because they are not protecting Islam. We do not believe in the Nigerian judicial system and we will fight anyone who assists the government in perpetrating illegalities.

—Boko Haram statement of “principles,” 2011

Boko Haram, whose Arabic nom du guerre translates as “Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad,” is merely a traditionalist Islamic restoration movement whose overriding ambition remains the enforcement of Sharia, as inspired by their early 19th century jihadist forbears under Us(u)man [Uthman] dan Fodio.

The-Sword-of-Truth-Hiskett-Mervyn-9780810111158Mervyn Hiskett, the late (d. 1994), widely recognized authority on the history of jihad and Islamization in sub-Saharan Africa, wrote an updated Preface (dated September, 1993) to the 2nd edition of his biography of the early 19th century jihadist Usuman (Uthman) dan Fodio (d. 1817), The Sword of Truth.

Hiskett’s 1993 Preface included this remarkably forthright mea culpa:

The brutality and intolerance of all “jihad of the sword,” and especially that of nineteenth-century Western Sudan, has been veiled by an assumption of moral righteousness, based on the Muslim claim of divine revelation and a written law. That leaves no place for an approach from the viewpoint of the victims. The stark intransigence of this stance has not diminished over the generations. It is eloquently expressed by Shehu [sheikh; religious leader] Umar Abdullahi, a contemporary northern Nigerian author who has written, “We are directed by the Messenger of Allah to hit with this (sword of jihad) who deviates from this (Koran).” Similarly, Ibraheem Sulaiman, unconscious of the irony, asserts, “Yet jihad is not inhumane: despite its necessary violence and bloodshed, its ultimate desire is peace, which is protected and enhanced by the rule of law. Inasmuch as the original edition of The Sword of Truth, in its desire to present the reformers [i.e., jihadists’] point of view, seems to tacitly accept and even approve such a stance, it surely falls short of true objectivity. [emphasis added]

He goes on to acknowledge, with some understatement, the “downside” of this jihadist legacy, whose heritage of “Muslim absolutism” was now (i.e., circa 1993, but clearly also at present), “ a source of inspiration and an admired exemplar.” Hiskett added this further important insight:

This seems to apply whether the Muslims involved came to Islam as a result of nineteenth century reformist [i.e., jihadist!] ardor, or were drawn in less spectacularly by slower influences during the [British] colonial period.

But the crux of Hiskett’s mea culpa was his frank recognition of the ugly, Sharia-supremacist dynamic which continues to plague Nigeria, now in the guise of the “Boko Haram” jihadists, and their murderous depredations. He acknowledges the continuum of this legacy—rooted in jihad—from dan Fodio, to his contemporary Nigerian Muslim admirers.

One could hardly expect that African rulers, let alone their subjects, would be converted from their ancestral beliefs overnight by the bald assertion on the part of the Muslim ulama [clerics] that Islam was the will of a true god of whom these folk had as yet no knowledge or experience. Yet this was precisely what the Muslim reformers of the late 18th and early 19th century did expect and demand. Such immediate and unconditional cultural surrender was implicit in the message of Shehu Usuman dan Fodio to Bawa, the chief of Gobir [a city-state in what is now Nigeria] and his successors, as The Sword of Truth, plainly demonstrates. For, while these chiefs were at least nominally Muslims, many of the people they ruled over were not. For them to have bowed to the reformers’ demands would have been politically disastrous. The goal of the reformers is succinctly expressed by Sultan Bello (dan Fodio’s son, d. 1837; in his Infaq al-maysur) where he writes: “May Allah help us to pluck up the tents of the heathen from our lands, and set up the tents of the law.” The understandable resistance of the Gobirawa to the Muslim threat to their institutions and way of life was seen by the Muslims as sheer infidel perversity and an attack on Islam. The failure of the “Hausa [tribe] kings” [of Gobir, etc.] to respond to the “preaching jihad” was held to justify resort to “jihad of the sword.”

