Chapter Five from the African Caliphate – Inviting to All that is Good

image.pngChapter Five from the African Caliphate – Inviting to All that is Good 

by Ibraheem Suaiman

The most fundamental duty of a mujaddid or indeed any upright scholar is to call his people to the way of Allah or to enjoin the right and forbid the wrong. For reasons of convenience, we shall refer to it as amr wa nahy (command and prohibition) or simply, the call. Our discussion in this chapter centers on three issues: the philosophy of the call as seen by the Shehu himself, the preparation of the callers and the methodology of the call as articulated by ʿAbdullahi.

Philosophy of the Call

Our main reference for the philosophy of amr wa nahy is Shehu Usman’s short treatise entitled al-Amr bi-l-Maʿruuf wa-n-Nahy ani-l-Munkar, to which we shall refer as al-Amr. The Shehu dealt with three broad matters in this treatise: firstly, he looked at the call as a historical, social necessity, particularly at a time of social decay; secondly, he proposed basic guidelines for discharging this duty; finally, he tackled the issue of armed confrontation as it relates to a movement in the initial phase of the process of reviving Islam.

The duty to call arises as a moral and social response to the prevailing situation of decline, and it is fundamentally a function of the learned and the upright. The duty is necessitated by the very phenomenon of decline itself for, if we agree that there can be no vacuum in the history of a given society, then we may presume that one social order begins its growth precisely at a stage when the prevailing one that has been overwhelmed by spiritual and social diseases, is drifting into disintegration. The new social order has two qualities to its advantage: a deeper and more profound perception of human society as well as the ability to act justly, by virtue of its moral superiority. These two qualities distinguish it from the disintegrating prevailing order, which is characterized by an ominous blindness to the course of its own history and an addiction to social, moral and political excesses.

If the call is a historical imperative, it goes without saying, that the initiation of the process of call is justified by the very existence of social decay. There is no need for additional justification. That is to say, a scholar must call people to Islam even if their response is negative or hostile. The nature of people’s response should not be a determining factor in the discharge of this supremely important duty. A scholar should undertake this duty, because it is a duty he owes to Allah – a duty for which there is no alternative in a period of social decay, and because a scholar has a responsibility to society, which is to steer it in the course of regeneration when decline has manifested itself. This presupposes a fundamental principle of historical movement. Human society can always steer itself upwards, even at a stage when all hope might have been lost.

Hope, not pessimism, should be the scholar’s approach to transformation, but even if hope, in the scholar’s estimate, is lost, he must nonetheless go on with his duty of calling people to Islam for the simple reason that Allah’s ultimate judgment on his society is sure to come. We have already noted three elements in society: the symbols of oppression and evil, the victims, that is the mass of people, and those who strive for justice. The last group have two goals before them: either to effect a total transformation of their society to save it from impending collapse or alternatively, to secure their own safety from Allah’s ultimate judgment.

The call is necessary, the Shehu wrote, because Allah made it an obligatory duty on Muslims when He said, “Let there arise out of you a community of people who invite unto all that is good, and enjoin the doing of what is right, and forbid the doing of what is wrong.”‘ Equally, it is, according to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم), the only sure way by which a Muslim society can ensure its enhancement and survival as a social and ideological entity, a fact attested to by the history of Islam itself.

Calling people to Islam is, therefore, a means by which the Muslim society is ensured of its continued existence, for by subjecting itself persistently to critical self-examination in which everyone is involved in his own way, the Muslim society is most likely to bring itself back on course as soon as it strays. To that end, almost every individual has a role to play. This role, the Shehu wrote, consists of reminding people of those laws of Allah which most people know about, or with which they are supposed to be familiar, but in essence, the greater responsibility for this duty rests squarely on those the Shehu called ahlu-l-ijtihaad, that is, those who represent the conscience of society and mould its opinion.

A fundamental problem, however, arises here. Any scholar is well aware of two apparently contradictory sets of injunctions in respect of amr wa nahy. The first relates to a condemnation of those who enjoin others to good deeds while they themselves do not perform those deeds. Allah says in this respect, “Do you bid other people to be pious, the while you forget your own selves?” Quoting the Prophet Shuʿayb (Allah’s peace be upon him), He says, “I have no desire to do, out of opposition to you, what I am asking you not to do.”‘ The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) indicated that these scholars would suffer punishment on the Day of Judgment.

On the other hand the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) also commanded, Ibn al-Hajj is quoted as saying in al-Amr, “those who were present to communicate what he had said to those who were absent.” The absentees might take it to heart more than those who had heard it directly.” He also said that, “whoever concealed his knowledge in a period of social and moral decline was like one who contended with what Allah had revealed.” Ibn al-Hajj then added: “Allah has indeed taken a pledge from the learned men that they would teach (His message to others) and a pledge from the ignorant that they would learn.” In other words, while there is a definite condemnation of those who preach without doing exactly what they preach, there is also a definite condemnation of those who maintain silence in the face of social degeneration when the actual need is to speak out.

