Responsibility in Crisis: Knowledge Politics and Global Publics

Islamization of the State and of Society

Yerima is adamant that Sharí'ah law does not breach the boundary between the islamization of the state, which he opposes, and the islamization of society, which he favors. This crucial distinction has roots in a broader Islamic tradition, such as in Turkey, but its specific source in this context comes from other Nigerian Muslim leaders. One such was Alhaji Abubakar Gumi (d. 1992), Grand Kadi of Northern Nigeria and leader of the influential Wahabbi-inspired Izala reformist movement, [25] and another is the Iranian-inspired cleric, Shaykh Ibrahim Yaqoub El [Az-] Zakzaky, the Shí'ite head of the Islamic Brotherhood (sometimes Muslim Brothers) Movement based in Zaria, with a branch in Kafanchan, according to some reports. [26] According to El Zakzaky, who visited Teheran in 1990, the state superstructure must be islamized first on the pattern of the 1979 Iranian revolution before Sharí'ah could be introduced. In that argument the constitution creating the state, presumed to be infidel, must be replaced with an Islamic one based on majlis and shúra (religious counsel and consultation). Only then can the state be considered halál (licit) and acceptable. What exists now, instead, is a schedule of constitutionally mandated popular elections that has no foundation in Islamic law. El Zakzaky, an economics graduate of the University of Zaria, has acquired national prominence as an opponent of the constitution regarded as an instrument of secularization. He declared: "Islamic law is meant to be applied by an Islamic government in an Islamic environment. If you introduce Islamic laws under [sic] an un-Islamic environment, under a system of government which is not Islamic, then it is bound to be an instrument of oppression." [27]

Fed in part by the Sunní-Shí'ite rivalry, this aspect of El Zakzaky's disagreement with Yerima is also motivated in part by the tactical issue of popular elections having given Yerima the power that would likely revert to someone else under the majlis and shúra protocol. The controversy splinters on fine points, but concurs on the main issue of the need for a prescriptive religious state.

On its own terms, however, the distinction between the islamization of society and the islamization of the state offers a potentially productive way of re-framing the debate on the proper relationship between religion and statehood in Muslim thought in general and among Nigeria Muslim leaders in particular. ItsPage  214 great intellectual merit is to shift the focus from the role of the state exclusively to the role of civil society in dealing with issues of tolerance, diversity, and pluralism. The distinction does not deny the challenge of secularism, but instead mitigates it by restructuring it as a matter of the civil order. As a general matter, modernist Arab thought, for instance, has tended to oppose a public role for religion as something outside the purview of public reason, and instead to embrace secularization as the proper domain of democracy. [28] The reasoning is that religion is incompatible with freedom while secularization is conducive to freedom, a polarized dichotomy that sets a collision course for religion and secularism.

The Council of 'Ulamá in Nigeria allows for such a collision course by insisting that secularism advances democracy which is incompatible with true religion. That is why, the Council asserts, Christians have backed both secularism and democracy as part of the "church concept of government." Muslims should, accordingly, oppose secularism and democracy, as illegitimate. [29] In the particular case of its advocates, however, the islamization of society in Nigeria would not politicize religion or oppose democracy in the way that the islamization of the state would. Furthermore, the islamization of society, involving a code of strict personal standards of religious observance, such as prayer, pilgrimage, zakát, and devotion, could proceed with the dual affirmation of a laic state, on the one hand, and, on the other, of the role of Muslims in promoting Islam without denying a similar role for members of other religions. In other words, the effects of civil agency could moderate combative secularism.

Thus could Alhaji Aliyu, the Magaji Gari, a senior political councilor of the Sokoto Sultanate, dismiss the idea of political Islam as mere academic diversion, as "the view of radical academics" who ingratiate themselves with the government. [30] Aliyu's argument allows for the islamization of society by preventing the Sharí'ah from being turned into a bullyrag and instead enhancing the civil scope of society by promoting human community, and enjoining moral standards for conduct and behavior without state authorization. In that way Muslims may embrace a mild form of secularization by supporting the separation of 'church and state' and taking their rightful place in national affairs alongside others.

