•On meningitis: We have to listen to the Zamfara gov’s stand on fornication
Sheikh Ahmad Gumi is not new to controversy. In the run up to the 2015 presidential election, he wrote an open letter to then President Goodluck Jonathan and candidate Muhammad Buhari not to stand for the election because of the deep division their candidature had caused in the country.
In this interview, Gumi takes on Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, on his recent pronouncements. He also speaks on the statement by the governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, that the outbreak of meningitis in the North was God’s punishment for fornication.
•Dr Ahmad Gumi
The Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, recently, said he would introduce laws in the state assembly that would bar people who are incapable of sustaining two wives from doing so. From the Islamic perspective, what do you think?
I have been following some pronouncements by the Emir of Kano of recent that border on Islamic religion and culture. What I will say is that Islamic position on issues is well entrenched in Islamic literature. This book here, The Message, is more than one thousand years old. In it, every subject on Islamic law is discussed. I want the Emir and others to put their minds at rest. Nobody can interpret or change Islamic law. What we need to change is the environment so that people find it conducive.
Early marriage here is not Islamic position but a Hausa cultural issue. Turks are Muslims but they do not give out their children at the age of fourteen. Arabs are Muslims but you don’t find them giving out their women at the age of fourteen or fifteen. Yemenis do it but it is not because of religion. It is because of culture, the Yemeni culture. Few people in Egypt do it but it is not because of religion. It is cultural.
Religion cures maladies in the society and that is why laws in religion are very wide. Prayer time in Islam is wide to give room to travellers and sick people. There is flexibility in religion. It is not an iron jacket. When it comes to marriage, religion is very flexible. What the Qur’an mentions is that there is specific age for marriage. It says that when orphans reach the age of marriage, give them their wealth back because when they are mentally and physically mature they can take care of their wives and their wealth. The question of marrying off a girl at six or seven years does not even arise. All these that were narrated in the Hadith by one authority are not authentic. There is difference between authenticity and reality. As a journalist, when you write a story, you find a tinge of your background in the reporting. Somebody can misconstrue or even misunderstand an issue because of his background. That is the issue with all narration.
Out of all the books on religion, why the Qur’an is different is because it is committed to memory. It is like the Psalms of David. If you read them in Amharic, they sound like the Qur’an. If you allow people to narrate or give account of an issue, the background will influence it. There is a collection of Hadith that was narrated on the Prophet. That personal influence also entered, so scholars have to filter the narration to remove the chaff from the grain. The narrators of Hadith are like journalists and we need an editor that will filter the narrative. In filtering, there is a factor of time that also affects them. They may filter something but they may not get it right.
For instance, the Qur’an tells us that if somebody dies, his wife should mourn him for four months ten days before thinking of getting married. At four months, every child starts to move in the womb. The extra ten days is for the female foetus. They need the extra days to get mature. This will stop a pregnant woman from passing on another man’s child to her new husband. If somebody divorces his wife, she has to menstruate three times before getting married.
What this is saying is that religion is filtered. When it comes to marriage, what Islam says is that whoever has power to marry should marry. Islam does not allow a society where there is prostitution. Since Islam proscribes prostitution, adultery and fornication, the moment a girl becomes mature biologically, Islam opens the door that if you want to marry, then marry. But if you bring a law that says a girl should not marry until when she gets to eighteen years, I tell you, at the age of sixteen, a girl begins to have sexual desire which will be pushing her like fire. In Islam, you do not give out a girl in marriage except when you ask her permission. So if the girl is ready to marry, she should marry. It does not affect her education or social life. You can still be married and be going to school.
You cannot tell people that this is what they should do with their lives. No, allow them to do what they want to do. Somebody told me a story that some girls were asked what they wanted to be in life. One said she wanted to be a lawyer, another said she wanted to be a doctor and the third one said she just wanted to get married. The one who wanted to get married had no ambition but to be a house wife. Why should the society force her that she should not marry until a certain age? Once she is biologically fit and she wants to marry, let her marry.
But the Emir’s argument is that you should not marry more than one wife if you cannot take care of them.
That is not a religious issue but a social issue. In Kano, there are more than ninety thousand widows with children and they are still young.
There are unmarried women in millions who are jobless. If you say ‘this man, you are poor, don’t marry her’, he stays poor and does not marry her, while she is still struggling, she is in a worse situation than if she marries the man. What these poor men do is a social service to the society because poor men have more wives that rich men. These women are not there redundant. Each woman is doing something, maintaining herself but under the umbrella of a man who makes sure that she does not become a prostitute. One prostitute in a town is worse than an atomic bomb because she will be spreading diseases. For many of these women, just having husbands is enough for them. Nobody sees them as prostitutes. Her children feel their mum is dignified because she has a husband. If you break this social fabric because of your understanding of religion, the result with be disastrous. How will you imagine all these women roaming about free?
