Pantami mayn’t be the enemy. Islam, as practiced in Northern Nigeria is

Isa Pantami

There is a lot that the Pantami saga ought to have taught us. Most of it are things we must have figured by ourselves, pondered and come up empty-handed on a solution or a way to a solution.

Something like the fact that the Islamic doctrine as practised in Northern Nigeria being deeply flawed and widely embraced by the populace down North, explicitly as in the case of the embattled minister or implicitly like it must be clear by now is the case of many Northern Muslims not so privileged to hold a high place in the nation’s government.

From the onset of the Pantami saga, whereupon a not so reputable media organisation broke the disturbing news which we easily dismissed for its shady sources. To more reports filling in the gaps. To documents resurfacing that were missed in the heat of upheaval over a decade ago. To the Minister himself coming forward to denounce his past self as being immature at the time.

The latter is a time-honoured tactic to douse the flames of controversy that holds no water at a time when terrorist attacks have spread all over the country, instilling fear in the hearts of non-Muslims across the nation in fulfilment of the promise of Quran 8 verse 12.

But Pantami is not the enemy …

If the enemy is Muslims who hold extremist beliefs that non-Muslims and Muslims who don’t toe the line of extremism do then in no way is Pantami the enemy. Islam’s enduring doctrine of alienation and terror is the enemy.

It is an age-old problem …

At the peak of the terrorist onslaught during the Goodluck Jonathan era, a widely-held theory endured in the North; that all the terror was the machination of ‘the Christian president’ in a bid to antagonise Islam.

“Christians will do anything to spoil image of Islam” echoed the minarets in my home city of Kano.

I believed it, despite being an almost-graduate of my now alma mater – Bayero University Kano. It was easy to not see the conflict between my education that showed me a world richer than anything my religion did when I was in the company of people with similar lived reality who shared the same conflicting beliefs. Yet I wouldn’t see this for years to come.

Hence when I read opinions marvelling at how a well-educated Northern Muslim man like Pantami could hold such extremist beliefs while seeming to embrace the ‘heathen system’ his beliefs hope to destroy, I smile at how familiar that is.

I am the Muslim whose entire generation will be wiped out for refusing to agree with the jihadist dreams of Pantami and his ilk in the Muslim community. I know this intimately.

We are all in danger …

Months before the Pantami saga dominated the airwaves my mother called to check on me, “Your pieces are going places, be careful what you write about,” she said.

It is an admonishment I’ve heard my whole life.

Words are powerful in a religion where mere words relayed from men who’ve been dead for centuries are enough justification to end the life of a human being you know intimately. It could be a neighbour, a business partner, a long-term friend, or just a stranger you know doesn’t share your dearly held belief. All you need, the teachings of this flawed doctrine says, to stem your humane concerns about the wrongness of it all is to remember that these aren’t people, they’re “logs that will feed the fires of hell”  in the hereafter, Qur’an 23 Verse 72.

There are words you can’t say, opinions you can’t air and positions you can’t hold.

Positions on gender equality remain not just controversial but potentially deadly in Northern Nigeria.

Calling for people to respect the humanity of LGBT+ persons certainly is deadly, and it has been so for mere decades. Pantami and his less optically savvy peers of Islamic clerics in the North have had a very pivotal role to play in that since the religious awakening that began in the ’90s.

The controversial minute of a meeting from 2010 alleged to have been presided over by the embattled minister noting how Muslims who don’t toe the line of extremism must also be exterminated should be enough highlight for non-muslims on the cost of nonconformity if the public trials of nonconforming Muslims like Fakhuus Hasheem has taught us nothing.

We are all in danger.

A solution exists …

Fighting extremism is always tricky.

If you fight as a concerned person who shares the same love for the faith as nonconforming Muslims do with the very extremists who want to kill us, you’ll be ‘othered’ as someone who doesn’t understand the faith.

If you fight as a concerned person who doesn’t share the faith, you are ‘othered’ as someone who has no place opining on the faith because “you need to have faith to understand the message.”

If you fight as a concerned person who is worried about your wellbeing and that of posterity you will be ‘othered’ for worrying too much about the here and now at the expense of obedience to Allah.

There is no winning one way or another, especially now that Nigerian Muslims have successfully chanced upon a PC word to shut down criticism even in ‘logical’ circles – Islamophobia.

A solution must come however one way or another, we are at liberty only to determine which less painful way to go about it.

If we choose to address our issue personally, sans external buzzwords like ‘Islamophobia’, we have to begin to scrutinise the ideology of Islam and in what ways it is counter to the idea of the Nigerian state. That, admittedly, demands that we have an idea of the Nigerian state.

What does that mean?

What does the Nigerian state mean for a Christian Nigerian wherever in Nigeria they are?

What is the Nigerian state to a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans or whatever other sexual and/or gender minority Nigerian?

What does the Nigerian state mean to an apostate Muslim who by Islamic doctrine must die by state sanction for leaving Islam?

These are the questions we must begin to force religious communities to ponder and get accustomed to – Muslim communities especially.

Pondering is one thing and something that Northern Muslims have done before and reacted to aggressively because they couldn’t get accustomed to the idea of two contrasting ideas coexisting where they reign supreme. It birthed the sharia movement of the early 2000s.

The notion that a secular democratic state can exist and flourish irrespective of hostile elements within it is not foreign. The United States of America is a living cesspool of ironies that lives true to that dream. Nigeria can achieve the same, but who will lead in that?

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