The proponents of the islamization of the state, on the other hand, favor a different course of action. Shaykh Gumi spoke for such proponents when hePage  215 said that politics was more important than prayer or pilgrimage for reasons of scale. [31] A delinquent Muslim at his or her prayer and devotion brings harm only to themselves, whereas a politically remiss Muslim implicates the larger Muslim community, both present and future. On this philosophical issue, El Zakzaky was proposing to assume the mantle of Gumi, a Sunni, unlike himself, and who, as such, has greater legitimacy in the north's political culture. Yet El Zakzaky's pro-Iranian rhetoric has echoes in unrest elsewhere in the north.

Thus, in May 1979 the Muslim Students Society at Ahmadu Bello University set upon members of a palm wine drinking social club, gutting the Senior Staff Club and attacking the office and residence of the Vice Chancellor before seeking refuge in the campus mosque. When in 1982 churches were attacked in Kano, the authorities, recalling the 1979 riots, blamed the incident on the Muslim Students Society, saying the Society's ideological links with the Iranian revolution were to blame. The smoking gun in the Kano disturbances was a stray pamphlet picked up by a journalist on the streets of Jos, and emanating from the Iranian Ministry of Islamic Guidance. [32] The general point of the authorities that the Iranian link was with factions committed to the islamization of the state connects only partially with the evidence in picking up on a cleavage that has northern roots. El Zakzaky stepped into that breach trailing Iranian colors, but the field was by no means his own. [33]

Gumi in that light advocated islamization of the state even though he had no known Iranian Shí'ite sympathies or links. It may be nothing more than fortuitous that there is a resemblance between the approach of Gumi and that of by El Zakzaky's Iranian-inspired, even if the cause of advancing northern Muslim rights is their common cause. That common cause may explain why Gumi, for instance, could make the pronouncement, without risk of repudiation or sanction, that politics (siyásah) is more important than prayer (salát) even though prayer, unlike politics, is one of the five pillars of faith. For all his reputation as a religious maverick, El Zakzaky has stirred a fiercer controversy without going that far.

The debate about secularism has deep roots in Muslim circles, and is not just the pet theme of Nigerian academic radicals, as has been claimed. [34] It is in that context that El Zakzaky's objections, in spite of their marginal Shi'ite significance, have deepened existing fault lines in a common attempt by all interested parties to shift power from the south to the north. For all intentsPage  216 and purposes, and declarations to the contrary notwithstanding, Yerima, with foreign aid and succor, has in fact turned Zamfara into an Islamic state. He admitted as much in giving evidence to the members of the human rights commission. He said he had been upfront on the matter when he campaigned in the elections. To quote him, "when I was campaigning for this office [of governor], wherever I go, I always start with Alláhu Akbar ('Allah is most great') to show my commitment to the Islamic faith. Therefore, as part of my programme for the state, I promised the introduction of Sharia." [35] The reference, however, to the takbír in the context of constitutional national elections that never administered or invoked the shahádah scarcely constitutes a safe religious foundation for government and public order in Islam: it might attest to nothing more than a self-help personal mandate. Other states pondered Zamfara's example, with Kano, Kaduna, and Niger States, for example, declaring their intention to adopt Sharí'ah law. [36]

Throughout Nigeria, the announcements led to heightened tension, and riots erupted in Kaduna where over 400 people, mostly Igbos, were killed. The killings provoked reprisals in the town of Aba in Abia State in the south where over 450 people, mostly Hausa, were massacred. A temporizing President Obasanjo, laboring under northern suspicions for his southern political ties, was finally dragged into the fray with an act of public hand-wringing over the killings. "I could not believe," he said, "that Nigerians were capable of such barbarism against one another." He then proceeded to a gloomy assessment: "This has been one of the worst instances of bloodletting that this country has witnessed since the civil war [1967-1970]." [37] He gave out a general assurance to Nigerians of "the firm determination of our government to resist any attempt from any quarter to pursue a line that can lead to the disintegration of our country." [38] As if to make penance for his southern connections, Obasanjo proceeded to crack down on the unrest in the south, mobilizing police and military units to rein in vigilante groups, such as the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) in Lagos State, whom the federal government accused of acts of "ethnic cleansing." The crisis was threatening to assume an ethnic guise in the south. [39]

Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel Laureate, gave voice to this ethnic sentiment in a statement in which he was quoted as saying that, being neither a Christian nor a Muslim, [40] he wished to assert the virtues of what he called "traditional Orisa" as something authentically African and as such equallyPage  217 entitled to the primary loyalty of Nigerians like himself. He imputed political motives and moral duplicity to those advocating Sharí'ah penal law. In the final analysis, claims Soyinka, these advocates are wolves in sheep's clothing, hiding their political ambitions behind a smokescreen of pious pretense. As an argument, the statement is conspicuous more by what it opposes than by what it advocates. In any case, by the same logic traditional Orisa may be a cover for the south's own political ambition. Which all amounts to saying the statement is tantamount to an evasion of the deep challenge the country faces. Defending "traditional Orisa" in the name of indigenous rights soon runs out of steam against the heavy artillery of cumulative Islamic legal scholarship ranged against it, and may explain why Muslim Yoruba have not rushed to Orisa for refuge, or to Soyinka for solidarity. At any rate, here is Soyinka's statement:

I am neither a Christian nor a Moslem. Definitely, if I have any religion at all it is our traditional [Yoruba] Orisa. As far as I am concerned, both Islam and Christianity are interlopers in Africa spiritually. That is my position. Even though I say I am neither a Christian nor a Moslem, let me make it clear that I studied comparative religions and so I know quite a bit of the Qur'án. We are not totally ignorant even though we are "infidels" and "Kafirs." We are not totally ignorant about the provisions of the Qur'án. And we are saying that some of these people [Sharí'ah advocates] are lying, misusing and abusing the Qur'án. And we also know that we have studied the religious sociology of many countries even in contemporary times and we know very well that their own interpretation of the Sharia is at least different from the one which is being imposed on this country...So let them stop claiming some kind of very special knowledgibility [sic]. They are abusing knowledge. They are abusing faith. They are abusing piety and they are showing themselves to be nothing but real impious secularists who are merely manipulating religion for political ends. [41]

Religion has superseded ethnicity in the north as the driving force of the debate. [42] Exhibiting all the classic symptoms of religious privatization, press and media reports emanating from the south have tended to downplayPage  218 religion and to look instead for a similar ethnic interpretation of the unrest in the north. And so reports spoke of Obasanjo's slowness in taking similar action in areas of Muslim unrest in the north, though they also noted his failure to take on the Sharí'ah issue as a root cause. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), responding to the religious nature of the crisis, nevertheless looked for a solution short of the long-term challenge of Sharí'ah legislation. It issued a statement regretting the slowness of the federal government to respond to the troubles in Kaduna and elsewhere. Archbishop John Onaiyekan, the vice president of the Bishops Conference, said in a public statement that the government should have acted much sooner than the Kaduna riots and taken decisive military action in October 1999, when Yerima was in full tilt mobilizing his followers in Zamfara. [43] Like others in the debate, Onaiyekan was looking to government to overcome the handicaps of government.

The federal government in the end was propelled by events to act, faced as it was with the threat of widespread civil disorder and the break down of law and order. And so there was a concerted, and largely ineffectual, effort at the federal level to demand that the affected northern states renounce Sharí'ah rule. On March 2, 2000, the governor of Niger State, Abdalkadir Kure, announced in Abuja, the federal capital, that his state has renounced the Sharí'ah, though Zamfara remained defiant. At the time, Kure was moved to act by the threatened mass exodus of non-Muslims, mainly Igbo, from Minna, the state capital. Serious economic damage would have been inflicted on the state with the flight of Igbos who make up a significant portion of the middle class. The Emir of Minna, Alhaji Faruk Bahago, met with the leaders of the Igbo community to appeal to them to stay. In spite of such appeals and assurances, and of the amenability of Igbo leaders, Islamists refused to back down and vowed to press with their campaign for Sharí'ah. As late as August, 2000, the Sharí'ah agitation had not abated. The Agence France-Presse reported on August 2 that Katsina had become the fifth state to adopt Sharí'ah law. [44] That notwithstanding, a powerless federal government, handicapped with defending secularism, was reduced to looking to the Islamists for concessions. [45]