ACHIEVEMENTS OF AHMADIYYA MUSLIM JAMA’AT IN NIGERIA

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INTRODUCTION

The trajectory of Islamic movements in Africa South of the Sahara is as complex as it is intriguing. The delicious admixture of traditional Sunni Islam, sensational Sufi tendencies, morbid modernist fundamentalism and African syncretic pietism which dominates the socio-religious universe of the entire region presents a dubitative existentialist scenario. It is however worthy of mention that as diverse as these movements and their teachings are, they constitute a rich religio-cultural heritage in the region.

In Nigeria, the most populous black nation, one of the most dynamic Islamic movements is Ahmadiyya which has, since the beginning of the last century, played significant roles in providing social welfare services to the Nigerian people. It was established in the year 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian who claimed to be the Promised Messiah and Mahdi. His claim was met with invectives and censure from majority of the Muslim scholars of the time but a handful of people believed in his claims and took oaths of initiation{Bai’ah} at his hand.

The movement has since spread to different parts of the world and its story has been torn between astounding progress in some lands and climes, persecution and derision in some, and skeptical indifference in others.

This short paper is not a discourse on the ideological conflicts that trail the movement’s growth and development and neither is it a catalogue of the social upheavals in its beleaguered history. It rather chronicles some of its achievements since its inception in Nigeria in the last century.

AHMADIYYA MOVEMENT: BIRTH AND GROWTH

The Ahmadiyya Movement came into being in 19th century India when much of the Muslim world had come under European colonial administration. Before the end of the century, Holland, Britain, and France had taken over much of Muslim Lands thus completing the wave of colonialist expansion begun by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798 C.E.3 The Movement’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was born in 1835 C.E in the Punjab region of India. He was a descendant of a family of Mughal scholars and landowners who had migrated to India in the 16th Century and settled in a town which was formerly called Islam Pur Qadi and later came to be known as Qadian.

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad had his early education in his village under private tutors. Mainly a self-made man, he developed an ardent love for studying the Qur’an, the Sunnah and other Islamic works as well as works written by detractors of Islam. He felt thoroughly grieved by the plight of the Muslims and the humiliations they suffered at the hands of Christians and Arya Samaj Hindu sect. He therefore started in 1878 C.E to publish articles in various newspapers on diverse religious topics and to refute the allegations of the Christians and the Arya Samaj against Islam.

In 1880 C.E, he started his first book and magnum opus, Baraheen Ahmadiyyah fi Haqqiyyat kitabillah Al-Qur’an wa al Nubuwwat al Muhammadiyyah, which is popularly known simply as Baraheen Ahmadiyyah in which he set forth the excellences of the Qur’an and the Holy Prophet Muhammad and refuted the objections of the Arya Samaj, Brahmo Samaj and Christians against Islam. It was also in this work that he announced that he had seen in a vision that he was a Mujaddid {Reformer or Rejuvenator commissioned by Allah at the beginning of a century to revive the true teachings of Islam}.By 1884 C.E, the first four volumes of the book had been published.

This book was well received by Muslims all over India. The author was applauded by all for his bold stand against the detractors of Islam. The reverence given the book and its author can be seen in the review of the work by Maulvi Muhammad Hussain of Batala,{who later became his bitterest enemy} the leader of the Ahlul Hadith sect which he published in Volume 7 of his magazine, Isha’atus Sunnah which he published in November 1884 C.E. He writes:

“In our opinion, this book in this age and in view of the present circumstances, is such that the like of it has not been written up to this time in Islam, and nothing can be said about the future ; Allah may bring about another affair after this. Its author too has proved himself firm in helping the cause of Islam. With his property, with his pen and tongue and with his personal religious experience to such an extent that an example of it is rarely met with among the Muslims who have gone before. If anyone looks upon these words of ours as an Asiatic exaggeration, let him point out to us at least one such book that has in it such forceful refutation of all classes of opponents of Islam, especially the Arya Samaj and let him give us the addresses of two or three persons, the helpers of the cause of Islam, who, besides helping Islam with their properties and their persons and their pens and their tongues, have also come forward with their religious experience and have proclaimed, as against the opponents of Islam and the deniers of revelation, the manly challenge, that whoever that doubted the truth of revelation might come to them and witness the truth thereof, and who have made non-Muslims taste of the same.”

