Lecture Delivered by The Governor Rauf Aregbesola, at The 18th Annual National Convention of Jama’atu Ta’awunil Muslimeen Held at Iwo City Hall, Iwo.
TOWARDS AN INCLUSIVE GOOD YORUBA AND GOOD MUSLIMS
Alhamdulillah ladhi lam yattakhidhuhu waladan wa lam yakun llahu shareekun fil mulk wa lam yakun llahu waliyyun mina dhulli wa kabbiruhu takbeerah.
I thank the leadership and members of Jama’atu Ta’awunil Muslimeen for the kind invitation to be the guest lecturer at the association’s 18th annual national convention.
I must thank still this association for the unflinching support of its members to our administration for the past six years and even before. The support I got from you preceded my coming to office. You have been there since my emergence in 2005 on the platform of Oranmiyan and have never wavered in backing my campaign and for the kind assistant given to the administration through the good and challenging times. I thank you.
The purpose of our gathering here for this lecture is at the heart of Islam which is to seek knowledge. I am a believer in the value of education as the most potent force for the liberation of the people and the development of the human society. After all, all the prophets and messengers sent by Allah came for only one purpose – to bring enlightenment through knowledge. They came to teach, moralise, civilise and liberate humanity. That’s why they remain some of the world’s greatest teachers. The Prophet (SAW) said this much when he declared that the prophets and messengers left nothing as bequeath to the world other than knowledge. Further, he (SAW) acknowledged the scholars as “heirs of the Prophets”.
I deem it most appropriate at this juncture, to echo the Prophet’s wise counsel with respect to the significance and supremacy of knowledge:
‘If anyone travels on a road in search of knowledge, God will cause him to travel on one of the roads of Paradise. The angels will lower their wings in their great pleasure for the one who seeks knowledge. The inhabitants of the heavens and the earth and (even) the fish in the deep waters will ask forgiveness for the learned man. The superiority of the learned over the devout is like that of the moon, on the night when it is full, over the rest of the stars. The learned are the heirs of the Prophets, and the Prophets leave (no monetary inheritance), they leave only knowledge, and he who takes it takes an abundant portion.’
However, knowledge must not be acquired for its sake. Knowledge ordinarily must be liberating and must be used to expand the freedom space. The history of man is the history of the development of knowledge. Nevertheless, not all knowledge is positive and desirable and we must be wary of this. There is a kind of knowledge in advanced science in varying fields like genetics and cryogenic that now makes humans to play God. There is another kind of knowledge in physics where the atom, artfully diddled, can incinerate human civilisation.
True knowledge, however, must first bring man to the awareness of his finiteness, weaknesses and the need to aspire to higher ideals. More importantly, knowledge must be brought to help mankind escape from the clutches of superstition, ignorance, diseases and other forms of limitations. Religious knowledge ought to bring us closer to God, make us as Muslims submit to the will of Allah – in His service and service to mankind.
It is not without significance that the most glorious era in Islam was when seeking knowledge was a prime pursuit.
To be sure, the scholars of Islam in times past were true heirs of the Prophets. They mastered the two forms of knowledge available to them – divine and secular knowledge. They were masters of multi-disciplinary studies. Many of them were polymaths and polyglots. They travelled around the world in search of knowledge and wisdom. They were true global citizens. This is a major reason why the books of Tafseer (exegeses of the Holy Qur’an) are filled with illuminating messages on diverse subject matters – science, logic, language, philosophy, politics, history, etc.
Among the reason for the rapid and peaceful spread of Islam was the simplicity of its doctrine. Islam calls for faith in only One God worthy of worship. It also repeatedly instructs man to use his intellect and other senses to dissect nature and it’s environments for his progress materially and spiritually.
Within a few years, about 100 years after the emergence of the Faith in rural Arabia, great civilizations, cultures and scientific and social discoveries were flourishing. The prophet strongly enjoined all Muslims (men and women) to seek knowledge by all means. This admonition led to the synthesis of Eastern and Western ideas and of old and new knowledge which resulted in the great advances in medicine, mathematics, physics, astronomy, geography, architecture, art, literature, history, town planning and philosophy. Many crucial systems such as algebra, the Arabic numerals and also the concept of the zero; key to the advancement of mathematics, were developed and transmitted to medieval Europe from Islam. Sophisticated instruments which were to make possible the European voyages of discoveries and consequent wealth were developed by Muslim scientists. This included the astrolabe, the quadrant and good navigational maps.
