“Verily, those who insult Allah and His Messenger, Allah has cursed them in this world, and in the Hereafter, and has prepared for them a humiliating torment.
Accursed, they will be seized wherever found and slain with a fierce slaughter”
If you were shocked seeing images from a viral video showing the cold blooded murder of late Miss Deborah Yakuku, a 200L student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto who was stoned to death and thereafter set alight for what her killers called “blasphemy” against the Prophet of Islam, the ongoing protests in Sokoto by youths of the city, asking the release of two suspected killers in police custody and the various justification of the killing by even highly placed Nigerian Muslims, calls for serious worry.
After watching that video, I asked myself a few questions;
What exactly was Deborah’s offence? Someone mentioned in a Facebook post that her opening word were “Ba(bu) abunda zai fary da mu”, meaning “Nothing will happen to us”. As is apparent from that sentence, what threat was she reacting to? We know of the tensions common between members of both faiths in that region, did someone insult her faith first, for which she felt obliged to react in such a way her killers considered blasphemy? Her viral Voice Note suggests she was clearly angry that some course mates were spamming the class WhatsApp group chat with messages outside the purpose of setting it up, isn’t that normal with many chat group admins? Deborah was a northerner like her killers, yet they killed her anyway, for an offence they say she committed against an Arab, will we ever witness a situation in which Arabs will set a fellow Arab ablaze because she “insulted” Sango or Queen Amina?
Following the incident, a number of people have insisted that Islam or it’s Prophet do not support the killing of those considered to have blasphemed. I believe such people are either ignorant of the religion, or are being politically correct or better yet are out rightly mischievous!
Under the Islamic Sharia, those who insult Muhammad or Allah are to be executed. So are those who desecrate the Quran or commit other acts considered blasphemy by followers of the religion. This tradition began with Muhammad himself, as recorded in the Hadith and by his biographers. What happened in Sokoto is perfectly in line with Islamic teachings, the only alteration is that those college students took the law into their hands. And you will be shocked to know the number of highly placed Muslim faithful, many of them closeted fanatics, even in the so called moderate south western part of Nigeria, who support those killers, and that’s why eventually they may be set loose!
Apart from the verses I quoted in the outset of this piece, countless more, the hadiths, Sunna and even history, are filled with examples of how the Islamic Prophet himself treated those who insulted him. For example, Sahih Bukhari in chapter 59:369 recounts the murder of one Ka’b bin al-Ashraf, a Jewish poet who wrote verses about Muslims that Muhammad found insulting. In response the Islamic prophet asked his followers, ‘Who will rid me of this man?’ and several of them volunteered. al-Ashraf was stabbed to death while fighting for his life…history is full with killings of this nature, including even that of an old woman!
What happened to Deborah is not new, it’s been happening and will continue to happen, if the leaders of the religion do not reflect deeply on what they teach their followers and think of ways of reforming the religion!
On June 2, 2016 for example, one Bridget Agbahime, a kitchen utensil vendor at Wambai market in Kano politely asked one Mr. Dauda to move his ritual Islamic cleaning from the front of her shop. For this, she was accused of blasphemy and summarily wasted. Her killers where later set free by court, as requested by the State’s Attorney-general.
In 2016, one madam Eunice Elisha Olawale, an early morning preacher said to be the wife of a Redeemed Christian Church of God pastor, was slaughtered and later found in the pool of her own blood in the early hours of the morning, as she went preaching her message. Her killers were also freed by the police.
In 2007, in Gombe state, one Mrs Christiana Oluwasesin was lynched by Islamists, dragged, stoned, and stabbed to death, her body was also set ablaze because her killers believe she didn’t deserve a befitting burial, after a female student in the school she was teaching accused her of touching the Quran during an examination she was invigilating. Investigation would later prove she was innocent. Even though her killers were arrested during the uproar, and even confessed to killing her, they were later set free. As I type, there is still no Justice for her.
These were women with families, loved ones, and their stories represents an infinitesimal example of the number of people who have been wasted over the years on accusation of blasphemy.
