Prof. Ishaq Akintola, Director of the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) recently granted an interview audience to The Punch about the controversial abduction of a teenage girl, Ese Oruru from Bayelsa State. The interview was published Sunday, March 6.
However, Akintola, a professor of Islamic Eschatology, felt that his views were abridged, probably due to space constraint. He, therefore, reproduced the interview for the benefit of the general public. The full interview as reproduced is hereby republished unedited.
The Punch newspaper published my interview on the Esse Oruru saga today. I have decided to publish the full text because some parts of my speech was abridged by Punch, perhaps due to space limitation. Punch also omitted the location of the Bible texts which I quoted. Enjoy it:
Is child marriage permitted in Islam looking beyond the case of Ese Oruru? Is it an article of faith?
Islam is a complete way of life. As a religion, non-Muslims will have to take Muslims as they are, not as they want them to be. Neither Muslims nor their religion should be judged according to other standards. There will never be any inter-religious understanding so long as non-Muslims continue to measure Muslims and their way of life by Christian, Bhudist or Confucianist yardsticks.
The simple truth is Islam has no age barrier in marriage and Muslims have no apology for those who refuse to accept this for them, particularly since 99.99% of such marriages are conducted among Muslims themselves. If the man is a Muslim and the girl is also a Muslim and the girl’s parents give their approval, what is the business of any non-Muslim in that? It is sheer interference in the affair of Muslims and an attempt to exert undue influence on them.
More often than not, those who interfere in this manner have ulterior motives. It is either for the purpose of smearing the image of Islam or to gain a comparative advantage and score a religious point (for their own faith of course).
We are not unaware of all these antics yet we patiently endure them. Non-Muslims should therefore keep off Muslim affairs. Who are non-Muslims to be the judge of Muslims when every religious group has its own failings? This interference often causes unnecessary strain on Christian-Muslim relationship.
Despite the fact that our Christian neighbours sing the hymn “I want to be like Jesus…” repeatedly, they are not behaving like Jesus (peace be upon him). Neither are they following his teachings. There will be peace if they do. But they don’t. Jesus taught Christians to mind their own business and to resist the temptation to judge others. He said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure that you give will be the measure you get.” (Mathew 7:1 – 2)
Do you sir or your organisation, MURIC, support child marriage?
I am a Muslim and I support all truly Muslim practices. Our organization, MURIC, is an Islamic human rights outfit. So naturally we should support all principles of Islam. It promotes Allah-given fundamental human rights as well as Allah-given fundamental rights of all creatures, animals, mammals, inverteberates, birds in the sky, the environment and all natural entities. Everything created by Allah has a right. We promote their rights.
MURIC believes in all Shariah-compliant marriages, regardless of the age of the girl. The sensationalisation of intra-Muslim marriages to the so-called minors is uncalled for and, more often than not, done with hidden malice. For your information, we don’t have what you call ‘child marriage’. We have nikah (Islamic marriage).
I affirm clearly, emphatically and unequivocally that what happens among Muslims is strictly a Muslim affair and should remain so as long as it is Shariah-compliant.
Non-Muslims have no right to poke their noses into any religious action taken by Muslims for Muslims. Nikah is a marriage of the Muslims conducted by the Muslims for the Muslims. How the Muslims do it is nobody’s business. Do we come into the church to criticise the way marriages are conducted?
Have Muslims said anything about gay marriages inside churches? That is Christian way of life and they should stop attempts to impose their lifestyle on Muslims. We will never allow that. It is an attempt to subject Muslims to public ridicule. You cannot hold us in contempt and talk about love. It is sheer deceit. It is hypocricy.
Even Jesus (peace be upon him) called those who ignore their own faults to interfere in other people’s matters hypocrites. He said,“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’ when there is a log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Mathew 7:3 – 5).
So instead of paying attention to marriages conducted among Muslims, Christians should do something about gay marriages inside churches.
What’s your view on the alleged abduction, forceful marriage and conversion to Islam of Ese Oruru by Yinusa?
MURIC issued a statement on this ugly episode immediately it broke out. Let me pick the highlights. It was a kind of Romeo and Juliet affair. We demanded that Yunusa Oruru, the ‘boy friend’ with whom the girl eloped should be arrested and prosecuted because the girl is a minor and a Christian. Attempting to marry off the girl without her parent’s permission is not only a breach of common law but also a violation of the Shariah provision on the need for the parents’ approval before nikah (Islamic marriage) can be deemed valid. La nikah bila waliyyinis a basic condition before marriage can be conducted in Islam and Qur’an 4:25 lays emphasis on this same condition.
Now we cannot talk of forceful marriage in this case because both the parents of Yunusa, the Shari’ah Council in Kano and even the Emir himself, His Eminence Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, refused to conduct the marriage on the basis that the girl is a Christian, she is underage and her parents had not given consent. So there was no marriage. Where is the forceful marriage they keep talking about?
