What is extremism in the sense of the Sokoto killing?

Religious extremism

The story is still on and the trend table is full of issues underscoring religious extremism and what religions really say in such instances. The argument has spread into topics bothering ethnicism, the practice of religion in different regions, how Aminu Tambuwal is going to react – in light of his 2023 presidential ambition, and ultimately, the lingering issue of religious extremism.

If we argued that extremism is a new concept in Nigeria, we are downplaying the damage it has done – especially when terrorism becomes part of the conversation. Extremism has become cultural, but we think it is just one teeny weeny part of our society.

Indeed, there is the light kind – where the extremists condemn, in entirety, the ‘other’ religion. This one is the most common and is a belief held by everyone who practices the religion they have been taught takes them to a certain ultimate goal.

Then, there is a really sinister kind – where the extremists go to any length to fight for what they believe in. In this case, the extremist can kill, as long as they have been taught it is the right thing to do.

How is extremism defined?

Sageman (2008) says religious extremists are the ones who seek martyrdom and are fueled by anger regarding perceived injustice.

Religious extremism is a longstanding phenomenon that manifests in different forms. Some of the characteristic features of religious extremism include isolation, evangelising to nonmembers, the maliciousness of members and nonmembers, criminalisation, and elimination of recalcitrant persons or those considered to be enemies or “pagans.” 

Emeka Thaddues Njoku, Joshua Akintayo

Religious extremism is present in all religions and is a behaviour, belief or attitude outside of normal practices or beliefs. As mentioned earlier, it manifests itself in the form of violence or the creation of smaller groups, sometimes something as organised as a cult. This is why terrorism has become lucrative in parts of the world.

The definitions offered may not be perfect knowing that it leaves unanswered questions including what non-extremists but co-religionists do when these acts are perpetrated. Still, something recurs in whichever definition you see – violence.

One man’s extremist is another man’s true believer.

But, again, extremism is the desire to impose one’s beliefs on others, not through argument or evangelism, but through coercion.

The victim, who was clubbed and burnt, the culprits celebrating, had reportedly said something like ‘nonsense prophet’ in a WhatsApp group, which had angered those who thought fighting for Allah is the way to stop people from speaking against Allah.

The keyword is ‘blasphemy’.

The use of the keyword is not news, especially in Northern Nigeria, and while you, from another religion, say it is extreme, there are people in the North who shout: Crucify Him! at every opportunity.

Their beliefs do not care about what the law says about murder or the long-term consequences of religious extremism. Their mind is set on violence as the response to supposed blasphemy, this is why they will go to any length.

Ultimately, they do not use the guiding books to guide their actions.

There are questions that arise from their actions: are there religious practices and religions that inspire extremism? Do extremists corrupt the true message of religion, and if that is the case, what is the true message? How do co-religionists react? Which sorts of people are most prone to extremism? Do societies support these forms of behaviour? What should be done to stop it?

The Sokoto government has shut the school and people look on to see if the culprits will be brought to book. The reaction of the government will go a long way to determine if religious extremism has institutional support in the state or if justice will be served.

We will follow the story.

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