Worried by the nexus between the growing ragtag army of impoverished, socially-deprived out-of-school children, estimated to be anywhere between 10 and 14 million, and the increasing rate of insecurity in northern Nigeria, a non-governmental organisation, The Kukah Centre, has indicated readiness to rise up to the challenge of tackling this devastating social menace. This was revealed by the founder of The Kukah Centre and the Bishop of the Sokoto Diocese, Most Rev. Matthew Hassan Kukah, before a select audience of Muslim and Christian leaders from northern Nigeria that converged on Minna town of Niger State for a four-day workshop with the theme “Interfaith Dialogue and Engagement.”
Proposing to establish skills acquisition centres across the region to train the over 10 million out-of-school [Almajiri] children by The Kukah Centre, a move that is best described as the Kukah Almajiri Initiative, Rev. Kukah had this to say: “One of the greatest concerns in Nigeria is to get the Almajiri off the streets. The centre will soon sign a memoranda of understanding with a foreign partner to make sure that we get the Almajiri children off the streets.”
Expectedly, reactions to the Kukah Almajiri Initiative were spontaneous in varied forms. Whereas the Muslim leaders present at the Minna workshop, prominent among whom was the erudite Islamic scholar, Sheikh Hassan Lemu, did not express disapproval for the Kukah Almajiri Initiative, for the Muslim Rights Concern [MURIC], it was not only outright rejection but total condemnation of the move. In denouncing the Kukah Almajiri Initiative, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, the founder and mouthpiece of MURIC, while questioning its motive, sincerity and urging the Muslim North to reject it, said, among other things, “We cannot pretend to be so naïve as to entrust our Muslim children to Christian gospellers. As far as we are concerned, Kukah’s Almajiri dream is a Trojan horse.’’
As far as Prof. Akintola’s MURIC is concerned, only Muslims should cater for the welfare of fellow Muslims and Christians like Rev. Kukah should redirect their energy towards solving the problems in the Christian community.
Not one to miss such an opportunity, Prof. Akintola’s MURIC, which has increasingly become notorious for its partisanship, divisiveness and hate-filled acrimonious sectarian sanctimony, has once again lived up to its notoriety when in this instance it played its usual role of agent provocateur of religious disharmony in Nigeria, as it latched on its rejection of the Kukah Almajiri Initiative to further lacerate the fragile body of Christian-Muslim relations.
Unfortunately, MURIC, in its usual haste to hog the limelight as the frontline champion of Muslim interests in Nigeria, has reduced a serious issue of grave national security implications to religious populist rhetoric. As hate speech is usually conveyed in the vessel of fake news, Prof. Akintola’s MURIC has once again attacked its favourite prey [anything Judeo-Christian] with a cocktail of ignorant, illogical and fallacious elucidation of contemporary Christian-Muslim inter-faith relationship with a tinge of historical revisionism. In an attempt to live in denial of the inevitability of harmonious interdependence of mankind, irrespective of individual religious leanings, for the peace, security and stability of the contemporary world, MURIC’s challenge to the Kukah Initiative has once again thrown up issues in Christian-Muslim relations that should be put in proper perspectives.
Throughout the over one millennia of the history of the Muslim faith, individuals, communities and kingdoms of the Christian faith have stood shoulder to shoulder with their Muslim brethren in their times of need on the basis of shared humanity, without prejudice or attempt to compromise their Islamic faith. Upon receiving the divine message heralding his prophethood in 610 AD in a celestial encounter with Angel Gabriel in the inner recess of a cave in Mount Hira, Muhammad the son of Abdullah [PBUH] was left with his body thoroughly shaking and his pious mind confused. It was to Warqa, the Arab Christian monk, that Muhammad [PBUH] along with his ever-loving and supportive wife Khadija [RA] turned for spiritual succour. A man of great learning and spiritual insight of the Christian holy book, Warqa it was who interpreted Muhammad’s [PBUH] encounter with Angel Gabriel in the cave of Mount Hira as not just an ordinary happenstance but a divine call to prophethood that is consistent with experiences of past prophets of God. Also reputed to possess powers of vision, Warqa foretold, among many other things, the persecution of Prophet Muhammad and his followers as his message would be met with hostility by his own people of the Arab tribe of Quraish in Mecca. It was reported of the Prophet of Islam envisioning Warqa in Paradise; a place of abode for believers in the life after life.
And when, eventually, the persecution of the Prophet of Islam and his followers by the hostile pagan Quraish tribe of Mecca became an existential threat to the fledging Muslim community, it was in the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia that they took refuge. Famous in history for his just piety, in whose kingdom no man is wronged, Armah, known in Muslim tradition as An-Najashi, the king of Christian Abyssinia, sheltered, fed and protected the refugee Muslim community from the violent persecution of their Quraish tormentors. King Armah not only rebuffed every emissary from the Lords of Mecca to expel the Muslim faithful seeking refuge in his Kingdom but declared their Islamic faith similar to his Christian faith as evident from the common source divine revelation of the Gospel and Quran, while granting them unlimited stay with freedom to practice their faith without inhibition in his Christian kingdom. The light of Islam was saved from being extinguished under the pressure of the whirlwind of the hostile pagan Quraish tribe of Mecca by the land, peoples and king of Christian Abyssinia. In appreciation for this profound help, the Prophet of Islam was reported to have offered the Muslim funeral prayers in Medina upon the death of the Armah, the king of Christian Abyssinia.
In contemporary times, Muslims have continued to seek and accept help from their Christian brethren in times of need like the Prophet of Islam and his companions did in the past. With parts of Muslim Arabia and the Levant engulfed by sectarian wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, resulting in the displacement of millions of Muslims desperately seeking refuge in more peaceful climes, Christians once again extended a hand of help. In response to this human tragedy, the Catholic Pontiff, His Holiness, Pope Francis II, Vicar of Christ Jesus and Bishop of Rome, didn’t make their conversion to Catholicism a precondition before he made a passionate appeal to the leaders of Christian Europe to open the gates of their city states to millions of Muslim refugees pouring out of the war-ravaged Muslim lands of Arabia and Levant. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany and the leader of the governing Christian Democratic Union party, was one of the early respondents to the appeal of the Holy Father. The Catholic Pontiff is also known to have intervened on behalf the Palestinian people and Rohingya of Myanmar, appealing for justice, fairness and equity for all without any evangelical strings attached.
Nearer home in Nigeria, one of the largest international donors in humanitarian services in the predominantly Muslim north of Nigeria that is aimed at improving the health, sanitary hygiene and economy of the people, is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has committed millions of dollars towards the total eradication of polio myelitis in the Muslim North, through the vaccination of millions of Muslim children against the debilitating disease, is founded and financially supported by Mr. and Mrs. Gates, a Christian couple of the Catholic denomination. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is purely a humanitarian international organisation, which is working hard to uplift humanity without a Christian evangelical string attached.
Religion as a subjective interpretation of faith is toxic when mixed wuth politics and governance in a multi-cultural, multi-religious state. When religion supplants humanism, it loses its faith. Like others before it, The Kukah Centre, though founded by a Catholic priest, is not an evangelical outreach platform seeking to win souls for Christ. The Kukah Centre is a humanitarian organisation with interfaith dialogue leading to the much-needed understanding, accommodation, peace and love among humanity at large, irrespective of individual religious orientation, as its core objective. And there is no better way to foster understanding and accommodation than showing love and care for the plight of millions of out-of-school Muslim children without compromising their Islamic faith. Rather than vilify Rev. Kukah, he should be appreciated by Nigerian Muslims, in line with prophetic traditions