Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua*
Shortly after the release of the video of the Chibok abducted girls by Abubakar Shekau, Mallam Sikiru visited me in the office. Sikiru understands Arabic. He is also vast in Islamic theology. He has travelled to Egypt, Medina, Yemen, Sudan and Saudi Arabia. He quotes the Bible in a religious conversation to show that he likes inter-religious dialogue. I told him that I have some of the videos of Shekau in Arabic and English. He was excited and requested to listen to them. After watching four of the video clips, he exclaimed almost in a rage as if he could kill Shekau the next minute. “Stupid, rubbish, is this Islam?” He continued, “the terrorist activities of this lunatic is capable of causing ‘islamophobia’ (fear of Islam) in Nigeria.” “Why do you think so? Is it not true that the Muslims in Nigeria have denied that Shekau and his terrorist group are Muslims?” I asked.
“Father”, he said, “let us critically look at this videos in the context of the teaching of Islam. In the first video we just watched, Shekau said that the Christians sent somebody to Egypt to learn the secret of Islam. The person came back and revealed the secrets of the Qur’an to every body. Since then, people do not respect the Qur’an again. Because of that many Muslims in Nigeria have lost their Islam all in the name of Western education. “What is the secret of Islam? Is the ‘Islam’ of Shekau a secret cult? It appears that Islam for Shekau is violence and death. True Islam is peace. If any Muslim has lost Islam in Nigeria, it is Shekau and his men / women who have lost their Islam. The Islam I know is peace. If Shekau has peace, why is he living in the forest?”
To Shekau’s assertion that his war is against Christians, Sikiru recalled the early relationship between the Muslims and the Christians (people of the book). He reiterated that the action of Boko Haram is simply criminal. He regrets that when the seed of hatred for other religions was being sown in the minds of children in some part of Northern Nigeria, some traditional, religious and political leaders did not know that a time would come when a group of terrorists beyond their control would emerge. If they had the premonition, they could have nipped from the bud, any form of religious intolerance. The challenge now facing every orthodox Muslim is how to correct the false perception of Islam that Shekau has presented to the world.
On the video where the kidnapped girls were reciting the Qur’an, here is the reaction of Malam Sikiru. “Where in Islam are people converted with a gun? These girls wearing full veils and praying in an undisclosed location is an abuse of hijab. If Abubakar Shekau is a true Muslim, why should he, wearing military uniform and holding an AK-47 chant ‘God is great’ and appears confident laughing to show that human trauma means nothing to him. This man is heartless! Boko Haram militants claim to be fighting for an Islamic state. Perhaps, the terrorists group believe that through the Boko Harram terrorist operation, Nigeria one day will be like the modern Islamic nations that were once upon a time dominated by Christians.”
Sikiru was very disturbed with this Shekau statement: “All I am saying is that if you want us to release the girls that we have kidnapped, those who have not accepted Islam will be treated as the Prophet treated infidels and they will stay with us. We will not release them while you detain our brothers.” Sikiru interpreted this statement as an insult on the prophet of Islam. He wonders why the Muslims among the girls needed a second conversion. He said that the Christians among the girls who have been forced to wear hijab can never be true Muslims because it is forbidden to force somebody to convert. Is this Islam? Sikiru queried again! If you understand Arabic, you would laugh when Shekau says that he will kill Goodluck Jonathan, Barak Obama, and destroy all the Western technology. Yet he is holding a gun that he did not manufacture and used a vehicle he did not manufacture to transport the Chibok girls to unknown destination. Shekau said that no one can defeat him because Allah is with him. Sikiru wondered if Shekau’s Allah is the same God that every body believes in!
While Sikiru was still talking, Jibril knocked and entered. Jibril happens to be a friend of Sikiru. He came to tell Sikiru that somebody was waiting for him, but he too suddenly got involved in the conversation. Jibril introduced another dimension to the discussion. His problem was that many Christians are now thinking that Muslims cannot be trusted. Some Christians according to him now think that some Muslims are comfortable with what Boko Haram is doing to create an Islamic state. Jibril almost changed the topic, “You see, what Christians do not know is that there are many sects in Islam.” He wanted to lists the sects but Sikiru was not patient with him.
He responded immediately, “Is Boko Haram a Sect? Tell me which sect of Islam preaches this type of violence and terrorism? Boko Haram is a sect of criminals and not Islam, period! You talk of trust. Is not Trust a virtue that is cultivated and built over a period of time? Why is Borno and the other states that have become the citadel of Boko Haram different from other States? It will take another generation before Borno will recover itself again? If not for the effort of the military and the security agents, by now Borno would either be forgotten or converted to a terrorist empire with Boko Haram system of government.” Jibril kept quiet for a while and then submitted that Boko Haram is waging war on Islam. He supported this position with the following reason, “When all the electronic and social media were playing Shekau’s video with the girls chanting the Qur’an, one can conclude that the fear of many non-Muslims is justified. Many had believed that Boko Haram has an agenda to create an Islamic State. But the question is, what kind of Islam would be practised in such state.
I told Sikiru and Jibril that there is no need to cry over spilled milk. If there is a will to change, there is a way. I drew their attention to the Second African Synod of 2008 that emphasized the need for a collaborative effort between Christians and Muslims. The Synod identified the need of “Joining our Spiritual Forces” to remind Africans of their inner spiritual force to address common concerns. What we need actually now should not be an argument about whether Boko Haram is a religious sect or not. The point is that evil has befallen our nation.
What matters now is that the victims of these terrorists are human beings. “We are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the high places (Ephesians 6, 12). The devil is incarnated in our land and we must do something very fast. We must pray more now than ever before. This is the time to put aside our political differences. Very soon the flames will consume the person who made this fire. We need to save Nigerians and Nigeria. Otherwise, those who think that they must rule Nigeria by hook or crook may end up only as leaders of the cemetery. I do not have the answer to the question, “Is this Islam” that Boko Haram is propagating? If you have the answer, I will be happy to learn but for now, let us put all our spiritual resources together to save our children and our nation.
*Fr. Prof. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja and Consultor of the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (C.R.R.M), Vatican City firstname.lastname@example.org).