I would like to appreciate the organizers of this programme for the honour bestowed on me to chair this august occasion – the 25th University of Lagos Muslim Alumni (UMA) Annual Pre-Ramadhan Lecture. I congratulate all Muslims and Unilag Muslim Alumni in advance on the blessings of Ramadan.
As a Muslim alumni of UNILAG, I am indeed very happy that there are strong Muslim associations for students and alumni alike. They are critical communities to keep us grounded in our faith and a reminder of our obligations to Allah, our fellow men and women and the rest of creation.
I shall remain grateful for the opportunity UNILAG has given me. I recall with nostalgia that the Jumat Mosque we left here as our set exited in 1978, was neither a tenth nor as big or as beautiful and magnificent as the one we have now. Alhamdulillah!
Today’s topic, Managing Diversity: Wither the Muslims? Is a subject of grave spiritual importance and one that demands intellectual rigour and a deep understanding of tolerance in the face of diversity and differences.
In light of recent violent killings at places where God is worshipped from the Synagogue in Pittsburgh America to the Mosque in Christchurch New Zealand to the churches and hotels of Sri Lanka, intolerance and the ignorance are a twin disease that could wipe out the real essence of humanity in us if we do not take heed of the words of Allah – our creator.
Allah’s dominion over a plurality of the world and diversity in creation is the first substantive truth we learn in the Qur’an and in Suratul Hujrat, Allah said explicitly: “O mankind, indeed we have created you from male and female, and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is knowing and acquainted.”
Allah has created multitudes where each individual or creature or phenomenon is unique in and of itself. It is this same diversity we mean when we say Nigeria is a multiethnic nation.
The earth is populated by a beautifully diverse array of disciplines and human endeavors including, law, medicine, nursing, engineering, Political Science, Sociology and a host of others that see the world from a different perspective. This is what university education taught us – to fit into the world which Allah has created with inherent diversity.
Unfortunately, we engage in the negativity of intolerance in diversity, hence we have Xenophobia, ethnic and religious chauvinism, which is often wrapped around religion to justify these evil and un-Islamic positions. We all know that negative theological impulses emphasize mostly on what you can’t do or shouldn’t do rather than what you should love to do for Allah and for your fellow man for a mutually beneficial co-existence. These negative and exclusive impulses are not inherent to Islamic traditions as some scholars with a narrow perspective of the world will rather make us believe.
Hate and extremism, therefore, is not intrinsic to Islam and was never a part of our spiritual DNA. If we are to promote diversity, we must chain this beast called extremism.
In Nigeria, thousands have lost their lives to mindless nihilistic violence perpetrated by Boko Haram, who are simple bandits parading themselves to be Muslims. Again in another clime -The white supremacist zealot-Brenton Tarrant shocked the world when he gunned down 50 Muslims from diverse backgrounds and countries in cold blood as they prayed in Mosques in New Zealand just a few weeks ago, and about 25 years before Tarrant went on his rampage, in the very year this Ramadan lecture started, one Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish zealot, gunned down Palestinian Muslim worshippers killing 29 and wounding 125 on February 25th, 1994.
We must therefore call out governments engaged in discriminatory policies that promote extremism as we call out extremists engaged in violence. I am a Governor today of the State Of Osun, ruling over Millions of Muslims, Christians and traditional worshippers. I owe them all fairness, justice without discrimination while affirming the diversity that Allah the creator of the world has entrenched within his creations.
We should note today that we Muslims are well placed to lead change against such noxious perceptions.
How can we do this?
This is what I believe the wisdom and enlightenment of today’s speakers shall help us clarify.
I wish to conclude this remark with the beautiful lessons from the life of the revered scholar of Islam Imam Shaafi (one of the four Imams) on the ethics of disagreement which diversity often presents:
“Whilst sitting in Imam Shaafi’s class one day, his student, Yunus, differed strongly with him on an issue so much so that he got so angry that he left the class and went home. That same night, Yunus heard a knock on his door and asked who it was. The one knocking answered, “I am Muhammad Ibn Idris!”
Yunus thought of everyone who he knew by that name except the Imam. Upon opening the door, he was shocked to see Imam Shaafi who he was angry with earlier in the day.
I want you all to listen to the words of the imam and I quote:
“O Yunus! Hundreds of issues unite us, and only one issue divide us. Don’t try to be triumphant in all differences; sometimes, winning hearts is more important than winning situations. Don’t demolish bridges you built and crossed, for you may need them again one day for your return. Always hate what is wrong, but do not hate the one who makes the error.
Hate sin with all your heart, but forgive and have mercy on the sinner. Criticize speech, but respect the speaker because our job is to wipe out the disease, not the patient.”
This is truly one of the best pieces of advice in diversity I have ever read because it is so easy to lose our sense of decorum. It is so easy to burn the bridges and it is so easy to hate others or even take vengeance.
But where does that get us?
It only makes us bitter, empty and anti-human, which is not the essence of our creation!
I must at this juncture express assurances that our able speakers are equal to the task of informing us regarding how Muslims have fared under existential diversities and how they have been able to manage emergencies consequent upon the divergences locally, I mean within Nigeria, territorially and globally.
I beseech Allah to enable us to reap the benefits of this lecture here in this world and the hereafter. I wish you all a blessed Ramadan in advance.
Wa salaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh!