Only those who are not familiar with the Islamic teachings and preaching of Nigeria’s minister of communications and digital economy, Isa Ali Pantami, would be alarmed about some of his extremist views that come across as sympathetic to Islamist terror groups like al-Qaeda and Boko Haram.
For those who are even remotely familiar with his fiery preaching in the last two decades, from his days as the chief Imam of the Abubakar Tafawa Belawa University Mosque in Bauchi State to his regular tafsir session at the an-Nur mosque in Abuja, Pantami, one of northern Nigeria’s most influential Salafi clerics, epitomises radical Islamist fundamentalism in words and deeds.
Salafism is a puritan branch of Islam that espouses the practice of the Islamic faith in strict accordance with the traditions of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad [PBUH], and his early companions [may Allah be pleased with them] in a way that is completely devoid of any form of innovation. In Salafi theology, a Muslim is expected to live in absolute obedience to the commandments of God in strict compliance with the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad [PBUH].
With its belief that Islam is a complete way of life, Salafism enjoins Muslims to be guided in all matters, at all times and in all circumstances, by the Quran, Hadiths [a compendium of prophetic traditions], scholarly analogical reasoning and a consensus of scholarly opinion [Sharia].
By its recognition of the Sharia as the only acceptable governing legal code, Salafi Islam does not make room for the separation of state and religion and its adherents consider secularism an anathema to their Islamic faith, which they must struggle to supplant with an Islamic theocracy in the form of the 7th century Rashidun Caliphacy, as a matter of religious duty. The arrival of Salafism in northern Nigeria from Saudi Arabia through Sudan at about the period when Pantami was born in the village of Pantami in the early 1970s radically changed the practice of the Muslim religion in Nigeria.
And with the rapid spread of Salafism in a region that was made fertile by a robust heritage of Islamist revivalism, the seeds of radical Islam were sown in mainstream Muslim theology in Nigeria and germinated four decades later, in 2010, in the form of the Boko Haram insurgency.
While Muslims are scripturally [Quran] enjoined to obey Allah [SWT] and follow the example of his divinely guided messenger, Muhammad [PBUH], in matters of the practice of the Islamic faith and righteous living, the entire theological framework of Salafism is built on a contextual misunderstanding of Allah’s words and circumstantial misinterpretation of prophetic traditions, which has resulted in the misrepresentation of an otherwise peaceful Islamic faith as a compulsively intolerant, hateful, vengeful and violent Muslim religion.
The fundamentals of Salafi theology, which can be distilled into the three doctrines of caliphacy, re-categorization of Christians and Jews away from fellow believing People of the Book to unbelieving infidels and the equation of disobedience of its own interpretation of Islam to outright disbelief are the core of radical Islamic ideology that has set Nigerian Muslims on a collision course with their secular, multi-religious and democratic country.
Like other Salafi clerics, Ali Pantami, whose entire body of knowledge of the Islamic faith is premised upon on a contextual misunderstanding of the Quran and the circumstantial misinterpretation of the Hadiths, helped to water the seeds of radicalization to maturity in the form the current Boko Haram insurgency.
Boko Haram insurgency is not Islamic but Boko Haram insurgents are radicalized Muslims that are trying to practice what Ali Pantami and his fellow Salafi clerics have preached over time. And as part of their strategy to forcefully repeal and replace Nigeria’s current secular order with an Islamic theocratic state [caliphate], non-Muslims, whom they regard as infidels, and Muslims who do not subscribe to their ideology are legitimate targets for elimination.
The shocking revelations of Ali Pantami’s extremist tendencies have led to calls for his resignation or sacking. While it is the right thing for him to resign, what is even more wrong was the nomination of Ali Pantami in the first place for a position in the government of Nigeria.
However, those calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to sack his minister of communications and digital economy may not know that Ali Pantami was actually appointed for the very reason they want him sacked.
By weaponizing religion as a useful tool for political mobilization, Sheikh Ali Pantami and his fellow Salafi clerics helped President Buhari to galvanize massive political support for his presidential ambition in the Muslim North after he expressed support for Sharia implementation in Nigeria.
Ali Pantami, whose major point of disagreement with Muhammad Yusuf, the founder of the Boko Haram sect, was the methodology to be adopted towards achieving the ideal Islamic state in Nigeria, would favour a political Islamist approach in order to achieve the same goal from within the system over direct armed confrontation against the Nigerian state.
In this regard, the portrayal of President Buhari as the “true Muslim” and champion of Islamist separatism in the fiery preaching of Ali Pantami and his likes helped to secure for him cult-like support in the Muslim North, which is Nigeria’s largest voting bloc.
As seen from the massive support and outpouring of solidarity for the region’s most influential cleric, calling on the President to sack Ali Pantami is like asking him to undo his support base in the Muslim North to satisfy the demands of unreasonable “infidels” that are “attacking” the religion of Islam.