How are these two contradictory positions to be reconciled? The Shehu, obviously conscious of his society, said boldly:

“The duty to enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil is not confined only to the pious who does not perpetrate the same acts which he forbids, the duty devolves also on one who perpetrates acts similar to what he forbids, because his refraining from sinful acts and his prohibiting of evil are two distinct obligations, so it is not proper for one who defaults in respect of the one to abandon the other.”

He decided that to perpetrate acts which one asks others not to do is indeed a sin, but to be silent in the face of corruption, decay and prevalent ignorance is a greater sin; and since no one, other than a prophet, is morally perfect, one is bound to sin by abandoning one obligation or the other. It is safer therefore, for one to take one moral risk in the face of necessity, which is to speak and teach in an atmosphere of prevalent corruption, than to take the greater risk of remaining silent with the untenable excuse that one is likely to succumb to the same sins against which one rails. In other words, the guiding principle in the face of that moral dilemma is: ‘the perpetration of one evil is of lesser consequence than the perpetration of two evils’.

Shehu’s intention, most likely, was to disarm the scholars of his time who maintained an embarrassing silence in a climate of political oppression, moral excesses and prevalent ignorance on the pretext that it was not safe for one to speak if one was likely to commit the same sins oneself. In addition, he called the attention of these scholars to the fundamental historical fact that what had caused the downfall of earlier generations was their persistent inclination to reprehensible and evil customs which they had inherited from their ancestors. By maintaining silence, the scholars were, by implication, contributing to the systematic drift of society towards its destruction.

If a scholar is to wait until he is morally perfect before he embarks on his duty to call, he may ultimately be overtaken by the forces of decay, while his hopes for perfection will elude him. It is impossible for a person living in a corrupt society not to be affected in some way, so the fact that even the most honorable elements in society exhibit certain moral failings should not be an excuse to refuse to undertake the urgent task of social transformation, but as a natural consequence of general decline. In any case, it is impossible for an individual to reach a very high level of piety on his own when the society is corrupt and depraved. Amr wa nahy in this situation will have the effect of raising both the individual and society to a higher level of social discipline and consciousness of Allah.

If amr wa nahy is an absolute necessity, what then are the rules governing its implementation? The injunction of Allah in this respect is this: “Make due allowance for man’s nature and enjoin the doing of what is right and leave alone those who choose to remain ignorant.” The key phrase here is ‘make due allowance for man’s nature’. It means that in the effort to transform society, elemental human weakness must not be overlooked, for such a course of action would not only defeat the very purpose of tajdiid, but would also have the effect of crushing human nature itself. Since no society declines overnight, the process of regeneration is as slow as, if not slower than the process of decay itself.

We have already noted that the cure for degeneration is the moral and intellectual elevation of society. To raise a person to full moral consciousness involves recognition of his moral weakness from the start. Similarly, to make an ignorant person learned, the fact of his ignorance should be accepted from the beginning. The effort to develop him morally and intellectually would then be easier and more feasible. Therefore, the task should be undertaken on the premise that people are to be lifted from moral and intellectual weakness to a higher level of consciousness and, as in physical growth, the process involves considerable time and strain, in fact, it is a permanent and unending process. To be impatient with the failings of people is to miss the essence of tajdiid altogether. To insist that people’s attitudes should conform to the highest standards laid down by Islam in a faultless fashion, is not only to demand the impossible, but to close one’s eyes to the very nature of human society.

The objective of tajdiid is not to create a perfect society where everybody does the right thing at the right time. If that were so, then much of the law revealed by Allah, in which there are prohibitions and punishments, would be irrelevant. Tajdiid is essentially an effort to renew society’s faith in the Shariiʿah, whereby it acknowledges Islam’s social morality – its judgment about right and wrong – and subjects itself wholly to the rule of Shariiʿah. It rewards or punishes in accordance with the Shariiʿah and strives to preserve its character as a society submissive to the sublime law. What gives rise to amr wa nahy is not simply that individuals commit sins, or that society makes errors of omission or commission, or of judgment from time to time. Rather, the call is necessitated by a collective committal of the act of apostasy whereby a society subscribes substantially to a system of law other than the Shariiʿah, to a judgment in the sphere of social morality other than that of the Most Exalted, and to a set of values other than those of Islam.

Perfection is never ascribed in its absolute sense to human beings; and if no individual can be perfect, how can we expect a human society to be perfect? Man, as Allah himself has testified, has been created weak, and that inherent weakness remains with him forever; that weakness remains a fundamental characteristic of his society as well. tajdiid aims at increasing man’s positive qualities in such a way that the effects of his frailty are reduced to a minimum, to ingrain the desire for excellence into the psychology of his society and to raise his moral conscience to a level where he recognizes Allah alone as his Lord, his judge and his ultimate goal.

