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It’s Not a War Against Christians

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Lateef Adegbite, secretary general, Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, speaks to Dike Onwuamaeze, principal staff writer, and Ishaya Ibrahim, staff writer, on Boko Haram. Excerpts:

Newswatch: We want to begin our conversation by asking you to give a background to the evolution of Boko Haram and relate it to the group’s current activities in the country?

Adegbite: It started as a social-religious organisation. They had a number of objectives. They wanted to improve their Islam. They’ve been existing for more than 10 years when suddenly they became very radical. At a stage, they were hobnobbing with politicians. Then they became radical and made serious demands on the society because they felt aggrieved that they have been marginalised. And what is the cause of their marginalisation?  Western civilisation they think! They felt western education has brushed them aside and has not improved their lot, so they wanted to go back to full scale Islam to regulate their affairs. They wanted Shariah to be more integrated and intensified in its operation. And they looked for a smart slogan: that “western education is a sin, is an abomination.” But, is western education a sin? Is it an abomination? They felt western education is responsible for their backwardness. They see their neighbours, their colleagues who went to school becoming company directors, becoming councillors, council chairmen, members of the House of Assembly, even commissioners and possibly governors. They then blamed their woes, their failure on the political system operating in Nigeria. They are right to say that they are marginalised but of their own making.  Now, where they are obviously wrong is to resort to violence to achieve their objectives. If they felt they were marginalised, it is a political matter.  Either they join a political party that will improve their lot or start their own political party in a civil and peaceful environment. Not taking bombs and guns. So, that is where we disagree with them. Of course, we don’t agree with them that western education can be an enemy of society. Almighty Allah says we must acquire knowledge. Knowledge is important because it is knowledge that improves you, your skill. It is knowledge that makes you enlightened. Even the prophet of Allah, Muhammad, may the peace of Allah be with him, says you should seek knowledge as far as China. China was the farthest point on earth then known. They have a grievance that they aired wrongly by resorting to violence which is against the tenets of Islam. Islam is a religion of peace, you cannot use violence, you cannot even kill a human being according to Islam unless for legitimate reason and sanctioned by constituted authority. If you take a man’s life, Allah says it’s like destroying a nation. One life is like destroying a nation. What they are doing is totally “unIslamic” and that is why the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs has roundly condemned their method and disowned them. They are not doing what they are doing for Islam.


Newswatch: Their activities have taken a new trend. They have made bombing churches almost a weekly affair.

Adegbite: Nothing can be more wicked than that. First of all, they were killing human beings. Two, they were targeting people of other religion.  Allah has said there is no compulsion in religion. You cannot compel people to become Muslims. If you do so you have offended Shariah. So what they have done is doubly wrong and it is an embarrassment to us. What has Christians got to do with their matter! And don’t lose the fact that these faceless people are deranged. They can do anything. I mean look how many bombs they had wanted to throw again in Kano. 


Newswatch: Some members of the Christian community have termed what is happening a Jihad being waged against them.

Adegbite: Whose Jihad? That is a mistaken conclusion. I mean what is Jihad? What would be the purpose of the Jihad? To exterminate the Christians? Can you exterminate Christians from Nigeria? Can you exterminate Muslims from Nigeria? To what purpose? The prophet of Islam is totally against that. When the Holy Prophet moved from Mecca to Medina, he found Christians and Jews worshipping their God in their own way. He didn’t wage war against them, he said let us have a constitution. They sat down and had a written constitution,the first written constitution in the world, which gave Jews their right, Christians their right, Muslims their right.  Particularly in Nigeria where we have lived together as neighbours, Christians and Muslims, for more than 1000 years, somebody now wakes up and say he wants to wage war against Christians. What is the rational for that?


Newswatch: What does Jihad mean?

Adegbite: Jihad means struggle. Struggle against a particular thing that you do not believe should exist. It includes even struggling against your own self. The best Jihad is the Jihad against your own self so that you could be better, to make you a good man.   But people have mistakenly said that opposite of crusade is Jihad. That is not true.


Newswatch: There are reports that the Boko Haram group has been influenced by the teachings of a 13th century Islamic cleric referred to as Ibn Taymiyya. His doctrine of Islam is strict adherence to the Koran. The feeling is that in the understanding of the Boko Haram, conversion of non Muslim  could be realised through violence?

Adegbite: In Chapter 2 vs 256 of the Qur’an, it is stated that there is no compulsion in religion. (Picks up a copy of the Koran.} Many of these people just read their Qur’an upside down. {Reads from the Koran.} Surat Al Baqarah chapter two of the Qur’an: “Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out, clear from error. Whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah has as grasp the most trustworthy hole that never breaks. And Allah hearest and knowest all things.” So you cannot compel somebody. Even what Allah told the prophet, the highest personality in Islam, that I have only sent you to mankind to warn them. I have not made you judge over them. Just warn them and live them with me. It will be between me and them on the Day of Judgement.


Newswatch: Some Christians are saying that they are running out of patience. There was a new dimension when Christians took to reprisal on June 17.

Adegbite:  Reprisals are illogical, totally illogical. If you say that a Muslim has killed your fellow Christian and you come and kill me, what have I done to you? I may be your best friend. I may be your relation. Such indiscriminate reaction is totally meaningless. I think what we all should to do is to sit down and look for a way of stopping it. 


Newswatch: What method would you recommend?

Adegbite: We must press government to deal with Boko Haram very swiftly and flush them out. Secondly, we also as neighbours of these Boko Haram people should point them out and let the authorities know where they are. Security matter is a joint venture, it’s a partnership. It concerns the government as it concerns all of us. I want to appeal to our Christian brothers that they should be patient. This is not a war against Christians; it is a war against Nigerians. I call it civil mutiny against the Nigerian people. We are as much concerned as they are. This is a very sad experience.  We will all be praying that this cup, this cup of sorrow, of grief, of blood, that Allah should take it off our head and that peace will be restored as quickly as possible. 


Newswatch: Some people are suggesting amnesty programme for Boko Haram militants.

Adegbite: All methods we have, we should use. We should use incentives to attract the moderate ones back to the fold of Nigeria. And even if it means giving them money to start business, why not? Some two years ago, we all hated the Niger Delta militants. But because we devised an amnesty, reformed them and absorbed them into Nigeria, we now have relative peace and quiet.  Those who say you don’t dialogue with criminals don’t understand all wars end on the round table. You must still have to come and negotiate. Let’s listen to their grievances, let them list their grievance. Those the government can meet now, they say so, those they can meet later, they say so.  Those who are extremists would have been reduced by number. It will be easy to capture them and deal with them.  


Newswatch: Some people reacted to your view on America labelling some leaders of the group as terrorist.

Adegbite: I never said they are terrorists. I supported that those that have been captured as terrorist should be dealt with. What I was opposed to is what I call prematurely classifying them as a terrorist group. When you classify them as terrorist group, you begin to say they are a group. Any Nigerian you see like me with my beards {point at his beards], they may think that I’m Boko Haram and start harassing me or any other Nigerian. Indiscriminate harassment that is what I am concerned about. They are technologically powerful. They can send anything to attack what they call a Boko Haram target.  Innocent Nigerians may be killed because they are faceless and live among civilians. Moreover, it will compromise Nigeria’s sovereignty.


Newswatch: There are people who have come up with this conspiracy theory that Boko Haram may just be a force against a Christian President Jonathan.

Adegbite: I don’t know. I don’t have access into their inner minds. Do they need to go to this extent if they want to oppose Jonathan? I mean they have taken extremist role if that is the case. Why should they torment the whole Nigerian people because they are not happy with a leader?


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