A TALK DELIVERED AT THE RAMADAN LECTURE OF AJAO ESTATE MOSQUE, YAOMU SABT, 8 RAMADAN, 1443 A.H (SATURDAY, 9 APRIL, 2022).
BY DR. ABDULMUMIN ALAO
Audhu billahi minashaetoni rojeem. Bismillahi Ar-Rahman Ar-Raheem.
Ashiadu anla ilaha ilaLlahu; wa adhahu laa sharika Llahu. Wa ashiadu ana Muhammadu, abuduhu, wa rosuluhu. Laulimulku, wa lahulhamdu, wahuwa alaa kuli shaehin qadiru.
Yaa ayuali muslimun wali muslimat; wali muuminina wali muuminat; Assalamun alaikum waramatullah wabarakatuh.
We give all praise to Allah (SWT), the Beneficent, the Merciful for sparing our lives to be here today. We thank Him for his protection over us and his boundless provisions. We pray that we will continue to enjoy his grace and mercies till the day of reckoning, Aaameen.
Also, we thank Allah (SWT) for counting us amongst those observing this year’s Ramadan fast. May He accept all of our ibaadat and grant us the full rewards and blessings, Aameen.
Let us appreciate that the observance of Ramadan is not a right, but a privilege. Many Muslims like us are not able to fulfill this rewarding spiritual obligation due to various reasons beyond their control. It could be due to poor health, poverty, famine, displacement due to insurgency or war, or some other difficulties.
Therefore, it is simply by the mercy of our creator that we are able to observe the fact and gather here today to remind ourselves about some of our obligations as Muslims. Ya Allah, we say again Alhamdulillah Robil Aalamin.
I will like to thank the organizers for considering me fit to speak at this Ramadan Lecture. I say this because I am not an Islamic scholar by any stretch. I cannot speak Arabic which is the language of the Holy Quran; I cannot recite Surah Yasin by heart from start to finish and I cannot site quotations from the Quran or the Hadith of the Prophet (SAW) offhandedly, just to mention a few of my numerous shortcomings.
What I am, however, is a student of the Quran and the Hadith. Thanks to the translated versions of these books of guidance in Islam, and the numerous commentaries by learned scholars, anyone truly desirous of learning about the do’s and don’t’s of our Deen has unlimited access to the unvarnished truth on which to form an opinion on issues concerning our faith. May Allah keep us on the right path of Al-Islam, Amin.
My objective today, therefore, is to only give a TALK on the topic of discussion, NOT a lecture which I consider myself unqualified to do. This talk is my personal perspective on the topic, based on my humble research of Allah’s injunctions in the Holy Quran, and the Sunnah of Prophet (SAW).
My talk will be in the following format:
*Definitions and interpretation of the key terms in the topic.
*Causes of disunity amongst the Ulama
*Implications of Ulama’s disunity for the Ummah.
*Recommendations for promoting unity amongst the Ulama
*References from the Quran and the Hadith
Definitions and Interpretations
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines “Unity” as “the state of being united.” Being united, meanwhile, is explained to mean “to come together or bring together for a common purpose or to form a whole.” A path means “a way or the direction in which a person or thing moves.” Paradise means heaven which, in religious terms, is described as the abode of the believers. The Ulama are the Muslim scholars while the Ummah are the Muslim congregation.
Going by these definitions, we may interpret the topic as follows: “Why and how Muslim scholars and their congregations must come together to achieve their common purpose of attaining paradise.”
I mentioned earlier that my talk is focused on bringing out perspectives. I have interpreted the topic in the manner done above so that we may reflect on the following questions: 1. Why are we Muslims? 2. What is the ultimate objective of our being Muslims?
The answers to these two questions are simple. 1. We are Muslims because we believe that Allah (SWT) is the only God worthy of worship and that Muhammad (SAW) is the prophet and messenger of Allah. 2. The ultimate objective of our being Muslim is to gain Allah’s pleasure by being amongst those that will inherit paradise on the day of reckoning.
If that is the case, and indeed it is the case, what the topic of our discussion today suggests is that the path leading to that ultimate destination of paradise is UNITY. It says that we Muslims must be united to achieve that common goal.
Now that we have established the destination (Paradise) and defined how to get there (treading the path or riding the vehicle of unity), let us now consider some of the factors that may create impediments to achieving our objective.
Causes of Disunity amongst the Ulama
A cursory look at the divisions within the Nigerian Ummah reveals that they are traceable to the Ulama, that is the Muslim scholars. I make this submission with humility, utmost respect and even apology to our fathers, Imams and scholars here present and in absentia. But this submission is not far-fetched.
The Ummah belong to different congregations led by the Ulama and the majority of these congregations take instructions from, and listen only to their respective leaders. The Ulama are our shepherds. They are very influential over us. The Prophet (SAW) described them as his vicegerents. To achieve any semblance of unity amongst the Ummah therefore requires addressing the causes of disunity amongst the Ulama. Some of these include Arrogance, Ignorance, Tribalism or Sectionalism, Akeedah (Ideology) and Greed.