Thus, the very first rule of amr wa nahy is that people should not he subjected to unbearable moral pressures. It should be recognized that the success of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) in mobilizing and unifying people, was attributable partly to his dealing gently with them, ‘for’, Allah reminded him, ‘“f you had been harsh and hard of heart, they would indeed have broken away from you.”‘

Shehu Usman pointed out that in an effort to call people to Islam, the scholar should never condemn them for doing acts which are not expressly prohibited by the Qur’an and Sunnah, or by a consensus of the jurists. Similarly, he should not fault the people for failing to do acts which are not expressly made obligatory by the Qur’an and Sunnah, or by the consensus of jurists. He should not be quick to condemn the mass of Muslims, thus injuring their beliefs; nor bring forward a fatwaa invalidating their worship and transactions merely on the strength of the ruling of some jurists without any explicit ruling of the Qur’an or Sunnah to that effect, or by an agreement of the jurists. This is because it is as bad, or even worse, to repudiate what legally should not be repudiated, as it is to perpetrate acts one has prohibited. In other words, many of the moral failings of the people should be overlooked and amr wa nahy should be limited to those matters on which there are express rulings in the Qur’an and Sunnah, or which the jurists have agreed to be obligatory or prohibited.

A second rule concerns a very important problem in the duty of amr wa nahy: what should one do if, despite one’s efforts to transform people, one meets with little or no success? Shehu’s answer was that one should continue with one’s efforts: ‘The refusal of the people to do what he enjoins them to do or to abandon what he prohibits them from doing, does not constitute a justification (for the scholar) to abandon the amr and the nahy’. This is because, he said further, his duty is basically to remind the people of this obligation. If they heed, the aim is achieved and if not, he is nevertheless freed from blame before Allah.

Finally, we proceed to consider the nature of the call. Allah says in this regard:

“Call people unto the path of your Sustainer with wisdom and goodly exhortation. and argue with them in the most kindly manner, for, behold, your Sustainer knows best as to who strays from His path, and best knows He as to who are right-guided. Hence, if you have to respond to an attack, respond only to the extent of the attack leveled against you; but to bear yourselves with patience is indeed far better for those who are patient in adversity,”

Restraint, then, is the very essence of this duty. Rushing to achieve success through armed confrontation when one is in a position of weakness is ruled out as an Islamic strategy. The call is, therefore, fundamentally a peaceful process, and this peaceful stage should be prolonged for as long as possible. For the duty of the scholar is no more than to lay the truth bare and make it available to the people; whoever wishes may accept it, and whoever wishes may reject it. It is not for him to seek to impose the truth on an unwilling people. It is not possible and it is not desirable. As long as there exists the possibility, however little, of a peaceful dissemination of the truth, the scholar is obliged to utilize it. Even if that possibility is blocked, the next course of action is for the scholar to move to another area where he can continue his peaceful efforts.

Recourse to armed confrontation is allowed only when all the possibilities for a peaceful education of the people have been exhausted, and more appropriately, when one has mustered sufficient strength to confront the prevailing order. The point that is being stressed here is that the ultimate conflict between truth and falsehood is not a confrontation between individuals, rather it is a conflict between two orders, the order, who ideologically want to restore Islam back to its pure practice, on the one hand and the decadent, prevailing order on the other. It is necessary therefore, that the challenging order should first establish roots in the hearts of the people and in the social fabric of society before it ventures into a confrontation; otherwise, it will be swept away.

The Shehu attributed hasty recourse to armed confrontation to delusions (ghuruur), worldly intrigues (dasa is dunyawiyyah), satanic insinuations (nazghat ash-Shaytaan) and ambition and love of power (ḥubb ar-ri’asah). The Shehu gave three examples of people ‘overwhelmed by Satanic insinuations’, one of whom was the well-known ʿAbdul Mahalli who rose in revolt against the Moroccan establishment in about 1610 A.D. and succeeded in expelling Zaidan, one of its rulers, from Marrakush. ʿAbdul Mahalli claimed to be a mahdi, and the rule he established lasted for merely two years before it was terminated. He was killed, his head hung in the open market, and his power annihilated. Zaidan returned to power. ʿAbdul Mahalli’s exploits were seen by Muslims largely as Allah’s vengeance on Morocco, and not as a tajdiid, his Islamic pretensions notwithstanding.

Several others met with similar fate. As far as the Shehu was concerned, the apparent piety of such people was irrelevant as long as they were not ready to follow the correct procedure in calling to the way of Allah. It is significant that he likened the popular appeal they commanded to the sway which Pharaoh held over his people, for he used the same term with which Allah described Pharaoh’s apparent popularity: “He made fools of his people and they obeyed him.”‘ To incite people to armed confrontation without first establishing a concrete power-base, could be construed by the ‘revolutionaries’ as the right path, but in reality such exploits are wrong because they lead invariably to unnecessary disorder, corruption and death.

The fact remains that there is no alternative to exhortation and persuasion in calling the people to the way of Allah. His command was that people should be called with wisdom (hikmah) and good exhortation. That requires a depth of understanding of the issues and a profound knowledge of Islam. The prophets had access to wisdom and knowledge because, in addition to the revelations they received and their intimate association with the angels, Allah gave them insight into the workings of the universe. The scholar has no such advantages. He has to acquire his knowledge himself which involves great effort over a considerable length of time. He also has to lead others through the same experience. He has to develop a personality which commands respect, awe and confidence. To sidetrack these essential steps and act like Pharaoh means that one is seeking something different from a genuine transformation of society. If tajdiid were merely a matter of political revolutions or change of leadership, then there are quicker ways than the recourse to the Qur’an and Sunnah, but tajdiid is the transformation of the heart, of human disposition and of the destiny of man itself which clearly transcends the attainment of political power. To believe that a quick political ascendancy is all that Islam is about, is to cast a vulgar look at a sublime system. What Islam wants is an enduring transformation, which cannot be realized by a social hurricane which brings destruction and consumes even what it claims to rectify.

Tajdiid, the Shehu seemed to imply, rests with the scholar who is patient enough to establish the roots of faith, Islam and Iḥsaan firmly in society and who, in addition, has a well-grounded and profound knowledge of the sciences of religion. His cause, in the final analysis, is to establish the good and rule by it, to aid the truth and the people of truth and to demolish the edifice of falsehood. Once Muslims have found such a person, they are obliged to support him and fight with him to overthrow an un-Islamic and tyrannical order.

The Callers 

If the call is the most important way to transform society, then it is vital to raise people of the right caliber to assist in the accomplishment of that task. The process of social transformation may fail if the wrong people disseminate its message, or indeed, if the message itself is misrepresented or distorted by those who transmit it. The Shehu tackled this important issue in his Iʿdaad ad-daaʿi ilaa diinu-l-laah  and also to a large extent in his ʿUmdaat al-ʿUlamaa’.

In Iʿdaad the Shehu reiterated the importance of amr, and stated further that this duty devolves almost entirely on scholars. By implication, therefore, anyone who is to be involved in this task must first be trained properly, but perhaps due to the dearth of scholars, once a person had received a minimum education for calling people to Islam, he became a scholar, at least for the purpose of the Jamaaʿah. Because he had got ‘a share of knowledge’ as the Shehu stated, it was incumbent on him not to keep silent in these times. He was then sent out to teach, preach and call to Islam.

What was the minimum education needed for a person to qualify as a caller or daaʿin? We can only answer by inference, relying on the contents of ʿUmdaat al-ʿUlamaa and Iʿdaad. The former was written to provide the callers with the relevant verses of the Qur’an and ḥadiiths on subjects they were to teach people. In broad terms, these subjects were: firstly, uṣuul ad-diin, which embraces the unity of Allah, His attributes, the belief in the messengers and their attributes, belief in the angels, the books, qadr and the Day of Judgment, and several matters pertaining to it; secondly, Fiqh, which embraces the other four pillars of Islam, ṣalaat, zakaat, ṣawm and haij and then fundamental matters of life, such as marriage, business transactions and related issues; thirdly, Iḥsaan, which embraces all matters relating to the development of character and the spiritual purification of oneself. By providing the relevant texts of the Qur’an and ḥadiith, the Shehu might have had three aims in mind: to establish the supremacy of the Qur’an and Sunnah in all these matters, such that, especially in taṣawwuf, one could develop spiritually without belonging to an order, and in fiqh, one could practice all that is required without necessarily belonging to a particular school; secondly, to unify the methods and themes of preaching in his movement. A third aim might have been to provide those who were not yet fully grounded in knowledge with a handy reference for their work.

The callers were told inIʿdaad that in uṣuul ad-diin they should teach the people about Allah, about the messengers, the angels, and the Day of Judgment. In Fiqh, they had to teach the people about purification, wuduu, tayammum, ṣalaat, and so on, as well as the laws pertaining to marriage and business dealings in general. In each of these, the Islamic rules should be categorized for them as to whether they were obligatory, forbidden or recommended. In Iḥsaan or taṣawwuf the people should be taught first what aspects of human behavior are offensive to Islam, and therefore, destructive to a person, such as self-glorification or self-justification, envy, unjustifiable anger, miserliness or nursing suspicion or rancor against a fellow Muslim. Then, they were to be taught what forms of behavior Islam had prescribed for Muslims, such as zuhd or abstinence, repentance, trust in Allah, entrusting affairs to Him, sincerity in worship.