When Muslims led and thrived in scholarship, they led the human civilisation. Islam progressed and was supported as a religion. When it advanced the frontiers of knowledge, it blossomed as a social theory and an ideology of social mobilisation. That was when Islam extended its reach to much of the known world during the Middle Ages – Arabia, Persia, Southern Russia, Africa (especially North, West and East Africa), Southern and Central Europe, India, China, Southern/South-East Asia. That was the Golden Age of Islam.
The Muslim Ummah once led the human race in all fields of human endeavour – philosophy, science, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, technology, literature, and so on. This is a community which, in the past, was blessed with such great scholars who could engage and re-interpret Plato and Aristotle. This is a community that was led by caliphs who were great scholars and patrons of scholarship. It was to its credit that the Muslim Ummah established the first university and built the world-famous Butyl Ikmah (House of Wisdom). The Ummah indeed taught the West many things in matters of scholarship and civilisation. Here is a civilisation that once ruled the world and helped the West re-discover itself and its own civilisation.
It is evident in history that Muslims started declining when they lost interest in knowledge and scholarship. The Ummah fell from glory when materialism and the lust for power became its preoccupation. It is a sad commentary that Muslims in the modern era have lost their capacity to compete in the marketplace of ideas. The Muslims were overtaken and overwhelmed by superior knowledge from other civilisations. Our reformers proved inadequate to the decay in the society. Our leaders lost their capability to lead. Our scholars lost their mental creativity. The society as a consequence fell into decline. For a long while now, the Muslim Ummah has been playing a catch-up game with other great civilisations.
The loss of the power of idea has therefore led some Muslims to resort to advancing and defending the cause of Islam through retrograde means – violence and force. But closely connected to, or perhaps deriving from, this dearth of creative and reformative idea is the unholy desire for power. Not unexpectedly, the use of physical force, as against spiritual and moral force, became the preferred option for the perverted minority who give Islam a bad name and image. Regrettably, we are all paying the price.
It is instructive that Islam started on the force of Allah’s command, according to the Qur’an, to ‘Read! In the Name of your Lord … Who has taught man what he knew not.’ Prophet affirms this by insisting that ‘the search for knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.’ This was the beginning of Islam. This is the basis of God’s guidance to mankind. It was also the commission of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). That is the premise from which all our actions should proceed.
For the Ummah to regain its true purpose and essence, it must return to this foundation; the Muslims must become once again masters of scholarship. It was the power of faith, righteousness and knowledge, not of violence, that gave us the glittering gold. Physical force and violence has only bequeathed to us the broken bronze and opprobrium.
The topic of this lecture is a very tricky one: ‘The role of Muslims towards building a very strong Yoruba nation’. This is because Islam is a universal faith, a revelation of God to all of mankind. This makes Islam to transcend nations, ethnicity, creed, tongues, cities and other human and sociological identities.
However, there is a way we can still navigate this tortuous labyrinth. God created the human race deliberately in its heterogeneity, in diverse form so that we can appreciate His creative genius. In the animal kingdom, scientists told us in 2010 that there are over two million different species of marine life. These include 15,304 species of fishes alone. The diversity of the human race therefore is Allah’s design. This is made clear in the holy Qur’an (Surah Al-Hujuraat 49:13): ‘O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know (not despise) one another’.
It is therefore in order: to be a Yoruba or any other ethnicity. Beyond being a Yoruba, I am also Ijesa and I need not add that I am a native of Osun, a Nigerian by nationality and an African by geography. None of these identities has detracted from my being a Muslim. Being a Muslim therefore is not incompatible with being a Yoruba.
There is a way that both can be mutually reinforcing. Chief Obafemi Awolowo once told us that being a good Yoruba does not make one being less a good Nigerian. Indeed, he asserted that being a good Yoruba will also make one a good Nigerian.
To bring this to our topic, if you are a good Muslim, you will definitely be a good Yoruba and vice versa. This is because there are too many values that overlap between the two identities. If we take away the fundamental and irreconcilable difference between Yoruba religions and the worship of what is considered as idols in Islam, the other values are concurrent.