If these crimes were perpetrated by ordinary Muslims, as we have seen from the justification of Deborah’s killing, even top ranking Muslims and public figures like the current governor of Kaduna state have variously shown a certain disrespect for the sensitivity of Christians that will not be tolerated by Muslims, a further proof that religious intolerance travels in one direction in Nigeria.
For example, in 2014, the governor tweeted: “if Jesus criticizes Jonathan’s government, Maku, Abati or Okupe will say that he slept with Mary Magdalene”. That tweet angered many Christians, and in response, the Christian Association of Nigeria CAN, while praising the “maturity and dignified restraint of the Christian populace, in the face of inflammatory and provocative statements…” advised them not to “…allow him to turn Nigeria into a cauldron of fire by his reckless, bigoted and twisted commentaries about our Lord or our faith…” Imagine if it was a southern Christian governor who said “Even if Mohammad criticizes Buhari, Femi and Garbar would say he slept with Ayesha…” what would the response be? A few examples would give you an answer.
In 2001, Nigeria’s Agbani Dariego won the Miss World contest. The international body then decided to move the 2002 pageant to Nigeria. During preparations for the occasion, a journalist by the name Isioma Daniel, in a bid to show the wide acceptance that she hoped the competition should enjoy, wrote that the contestants were so beautiful even the Islamic Prophet would probably have chosen a wife from one of them.
A bloody riot ensued in this same Kaduna where El Rufai currently presides, and claimed over 200 lives. As I write, none of the perpetrators of those killings have been prosecuted.
Even though ThisDay newspaper, inundated with telephone calls from furious Muslims, blamed, stripped the writer of all her responsibilities, published a retraction on its front page and apologized for her infraction”, the Muslims did not stop the riots and killings. In fact, ThisDay office in Kaduna was sacked and burned to the ground by “four busloads” of Muslims.
They later attacked where the Christians live, among the slaughtered were two Muslims students who fiercely denied being Christians, but were killed by accident simply because they were wearing T-shirts rather than traditional Islamic clothing!
Daniel fled to neighbouring Benin Republic. Despite all her travail, Islamic clerics from Zamfara State Nigeria, issued a fatwa against her “for insulting the prophet” and the deputy governor Mr Shinkafi declared: “Like Salman Rushdie, the blood of Isioma Daniel can be shed. It is binding on all Muslims wherever they are to consider the killing of the writer as a religious duty.”
A point worthy of note is that, when non-Muslims say or do things that Muslims consider offensive, (remember the Danish cartoonists?) Muslims won’t give thought to whether the ‘culprit’ was Christian or not, they’d just assume they were and begin to kill Christians and burn churches. That is why many Nigerians are yet to understand the one-sided nature of religious bigotry and persecution in Nigeria in particular and in the world in general.
Countless examples like Daniel’s story throw up the question of why Muslims, call them extremists if you like, are so intolerant of non-Muslims and their feelings? It’s ok for example, to insult Jesus and Christianity, in fact, everyday; we see slurs and derisive comments come from Islamic quarters, but it not ok for Christians/non-Muslims to even belch a word ‘against’ Islam even in their bedrooms, even if it were in exercise of their fundamental right to free speech.
Sadly, the entire Muslim world not to talk of the Nigerian ummah, is in total turmoil to answer this question how much more to proffer a solution.
Of course there will always be an exception to all these, but the truth is, Muslims tend to see themselves as superior to other human beings, even to the hosts in lands they are strangers, and this, to a large extent, explains their disrespect and intolerance, except we want to deny the obvious.
It is time for the Nigerian government to form some type of national cohesion among the nationalities and religions, and it is also time for the Islamic leadership to rein in their followers, through teaching of love and reforms, and we must stop putting politics before everything else, including welfare of citizens. The government must also stop portraying the image of themselves as favouring one religion or ethnic group over others and prosecute criminals. The Nigerian Constitution recognizes Nigeria as a secular state and so must be supreme to other bodies of laws, rather than we allowing religion to undermine its power.
God bless Nigeria.
Albert Afeso Akanbi is a writer, filmmaker & humanitarian. He has five books, a number of short stories, documentaries and countless op-ed articles to his credit. He writes from Abuja, the FCT, Nigeria.