Apart from these, the people should be made to appreciate the gravity of Allah’s punishment, as well as the degree of His mercy. For example, verses in the Qur’an which state that man has not been created in vain and that he will eventually be brought to judgment were to be quoted and explained. Similarly, verses which highlight Allah’s overflowing mercy, such as those which urge people not to despair of His mercy because ‘Allah forgives all sins’ (except associating partners with Him) and those which state that He has made mercy incumbent on Himself, could be explained to the people.

The Shehu then touched briefly in Iʿdaad on the ethics of public education, which is an important element in calling people to Islam. He urged his men to be lenient to people when they call them to Islam. Leniency here possibly means exercising patience with the people because of their roughness, or their low moral standards, or their ignorance. This, the Shehu indicated, was the practice of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم), which made it possible for him to hold people of divergent backgrounds and different moral levels together. Had he been harsh to them, they would have abandoned him completely. Further, people should not be addressed in person and criticisms should be in general terms and not directed at specific individuals or groups. While the callers had to be earnest and grave in their approach and countenance, they were not to create an atmosphere of despair and apprehension in the minds of their audience. A fine blend of ‘fear and hope’ was necessary to elicit a positive response. Lecture sessions must not be too long for the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) had advised that people were not to be overburdened or bored with too much preaching.

It may be asked why there was nothing ‘political’ in the matters which were addressed to the people. One can deduce several reasons for this. The Shehu might have felt that there was no need to antagonize the rulers at a stage when the Jamaaʿah had not grown strong, in which case the whole exercise could be brought to a premature end; or he might have believed that the essence of calling people was to effect their spiritual and moral transformation. Once this was achieved, their attitude to life, which incorporates politics, would change automatically. Thus, there was no need to jump to a stage which would be reached if the process of mass education was sustained. Alternatively, the Shehu might have felt that political education fell within the sphere of mudaarah and was best dealt with more subtly. He might have felt that to generate an uncontrollable, emotive political agitation would not ultimately be in the interests of Islam. It could be hijacked by forces of opportunism. It could also be deliberately misrepresented and crushed before it could take root.

Quite simply however, the Shehu might have felt that his fundamental role was to improve the moral and spiritual quality of the people, and raise their intellectual standard. If this effort led to political awareness, that was well and good, if not, his duty to call people to believe in Allah, obey His laws and be conscious of the Day of Judgment was nevertheless fulfilled. Or He may have also felt that he needed profound characters, not mere agitators, in his Jamaaʿah, consequently people should attach themselves first to Allah before fighting for His cause.

The Methodology of the Call

Shehu Usman’s Iʿdaad provided a faint hint to the methodology of calling people to Islam. Most probably, at the time it was written the Jamaaʿah had already been well established and the duty of amr wa nahy had advanced significantly. Similarly, his al-Amr, which we discussed at the beginning of this chapter might have been written at the time when the Jamaaʿah felt that it was strong enough to enter into armed confrontation with the powers-that-be in Hausaland, and the Shehu, who held a different opinion, felt the need to articulate the philosophy of the call, in order to impress on the minds of his people that the journey had in fact just begun. He ruled out armed confrontation and urged the intensification of the ideological, legal and moral education of the people.

Mass education was indeed the corner-stone of Shehu’s method of mass mobilization. His activities at this stage in the process of reviving Islam in Hausaland were aimed first at changing people’s attitude towards Allah, through the intensification of the ideological orientation in which Allah is conceived as the fundamental, ultimate theme in life, whose worship should be the sole object of one’s life. All avenues not leading to Allah, all roads towards false worship and false principles of life were systematically closed. The activities also aimed at turning people back to the Shariiʿah and its prescription for worship, social life and economic endeavor in general. They were also aimed at directing people’s social and moral behavior which would effect their own, and hence society’s, spiritual regeneration. For once society is reformed, it stirs into action, ready to transform itself socially and politically.

In this task the demand for more scholars rose constantly. The Shehu and his men could not cope with the surging membership of the Jamaaʿah, nor with the necessity to have in every mosque and in every village a scholar to call the people to Islam, as the Shehu himself had demanded, but many scholars were reluctant to join the Jamaaʿah – though quite a few of them shared its aspirations for social transformation. To bring those scholars into the mainstream of the process of reviving Islam became at a certain stage a fundamental necessity. Tajdiid is first and foremost an intellectual and moral process, and scholars are the repository as well as the symbols of intellect and morality – the twin prerequisites of a genuine revival of Islam.

It was here that the Shehu’s illustrious brother, ʿAbdullahi stepped in. He wrote his well-known Risaalat an-Naṣaa’iḥ  which he addressed to the scholars urging them specifically to ‘rise up and call to Religion’ and join the process of reviving Islam. In particular, ʿAbdullahi had in mind people like his teacher, Mustafa al-Hajj. From what ʿAbdullahi says of him in Tazyiin, he was indeed a formidable scholar: ‘the mirror of the tribe, the refuge of the poor… the wise, the protector, pillar of knowledge, reviver of the religion among them, of great patience… magnanimous, the mansion of the guests, gentle, friend alike to the humble and the great’. To succeed in bringing scholars like this into the Jamaaʿah would indeed be a turning point in the struggle for Islam in Hausaland.

