Tag Archives: jos

Muslims set to become the majority in Nigeria

Muslims will be the majority in Nigeria in the next 20 years, according to a study by the Pew Research Centre.  The population is set to more than double, to 117 million, by 2030.

This will mean that Nigeria will become a predominantly muslim country, with 51.5% of Nigerians being of the muslim faith. In a country that has religious tension between christians and muslims (especially in certain parts of the country) I wonder what this ‘takeover’ will mean for peace and stability in the future.

Nigeria is roughly divided, in terms of religion, as a muslim north and christian south – with the centre of the country being a mix of the two faiths.  Jos, is located in the central part of Nigeria. The region has rarely been out of Nigerian and African news recently because of the (suggested) religious motivated clashes. 2010 and this year have been a particularly bad time for the city which has become synonymous with violence.

Location of Jos city

Blame for this has been thrown both ways. People are quick to blame to muslims in the most general of ways. Understandably, perhaps, as most of the people killed in last year’s riots were Christian. But looking underneath the surface of religion, it’s quite clear to see that the typical causes for unrest have more to do with these clashes.

Professor Kabiru Mato of the University of Abuja played down the role of religion in the riots: “I don’t see anything religious. Wherein religion could be the difference between the two warring factions, fundamentally it’s a manifestation of economic alienation. So social apathy, political frustration, economic deprivation and so many factors are responsible.”

Devastation from an explosion on Christmas day 2010

A worrying aspect of the data collated by Pew Research is the high number of illiterate muslim Nigerian women. “According to a Pew Forum analysis of the 2008 Nigerian Demographic and Health Survey, the percentage of women of childbearing age who cannot read is three times as high among Muslims (71.9%) as among non-Muslim Nigerians (23.9%).

Some more alarming data from the study – “Muslim women of childbearing age are also much less likely to have received a formal education than are other women in the country; 66.0% of Muslim women have no formal education, compared with 11.2% of non-Muslims. Only about 3% of Muslim women in Nigeria have attended college or university, compared with roughly 14% of non-Muslim women.”

It’s imperative to think about how this vast inequality between the people of the two main religions have an effect on the turbulent nature of central Nigeria, where the two groups mix and interact the most.

The ‘takeover’ of the muslims in Nigeria is by a slight majority, and in itself should not cause any alarm. The percentage divide will still be roughly equal. What must be fixed, however, is the education and prosperity levels between the two groups. Economic deprivation in one group leads to frustration and resentment, which in turn leads to instability and in Nigeria’s case, violence. The government of Nigeria need to turn their focus on not only punishing tose responsible for the clashes, but also to solving these underlying problems.


Islamic extremism in Nigeria – are we concerned?

Well yes. According to pewresearch.org a whopping 76% Nigerians are worried about national Islamic extremism.

When one thinks of Islamic extremism in an international context, Nigeria is not one of the first countries that comes to mind. But with roughly half the nation’s population being muslim, it’s not absurd to postulate that there may be some problems with extremism within the country.

First, let’s examine this term that gets thrown about so often – what does Islamic extremism actually mean? Islamic extremism is, in essence, aggressive ideology in which violence is often used to solve the perceived problem. Suicide, bombings and assassinations are tactics often used by this small section of the Muslim religion. Extremists have long been berated for giving Islam a bad name and there are many muslims who do believe in a peaceful coexistence with members of other religious faiths.

Extremists at their worst

One aspect of Islam that strikes fear into many is Sharia Law. Yes the law that advocates stoning a woman to death if she has been found cheating. By 2009, 9 states in  Nigeria had instituted Sharia Law, and 3 more states have implemented Sharia law in areas where there is a high muslim population. Scary stuff eh?

Well, I guess I should also explain what Sharia Law is all about, in a neutral, non-scaremongering way.  Sharia Law, is according to muslims, a combination  of the principles set in the Quran and the sayings and living habits of Prophet Muhammad. Contrary to popular belief, Sharia Law has many peaceful aspects. Sharia Law dictates that Muslims must pray 5 times a day, go on a pilgrimage to Mecca, fast and even pay an annual tax to the poor of their countries.

Then there are the more shocking laws such as amputation of the hands as punishment of thievery and yes, the stoning of an adulterer – although this should apparently apply to both sexes and not just the woman.

The problem with Sharia Law and elements of Islamic extremism is that ideas are open to interpretation and perversion – and in most interpretations the punishments are extreme and women fare the worst. Jihad is another Islamic term the world has become all too familiar with in the 21st century. Jihad is an Arabic word that can be translated in many ways including ‘struggle’, ‘to strive’ or ‘to fight’ – it all depends on the context. It also means spiritual self-discipline but many of us know it as a holy war on behalf of Islam.

In 2009, a 23 yr old Nigerian muslim, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, attempted to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear as the plane descended in to the USA.  Many Nigerians shrugged this off as a unique event and it was argued that he was radicalised outside of Nigeria.  Jos, in the center of Nigeria, experiences frequent clashes between the Muslims and Christians that reside in the city – and this is usually violence against Christians. However, I have discussed in another post how the violence in Jos should not be merely looked at from a religious perspective.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab - the 'Underwear Bomber'

A public workshop hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace explored whether Nigeria is becoming ‘a hot-bed of Islamic terrorism’.  John Paden, an international studies professor claimed that the country is certainly not. Instead he said: “If anything, Nigeria is a hotbed of Islamic moderation”. Interesting turn of phrase, but what does this actually mean?

Well Paden goes on to argue that “Islam has a long history in Nigeria and has largely maintained a decidedly “West African” character, and less dependent on outside influences from the Arab world.” I agree.

My father is a Nigerian and Muslim. And I would have to describe him as a moderate muslim – one who lives in harmony with a Christian wife. He seems to separate his religion from his national identity and culture. but Islam and culture are bound and tied together in many parts of the Arab world. Let’s take the clothing of Muslim women as an example. The Quran does not instruct women to wear the burqa. However some Islamic cultures like that of the Taliban, insist on women wearing this attire. More ‘moderate’ Islamic cultures such as those in Turkey do not insist on women completely covering themselves up. It is a rare sighting to see a muslim woman in Nigeria wearing the full Burqa too.

3 women wearing burqas

To conclude I’d say that Nigeria doesn’t need to be on high alert of Islamic extremism at this point in time. But one thing I would throw out there is that if certain Islamic groups were to focus on turning Nigeria into a ‘hotbed of Islamic terrorism’ it certainly wouldn’t be that hard. The lack of strict rule of law and rife corruption will make it fairly easy for these groups to set up camp in the country if they learn how to play the Nigerian game of back-handers and turning a blind-eye. So in that case, we can all breathe a sigh of relief –  but at the same time we’d do well to keep one eye open.

Also read:- Muslims set to become the majority in Nigeria

Why tribalism in Nigeria should die a peaceful death