Problem of elites
The problem of the elites is they attack issues without providing solution. We should not westernise our women but give them the basic thing they need. I am building a school for females. The principal and all the staff are females. Some men prevent their wives from working because of the problems associated with it. There are many women not working because of the rotten nature of the society. I believe that if men can run schools, if men can be fighter jet pilots, women can do these too. A woman is a man with a womb. Make a positive change in the society that encourages education not to be making noise in the mosque that we are backward.
You are talking about almajiri. Most of the places where there are almajiris, if you build a classroom for them and support the mallam, you will not see the children roaming around. When former President Jonathan had the plan to build four hundred almajiri schools, that was a positive plan and not the noise that people make.
Our elites keep talking about making law. Law does not work if it is against nature. You cannot fight terrorism if you do not address the economic situation of the people. The Prophet predicted that terrorism will happen. He said people will read the Qur’an upside down and be killing people in the name of God. The Prophet said if I am around (when this happens), I will just exterminate them.
I spoke against Boko Haram but I didn’t have weapons to stop them. It is not only guns. You have to redirect their thinking. You have to build schools for them. Nigeria alone cannot do it. The western nations can send us jet planes. That is not what we need. If America can send us exercise books, pens and rulers, the society will change. Killing will not make us succeed.
How do we separate corruption of cultural practices from Islam without compromising Islam?
Islam is universal. It is practiced in Saudi Arabia, it is practiced in Sudan. All the problems we are talking about now are not there. It is not religion. It is cultural. I am surprised the Emirs and traditional rulers are talking about this. The (traditional) institution needs to be phased out. If you do that, almajiri will be phased out too. How do you explain that if you go to the Emir of Kano’s palace, you are expected to bow down. If you go to the (American) White House, will you bow down to Mr Donald Trump who has nuclear weapons in his hands? If you go to Kano now, the common man is expected to bow down to the Emir. Is that not a humiliation of human beings? What are they taking about? Our religion is against bowing down to human beings. You only bow down to God. They are misinterpreting the religion and putting blames wrongly on the religion. If you want to modernise Nigeria, let’s phase out traditional rulers, Emirs and all of that. We will have a more robust leadership by election. This is what Islam is saying: affairs is by consultations and by agreements. Nobody imposes himself as an Emir.
Are you saying that the traditional institution is no longer relevant to the present day reality?
It is not relevant to the modern times and it is not even Islamic because, in Islam, there is no inheritance of power. It is the people that decide their leaders. If the institution will change, this nation will change. The traditional institution represents ignorant people who will go and bow down before them. Do you want to perpetuate that ignorance? No, we want to bring light to the people so that they can stand up and speak. It is more anti – Islam than any other thing.
The issue of ease of divorce is another sore point on how women are treated in the North. What are religious leaders like you doing to minimise this?
While growing up, I never heard of divorce. This rampant divorce started in the 90s when people started adopting lifestyles that were not in congruence with their culture and religion. This modern social life, materialism increase the prospects of divorce. A woman marries you because of your wealth, you marry her because of her beauty. The Prophet encourages us to marry a religious person. But now people want to marry because of beauty or wealth. This is why you have this problem of divorce. We have to be closer to piety and modesty and this problem will disappear.
Kaduna State government made a proposal to introduce a law to regulate preaching in the state which attracted huge criticisms. Why are you religious leaders opposed to this bill?
There are many factors to consider. You cannot constitute a law that is so fundamentally against the Constitution. The Constitution has granted freedom of religion to the citizens. It is the religion that determines who propagates it, not the government. It is the religion that determines who becomes the pastor or the Imam and not the business. Government has no business with that. Christianity for instance has more than one thousand denominations, which one will the government allow? Islam has many sects and interpretations, which one will you regulate? Government in a democracy is powerless.
Religion is powerful
An Emir in Kano says he wants to formulate a law. Who gave him such power? It is the assembly that makes the law and they are elected by the people. He would have been more conscious by begging the people. Government has grandiose feelings about itself. It is going beyond its boundaries. They don’t have the power to do what they say they want to do. That law can bring down the government. Jesus Christ was taken before the Roman court but now Christianity has gone beyond that. Religion is powerful. It is from God, so no leader should think religion is a weapon to play with. It will destroy him. This is my advice to them about this grandiose feeling they have about themselves.
The governor of Zamfara State recently attributed the outbreak of meningitis to the prevalent fornication in the country. how do you react to this?
I know that whatever happens, there is a reason for it. God does things for a reason. He may be sending a message and the message may be two folds: one it may be as a consequence of our iniquity, as the governor thinks it is and also it can be as a trial, like Job was tried by God.
But when the governor says it is as a result of fornication, then we have to listen because he is in a position to know. There is hypocrisy in the society. We appear as religious people but we are rotten. God can punish us for that. God has destroyed nations because of sin. Remember Sodom and Gomorrah.
On the other hand God may be punishing the government by taking innocent lives to go and rest. If the Zamafara governor is not doing what he is supposed to do; if he is not spending money on health of its citizens but going about things that are luxury, God can take away people that are innocent in order to embarrass the government. God’s sword can strike both ways. God can in one incidence send positive and negative messages. The governor should do his work and the people should turn from their evil ways.