Urhobo Historical Society

Between Sanusi Lamido Sanusi And Ja'far Mahmud Adam : 
A Commentary on Fatimah Sulaiman's Response

By Muhammad Shakir

shakirmuhammad@yahoo. co. uk 

The moment I saw the title of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi's latest article at the gamji website I knew what to expect. By the time I came to the last word I said "Ah! Sanusi Lamido has stirred the hornet's nest again and he should get ready for for the stings." This morning I logged on and saw Fatimah Sulaiman's response. The first sting! It didn't fail my expectation.  Sanusi had taken a popular and revered Islamic preacher head-on and must be put in his place.  Fatimah, as a devout student of the mallam,  took Sanusi to the cleaners as she praised her mentor.

My aim in this article is to give my own analysis of Sanusi's position, take up some of the issues raised by Fatimah and make a conclusion.

If indeed I understood Sanusi properly and got the drift of Fatimah’s response I have to say that she didn’t address the central issue contained in the article even though she raised important fresh issues. Sanusi’s main task was to "deconstruct the origins of his perverted (i. e.  Ja'far's ) morally empty conception of what is a true sense of Muslim of Fulani identity". That is,  he meant to employ the post-modern critical tool called deconstructionism to expose the fallacy of Ja'far's position.  What position? The position of "those who feel the need to build up identities out of biological accidents,  fate,  providence or serendipity and attach moral worth to ambivalent facts".  Sanusi also set out to assert that "we do not subscribe to an identity divorced of moral content".  Her saying that "calling on the Sheikh's background to discredit him has proven that Sanusi is an illiterate in Islamic History" suggests that she  was being simplistic or didn't know what Sanusi was talking about. I think what is more obvious is that he was offering a perspective on contextualizing some of the things a person says given their background.  We all walk around with our prejudices, pains and fears and they all inevitably colour our understanding of the world no matter what name we eventually give to the system we have have built it upon. Our duty is to recognize them and be on our guard. No two students of Islam even though they read exactly the same texts will have the same outlook, the subjective and experiential component always comes to the surface. Check out the differences between Abubakar Gumi and his students Lawal Abubakar and Sunusi Gumbi even on some rather fundamental issues.  We all know that no thought system or philosophy,  no matter how rational or objective it appears,  can be totally divorced from the subjective experiences or events in the formative years of the life of its proponent.  Put another way,  one's outlook on life,  regardless of which group-label one bears,  is subconsciously influenced by so many subliminal factors not least significant events in one's psychological biography.  This means that we would be making a big mistake to think that an Islamic scholar's opinions and judgements derive only from the sacred texts – Qur'an and sunnah.  What we must hasten to add is that this is in no way to cast aspersions on the person of the scholar or doubt their sincerity.  It's quite obvious that the extreme tenor of the matyr Sayyid Qutb's Fi Zilaalil Qur'an and the Milestones stems from the treachery and cruelty he and others suffered in the hands of the godless and  tyrannical Egyptian authorities.  That's why some of his most articulate critics can be found in the ranks of The Brotherhood.  They drank from the same source afterall. , why the sharp difference? We cannot simply say he had more iman,  knowledge or intellect than they.  We couldn’t know the former anyway.  Just look at how easy it is for a scholar in the US or even Nigeria,  in their relative comfort,  to denounce 'suicide bombers' in Palestine (of course backed by Islamic texts) and the scholar who witnesses the daily realities of existence in that most troubled place (who also justifies his support for the method by invoking Qur'an and Sunnah).  Many observers are convinced that the agnostic temper of Darwin's philosophy is directly attributable to the pathetic death of his beloved daughter.  So many scholars,  Muslim and Christian,  also affirm that had the medieval Catholic Church been less bigoted,  less dismissive of science and less senselessly inquisitorial of men of science etc Europe and its seeds in the new world wouldn't have been so suspicious of of religion.  It was an attitude that was born of a peculiar history not an inexorable unanymous conclusion of humanity.  So to hold that "extremism is a route to recognition and vertical mobility'" isn't such an atrocious analysis.

However the whole corpus of Sanusi's writings tends to suggest there is more to it than meets the eye.  I think,  behind the façade of this particular analysis lurks a profound disdain for people Sanusi has severally tagged 'fundamentalists',  'religious bigots',  'mullahs' and 'extremists'.  In his condescending 'interventions' his contempt comes up thinly –veiled.  I think terms of that vintage are more properly left in the employ of unsympathetic critics of a generation of  Muslims grappling with the onslaught of westernisation. Can we comfortably exonerate Sanusi's phrase,  in referring to Ja'far,  "an up-rooted,  ruddeless exile" of aristocratic condescension? Can we clear him of disdain and contempt for the person of Mallam Ja'far?  What of the expression "a Kano based religious demagogue".  Sanusi has spoiled an otherwise insightful and interesting analysis with his characteristic hauteur.

