Brief History of Islam and the Condition of Muslims in South-West Nigeria
The history of Islam and the conditions of the Muslims in South West Nigeria are unique and therefore require special and appropriate attention. The presence of Islam among the Yoruba people who inhabit the area dates back to centuries, long before the coming of the British colonialists and prior to the advent of Christianity in 1842.
Islam had drawn an increasing number of followers and has since made a tremendous impact on the language and culture of the people. Being a religion of literacy and education, Islam brought these to the Yoruba and the rest of West Africa for the first time. The Yoruba language was committed to writing with the Arabic alphabet. Arabic was the language of literacy and therefore the medium of communication and scholarly discourse among Yoruba Muslim scholars.
However, with the use of Christian-sponsored education in imposing Christian doctrines on Muslim children with the connivance and, indeed, support of the colonialists, many Muslim parents became less enthusiastic about Western education for their children. Those who took over from the colonialists after independence did not help to improve the situation either.
Meanwhile, it is a matter of concern that Yoruba Muslims are consequently far behind their Christian counterparts when it comes to the issue of education in the modern Western sense of the term. This is more so given that it was from the Muslims that the West learned the roots of the modern sciences.
As a result, the Muslims of the area have, for a long time, been short-changed in many ways. Despite our large proportion of the population, we were marginalized by successive governments in the area both in educational and in socio-political matters. The ethnic-based organisations that have emerged in the area have purportedly spoken for the entire region without consultation whatsoever with Muslims. On many occasions, the stance of these organisations on the issues at hand was detrimental to the image and interests of the Muslims. This situation has even afforded the successive governments in the country the chance to adopt, as a matter of policy, the wrong notion of Muslim North and Christian South when it comes to discourse on religious matters and the recognition of religious rights.
The media too, both national and foreign, seem to have adopted that wrong understanding. Obviously, the situation described above calls for concerted efforts on our part towards bringing about a change for the better, as the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) directed Muslims to use all appropriate and legitimate means at their disposal to effect such a change whenever they notice something that is wrong.
Need for Unity and Collective Leadership
While, as hinted above, this plight of the Muslims of the area is attributable to the connivance of the colonialists and those who succeeded them, apathy and negligence on the part of Muslims are also to blame. Lack of unity with a veritable and credible leadership for Muslims in the region was mainly responsible for the delay in bringing about the desired change.
Unlike other parts of the country, the South West has a large number of Muslim organisations each working in its own sphere. However, the enormity of the challenges makes it expedient that the Muslim organisations and institutions work together meaningfully. So, the need was felt for a leadership that would embrace the Muslim organisations and institutions operating in the South West and enjoy their confidence.
Unity at the National Level
MUSWEN is meant to play in the South West a role similar to that which the Jama’atu Nasril Islam has been playing in the Northern part of the country. MUSWEN maintains good relations with the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA).
His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of NSCIA, Alhaji (Dr) Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, mni, CFR, gives MUSWEN full support. Late Dr. Lateef Adegbite, the former Seriki/Baba Adinni of Egbaland and Secretary-General of NSCIA, played a significant role in the formation and inauguration of MUSWEN. It is envisaged that the benefits of the work of the MUSWEN will extend to other parts of Southern Nigeria whenever the need arises.
Unity: A Religious Obligation
The imperative of Muslim unity is strongly emphasized in the Qur’an, in 3:103 for instance, and in the Sunnah, the model practice of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). On the other hand, we are warned of the consequences of disunity as stated in Q8:46.
The Prophet (pbuh) likened the Muslim community to a building the parts of which strengthen one another, thus keeping the whole building in place, and to one human body, the other parts of which respond in solidarity when one part falls ill.
Those directives of Allah and words of His Messenger (pbuh) make it all the more imperative on the Muslims of South West Nigeria to get united and work together with a view to finding solutions to the peculiar problems facing us. We should put our resources together, as no organisation or institution can do it all by itself. While our organisations and institutions should learn from one another’s experiences, the professionals should use their expertise in helping to solve our problems and achieve the objectives of the Ummah.