Arrogance: This is perhaps the biggest Fitnah (Trial) bedeviling the Ulama. Congregational leaders who regard themselves as superior to everyone else cause deep divisions in the Ummah. They may be knowledgeable, but they lack humility, they talk down on their colleagues in public and in private. They operate in isolation and also seek to isolate their congregations from the larger Ummah.
But Allah (SWT) says in the Quran, Surah Luqman, 31:18: “And do not turn your face away from people in contempt, nor go about in the land with insolence; surely Allah does not love any self-conceited boaster.”
In Surah Baqarah, 2:206, Allah also says: “And when it is said to him, guard against (the punishment of) Allah, pride carries him off to sin; therefore hell is sufficient for him; and certainly it is an evil resting place.”
Arrogance is probably the most hateful behaviour in the sight of Allah after Shirk (Disbelief). Arrogance led to the ejection of Iblis (Shaytan) from paradise when he refused Allah’s command to bow to Prophet Adam (AS) because he (Shaytan) felt he was superior to Adam (AS). I submit respectfully that our Ulama must do a constant reflection and self-appraisal of their affairs to avoid self-destruction due to pride.
In an authentic Hadith, Abdullah bin Mas’ud reported that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: “He who has in his heart a grain of arrogance will not enter Paradise.”
Ignorance: Some congregation leaders do not possess the requisite knowledge to lead. They are themselves ignorant, so they end up misleading their followers with wrong interpretation of the Quran and the Hadith, or with their own bad character.
Al-‘As reported Allah’s messenger (SAW) as saying: “Verily, Allah does not take away knowledge by snatching it from the people but He takes away knowledge by taking away the scholars, so that when He leaves no learned person, people turn to the ignorant as their leaders.”
The Prophet also said: “Knowledge is the root of all good, whereas ignorance is the root of all evil.”
These authentic Hadiths lead to the rhetorical question: How knowledgeable are some of the congregational leaders in our mosques? We talk here not about their ability to read the Quran in a melodious voice, but about their ability to interpret it’s injunctions with knowledge and wisdom in order to the lead the congregation in an examplary manner.
Tribalism/Sectionalism: Some congregation leaders are tribalistic, despite Allah’s many injunctions to the contrary. They sow seeds of discord in the Ummah by spreading hateful speeches about other tribes and they try to justify this with hollow arguments. However, Islam rejects all forms of tribalism, racism and bigotry.
Allah says in Surah Al-Hujurat 49:13: “O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into Nations and tribes so that you may know each other (Not that you may despise each other). Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is he who is most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted with all things.”
Ideology (Akeedah): Ideological difference is one of the most intractable sources of conflicts amongst the Ulama. Despite the majority of Nigerian Muslim scholars being of the Sunni School, they still often disagree on relatively minor issues about ideology. I admitted earlier that I am not a scholar, so my limited understanding is that the Muslim ideology is based on the Oneness of Allah (SWT). Why we still have Divisions amongst the scholars about interpretation of this simple ideology is beyond my comprehension. WAllahu A’hlam.
Greed: Some divisions amongst the Ulama are caused by sheer greed. Some scholars take advantage of their position to appropriate to themselves only, the rewards and benefits accruing from spiritual exercises which they should share equitably with their colleagues. Predictably, this leads to division and even hatred amongst them.
References abound where Allah (SWT) and the Prophet (SAW) sternly rebuke the greedy. But this quote by Imam Ali (AS) fits the context of our discussion perfectly. The Imam said: “Greed takes away wisdom from the hearts of knowledgeable men.” (Audhu billahi Mina shaetoni rojeem).
There are many other factors causing disunity amongst the Ulamah but the ones listed here will suffice for our conversation.
Implications of Ulama’s Disunity for the Ummah
The implications for the Ummah of disunity and/or lack of cooperation amongst the Ulama is predictable enough. The Prophet (SAW) entrusted the Ulama with the responsibility to teach and spread the Message of Islam after his departure. In any community where the Ulama fails to carry out this duty conscientiously and selflessly, the consequences are dire for the Ummah.
The negative attributes of erring Imams described earlier are transmitted to their followers who see them as role models. Arrogance, ignorance, tribalism, sectionalism, greed and the accompanying attitudes such as selfishness, backbiting, rumor-mongering, cheating and injustice become pervasive amongst the Ummah. Consequently, the Muslim community gradually lose their value system, they fall into habitual sinful behaviour and, ultimately, stand the risk of missing the Jannah (Paradise) to which they aspire in the hereafter. These are very grievous possibilities that must be addressed and prevented by all means.
Therefore, I will like to make the following suggestions….
Suggestions for Ensuring Unity amongst the Ulama and, by extension, the Ummah.