Other Muslim leaders of the time wrote positive reviews on the book. However, in Fath-i- Islam, Izala-i- Awham and Tawzih-i- Maram which were published between 1890 and 1891 C.E, Ghulam Ahmad claimed that he was the Mahdi and Promised Messiah, and finally in Masih Hindustan Men which was published in 1899 C.E, he argued that that contrary to the popular belief among Muslims and Christians, Jesus Christ did not ascend to the skies with his physical body, but following his escape from death on the cross, he had lived to a ripe age of 120years and had died a natural death.

These claims elicited censures and condemnations from Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The Sunnis in particular considered the claims as heretic because according to their belief, the Mahdi and the Promised Messiah are two separate individuals, each of whom will lead Muslims in a bloody jihad against disbelievers.10 Similar to the above is his claim that he was a peaceful Mahdi whose wars are to be fought by intellectual and spiritual weapons. He claimed that armed struggle in the physical sense is only justifiable when Muslims are being oppressed. Physical Jihad, according to him, is conditional. If the condition does not prevail, armed struggle is not allowed. This was also seen as heretic by the orthodox Sunni of his time.

His followers demonstrated the practicality of this view point through the formation of a volunteer corp among the Ahmadiyya youth called the Furqan Force by Mirza Bashir-ud din Mahmud Ahmad in 1947 to defend the Muslims of Kashmir when the Indian Dogra forces attacked Kashmir shortly after the creation of Pakistan.

Till his death in 1908 C.E, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad wrote several books to expound his views on general Islamic matters as well as clarify his position on perceived obscurities in his claims. While his followership has expanded over the years, opposition to his teachings has also gone through various phases ranging from contemptuous rejection, pragmatic accommodation, political stigmatization and step-motherly indifference.

AHMADIYYA: HISTORY AND ACHIEVEMENTS IN NIGERIA

Though Islam had been in Nigeria before the colonization and Christianization of the country by the British, the conditions of Muslims in the South Western part of Nigeria had taken a turn for the worse as at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century. This was as a result of the discrimination the Muslims faced under the British in the areas of social benefits and access to governmental patronage. Because Lagos was the seat of Administration, the effect was felt more by the Lagos based Muslims. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at was introduced to Lagos in during this period.

There are several, though not contradictory, versions of how Ahmadiyya came to Nigeria. One account has it that in 1913, one school teacher called Hamid stumbled upon a copy of the Review of Religion, a journal founded by the Ahmadiyya Movement in Qadian and started communicating with the them. Another version has it that one Lagos businessman, Alhaji Ali Fahm traveled to Egypt in 1914 and got copies of Ahmadiyya literature which he brought to Nigeria, after studying which he and some of his friends wrote to the headquarters of the Movement in Qadian to declare that intention of becoming members of the movement. Alhaji Imran Adewuyi Onibudo was one of those who claimed to have taken the bia’ah{ oath of allegiance} in 1914.

However, the most popular account has it that in 1916 C.E, L.B. Augusto got copies of the Islamic Review journal from Dr Oguntola Sapara who had gone to England on leave and had met Khawaja Kamaludeen, a former companion of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian who gave him the copies.

It was through reading this journal which he had enjoyed and circulated among his friends in the Moslem Literary Society and Juvenile Moslem Society, that he got to know of Review of Religions, another journal founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad himself. He therefore ordered for copies of it, which he and his friends found more informative than the Islamic Review of Khawaja Kamaludeen. They continued to maintain contact with Qadian and in September, 1916, member of the two societies decided to form the Nigeria branch of the Ahmadiyya Movement.

The first converging point for members of the new group was the 63, Bamgbose apartment of L.B. Agusto. Their aims and objectives were summarized as follows:

“To reform the Muslim world morally, intellectually, socially, religiously and spiritually and to realize in all walks of life the ideals of Islam as taught in the Holy Quran and exemplified in the life, character, and spirit of the Holy Prophet Mohammed{P.B.O.H.}. The objects of the movement are to study, teach and spread Islam according to the Holy Quran throughout the world”

The members of the movement later came under public censure for introducing practices that contradicted what the early Muslims of Lagos were familiar with. Some of these “new ideas” included non-prostration for elders and monarchs by men and non kneeling by women, condemnation of dancing of men and women as was in vogue in Lagos, delivering the Khutbah {sermon} in the local language, attendance of mosque by women, folding of arms during prayers and several others. Though they were initially persecuted for these practices, their persecutors have also adopted same with the passage of time and better exposure.

