Posted first on in May 2015

“The best of actions after faith is showing love and kindness to mankind” — Prophet Muhammad

It’s apparent that a lot of people didn’t find the famous post-election nationwide trekking or ‘Trekmania’ wave appealing enough as we’ve seen from the recent noise revolving round the President-elect’s actions at Governor Oshiomole’s wedding. General Buhari seemed to have woken a group of obscure Gung Ho ‘e-Jurists’ when his not so presidential hand shake with Mrs Oshiomole broke the internet — stripping him temporarily off his “messiah” and idol status. For some of these folks, GEJ era’s farewell trademark (unpaid salary plus fuel wahala) ‘no shake them’. To God be the glory!

Like any religion related topic, Islamic jurisprudence always has a good amount of ‘on-call’ “experts” from a diverse spectrum (liberal, conservative, activists alike) that are prepared to hop into the moment’s conversation. One “dare’s not” to question their credentials as their background — be it Pharmacy or Mechanic expertise — suffices to opine on a subject matter.

Non-partisans may be asking “what the fuss is in just a handshake?” that seems to have thrown the Muslims off balance. The issue stems from the popular consensus from scholars of all generations; known to have frowned at indiscriminate intermingling of the genders for plethora number of reasons (ranging from chastity to sexual harassment). This transcended to different generations and Muslim communities around the world as the acceptable norm of societal order. Despite what seems to be an overwhelming consensus amongst Muslims regarding the prohibition of inter-gender handshakes based on the Hadith of the prophet, “It would be better for one of you to have himself stabbed on the head with an iron needle than to touch a woman that is illegal for him.”, there seems to be evidence indicating that such practice was as alien as the Muslim custom of handshake itself in Islamic history — to be discussed in an extended article. This may have however been one of those trivialities catered for by ‘restrained’ intermingling of sexes promoted by the Sunnah(tradition) of the Prophet — thereby necessitating the application the Juristic principle of ‘blocking the means to harm’(Saddus Zara’i) over new practices as cultural diffusion set in during Islam’s expansion over generations.

But for the sake of peace, we can assume for a minute that following the ‘bandwagon’ is a sustainable principle rooted in orthodoxy. A quintessential example of how Islamic Legal Theory works than just a haphazard summary will do justice in other to examine see how jurists deal with convoluted issues relative to varying circumstances they confront. Not too long ago, in our very own vintage northern Nigeria, the revolutionary Usman dan Fodio appeared to be a contrarian when he permitted the (almost) free mixing of gender during his lectures. As expected, it ignited scholars in the locality to caution the Shaykh of the risks he was supposedly unaware of. One of his responses in a book titled Tazyin Al Waraqat can be seen below:

“The evil of leaving women in ignorance, not knowing what is incumbent upon them, nay, not knowing Islam at all, is greater than the evil of their mixing with men, for the first evil relates back to religion, which is faith, Islam and good works (Ihsan), and the second evil relates back to genealogy.”

Several lessons can be derived from this. Firstly, it showcases the level of erudition of the scholar; further validating why he stood out amongst scholars in Western Sudan based on his comprehension of the ‘Higher objectives of Sharia’ known as Maqasid. Secondly, we can clearly see how he implemented a juristic principle of the Maliki juristic school known as ‘opening the means to (lesser) harm’ (Fathus Zara’I). This shows that in dire circumstances, the Sharia caters for exigencies by prioritizing public good at the expense of paths to isolated evils. It also shows that there is as much mercy as rigidity within the framework than popular conception. Lastly, this questions some of the fringe policies the early Post-1999 state governments (e.g. separate gender buses) attempted enacting during the ‘sharia rave’ ahead of societal necessities.

Even hardcore scholars like Ibn Taymiyyah of the 14th century who compared inter mixing with “fusing a bomb” in his lofty virtues conceded to his contemporary, Fatimah bint Abbas Al-Baghdadiyyah, who mounted the pulpit (of a Masjid) to give the community in Damascus a lecture in dire circumstances. In fact today, there is almost no debate about segregation of old institutions in these (sharia)states neither do we worry for example about dealing with an ‘interest (Riba) driven’ economy that have become necessities around us.

We can forgive our stale ignorance (of Islamic studies) for a minute but we still won’t be running out of questions pertaining to our Naija-amnesia. With the ‘caricature’ Buhari that these reactionaries have portrayed — emerging into the 2015 scene “utter stainless and devoid of any controversy over the last decade” — demands that we not only require a cure for our recurring forgetfulness or naija-amnesia before we slump back into the abyss we’ve been emancipated from but also that we need to learn how to educate ourselves to be issues and community oriented.

