The Chief Missioner of the Nasrul-Lahi-l-Fatih, Imam Abdul-Azeez Onike, talks on the issues surrounding the killing of Deborah Samuel, a student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, by a mob over alleged blasphemy
What is your reaction to the killing of Deborah, the Shehu Shagari College of Education student over alleged blasphemy?
Islam, as a religion, does not support meting out extrajudicial punishment to anybody. There is a process and that process is taking the person to a law court if the person has erred, made a mistake, or committed an offence, and it is only an authorised judge certified by the state who can pronounce the person guilty or not. There is a provision in Islam that says that an accused is presumed innocent until it is proved otherwise. Our principle also says that it is better to allow an offender to go scot-free than to punish an innocent person. It shows the thorough exercise that a Muslim goes through if they want to mete out punishment or give a ruling on any accused person.
In my reaction (to Deborah’s killing) published earlier, I said that our prophet would have reacted differently if he were alive, because somebody urinated in the mosque, and instead of him being mobbed or attacked, the prophet told his companions to allow him to finish urinating and instructed that water should be sprinkled on his urine. We are not talking about religion here. We are talking about jungle justice. The Aluu killing is condemnable; the burning and killing of some (suspected) robbers in Lagos is condemnable; the killing of some northern Muslim when they were coming from Bauchi is condemnable. Every killing is condemnable because Qur’an 5:32 says whoever takes a soul has taken the soul of the entire mankind.
The objective of our religion is to protect life, intellect and family, and so many clauses are put in motion to ensure that life remains sacred. I quoted Qur’an 5:32 to show the gravity of killing someone without having the right to do so. If you are a judge and an accused person is brought before you for trial and you find the person guilty, you are free to pronounce the death sentence; but if you take the law into your hands, no matter the provocation or grievance, it is like killing the entire mankind.
If you look at Qur’an 2:178-179, the sacredness of life can be confirmed by the existence of severe punishment for whoever takes another person’s life. There are three aspects of Sharia law: the penal one that has been designed by Allah; retribution; and the one left to the discretion of a judge. Every action performed by a Muslim falls under these three. There are punishments for manslaughter, homicide and murder. Jungle justice and extrajudicial killing are not part of our ways. If you look at Qur’an 4:92, there is something called money for injury or taking a life. If somebody sustains an injury through you and they don’t want to forgive you, the judge can rule that you must pay them or their family.
Some people in support of the killing claim it is according to a certain precept that prescribes death for anyone who blasphemes Prophet Muhammed. What is your take on this?
No. Whoever wages a war against Allah and the prophet should be taken before a judge to defend themselves. If someone speaks against Allah or his prophet, the next thing the people there should do is to take that person before a law court. Our religion forbids us from abusing other people’s God.
When incidents like the one in Sokoto happen, religious fanaticism becomes an issue. How can people draw the line between religious fanaticism and the practice of Islam?
This thing has nothing to do with religion. When the killing in Aluu (Rivers State) happened, why did people not link it to religion? Some people can go the extra mile to commit a crime; forget about their religion. Why was the burning to death of some suspected robbers through jungle justice in Lagos a few months ago not linked to religion? Adolf Hitler was a Roman Catholic. Nobody linked his action to his religion. Somebody who has stolen should be called a thief. Somebody who has taken a life should be called a murderer. Religion should not be brought into it at all. Why are people saying our religion is fanatical?
We have a lot of Christians and non-Muslims living in the Middle East and have not been attacked. In Saudi Arabia, the country with the highest number of Muslims, no war has been fought there. If someone is using religion to justify their dastardly act, they cannot be said to be talking on behalf of our creator. A person can speak to the text instead of allowing the text to speak to them. They can pick any scripture and use the text to suit their whims and caprices, and their thoughts.
Some Nigerians have criticised Islamic leaders for not speaking strongly against taking the law into one’s own hands in the name of religion. Do you agree with that?