My suggestions are on two levels. 1. The Congregation. 2. The Ulama.
- The Congregation.
By congregation, I refer to all of us seated here.
One of the contentious issues in the Muslim community is who should head the administration of our mosques. While everyone agrees that the Imam is the spiritual head from whom the congregation should seek spiritual admonition and guidance, opinion is divided on whether he should also be the sole administrator in the management of the mosque, or whether another authority should be in charge.
The reality is there’s so much that an Imam can do in his own, even if he single-handedly established the mosque. Therefore, the more effective option is for the congregation to be fully involved in the management of the mosque and to also act as a check against any excesses by the Imam. I enquired from some learned scholars about what the Sharia says about this, and I was assured that the Sharia is not against such an arrangement.
Therefore, our mosques should have functional committee of elders who assist in running the mosque and can call an erring Imam to order with wisdom. They must always accord him all the respect that his position deserves, but they must also ensure that he does not mislead the congregation or engage in misconduct that will tarnish the Ummah.
Allah describes the Ummah as the best of Mankind because we enjoin what is good and forbid what is bad. We can only lay claim to this description if we speak up against what is bad and actively encourage what is good, no what who is involved.
The Prophet (SAW) also admonished us to take action against what is bad by correcting it with our hands, speaking up against it or condemning it in our hearts, which he described as the weakest of faith. So, we all have a duty to take action if our Imam is going astray due to arrogance, ignorance or other objectionable behaviors.
Furthermore, Allah also commands us to intervene when members of our Ummah are in conflict. Sometimes, it could be the Ulama in our neighborhood that are in disagreement between or amongst themselves. We the congregation have a responsibility to do reconciliation. We must not relent until peace is achieved between the warring parties. But if one the parties transgresses against the other, Allah commands us in Surah Al-Hujurat (49:9) to unite against the transgressor.
If the transgressor was employed by the Mosque, his employment could be terminated. If he was appointed, he could be removed. And if he is the founder of the Mosque, the congregation could boycott the Mosque until he reverts to Allah’s command.
Whatever the status of a Mosque, the congregation have the power and responsibility to influence the direction of events to ensure that the Ummah is not divided or misled. We must not sit back and watch things go wrong. We must rally other members of the congregation to effect positive changes in the Mosque.
- The Ulama.
The second level of my suggestion concerns the individual Imam and the Ulama themselves. As custodians of the Deen, the Ulama are held to a higher level of proper conduct. Usually, they know the right things to be done, but sometimes, their human weaknesses get the better of them and they become arrogant and conceited without realizing it. Some of them actually do realize that they’re wrong, but self-pride will not allow them to concede.
Respectfully, my suggestion to our Imams is to not see themselves as beyond reproach. Only Allah is perfect and beyond reproach.
Our Imams should lead by example. They should suppress their ego as a sacrifice for ensuring peace and Unity in the Ummah. They should maintain good relations with their colleagues and work in unison to propagate the Deen. Despite their exalted position in Islam as people of knowledge, they should humble themselves so that they can recognize their mistakes and correct them. They should accept good advise from members of their congregations. They should not arrogate to themselves the monopoly of knowledge or wisdom. Allah (SWT) says those who humble themselves will be elevated by Him.
Considering some historical divisions in Islam which is best illustrated by the Shia and Sunni schism, some people might even argue that pursuing Muslim unity is a mirage. But Allah’s instruction is very clear.
He (Allah, SWT) says in Surah Al-Imran, 3:103: “And hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah (i.e. this Quran), and be not divided among yourselves.” Therefore, unity of the Ummah is not just a desire, it is an injunction of Allah.
Indeed, the Prophet of Allah (SAW) predicted the divisions that heralded his departure in an authentic Hadith. He said: “My nation will be afflicted by the diseases of the former nations.” They (the Companions) said, “O Messenger of Allah, what are the diseases of the former nations?” The Prophet said, “Excessive amusement, ingratitude, disunity, competition for worldly gain, hatred and greed until there is transgression followed by upheaval.”
In another authentic Hadith reported by Arfajah (RA), the Prophet (SAW) emphasized his prediction but also made a pronouncement on the consequence when he said: “After me, there will be many calamities and much evil behaviour. (But) Whoever wants to create division among the Ummah (of Muhammad, SAW) when they are all united, strike him with the sword.”
For those looking for an emphatic statement about Unity of the Ulama and the Ummah, there you have it. Unity is the pathway to success and Jannah (Paradise); while disunity is pathway to destruction and Jahanam (Hell fire). It’s up to you and me to decide, which side of the aisle we want to be on the last day. May Allah (SWT) guide us to make the right choices, Aameen.
Aqoolu qawli haadha wa astaghfirullah lii walakum.
Subuanoka Allahumo, wabihamdika; ashihadu anla illaha ila anta, astaghfiruka wa atubu ilaehi.
Assalamun alaikum waramatullah wabarakatuh.