We need to set our tantrums straight so we know what’s up. We want populist leaders yet want to restrict their mode of interactions with other diverse cultures based on non-national dogmas. We like to resist the idea of having foreign principles promoted in our backyard but can’t be empathetic towards outsiders with differing principles? Those still swimming in “Naija-amnesia” must be reminded that Buhari will be presiding over a diverse republic — which in turn begs for malleability in his approach as he dispenses justice and fairness.

Buhari is a ‘Baba 70’ for the post-1985 babies and pretenders who don’t get it. A man that has rendered decades of his life to national service would know not to ‘exchange hands’ with women anywhere in the upper river Niger and that speaks in volume. He has a right to ‘independent reasoning’ (ijtihad) and what he deems appropriate to the public, known as Maslaha. For him to do otherwise may serve as ‘protecting his public piety’ not religion for any community or group. (remember when Mandela openly denied to the world the existence of HIV/AIDS in his country?). The worst we can probably assume is that we elected an elder that cannot ward of pre-elderly years vices. Nevertheless, even if one chooses not to see the humane side in a leader not reinforcing a gender bias narrative in the name of (“protecting”) religion, can’t we examine it from a ‘mercy’ perspective — which is one of the key themes one would definitely pick from both “obscure” yet authentic Hadith (regarding holding slave girls and the Umm Hiram story)?

As we are about to be ushered into a new era, we can’t afford to patronize loud fringes around us who can risk taking our leaders hostage to bigotry and their overriding interests such as their blind loyalty to doctrines. Moreover, as tempting as it is, we must learn to exercise self-restraint when we speak out to the community regardless of the platform or medium. Wanton disregard for the sharia by mislabeling Halal and Haram must be abandoned for certified scholars to deliberate on. The scholars refrained as much as possible from such as per instructions of Surah Nahl, verse 116 which states, “And do not say about what your tongues assert of untruth, “This is lawful and this is unlawful,” to invent falsehood about Allah. Indeed, those who invent falsehood about Allah will not succeed.” This clearly shows that not all acts can be constricted into binary categories and is also the reason behind why past jurists expanded the categories for judgment into five. Thus the misapplication of Fiqh — devoid of underlying philosophy of the Sharia — is partly responsible for our travesty today.

Without further adduce, the utterances of my fellow ‘novices’ was not only far from “sincere advice” (which has no business been heard in public) but also was nothing short of ‘criminal’–which should be likened to a ‘cyber coup’ on the psyche of the bloodless revolution we’ve undertaken. The goal was nothing short of a distraction from the realities of the current PDP sham we are bidding ‘Bye! Bye!!’ to and hence was ultimately successful.

Oga Buhari can’t please everybody; yesterday he was a “fundamentalist” and today he is “Machiavellian.” A popular saying from a pious predecessor goes thus, “If I had one supplication to be answered, I would make it for no one but the ruler. If the ruler is righteous then it will lead to the righteousness of the country and the people.” Our responsibility is to understand and empathize with the difficult situation he is in and work to better it as students today and tomorrow’s thinkers. Buhari needs nothing short of our consistent prayers for guidance in steering us from the storm. And that should be sufficient enough to ignite thinking sparks in our craniums while getting us more focused on realistic issues not ‘metaphysical trivialities’.

At this juncture, one may have to appeal to our reserved diverse students of knowledge — across different schism and doctrines — to step in and perform an ‘interventionist’ task in the middle of this poverty. There should be an enabling environment, be it an online forum or offline association that can refine teachings of different fields of Sharia and secular studies in other to compensate for the deficiency of our teachers and Ulama by serving as a conduit in harnessing their responses for the public’s sake. It should be a means of uniting a new generation in teachings of tolerance and pluralism mirroring the era of the Salaf (pious predecessors).

We are by no coincidence in this miserable state but we must realize we’ve been constricted to seeing things from a prism perspective. The Muslims must be prepared to vacate such state for the good of the community and the Ummah and the nation as a whole. As Dr. Sherman Jackson alludes:

“Many of us are carriers of an authoritarian, dictatorial impulse. And you know where we got it from? 200 years of dictatorial, of authoritarian, tyrannical… rule in Muslim countries throughout the world. And many of us have imbibed this as a prism through which we now see Islam — Islam as Social Control.

I end with the word of the elders; whatever good that been written is the manifestation of the divine and any wrong is certainly from the writer. May we be guided aright.

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