They are being unfair to religious scholars. Corruption is rampant in the land. Killing is rampant in the land. Internet fraud is rampant in the land. Does it mean that the scholars have not been speaking against those acts? There have been merciless killings all over and they even have to do with religion at times; they are tribal. We have been speaking against it. Every group, community or religion has its own bad eggs. I have been preaching. I sent out my reaction (to the killing in Sokoto) yesterday (Friday) and it was carried by most of the renowned newspapers in Nigeria. What else do they expect from religious leaders?
If anarchy is allowed, anybody can carry out a lawless act and justify it by making reference to what is happening in Sokoto, what has happened on the Bauchi-Jos Road and by making reference to the slaughtering of cows said to belong to herders of northern extraction in the South-East about two or three weeks ago. All these acts of taking the law into one’s own hands are condemned by Islam; that is what I am saying. I am not even taking Deborah’s killing in isolation. Acts of lawlessness, including Deborah’s killing, are condemned by our religion.
Speaking of anarchy, do you think Nigerian laws are being enforced to prevent people from taking such actions and do you think political leaders have a role to play?
Not only political leaders, our justice system needs to be overhauled. If I commit an offence and have enough money to spend, I will get the services of a lawyer who will go to court to defend me. But if we are to apply our Qur’anic and Sharia laws, no lawyer from an Islamic background will say they want to defend a person who has confessed to be a thief. There is morality in law when you talk about Islamic law. Somebody told me there is no morality in law, but I told them that in Islam, there is morality in law. People steal money, hire the services of a lawyer and if that lawyer is a good one, they can get judgment in their favour and at the end of the day, the government will tell them to pay some of the money they had stolen and they are let go.
When we are serious with our justice system, when a person commits an offence and people see that the person is punished, it will serve as a deterrent to others. But when a man, who committed an offence, walks freely on the street, that will embolden others to commit crimes. You cannot try that in the UK and the US because the arms of the law will catch up with you. But here, people get released without serving punishments for the offences they committed.
Some youths were seen in a viral video of the killing of Deborah boasting about the act. Should this be part of what security agencies should consider and work with as evidence?
It is left for them to do their work. If somebody says they were involved in a crime and security agencies are looking the other way, that is what they have chosen to do. What else do they need? In Islam, if you confess to an offence, it has to be established that you are sane. Islam is not about punishment; it is about deterrence. If somebody has come out to say they are one of the perpetrators of the act and that person has not been invited to tell their own side of the story, that is very unfortunate.
Some political leaders have been criticised for not condemning the killing. Do you think they are shying away from this because of their political ambitions?
I am not a political leader; I am a religious leader. If a religious leader had been accused of doing that, I would have known what to say. Whatever a political leader does, I don’t want to comment on it. A politician can even deny making a statement.
As a religious leader, what will you tell Christians who are currently hurt by the Sokoto incident?
Two wrongs cannot make a right. Muslims have experienced a lot of injustice from the other side too and they did not take the laws into their hands. I don’t want people to think that because it happened in the North, it is related to Islam. Our religious leader, the Sultan of Sokoto, has commented on that and his statement should be trusted as he has condemned the action. Even Bishop (Matthew) Kukah said that those who committed the act were criminals and should not be linked to religion. Those who have made comments to support the killing are anonymous.
Nigeria is currently faced with challenges of insecurity and division. Do you think religious leaders are doing enough to educate their followers on the need to embrace peace?
The Nasrul-Lahi-l-Fatih society has been organising seminars and conferences on voter education, the need for peaceful elections, the need for tolerance and the need for peaceful existence, and the need for mutual understanding among people of different faiths. That is the course of NASFAT; our mission is to enlighten and develop the Muslim society nurtured by the true understanding of Islam for the social development and welfare of mankind. We continue to educate our members and you will not see a NASFAT member engaging in this kind of thing. That is what we do as a society and we will continue to do it and it is making an impact. We have made our mark in the last 27 years. We are known to be sincere and supportive of government policies and promoters of social welfare. I can only speak for NASFAT. If you know of any religious leader who is using his office to fan the ember of discord, leave them to their creator.
What will you advise the family of the deceased student to do at this time?
I want them to know that Nigerians condemn the unfortunate incident and we want them to take consolation that God gives life and God takes life, and I pray that God will console them.