Now,  to come to Mallama Fatimah’s comparative juxtaposition of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and Ja'far Mahmud Adam in terms of their direct service to Islam or benefit to Muslims.  The difference is clear.  Even Sanusi,  if begrudgingly,  concedes this when he said “Ja'far may claim to be  the living defender of the  Prophet's sunna…".  I am more inclined to think that Ja'far is acclaimed to be rather than claims to be,  at least in Northern Nigeria.  Only God Himself knows how many people Mallam has taught the Holy Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet at Gadon-Kaya,  Dorayi,  Triumph,  Beirut Road and so many fora within and outside the borders of Nigeria.  Many also have entered the fold of Islam via the proselytizing activities of Izalatul Bid'ah Wa Ikamatus Sunnah of which Ja’far is a pillar.  I personally have benefited from Mallam's erudition,  eloquent delivery and didactic prowess as much as Sanusi Lamido has kindled in me a critical approach especially in contemporary Islamic discourse.  I would not miss Mallam Ja'far's weekly Tafsir sessions at Beirut Road (which he delivers in his captivating,  elegant but succinct Hausa) for the whole world.  But I wasn't an uncritical student.  Many of my friends can testify to this.  The Mallam raised for me  so many questions even as he answered a lot more.

And what of Mallam Sanusi Lamido? No doubt he has been outstanding in stimulating debate on vital topical issues but a man immersed in usury is hardly the most desirable role model and cannot be an effective advocate of Islamic values.  I eagerly await the banker's explanation of his cosy romance with riba.   But  we must give kudos to people like him for exposing the hypocrisy of the so-called leaders of Northern Nigeria who whip up religious,  sectional and ethnic sentiments to self-serving ends,  those who exploit their fellow Muslims and ‘Northerners' riding on the crest of 'the northern identity' and Muslim unity and solidarity.

Mallama Fatimah accuses Sanusi of lying on a number of statements.  Let's examine them.  She said "Sanusi however blatantly lied when he said the Maiduguri businessman is a patron of Sheikh Ja'far".  Sanusi should substantiate that himself.  As for the second one that "Sanusi again lied and discredited himself by identifying the sheikh with a religious sect.  Sheikh Ja'far never identified himself with any sect and says so" (italics mine),  it is simply not true.  God is my witness that,  some years back,  I heard with my two ears when the mallam declared that "mune 'ya'yan Izala" meaning "we are the children of Izala".  And it would take hard-headed casuistry to claim that Izala is not a sect.  I would also like to refer Mallama Fatimah to the preachings of the pre-Saudi phase of Mallam Ja'far's career especially those ones at 'Masallacin Triumph'.  Then he typified a hot-headed Izala demagogue.  No doubt since he returned from his Saudi sojourn he has been more tolerant,  more compassionate.  But that his adversarial stance towards Shi'ites and Sufis continues is just a matter of degrees.  The form has only been gentler,  more scholarly.  Even though the Izala of Kano now prefer to be known as Ahl-us-Sunnah wal Jama'ah and have actually followed it up it up with actually being more expansive and civil,  it would definitely be standing the truth on its head to say they they never claimed to be  a sect,  Izala.  They have shifted from the excesses of former days to more enlightened and more beneficial activities in contradistinction to the ever-trivial and ever-bickering Izala groups of many other parts of the country. 

Further,  Fatimah says that "Sanusi must understand that he cannot speak on the deen until he studies the deen.  He cannot study controversial philosophical books and claim he has enough knowledge to speak on religious matters".  While it is true that Sanusi relies on philosophy to marshall his arguments it’s only a person ignorant of Sanusi's biography would claim that he’s ignorant of the deen.  He actually did four years of Islamic Studies in the Sudan after obtaining his BSc Econs from ABU.  Prior to that he had,  in the traditional way,  studied the primary and secondary Maliki texts,  mostly under the tutelage of his learned relatives.  We can only add that a person so educated would be more competent in handling contemporary Islamic discourse.

Finally the sister says "Another gross deficiency in analysis on the part of Sanusi became evident when he branded the Sheikh a racist".  Racism is a serious charge to be laid at the door-step of anyone and Sanusi certainly didn't use the term all he says is that "he glorifies tribalism".  What is glaring is that it would take the most clever attorney to clear the Shaikh of ethnocentric chauvinism in the statement attributed to him that "They don't have the identity of the religion they belong to.  They equally don't have the identity of the tribe they belong.  President Obasanjo has his Yoruba identity and Christianity as a religion which he overzealously protects; Sardauna had a northern identity and that of Islam which he overzealously protected; Awolowo had his Yoruba identity…Ojukwu had his Ibo identity …Every person who knows what he is doing must have such an identity".  Now tsakani da Allah what does the mallam seem to be suggesting by overzealously protecting one's tribal (and religious) identity.  May be it was the devil of translation. 



In a world in which what we see on the surface,  even if it bears the label of religion,  is the result of so many factors and motivations.  We cannot take things for granted.  We have to develop an intellectual sieve to filter what scholars give us.  Don't get me wrong I repeat this is not to set out to question the intentions of anybody.  My point is not to miss Sanusi's point.  We should be on our guard when traditional scholars take up contentious contemporary issues such as 'identity',  'democracy',  'pluralism',  genetics and complicated scientific issues that they are not trained to handle,  as much as we must beware of secularists and liberalists masquerading as Islamic reformers. 

Sanusi Lamido Sanusi is playing a vital role in stimulating dialogue on contemporary Islamic matters and nudging us to consider things we hitherto accepted unquestioningly but he could do so without condescension.  He should climb down from his high horse to make contribution and not 'intervention' not least because the word assumes superiority and connotes finality.  Finality is not exactly a feature of dialogue.  He should be more compassionate to those 'less intellectually endowed' than he. 

Traditional scholars exemplified by Mallam Ja’far could also be more useful by broadening their horizons with the modern subjects of sociology,  political science,  space technology,  reproductive health,  psychology etc as we do not live in an intellectually closed system.