Turning to the “Muslim reformers” in modern Nigeria, Hiskett noted that while they,

…condemn indigenous African social and religious systems as “barbaric,” “immoral,” or lacking in law, it is certainly not apparent to the non-Muslim observer that these societies were any less successful in terms of human contentment than those based on the rigorous Islamic model demanded by the Muslim reformers. [emphasis added]

Contemporary Muslim “reformers” in Nigeria, Hiskett observed, simultaneously condemned the British colonial legacy of Westernization, and its impact on the native “idolatrous infidels.” For example, Abubakr Mahmoud Gumi (d. 1992), Grand Kadi (chief Islamic legist) of Northern Nigeria, recipient of Nigeria’s highest award (i.e., the Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic), and translator of the Koran into Hausa, the language of millions of Northern Nigerians, and others across West Africa, opined (as recorded by Hiskett):

[T]hey [i.e., the British] built schools to teach destructive western culture and they began by teaching the children of the idolatrous infidels whose fathers walked around the land naked, unaware of what morals, manly virtue, and humanity might be. They placed them in sensitive government positions and they came to lord it over the Muslims whose brains had fallen asleep amid fantasies of superstition.

Hiskett went on to illustrate the concordant views of the sanctity and righteousness of jihad and Sharia supremacism expressed by other prominent Nigerian Muslim leaders—contemporaries of Abubakr Mahmoud Gumi—such as Umar Abdullahi, and Ibraheem Suleiman, the latter being (circa 1993), “a widely respected northern Nigerian academic who teaches at the Centre for Islamic Legal Studies in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.” Sulaiman denigrated any cultural achievements produced by non-Muslim African societies, while adamantly justifying the principle of (murderous) jihad “purification,” and permanent implementation of the Sharia:

[T]he downfall of earlier generations was their persistent inclination to reprehensible and evil customs which they had inherited from their ancestors…Islam has been emphatic that any aspect of culture that is inconsistent with the Sacred Law [Sharia] has no legitimacy and should not be considered binding on society…Indeed, Islam does not accept that people should have customs or traditions other than religious ones; for if Allah’s way is a comprehensive way of life, what room is their for custom and tradition?

Thus, with great clarity, Hiskett notes, Sulaiman merely reiterated in the 1980s dan Fodio’s animating early 19th century jihadist ideology,

that the Sharia must replace indigenous customary systems, which Muslims, then as now, regard as sinful.

Such traditionalist attitudes toward jihad were (and remain) conjoined to a defiant rejection of secularism and pluralism, as demonstrated by the influential Northern Nigerian Muslim writer, Umar Abdullahi:

The concept of secularism…is totally alien to Islam. In the Islamic state there is no separation between religious and worldly affairs. The two in Islam are indivisible. Both religious and worldly affairs are ruled, controlled, and regulated by Islamic legislation. In other words, Islam enters into all facets of life of the Muslim and the state and determines what they should be and how they should be.

Citing two prominent examples of Nigeria’s modern “Sharia imbroglio”—the establishment of Sharia court systems with ever broadening powers, and membership in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (now “Islamic Cooperation,” which Hiskett aptly referred to as “an international organization for the promotion of Islam and the creation of Islamic states”; Nigeria joined the OIC in 1986 and re-affirmed its membership in 2009), Hiskett underscored the relentless drive to forcibly implement Sharia across two centuries, interrupted briefly (and without any lasting effect), by the British presence:

The jihads of 1804-1812 had been fought specifically to impose the Sharia from Borno [a state in northeast Nigeria] to the Niger [River] bend [the northernmost part of the river, in Mali]and beyond. There is thus a continuity between the reform [i.e., dan Fodio jihadist] movement of the nineteenth century and the Sharia debates (of 1976, 1986, and 1989), broken only by the interlude of British colonial government when the aspirations of the Muslims were muted and restrained.

Moreover, Hiskett emphasized how Nigerian Muslims overall,

whether they were traditional ulama—influenced, as so many of their class were, but what was already being called “Islamic fundamentalism”—or western academics working in the new universities of the north and typical of a class who might be expected to be “moderate,” were, with few exceptions, united in their support for the extension of the Sharia court system to the federal level. The same groups also strongly favored Nigeria’s membership in the OIC. At the height of these debates the Nigerian Christian constituency came up against a substantial phalanx of northern Muslim opinion that displayed little disposition to compromise. Muslims, for their part, found Christan opposition to a federal Sharia court of appeal a sign of anti-Islamic bigotry.

Hiskett added these rueful observations which cast grave doubts—now validated by events over the ensuing two decades—about reliance on so-called “Muslim moderates” to alter Nigeria’s Sharia supremacist trajectory:

[T]he view of jihad represented by Shehu Umar Abdullahi, Ibraheem Sulaiman, and the late Abubakr Gumi enjoys widespread support.