But we in MURIC are displeased with the conduct of our Romeo (Yunusa) for two major reasons. One: he did not listen to his father who warned him not to bring the girl to Kano. Islam frowns heavily on disobedience to parents (Qur’an 17:23; 31:14). Two: contrary to the provisions of Qur’an 17:32 which forbids fornication and adultery, he may have had canal knowledge of the girl because it is now being rumoured that Juliet (Ese) is five months pregnant.
MURIC is not going to say Yunusa is innocent just because he is a Muslim. Islam teaches justice and fairness. The religion or tribe of the parties involved does not matter. The Qur’an commands Muslims to “…Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses of Allah, even if the case is against yourselves, or your parents, or your family, and whether it is against a rich or poor man…” (Qur’an 4:135). That is why we called for Yunusa the Romeo’s arrest.
Ijaw youths are not looking at it from an objective angle. They are spoiling for war. All they see is a Northerner had abducted their daughter. But is it abduction or elopement? Can we prevent a young boy and a young girl from falling in love with each other?
Even Ese’s father has his own faults despite his attempt to blame the Emir of Kano. But the truth is Ese’s father has a big portion of the blame. Same with the mother. How did they train their daughter? Why did Ese the Juliet develop hot pants for her Romeo, Yunusa? When last did Ese’s mother admonish her about boys and relationships?
Ese Oruru refused to return to her parents. She insisted on remaining in Kano with her kid ‘husband’. This is instructive. It tells a lot about the relationship between Ese and her parents. Does she really love them? Did she feel any sense of belonging when she was with her parents? She doesn’t appear close to either of her parents. A girl of her age should be longing to see her mother. Instead she said she doesn’t want to see them. We have something interesting here.
We must also consider Ese’s education. I am really perturbed because nobody has mentioned anything about her school. Did Ese go to school? What level? If she did not go to school or was not planning to continue what did the parents do about it?
So let us address the substance and stop chasing shadows. Did Ese attend Sunday School while living with the parents? Nay, are the parents church-goers? Did they train their daughter in the Lord’s way? These are fundamental questions that the press should put to Ese’s parents. They should talk to their neighbours. The press should interview their church pastor. He should tell Nigerians if Ese’s parents attend church regularly.
Nigerians are curious. They want to know if Ese’s parents are practicing Christians. There is a difference between bearing a Christian name and being a practicing Christian. I want us to get to the root of matter so that Nigerians can learn one or two lessons. Parents have a duty inloco parentis to guide their children. Did the parents of Ese perform their duties as parents? Ese was always in the shop and this was how she became exposed to Yunusa who used to run errands for the family. Did the parents monitor their daughter who was always in the shop?
Regarding Ese’s conversion. It is not acceptable to us yet until the girl is 18. At least that is what the Nigerian law says and we have to comply since we are Nigerians. The condition for accepting conversion as valid in Islam is different, however. It is buluug(i.e. maturity) that matters. Buluug is measured by the time the girl starts menstruating which may vary according to her physiological condition). Many people are saying the girl is 13 but the girl insists she is 17. I think we have an unfinished business there.
Would the situation have been different if Yinusa got the consent of Ese’s parents?
People are saying the issue of Ese being forcefully married and converted to Islam has further dented the image of Muslims in the country. Do you agree with that? Why?
That was the aim of the propagators of this story ab-initio and I don’t think that aim has changed.
Whether they have succeeded or not is another thing anyway. But I think they failed. Yes, they failed woefully.
Besides your organisation, many feel the Muslim community is not bothered about the unfolding event that has Islam at its core. Would you say major Islamic groups and authorities and individuals are complacent about human rights?
That is not true. Where do you think MURIC gets this deluge of information it uses very often. We network but don’t lets talk about how we do that. Sometimes other Islamic organisations also rise to the occasion. Exempli gratia, the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs has tackled several issues in the past.
Take also the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN) for example. Look at the way they handled the issue of JAMB’s discrimination against candidates who used hijab in the ongoing JAMB examinations.
The National Council of Muslim Youth Organisations (NACOMYO) and the Companion have equally taken up issues at different periods. But MURIC may be seen as different just because we specialise in human rights while others handle all aspects of Islamic orientation (evangelisation, education, prayers, enlightenment, etc).
People expect groups like Nasfat, MSSN, NSCIA, others to be involved in this issue. Does it mean they don’t see anything wrong in Yinusa’s alleged actions?
Who is MURIC? Who provides it with information from time to time? Is it not the organizations you mentioned above? MURIC will be nowhere at all if all those organisations withhold information from it. Particularly NSCIA, that is our umbrella organization and MURIC is tied to its umbilical cord. You will agree with me that the present NSCIA is quite different from what we had before.