The Risaalat an-Naṣaa’iḥ is important to us in more than one respect. It is clear evidence that others beside the Shehu had a role in the mobilization of the people to the cause of Islam. It opens for us a window into the broad issues to which the Shehu, and his men addressed themselves in their social mobilization. It also enables us to understand the growing confidence in the movement itself as to its ultimate victory. Finally, it presents us with a clear insight into the methodology of mass mobilization, or daʿwah or amr wa nahy, depending on how one chooses to call it. This last point is our concern here for the Risaalat is a document of great merit and significance.

ʿAbdullahi gave the reason for writing the Risaalat in these words:

“Now when I saw most of the country, the common people and the nobles coming to Shaykh ʿUthman, profiting by his admonitions and becoming influenced by his good manners, and entering into his community in throngs, but did not see that in the majority of our tribe though they were most fitted to it, I composed a qasiidah… which I called Risaalat an-Naṣaa’iḥ, and I sent it to them in order that they might ponder upon what was in it, and hasten to help the Religion of God Most High.”

It is clear therefore, that ʿAbdullahi wrote the Risaalat at a period when the movement had gained considerable influence and some strength. More significantly, its content reveals a practical experience acquired from long years of preaching and mass mobilization. A number of the points raised in it are indications of the practical problems that faced the movement in its tedious efforts to reach the people, the obstacles it faced, the bones of contention between it as an emerging social order and the entrenched system in Hausaland. The methodology adopted by the movement and its faith in the rightness of its cause are also revealed.

The Islamic call, or daʿwah, ʿAbdullahi made clear, was the duty of every conscious member of society, man or woman, and it was to be directed towards society as a whole: both the ‘common people’ and ‘the great lords’ were to be invited to the reform of the faith, to Islam, to Iḥsaan, but he recognized too that opposition from vested interests was inevitable. There was bound to be opposition from the ʿulamaa’ as-suu’, the political leaders and even the common people. ʿAbdullahi therefore, asked the learned men and women of his tribe who constituted, intellectually speaking, the cream of society, to adopt the correct attitude of the true worker in the cause of Allah. They should not fear he said, ‘the words of one who hates, whom fools imitate… nor the mockery of the ignorant man who has gone astray… nor the backbiting of a slanderer nor the rancor of one who bears a grudge who is helped by one who relies on (evil) customs’. They should not be discouraged if they were accused of lying or rejected by the king. For as long as they were working for the cause of Allah, they should be sure of ultimate victory, because:

None can destroy what the hand of Allah has built;

None can overthrow the order of Allah if it comes.

Next, ʿAbdullahi acquainted them with the fundamental social issues on which to concentrate in the work of amr wa nahy. The first, of course, was the principal source of the decline in Hausaland – clinging to customs that had degenerated into instruments of oppression and social tyranny, and were a justification for moral excesses. Often we come across the fundamental principle that in the course of transformation, a society has to be persuaded to approach its customs and traditions with a critical and selective mind, in order to discard those aspects of its culture that constitute an impediment to moral consciousness and social growth, and so that it will return to justice and fairness. Islam has been emphatic that any aspect of culture that is inconsistent with the Sacred Law has no legitimacy and should not be considered binding on society, for it is bound to offend against justice and fundamental moral values. In addition, a given society is responsible for itself alone, and not to or for any other society. It is absurd therefore, for it to seek to justify its behavior by that of its predecessor, or to sanctify unjust and retrogressive customs merely because they are old or inherited. The test of the legitimacy of a custom is whether or not it is just and fair, in other words, whether it is consistent with the Shariiʿah or not.

Indeed! Islam does not accept that people should have customs or traditions other than religious ones, for if Allah’s way is a comprehensive way of life, what room is there for custom and tradition? In fact, what is called custom is either a vestige from the days of ignorance, or an aspect of religion itself which over the years has become distorted as a result of the weakening of social responsibility in society. The relics of an ignorant past must be abandoned and forgotten, and all aspects of Islam which have been corrupted must be rectified and restored to pristine purity. This is what the call is all about. This was the task which ʿAbdullahi had in mind when he told the scholars to explain to the people that ‘the customs are vain’. The society, he said, should return to the Sunnah, which is the natural human disposition.

