THE ROOTS OF BOKO HARAM IDEOLOGY
When Western Education was introduced by missionaries in Northern part of Nigeria, Hausa people, especially the peasants and their local tutors considered the type of education as Boko, derived from the word boka meaning a sorcerer. It is literally translated as “fake or deceptive”. Western Education became known as “Karatun Boko” meaning “fake or deceptive education”. Those who accepted boko became educated and were called “Yan boko” meaning “Western educated people”.
Even though boko did not lead to conversion of Muslims as many traditionalist feared, it led to westernization and secularization. And when the Yan boko began to dress and act like westerners, and became lackadaisical towards religion, the peasant tutors began to regard boko as a tool of western power to convert people from Islam. For those who are unaware of the history of Islamic civilisation and role of Muslim’s in technological advancement, they considered boko in its entirety as unislamic and rejected the white man’s schools and whatever that came along with it, such that in the early days, it was said that some refused to take their corn to be grinded with the “white man’s grinding machine” but instead use mortar to pound. Some refused to connect to electricity, saying it was brought by the Nasara”.
Ironically some Yan boko have better Islamic knowledge and practice Islam better than the peasants. Boko also improved the community’s material lot, but the exorbitant lifestyle, opulence, ego and vanity of the elite Yan boko alarmed the traditionalist. Ineffective governance, diversion and looting of public funds by the ruling Yan boko tarnished their image and further fuelled the opposition for “boko”. Western influence on Islamic society was also viewed as the basis for religious weakness and collapse of societal values. This began to trigger a call for social change.
MUHAMMAD YUSUF CONVERSION FROM SHI’ISM TO IZALA
Mohammad Yusuf was born in 1970 in Girgir village Yobe State. He was formerly a Shi’ite Muslim but eventually denounced Shi’ism and joined the Izaalatul bi’dah wa iqqamatus sunnah in 1995. He was a graduate, spoke proficiently in English and worked with the Yobe state civil service. He was also a merchant and financially well off. When he joined the Izalas, he became strongly influenced by the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah and received tutorship from prominent Izala clerics including Sheikh Mahmud Jaafar Adams and Sheikh Muhammad Awwal Adam Albani popularly known as Albanin Zaria. Muhammad Yusuf was young and versatile and because of his brilliance he was a favorite student of Sheikh Jaafar so much so that he was seen as the likely heir of the renowned Sheik. But their relationship became strained when Yusuf began to nurture and advocate the ideology of “boko haram” which was challenged and opposed by prominent Izala clerics including his own tutor Sheikh Jaafar.
THE RETREAT FROM IZALA AND FORMATION OF JASLIDAT
Mohammad Yusuf met Mohammad Ali, a rich man who had travelled widely in North east Africa and Middle East. He was also of the belief that Western systems which included its education, social and political concepts, among them democracy contradicted the teachings of Islam. An introvert, Mohammed Ali found an ally in Mohammed Yusuf who had oratorical skills and was a popular preacher in mosques and Islamic community of Borno and Yobe States. Ali allowed Yusuf to lead the Da’awa because Yusuf was very knowledgeable and persuasive. He persuaded Yusuf to boycott democracy, civil service and western oriented schools. Yusuf conceded and disengaged his service from the Yobe state government.
Efforts to dissuade Muhammad Yusuf from the ideology of boko haram by learned Izala clerics fell on deaf ears. In 2002, he abandoned Izaalatul bi’dah wa iqqamatus sunnah and formed a splinter group called Jama’atul Ahlus Sunna Lid Da’awatis Jihad (JASLIDAT) meaning “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”. Some called it the Yussuffiya movement. But the residents of Maiduguri dubbed it boko haram, a name coined from the ideology he propagated.
THE APPOINMENT OF SHEKAU AS DEPUTY
Abubakar Shekau is said to be originally an indigene of Kaduna State who settled in Shekau village in Yobe state and later adopted the name of the village. But a journalist with BBC hausa said Abubakar Muhammad Shekau was born in Shekau village in Nigeria’s north-eastern state of Yobe. He was said to have travelled widely and the countries he visited include Sudan, Egypt and Somali. (It is believed that he must have been exposed to extremist ideologies in these countries). He was a student of Mohammed Yusuf and very devout to his teachings and evangelism. Shekau has neither the charismatic streak nor the oratorical skills of Yusuf but he has an intense ideological commitment and ruthlessness. While Yusuf was mild mannered and amiable, Shekau, though quieter and more reserved was quick tempered and stern. He was prepared to die for the cause he believed in. For his loyalty and bravery, he became the deputy leader of the group
THE PROPAGATION OF BOKO HARAM
Muhammad Yusuf defended his ideology of boko haram in a BBC interview when he said that westernization embodies concepts and values that are in total opposition to Islam and should not be taught in schools. An example he gave is the Darwinian theory of evolution which he believed excluded the divine hands of God in the creation of man and the universe. This, he explained opposed a fundamental principle of Islam which holds God as the omnipotent creator of the universe and all it contains. He rejected the concept that man originated form monkey but that man is created from clay according to the Qur’an. He rejected the concept of a spherical Earth and static sun as described in western science books as opposed to the Qur’an which says that the sun, earth and the moon, each move on its own axis. He blamed the growing immorality of the modern secular world like mixing of the sexes, semi naked dressing, fornication, alcoholism as a product of westernization.
He and his followers argued that Islam forbids interest in financial transaction and since the banking system promotes usury, they opposed the secular banking system. Among the fundamental beliefs of the group is that the laws of taxation and jurisprudence were manmade in replacement of the ones ordained by God. And so the concept of democracy, a system which excluded the divine law of God in ruling the affairs of man was regarded as un-Islamic. Yusuf declared democracy as “Haram” and dissuaded Muslims from registering to vote or take part in any political or social activity associated with western society. He called for the implementation of Shari’ah as the only solution to the economic, social and moral decadence and upheaval of the society.
