Polemics of Blasphemy: Moderation between Dr Idris and a Section of Muslim Clergy in Bauchi

Adamu Muhammad Hamid PhD,

Pen Resource University, Gombe

The month of Ramadan, across the Muslim world, is characterized with Quran exegetical lecture programs as a spiritual one, and in order to advance the interpretation of the Holy Qur’an to cover and address emerging contemporary issues in the light of the Holy Book. But as well, conversely, in Nigeria it also offers the clergy with opposing views on creed theology to engage one another in polemical combat in provoking opponents. This combat is almost always ferocious in Bauchi, one of the state capitals in northeastern Nigeria. Mostly discussions, arguments and counterarguments raged between the Tariqa and Izala (or Salafi) schools on Aqida (creed and theology).  The debate centres on the status of Waliys, intermediaries between man and Allah, intercession, the definition of Bid’ah (heresy), etc. Prominent among the ulama who participate fiercely in these debates is Dr Idris AbdulAziz, the chief imam of Dutsen Tanshi Jumu’a mosque.

Last few weeks during one of his tafsir sessions, Dr Idris Showered slurs on some revered waliys of Tariqa, namely Sheikh Nyass, Shehu Tijjani, Shehu Abdulkadiri, categorically stating that he does not need their helping in anything. Dr Idris did not stop at those sheikhs; he went on to say in Hausa language that even of the Messenger of Allah, they do not want his helping. This statement, saying “EVEN the Messenger of Allah”, and classifying the Holy Prophet by itemizing him in a series with Tijjaniyya Sheikhs, who he had always abused, was considered as blasphemy by many scholars, especially of the Tariqa creed. So the whole town rose, and a heated exchange of provocations ensued. At a stage, the matter was reported to the Bauchi State Shariah Commission for further action. 

According to Mal. Mustapha Baba Ilelah, the chairman of the commission (who, according to him neither belongs to Izala sect nor the Tariqa), he summoned a meeting of those who matter, about 30 of them from all the two variants of Izala and from Tariqa to consider the complaints about the misstatements or gaffe of Dr Idris. At the meeting, the portion of the speech text complained about was asked to be played, and all the thirty scholars were unanimous that the manner of Dr Idris’ statements was disrespectful to the revered personage of the Holy Prophet. So they adopted the stand that the Commission would write Dr Idris, inviting him for a Questioning (Munaqashah).

Soon after the invitation letter was sent, which quickly went viral on social networking channels, the issue took a new turn. Prominent among Izala sect scholars like Dr Ibrahim Disina and Dr Mansur Isa Yalwa categorically stated that the arrangement was an attack on the creed of Izala sect that if someone is not alive, no one should seek for a helping from that person. Initially all sections of Muslims in Bauchi went with the arrangement but later, the Izala sect, both variants, withdrew from the Questioning arrangement. Many of them said Dr Idris was part of them.

Many of the Izala scholars who participated in the discussion straw manned the arguments. They all were saying that the text of Dr Idris’ statement were correct in the light of the Salafi School, to which they belong; while the real bond of contention isn’t the literal meaning of text, but the mannerisms associated with articulating the text, and some of the Hausa wordings in the context used.    

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Though a trickle of the Izala ulama was still vociferous that Dr Idris was wrong; his manner of saying what he said smacks of disrespect to the Holy Prophet. This brand, majorly, was made of ordinary individuals and a few clerics.  

In the words of Mustapha Baba Ilelah, he was shocked that those at the fore front of the complaint and the move were now backsliding. Initially, in one breath they confirmed that Dr Idris’ manner of articulating the statement complained of must be perceived to be disrespectful to the Holy personage, and in another breath they’re saying there was nothing wrong with the statement, in fact, it was an affirmation of their Aqidah (creed). 

Almost in unison, the Tariqa sect registered its disappointment, condemning the behavior of Izala in the saga as being treacherous. Almost all of them alluded to AbdulJabbar’s chronicle, stressing that though AbdulJabbar belongs to the Tariqa creed, they unanimously collaborated with the Izala to deal decisively with his case because it involved use of words that desecrated or showed the Holy Prophet in unacceptable light. On issues relating to the Prophet’s grand status, they maintained, they have no compromise whosoever was involved. The big question churning their minds was why wouldn’t Izala reciprocate when the table turns.

Now, delineating the build up to this debacle by analyzing how the Izala section attempted the collaboration in the first place there was no sincerity. It was not an honest move. Many of the Izala adherents had an axe to grind with Dr Idris; that he has for a long time criticizing the group and castigating their respected cleric on so many other issues. The recent ones involved Prof. Isa Ali Pantami and Dr Sani Umar Rijiyan Lemo, in a series of lectures. So, in part, his hatred lurks in their psyche subliminally. And as soon as the present issue popped up, they considered it an opportunity to deal with the cleric and give him a final blow. But at last their sect got a better part of them, so they repatriated. 