The scholars, ʿAbdullahi said, should also address themselves to the youth, and let them know that ‘the market for the sports of the youth has become unprofitable’ and that ‘it is praises everywhere for the market of righteousness’. If we are seeking evidence that the Shehu’s movement did concern itself with the crucial issue of youth mobilization and training, this is one. We do not need to labor ourselves to find out whether the youth at that time were largely immoral, for the character of the youth is mirrored in society. Considerable progress had been achieved in raising the youth in knowledge and Islamic practices. The ṭalabah might have grown in number considerably.

Then, said ʿAbdullahi , attention should be paid to what he called ahlu-d-dunyaa and those who were the symbols of worldly power – the pillars of secularism and materialism. This was clearly a reference to the leaders and other powerful men of influence, notably the local merchants who might not have inclined themselves to the cause. Here we are brought face to face with an emerging pattern in the movement: the steady division of people into two ideological camps, the emerging order dedicated to the establishment of the Islamic order as opposed to the decadent, crumbling old order which held on to corrupt customs and traditions. The reference to ahlu-d-dunyaa in contradistinction to the men of religion, and also to the Munkir, the denier of the religion, as opposed to the Naṣiir, the helper of the religion, all point to that pattern, which ʿAbdullahi could be referring to when he says:

And the worldly people, the shadow of their influence has shrunk this day;

And lofty trees cast their shade over our Sunnah.

The measure of one who denies the religion has become light;

And one who makes it manifest, his measure preponderates this day;

And one who helps it has become high among the people;

And one who denies it has become humble to the nobles and the common people.

The perennial but crucial problem of women’s education was also a central issue in the Risaalat. In line with the uncompromising stand of the movement that women must be educated and lifted from ignorance to the light of Islam, ʿAbdullahi asked the scholars to give women good education and a sound moral and social consciousness. Women, he said, should be taught how to dress when going out. “Clothing should be seen,” in his own words, “except on the face and hand’s.” They also should be educated in Iḥsaan as well as on how they should maintain their homes. They also had to be told what customs and attitudes were bad and how they should rid themselves of ‘bad traits’, and ‘how to render themselves pleasing, purely, in a praiseworthy fashion’. All this, however, should be seen within the general framework of the movement’s methodology of public education. As far as it was concerned, there was no difference between the minimum education which Islam stipulates for both men and women, except that, in fact, women require additional education, by virtue of their special responsibility in the raising of the family. The content of education in faith, law and business transactions remains fundamentally the same for both men and women.

As for public education itself, ʿAbdullahi obviously reflected the activities of the movement:

Make them understand what belief makes incumbent on man in the way of religion;

Of those things which the senses make easy – washing and ablution and prayer alms;

And fasting; buying and selling; then how one should marry; and what (in law) is incumbent;

What is exemplary; what is approved; and what is forbidden; and all is in the books, plain

to see.

ʿAbdullahi then turned his attention to two important questions: What should be the personal conduct of the scholar engaged in this task?; What should be his reaction if he got an unfavorable response from the people? On the first question, ʿAbdullahi presented what one may consider as a code of conduct for reviving the Deen. His theme, characteristically, was: ‘Begin with yourself’. To be convincing, the preacher must himself be an embodiment of what he preaches. Indeed, much of the success of the Shehu in his work of daʿwah had to do with his personal qualities which made people trust and have faith in him; his noble and fine presence commanded respect. We have said that the man of change wishes to recreate like-minded people so that eventually there will be enough people to bring about the desired change in society.

What the scholar should do, ʿAbdullahi suggested, is to begin his struggle from within. The external enemies: the great lords, the ignorant and the denier of religion are not as potent as the enemy within; and to the extent that the heart harbors that enemy, the heart must be transformed first. In other words, the essence of transformation is the change in the moral attitude, in the inner being of man, once this change has been achieved, the change in general behavior is but a matter of time. It is the same for society, once its inner soul inclines to noble virtues the outward manifestation of superior attitudes will follow naturally. ʿAbdullahi expressed the point pertinently:

Begin with yourself, turning away; from the abyss of lust.

It is in the pastures of lust that you tend flocks;

And verily you set a bad example;

The most harmful of enemies is one who dwells in your house;

Obedient to Satan and loathing Religion.

But how should the enemy within be fought? There are three means to do it. The first is to move closer to Allah, to seek refuge in Him, through the nawaafil which we have already discussed. The second is what ʿAbdullahi called ‘scanty food’, that is the training of the body to adapt to austere measures. Allah entrusts civilization to ‘empty-bellied people’ – people whose personal discipline gives them a will and a determination that are decidedly superior to the indiscipline and delinquency of the prevailing order. Men of change, certainly, cannot afford to live the same life-style as those whom they oppose. ‘Scanty food’, said ʿAbdullahi , ‘is the medicine which scatters diseases of the soul.’

The third means involves the acquisition of moral and social discipline. In ʿAbdullahi ’s words:

Guard the two small things and the two hollow things;

And watch over the spies always;

So that the limbs may obey you.