It is doubtful whether a serious and deliberate commitment to indigenous non-Muslim culture any longer exists in northern Nigeria, except in those areas of Jos and Plateau that the jihads failed to encompass. In fact these areas are now [per 1993] predominantly Christian…

We may therefore ask whether attempts to draw firm distinguishing lines between “fundamentalist” and “moderate” Muslims in northern Nigeria rests on anything more than the intensity of their respective brands of rhetoric, or on profound differences in aims and aspirations.

[T]here is (also) a remarkable solidarity between them [i.e., northern Nigerian Muslims] concerning such central Islamic issues as Sharia, membership of the OIC, and the necessity to create an Islamic order in Nigeria. This leads me to question whether there is, in fact, any significant distinction to be made between so-called “fundamentalists” and “moderates.”

Islamic radicalism in Nigeria is now too powerful to be countered even by the forces of secularism the non-Muslim constituency deploys—in fine that those who rely on Muslim “moderates” to carry the day are likely to be seriously disappointed.

Finally, Hiskett, with great prescience and candor, extended the Nigerian predicament to all of Islamdom’s interactions with non-Muslims, and Muslim secularists, from The Sudan and Algeria, to Britain and Bosnia:

It now becomes clear that as far as these northern Nigerian Muslim scholars are concerned, the absolutism of the jihadists has in no way diminished with the passage of time. In fact, the [dan Fodio] reform movement and the jihad have become for these Muslim activists an exemplary rehearsal for what today’s radicals would call “Islamic revolution.” It is interesting to note, for example how Ibraheem Sulaiman uses the term kufr (unbelief) to describe all non-Islamic administrations. In so doing he echoes the practice of such diverse present-day spokesmen of the radical Islamic ethic as Kalim Siddiqui, director of the Muslim Institute in London, or Alija Izetbegovic, the radical leader of the Bosnian Muslims.

As is already well known, opposition to secular, democratic pluralism, the universal adult franchise and the nation-state itself are all part of the platform of Islamic fundamentalists, whether they are Islamic Charterists of the Sudan, the Front Islamique de Salut of Algeria, or the British fundamentalists led by Kalim Siddiqui. All insist that Muslims may consent to be governed only within an Islamic state which is a constituent part of the worldwide Islamic umma. It is therefore not surprising to discover that Nigerian Muslim activists such as the late Shaykh Abubakr Gumi, Shehu Umar Abdullahi, and perhaps most effectively because of his undoubted scholarly skills, Ibraheem Sulaiman, all repeat this fundamentalist message in the Nigerian context.

Two decades later, having willfully ignored Mervyn Hiskett’s wisdom—a collective act of mindslaughter which continues apace in most quarters—we are confronted with an emboldened jihadist menace whose appetite to impose Sharia has grown even more voracious. Hard data from the prestigious Pew Center published in 2013 tell us that 77% of the world’s Muslims from the five largest Sunni Muslim populations (including, prominently, Nigerian Muslims) favored, “making sharia law, or Islamic law, the official law of the land in our country.” Jihad-fomenting, and Sharia-promoting mosques, Islamic cultural centers, and formal Islamic jurists associations operate—and proliferate—unconstrained in non-Muslim societies across the globe. Just as Hiskett described for Nigeria, there is no evidence that “moderate Muslims” have done anything substantive to stem this liberty-crushing, Sharia supremacist wave which now washes across the shores of all the world’s major oceans.

The Islamic conundrum for Western societies, including the U.S., which Hiskett articulated with characteristic lucidity, in his Some to Mecca Turn To Pray (also published in 1993), is now upon us, and merits an urgent response if we still cherish individual liberty:

As is so often the case when considering Islam, one has to concede the power of certain of its ideas. But when it comes to having these ideas advocated within our own shores, and as alternatives to our own insti­tutions, one must then ask oneself: Which does one prefer? Western secular, pluralist institutions, imperfect as these are? Or the Islamic theo­cratic alternative? And if one decides in favor of one’s own institutions, warts and all, one then has to ask again: How far may the advocacy of Islamic alternatives go, before this becomes downright subversive? And at that point, what should be done about it? Finally, do liberal, demo­cratic politicians have the political and moral guts to do what is needed, or will they simply give way, bit by bit and point by point, to insistent and sustained pressure from the Muslim “Parliament” and other Muslim special-interest lobbies like it?



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