A phenomenon in Islam is the domestication of the faith in all the lands where it is accepted. While there is no deviation from the central principles of Islam as submission to and worship of Allah as the only true God, the glorious Quran as His revelation to mankind, the five pillars and the hadith, there is still a way that Islam blends seamlessly into its environment, giving it a unique local identity. The most common is in Islamic names. For instance in Yoruba, names like Dhikrullaah becomes Sikiru, Alhaadi become Liadi, Miftahuddeen becomes Mufu, Abdulwaahid becomes Waidi,Abdulhameed becomes Lamidi, Abdulrouf becomes Raufu, Najeemdeen becomes Najimu, Muhammad become Momodu. This is not because they were not educated or because they could not pronounce Arabic names, no! After all, they learnt to read, write and speak Arabic fluently. Lest we forget, Islam was the first to expose our people to reading and writing and indeed, there had been Yoruba writings in Arabic, long before the coming of Christianity and Western education. It is just a way for them to own Islam.
Also, it has been engrafted into Yoruba culture for a Yoruba woman, irrespective of her faith to cover her head. This was borrowed from Islam. Our mothers would never leave home without covering their heads and it would be considered obscene and indecent to leave any part of the body from the head to lower legs exposed. It would be considered indecent to do so and any woman who engages in this would be considered immoral.
Even then, this experience is not unique to Yoruba. It is the same in Hausa, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco and all the land where Islam has been accepted. Thus, Islam has blended as part of the culture, beliefs and religions of the people.
Regrettably, there has been a revisionism of recent to universalise the practice of Islam, including names, beliefs, customs and practices. This new outlook makes Islam to suddenly look like a foreign religion, an imposition from outside, where Islam has become settled for hundreds of years. It is partly responsible for the tension within Islam and between Islam and other faiths that has exploded on the global scene in the past three and a half decades.
However, both Yoruba and Islam subscribe to free choice in religion. Yoruba is polytheistic. It is part of the Yoruba cosmogony to allow people to worship God the way they want. That is why Yoruba accommodate all faiths.
This spirit of inclusion is also in Islam. Is it in the nature of Islam that Muslims must live only in an Islamic society? Were Muslims commanded to impose their way of life on others? Can Muslims survive in multi-religious and multi-cultural environments? Does Islam hate the Ahlul Kitaab (Christians and Jews)? Of what significance is Allah’s clear injunction that “there shall be no compulsion in religion”? Surah Al-Baqarah (2:256)
Islam, in principle and practice, respects Ahlul-Kitaab (The People of the Book). Allah did not and never command the Prophet to kill the People of the Book. Rather, Islam considers them at different points in the Prophetic Mission as allies. The Prophet never raised his sword against Christians and the Jews merely because of their theological choices. Allah did not direct us to impose our way on them. Rather, He, in His wisdom admonished us in Surah Al-Maaidah (5:48) thus: “to each of you (Jews, Christians and Muslims) We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation (united in religion)”
Admittedly, there were moments when the earliest Muslims and the Christians and the Jews had frosty relationship. However, history bears testimony to the fact that such moments of confrontation between the earliest Muslims and the Ahlul-Kitaab in Madinah were essentially those moments when the Ahlul-Kitaab conspired with the unbelievers to wage war against the Prophet and the burgeoning Muslim Ummah.
Beyond that, the Prophet maintained a cordial, peaceful relationship with the Christians and Jews in Madinah. They formed part of the cornerstones which the Prophet used to build the first multi-religious and multi-cultural community in Madinah after his Hijrah from Makkah. It is instructive that model community inspired and led by the Prophet was created on the basis of mutual respect and genuine accommodation.
Is it not instructive that the first person to confirm the authenticity of Prophet Muhammad’s Prophetic Mission was a Christian priest, Waraqah Ibn Nawfal who was a cousin to Khadeejah, the Prophet’s first wife?
What is more, when the Prophet was faced with unimaginable persecution in Makkah, the best option left to him was to encourage some of his companions to seek refuge in Abbysinian (Ethiopia) under a Christian ruler whom he adjudged just and fair in his dealings.
Thus, imposition of one religion is against the principles of Islam. Only Allah knows why some are not Muslims and only Him in His infinite powers can convert them to Islam and His ways.
Lastly, the Omoluabi concept in Yoruba resonates too well with Islam. Omolubi is the quintessential person who is the very epitome of hard work, charity, honour, integrity, courage and chivalry. A Muslim must be hard working, not a lazy person. A Muslim must be given to generosity. It is one of the pillars of Islam. A Muslim must act with honour, integrity and courage and must be prepared to defend women, children, the strangers, the aged and the weak at all times against oppression, injustice and evil.