In other words, the scholar must bring his vital, socially inclined organs under his control, so that he can influence society, so that he can be safe from society, and so that society, in turn, can be safe from him. The scholar should control his tongue from idle speech, from blasphemous utterances, from condemning people’s beliefs and actions without definite authority, from slander and abuse. He should also control his heart from preoccupation with false hopes, base desires, greed, incitement to sin, rebellion, rancor and countless other evil intentions. The tongue and the heart constitute the ‘two small things’ mentioned by ʿAbdullahi .

Similarly, the ‘two hollow things’ – the mouth and the private part – should be firmly controlled – the mouth from taking unlawful foods gained by embezzlement, perfidy, bribery, swindling, theft, and all other forms of unjust enrichment, and the private part from excesses, from violating the honor and sanctity of women, and from unjust violation of others’ chastity. The ‘spies’ of course are the eyes and ears. The eyes should not violate the cherished privacy of others, or watch things disapproved by the sacred law, or be unduly inquisitive; the ears should not hear what does not concern their owner, nor eavesdrop the conversation and intimacy of others. What ʿAbdullahi was calling for was a profoundly disciplined personality with dignity, respect and sanctity.

Above all, the scholar must, in his private and public life, in mobilizing the public, follow the laws laid down in the Qur’an and Sunnah, take the practical examples laid down by the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) himself, as well as the example of his Companions (Allah be pleased with them), and those who followed them. This, ʿAbdullahi said, ‘is the antidote of the righteous man’.

As to the question of what the scholar who finds no favorable response from the people should do, ʿAbdullahi ’s answer was that firstly the scholar is under an Islamic obligation to enjoin the good and prohibit evil; secondly, he is also under an obligation to undertake the task of conveying the Islamic message. The obligation, as such, stands in its own and is not subject, therefore, to the reactions of the people to it, be it favorable or otherwise. Significantly, ʿAbdullahi pointed out that people’s acceptance of it depends entirely on the will of Allah. If it is His desire that they should accept, accept they must, if not, never. In the words of ʿAbdullahi :

The fertile parts of the earth put forth herbage wondrously

By the permission of its Lord, if abundant rain pours down;

But even if there pours down continuous rain, it will never grow;

Not even the meanest weed in barren ground (without His permission).

The lack of their acceptance will not prevent religious instruction.

The one who makes them enter is the Lord; you are the one who opens;

And verily, if you have informed them, their excuse is useless.

The Lord gives them to drink, you only mix the draught.

ʿAbdullahi suggested that the draught comprise a number of books mainly on fiqh, tawḥiid and taṣawwuf, in line with the movement’s idea of calling the people to Imaan, Islam and Iḥsaan.

And books which pay heed to the Sunnah like Madkhal;

And those derived from it, in these there is sound advice;

And Kiniya, Ihyaa’ as-Sunnah and Lubaab Ṭariiq aṣ-Ṣalihiin (are) advantageous;

Those by al-Ghazali and also those by az-Zarruuq;

Those of lbn al-Ata, by these evil things are cured;

Those from Bijai or those that are similar to them.

One who is enamored of the world, leading a wicked life

Will have nothing to do with them.

ʿAbdullahi also warned the ʿulamaa’ that they had an obligation to support the Shehu’s call. If they did not, they would be the losers, while the Shehu would succeed and benefit other people. “The misfortunes of a people are the advantage of other people.” In any case, the Shehu’s cause was bound to prevail, regardless of his tribe’s rejection, so the choice was not for the Shehu, but for them.

And if relationship alone were of profit in religion,

Then Abu Taalib, the uncle of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم)

would not have perished nor grieved.

It does not harm the sun that blind men deny its light.

It does not harm the pool, that the camels which refuse to drink, decline it.

Whosoever gives thanks, that shall profit him,

And whosoever is ungrateful for blessings and follows lusts

In this world, to say nothing of the next, he shall perish!

The Risaalat, according to ʿAbdullahi , was received with great enthusiasm by his people. We should not assume that the letter was sent to ignorant men. The Shehu’s tribe contained a substantial number of the most cultured men in Hausaland, and whose joining of the mainstream of the movement constituted a landmark in its growth. In the words of ʿAbdullahi :

“When this poem reached the ʿulamaa’ of our tribe they received it well and began to make religion manifest among our tribe, such as al-Mustafa b. al Hajj and Muhammad Saʿad and Abu Bark b. Abdullah …and others. And the strongest of them in setting up religion and in toiling for it was al-Mustafa, because he was the first to receive this message, and he read it to the community, and ordered them to obedience. Then he tucked up his sleeves, and composed (quintals) on the message, mixing them like water with wine, emphasizing victory for what was in (the message) and acceptance of it. Then our brother Zed al-Athari explained it; Allah have mercy upon them all.”

Published in: Uncategorized on April 7, 2018 at 15:12  Leave a Comment  

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