The Ahmadiyya Movement in Nigeria had since undergone several upheavals, some ideological and some socio-political. L.B Augusto traveled in 1920 C.E to London to study and joined the London branch of the Movement. It was while he was there that he realized that there were two groups of the followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad who were divided on ideological lines. One group held that Ghulam Ahmad was only a Mujaddid, while the other held that he was a non-law bearing Prophet. He had aligned himself with the former. On his return to Nigeria in 1924, he decided to break away from the movement and form a new organization called al Jama’atul Islamiyyah {The Islamic Society of Nigeria}.

However in 1926, a group from among those who had left with him also broke away from al Jamaatul Islamiyyah to form the Young Ansar ud deen Society. They were led by its General Secretary, Boonyameen Gbajabiamila and its missioner, Mustapha Kasunmu Ekemode.

Subsequently, other groups seceded from the movement and formed their own organizations. One of such took the name, Anwar ul Islam Movement of Nigeria in 1975.

It is pertinent to mention that the intrigues which trail the trajectory of Ahmadiyya in Nigeria are multi-dimensional and require a multi-sectoral analysis. Barring few ideological conflicts, most of the other crises in the movement were connected to leadership battles which are anthropologically linked with issues of signification and identity resulting from the general clamour of Nigerians for independence from foreign rule. The crises in the movement majorly centered on allegiance to the Khalifah who was the Supreme head of the movement globally and the expatriate missionaries sent to Nigeria from the headquarters in Qadian, and later in Rabwah, Pakistan. Identity issues therefore played a major role in the splits and social skirmishes.

Despite all the aforesaid, the Ahmadiyya Movement has played a major role in the growth and development of Islam in Nigeria, particularly, in South Western Nigeria. This fact was admitted by one of the giants who seceded from the movement, Dr Ismail Babatunde Jose, in his forward to H.A.B. Fashinro’s book. He asserts:

“It was amidst this controversy that Ahmadiyya was founded in Lagos, again, in the face of conflicts with and opposition from the conservative{ Sunni} Muslims and subsequently, the organization split and metamorphosed under different names.”

Yet it was Ahmadiyya faithfuls who brought organized Islam to South West Nigeria, resulting in the birth of various Muslim Organisations for the establishment of Muslim Primary and Secondary Schools; medicare centers and formal Islamic and Koranic learning institution.

Whatever may be the present state of advancement and whatever may be the future of Islam in the South West of Nigeria, is due for the most part, to the foundation laid by the Ahmadiyya organization.

It is a well known fact that the first modern school built by a Muslim organization in Nigeria was Taleem ul Islam School, Elegbata, Lagos built by the Ahmadis in 1922. Apart from secondary schools scattered all over Nigeria, the organization also built a Missionary Training Seminary in 1974 at Ilaro in Ogun State where its missioners are trained. Its Publishing House known formerly as Ahmadiyya Press now Raqeem Press, Lagos, went commercial in 1996 and has published hundreds of Islamic works.

In addition to the above, the organization has hospitals and clinics in the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. In 1996, it started Madrast Tahfiz al Qur’an at Ilaro where little boys memorize the Qur’an. It is worthy of mention that almost 200 huffaz {memorizers of the Qur’an} have been produced from the institution while the newly established Madrasat Tahfiz al Qur’an lil Banat { Qur’an memorization school for girls} which was established in 2010 has also produced its first set of Hafizat.{ Female memorizers of the Qur’an}.

Latest development drives in the organization include the acquisition of a large expanse of land for estate development and permanent Conference site on kilometer 10, Abuja- Keffi road, Nassarawa State in 2008, the establishment of Ahmadiyya Farms and the First Muslim Technical College, both of which were established in Ilaro, Ogun State in 2009.