Yusuf ideology appealed to youths who were shackled by the bondage of poverty against a background of poor quality educational system, incessant strike, cult activities, widespread malpractices and prostitution that is made worse with no offer of job after graduation. Yusuf also took advantage of the irresponsible leadership of all level of government, its corruption and failure to provide employment and security. And as he points out such failures, citing verses of Qur’an and the saying of the Prophet (SAW), the youths saw him as the leader that will indeed deliver them from malevolence to the promises land. Many youths abandoned schools and embrace Yusuf’s new and emerging Islamic state that promises to offer them a better education. They took to menial jobs, farming and trading. Many tore their school certificate although in an interview with BBC Hausa, he denounced the allegation of ever telling any of his members to discard their certificates.
Yusuf had severally described his group as non militant but simply a group of youth in the pursuit of implementation of Sharia. Quoting form one of his popular sermons from a radio tape, he said in Hausa:
- “We are not trouble seeker and we are not trouble makers so nobody should hinder us from our Da’awa, any who seeks our trouble should prepare for retaliation”.
But he was so vehement his approach and even vowed that he will rather die than succumb to the corrupt practices of the country. It was on their bid to run away from all of these vices that members of the sect decided to cluster themselves in strategic location in the outskirt of most major town of Bauchi and Yobe state.
JASLIDAT activity included Da,awa (evangelism) in some of the remotest villages and local government areas of southern Borno, Yobe and some part of northern Adamawa. They went about preaching to local indigenes. Some non Muslims were said to have converted to Islam through the Da’awa activity. In Bazza it was said that they came and organized free classes and taught Islam to the local indigenes. Though their stay was brief, they preached against cultural practice such as the manual labour of farming by women, which they say should be the activity of men while women should stay at home. Some welcomed their ideology but many Muslims viewed their ways as strange especially when they began to challenge the status quo of cultural beliefs and practices performed during marriages, weddings, prayers, funerals etc. Their idea of growing and keeping of beard, wearing an above ankle trouser and donning of women with the hijabs was opposed even the Muslims. They once challenged an imam for not performing a funeral prayer according to Islamic rites. This resulted in a verbal dispute that led to their dismissal by the district head of the village.
THE CONTROVERSY OF BOKO HARAM
Though the general stereotype about Muhammad yusuf and his followers is to abolish Boko in its entirety in Muslim societies, he gave his controversial explanation in a widely circulated brief recorded video clip during a police interrogation. The police asked him to why he claimed that Boko is Haram, while he used all products made as a result of Boko, citing the cloth he was wearing and the car he was riding, his reply was that such things were not products of Boko instead they were products of knowledge, which is obviously much wider than Boko. And that, science and technology are not necessarily parts of Boko, instead they are parts of knowledge which could be learned from any source possible and disseminated accordingly. He was also challenged that Islam encouraged knowledge seeking, but his reply was that not any knowledge Islam encouraged its adherents to seek. He went ahead to cite sorcery, which was a knowledge but is Haram i.e. prohibited for Muslims to acquire. His argument is that, whatever knowledge be it western or eastern or whatever that contradicts what Islam maintains is prohibited for Muslims to learn and disseminate.
It is worthy to note that skepticism and disregard for boko has been entrenched among some Muslim northerners since the days of colonialism, but nobody declared it as haram, or openly propagated or instigated for its boycott until Muhammad Yusuf emerged.
Also, Muhammad yusuf did not receive his tutorship from a traditional Almajiri School as many wrongly assume. He initially started from the Izala who practice the Nizammiy form of Islamic education instead of the traditional almajiri school which is commonly practice by non Izalas. Although almajiri system has resisted integration by boko, they have been passive about their opposition. They simply refused to be integrated but never fought against it.
It should also be noted that in as much as there are theories and values that contradict Islamic principles in Boko, they do not warrant a total boycott of the entire system. Learned scholar like Sheikh Jaafar regarded the western education as a thorny tree that has a good and a bad side and these can only be differentiated by the pursuit of knowledge and a very sound intellectual capability
Mohammed yusuf has not been intellectual in scrutinizing the scientific theories he rejected. Individual and institutional initiatives by various Muslim individuals and organisations have found compliance of scientific theories with what is elaborated in the Qur’an after in-depth intellectual scrutiny. This information can be found in public lectures of Dr. Zakir Naik and Haruna Yahya delivered during world tours, in published books, audio, video and online speeches are all over the world.
Also in some cases, science has taken a ‘U-turn’ and made discoveries with inescapable and striking similarity to some Qur’anic verses for example, the theory of Planetary Motion, which asserted that the sun is motionless at the centre of the solar system with the planets revolving around it was refuted in 1609 by the German scientist Yohannus Keppler who published the ‘Astronomia Nova’ and concluded that not only do the planets including the sun move in an elliptical orbit but they also rotate upon their axes at irregular speeds. This is in compliance with the Qur’anic verse where Allah says
- “It is He Who created the Night and the Day, and the sun and the moon all swimming along, each in an orbit.” Qur’an 21:33
Also Findings from the last two decades from many branches of science, such as paleontology, biochemistry, population genetics, comparative anatomy and biophysics have openly refuted the assumptions of Darwins theory of evolution.
Let me rest my pen with a word from ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab radiAllaahu ‘anhu who use to say “Acquire understanding of the Religion before you take the positions of authority.
(To be continued In shaa Allaah……)
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