However, the whole matter was rather political than sincere. Both Dr Idris and the Tariqa sect were wrong. For one, all the Tariqa cleric charging him with blasphemy were guilty of the non sequitur fallacy. Allah will only punish him based on his intendments with the statements. All of them are pretty sure that Dr Idris would never dare any title on the personage of the Prophet. In interpreting what someone has said, the principles of hermeneutics are deployed. Text is interpreted from context, and ambiguous statements are interpreted in the light of clear ones. Dr Idris’ lone statement must be interpreted in the light of the corpus of his other statements. And this is where those comparing the case of Dr Idris AbdulAziz with that of AbdulJabbar fall into the trap of category mistake fallacy. In the case of AbdulJabbar, all the statements he was accused of are consistent all through his preaching for years. The blasphemy was replete throughout his lectures. So each blasphemy can be interpreted in the light of many others. However, in the case of Dr Idris, though his mannerisms are condemnable, one cannot interpret it with any other disrespect to the person of the prophet anywhere in his lectures. In fact, in Deborah Samuel’s saga, Dr Idris openly castigated Dr Ahmad Gumi for treating the matter with levity and calling the clergy who supported her extrajudicial execution as barbaric. Dr Idris was the most vociferous and emotional on Dr Gumi. So it does not logically follow that in one breath Dr Idris would castigate Dr Gumi on Laissez-faire attitude in defending the dignity of the Prophet, and in another breath go ahead with blasphemy on the same subject. So, all the clergy accusing him of blasphemy were cock sure he wouldn’t; they were just pursuing polemical shadows of deeply entrenched face off between them and the controversial scholar. 

On flipside, anybody who read closely the text of video in question would realize Mal. Idris might never mean the manner in which he made the statements. He spoke in a manner characteristic to him whenever he makes reference to the Tijjaniyya Waliys, then the manner inadvertently crossed to the point he was mentioning the most exalted among human beings, the Holy Prophet. That is why, though he sided with Dr Idris on the controversy, Dr Mansur Isa Yalwa in his homily on the issue alluded to the fact that in the manner of picking his words and articulation Dr Idris was wrong. So in all sincerity, Dr Idris, knowing he highly reveres and venerates the status and person of the Holy Prophet, and nothing can change that, should have made corrections. He should disregard his disagreements with the Tariqa and make corrections. For example, he could issue a statement that he wouldn’t want anybody, no matter their differences to go away with the perception of him as disrespecting the prophet-his statements are far from that. If they thought he meant what they think he meant, he did not mean that. His respect for the Prophet is full and intact. He only meant that in terms of seeking for help, while he was alive the Prophet did not ask Muslims to seek for help from him after his death. With this syntactic option the Prophet is presented as champion. This is illustrated by the legend of reporting that the king avoided capture, rather than saying he absconded. They both mean the same thing but the former portrays the king as a champion, while the latter shows him as coward.   

If one says, “na a Manzon Allah ma ba ma son taimakonsa“, “EVEN (emphasis mine) that of the Messenger of Allah we do not want his help…”, the expression can be understood as dismissive or deprecation. Yes it is understood he did not mean denigration but he should clear the exasperating consternation.  To do this would take a lot of effort from Dr Idris to cut ego and clear wrong perceptions. More so that he scarcely gives a damp about public perception of his actions or utterances. But it is better to practice humility, that would have been the best, given that it’s the personage of the Prophet that is involved. I pray he would.

Ibn Taymiyyah of the blessed memory admonished clerics engaging heretics that in choosing their words, they must always focus on guidance rather than altercation or making them indignant, otherwise the ultimate, which is seeking the pleasure of Allah and His reward, will be lost.

Focusing on the real behaviour of the different sects, raging controversies, polemics and enmity between the Salafi and the Tariqa schools in Nigeria have conditioned how Islamic scholars conduct themselves in Nigeria, thereby inhibiting the pursuit of the true ideals and objectives of Islam in a given society.

Interrogation, debate or questioning was a wrong methodology deployed by Bauchi State Shari’ah Commission to address the issue. Because of the reasons adduced in this piece; that no other statements from the lectures of Dr Idris can be used to support the desecration or blasphemy theory, it was wrong to question him on blasphemy or anything related. The best thing should have been to use the best persons to admonish him and encourage him to use better wording, manner and mien to restate the same meaning with anything better.    



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