The administrative structure of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at is also worthy of mention. The organization is divided into five auxiliary groups each with its own structure and programmes but strategically connected at the top. The Elders’ Forum is called Majlis Ansarullah Ahmadiyyah. This embraces adult males from the age of 40 and beyond. The Adult female group is called Lajnah Imaillah Ahmadiyyah. It embraces female members from 15years old and above. The most dynamic auxiliary body in the Jama’at is the Majlis Khuddamul Ahmadiyya which is commonly referred to as the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Organization. This embraces the adult males between the ages of 15 and 40 years. The umbrella bodies for children are Majlis Atfᾱl-ul Ahmadiyya for male children, and Nasirᾱt-ul Ahmadiyya for female children, all between the ages of seven and fifteen.

These auxiliary bodies, apart from educational programmes, also have welfare programmes like scholarship funds, widows’ empowerment programmes and poverty alleviation initiatives. In addition to this, a Nigerian chapter of Humanity First, an international NGO dedicated to humanitarian services to people regardless of their race, colour or creed, was established. This NGO was founded by Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the fourth successor to Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in 1995. It has since been registered in 33 countries across six continents.23 Its members have carried out relief operations in several places where natural disasters had struck. For example. The U.K chapter alone has done so much. During the Kenya drought, 112,000 villagers were provided with food and water. Under the Gift of Sight Initiative, more than 1,000 cataract operations were carried out in Burkina Faso in 2011. Similarly under the Water for life project, 2.19million people in 18 countries have been provided potable water.

The Nigerian chapter too has organized social services in several communities, even where the Ahmadiyya Jama’at is not established. More than fifty villages in the six geo-political zones of the country have been beneficiaries of the free borehole initiative under the Water for All project and hundreds of medical camps have been organized.

As 2016 draws near, plans are underway to celebrate the centenary of the Jama’at in a grand style. Several projects have been penciled down to be launched then while rapprochement initiatives are to be pursued to thin down the ideological gap between the Jama’at and the orthodox Muslim groups.

CONCLUSION

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at is no doubt a major stakeholder in the Islamic social universe of Nigeria. In its almost one hundred years in the country, it has gone through several episodes of crises that have existentially challenged its survival. That it has been able to sail through the storm of doctrinal and socio-political skirmishes reveals its internal structural tenacity. Its achievements in all areas of human endeavour constitute one long story of faith, determination and hope. With its centenary just around the corner, Nigeria may witness its greatest religious rendezvous ever.

REFERENCES
  • Isha’at Committee, {2012}, History of Ahmadiyya In Nigeria, {Lagos: Raqeem Press}, p.6
  • Richard Brent Turner {1997}, Islam In the African American Experience, {Indianapolis: Indiana University Press}, p110
  • Ibid p 110
  • Maulana Muhammad Ali{1970} The Ahmadiyya Movement,{Lahore: Ahmadiyyat Anjuman Isha’at Islam}, p 1
  • Ibid p2
  • Turner op cit p 11
  • Maulana Muhammad Ali op cit p2
  • Ibid p3
  • Yohanan Friedmann,{1989}’ Prophecy Continuous: Aspects of Ahmadi Religious Thought and Its Medieval Background {Berkley: University of California Press, } p 2-3
  • Murray .I Titus, {1959} Islam in India and Pakistan {Calcutta: YMCA Publishing House} p257
  • Spencer Lavan, {1974} The Ahmadiyya Movement, {Delhi: Monohar Book Service} p 80-82
  • Naeem Osman Memon, {1989} Ahmadiyyat or Qadianism! Islam or Apostasy? {UK: Islam International Publications Limited} p 368
  • Fashinro H.A.B, Ahmadiyya As I See It {Achievements and Conflicts} {Lagos: Irede Printers,1995} Isolo, pp 8-9
  • Isha’at Committee .op cit 44
  • Fashinro op cit p 9
  • Ibid p 9
  • Ibid p 10-14
  • Ibid p 18-19
  • Ibid p 178
  • Ibid p xi
  • Isha’at Committee, op cit p 25
  • Al-Nahl, vol 21,no 1, October 2010, p 13
  • www.humanityfirst.org {assessed on Wednesday 4th October,2012}
  • www.uk.humanityfirst.org {assessed on thursday 11th April,2013
  • Interview with Mr Akinreti Qasim, the National Secretary for Information and Strategy in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Nigeria and the Assistant Project Director of Humanity First Nigeria.

 

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