Tag Archives: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab

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