WHAT YORUBA MUSLIMS CAN DO
Islam as a comprehensive religion provides appropriate solutions which serve as a soothing balm and suitable elixir for social ills and communal diseases. That is why Muslims are required to enjoy what is good and shun what is forbidding in order to build an exemplary and righteous nation that would be free from crimes and atrocities. Allah says: (Q 3:110) You are now the best people brought forth for (the guidance and reform of) mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah. Had the People of the Book believed it were better for them.
Enjoining what is good: Yoruba Muslims should place themselves where Allah SWT and his noblest messenger placed them. Knowing that the trait of Jahiliyyah is seen clearly in the ancient and contemporary Yoruba culture which was built on polytheism. Muslims should therefore find and utilise a very fast way to disseminate Islamic creed and ideology, which correspond to the Omoluabi ethos among the Yorubas with wisdom, knowledge and good admonition.
This should be a good and strong foundation for the nation we are aiming at building. The prophet SAW preached Aqeedah for 13 years in Mekkah before he migrated to Medina, all to lay a sound foundation for the great nation he wanted to build. This point is in accordance to a prophetic tradition where he said: “I swear by Allah in Whose hands my life lies you will enjoin people to do good and warn them to desist from doing bad deeds or else almighty Allah will inflict His severe punishment befalls you, the righteous people among you will beg Him to stop this agony and their prayers will go in vain” The Hadith was reported by Hudhaifah and narrated by Tirmidhiy.
Creating awareness for Yoruba to wake up to their right: Afterpristine Islam has been established in the contemporary Yoruba home, awareness to have access to our right should be created. Nigeria is a federation based and established on federal principles and enshrined in a federal constitution. We should therefore demand for proper federal practices – protection of the rights of the constituent parts to determine their own affairs according to laid down rules, protection of minorities and the rights of citizenship of all people.
Islam encourages seeking for one’s right because this is one of the fundamentals of religious. Despite the fact that the prophet SAW was able to conquer Makkah, Medina and some cities of Arabic Peninsula, he was just in his leadership, organisation and management. This justice caused myriads of non-believers to accept Islam in totality.
Involvement in Nigeria politics is a very sensitive issue which always cries for shedding religious light on it. Islam as a complete way of life guides man’s politics, regulates the economy, chats course for the family life and generally leads to a better and fulfilling life. If Yoruba Muslims shouldparticipate in politics and have the opportunity of getting into the government, they should follow the principles of Islam on righteousness, justice, good government, responsible administration and sacrificial living. They should shun corruption, self-aggrandisement, nepotism, favouritism, hypocrisy and all the vices forbidden by Islam.
In conclusion, you can be a good Muslim and still be a good Yoruba. Islam and Yoruba are not mutually exclusive. A Yoruba Muslim should seek knowledge, both secular and religious. Development comes from knowledge and its application. God has put all the principles from which science and technology is derived in nature. But it takes application of oneself to learning and scholarship to discover them. If Adam and Eve had discovered electro-magnetic induction in the Garden of Eden, they would have enjoyed electricity. If semiconductors and magnetic waves had been discovered 2,000 years ago, we would have had telephone in the days of the prophet (SAW).
There are many needs in our society, ranging from food to shelter and clothing, automobiles, medicine, electricity and good roads which we either lack or on which we spent billions of dollars every year to import. Muslims should seek knowledge and be part of the solution. Let a movement emerge among Yoruba Muslims whose hallmark will be cutting edge scholarship and innovation in all areas of human endeavour. I look forward to the first Yoruba Muslim to win the Nobel Prize in any of the academic fields, outside of the Peace Prize.
Yoruba Muslims should also endeavour to be virtuous, accommodating of others and live an exemplary life. This will not only make him or her stand out as a Good Yoruba and Omoluabi, he or she would also have a good witness as a Muslim, which will draw his or her neighbours to Islam. By this, we would have built a strong Yoruba nation that will be a thing of pride and envy among other nationalities in our country Nigeria and also in the world over.
Let me thank you once again for the invitation to deliver this lecture and be part of your annual convention.
I wish you a very successful and fulfilling meeting as I thank the distinguished audience for your kind attention.
Osun a dara!
Subhana robika robil hizati hama gasifun,Wasalamu halal musseleen, Halhamdulilahi robil Halameen..