With the current dynamic and highly mobile, visionary and exemplary leadership, NSCIA is doing quite well and I can tell you that they are involved in this Ese Osuru saga. The fact is that MURIC consults widely on these issues. Sometimes the organization is called upon to handle some affairs.
So you must stop imagining that it is MURIC or that it is MURIC alone. MURIC is just an errand organization and if you send your children to the market and they bring home what you need, you don’t have to embark on the journey to the market by yourself. I hope I have made myself very clear.
Religious tensions are not uncommon in the country. Is there a potential for this situation to degenerate into a religious and tribal upheaval? What will you advise?
Yes it is quite dicey. There are extremists, terrorists and fanatics on both sides of the divide. We need to step up enlightenment about the need for religious tolerance. But above all we need to leave the Muslims alone. Let the Muslims go. Nigerian Christians should stop measuring Muslims by Christian yardsticks. We have different norms and values. Let us respect one another’s freedom of religion.
Yinusa is alleged and seen by many as the culprit in Ese’s predicament. Do you think he acted alone?
What else are we looking for? We have seen Juliet. We have seen Romeo. Are we still looking for the whole feuding Montague and Capulet families?
Would you prefer he is tried under Sharia to being tried under the penal or criminal law having allegedly committed crimes across two states?
Oh yes I would love that.
The Emir of Kano has been criticised for his alleged role in the Ese-Yinusa case. You think he deserves the criticisms?
Those who criticize the Emir of Kano on this case are ethnic bigots. They are blinded by their hatred for Northerners. What do you want this man to do? He referred the case to the Shariah Council. The latter examined it and decided the girl was too young and she lacked parental support and approval. Pronto, the Emir ordered that the girl should be returned to her parents in Bayelsa. What has he done wrong?
What many Nigerians don’t know about His Eminence Sanusi Lamido Sanusi is that he is wearing two crowns. He is an Emir and a versatile Islamic scholar. This was something I also did not know when he was still serving as the governor of Central Bank. I came to know later that he speaks Arabic language fluently. He is a great asset, a pearl among his peers. You can only hate him out of envy.
Following the Ese case is a growing allegations of other minors being abducted, forced into marriage and into converting to Islam. Isn’t this worrisome?
Which cases? Do you have the proof? Why is the press more interested in investigating Muslims and acting anti-Muslim whistle-blowers? That is my worry. Why is the press silent about hundreds of Muslim children taken to Christian camps from Edo State. Why isn’t the press interested in that? People are free to beat about the bush anyway. They have to justify their pay. The Henry Townsend spirit has to be there too, you know.
What is the Muslim community going to do about this alleged abductions, forceful conversion and marriage of minors by its adherent?
There you go again. Baseless, clueless, unfounded and untenable allegations. Rumours, rumours and rumours. Where you have cases, bring them forward. You cannot turn us into suspects overnight. You know where abduction is rampant. I wont mention states.
Why is the Nigerian press so keen on causing distractions. A whole region has turned abduction into family and tribal business. The Nigerian press looks the other way and starts prying into issues that have nothing to do with
Abduction of female children for sex slavery and forced marriage has become a trend in the country. What’s the way out?
That’s not true. You are making a mountain out of a molehill and I am not under any obligation to answer that kind of question. It is prejudicial. I respect the press and I will continue to cooperate with them but I will not be an accomplice after the untruth. Better still, if you must have an answer, the security agencies are the ones who would provide an answer to your question.
Some, like Governor Ayo Fayose has alleged that President Muhammadu is trying to Islamise Nigeria. Do you agree with him?
Tell you something Bayo, that fear is unfounded and the comment is most unfair. Unlike Ayo Fayose, Buhari is neither a religious zealot nor an ethnic jingoist. He is the worst governor Nigeria ever had. He is trying to whip up religious sentiment. He wants to start a religious war. People like Fayose cannot hold Nigeria together. I am waiting for the day when he will seek a higher position at federal level. He holds sectarian and parochial views. He is Islamophobic.
While every patriotic Nigerian is working towards peaceful coexistence, Fayose is actively working towards religious crisis. It is a shame and a negation of everything he stands for as governor. For seeking to cause religious hullabaloo, Fayose has broken his oath of office.
Recently, the President refused the offer to join Saudi-led coalition against terror. How do you see that in view of the ongoing insurgency in the North. Can the battle against Boko Haram be won without help from countries like Saudi Arabia?
The president was right. Why should Nigeria join an all-Muslim military alliance led by anybody? Is this an Islamic country? I told you earlier that Islam teaches justice and equity. We will not support such a coalition just because the president is a Muslim.
Our Christian and traditional neighbours have the right to be carried along. Which army is Nigeria going to use if it joins such a coalition? Is it the same Nigerian Army? Is this army made up of Muslims alone? Kai! Ankali faa!