For the second time in less than a year, the self-styled University of First Choice, the University of Lagos, Akoka is currently embroiled in another religious drama, following the denial by the Muslim community of Muslim students from performing I’tikaf in the Mosque.
I’tikaf is the seclusion in the Mosque during the last 10 days of Ramadan for the sole purpose of moving closer to Allah and attaching oneself and one’s heart to His worship alone.
Some aggrieved students actually took to the social media to vent their anger. They berated the Muslim Community, for what they called ‘unjust arrangement’ which goes against the spirit of Ramadan fast, the fourth pillar of Islaam.
Hassana Kazeem wrote on her wall: “Unilag students are not allowed to enter Mosque to perform I’tikaf. They said they need only 60 out of 5000 Muslims students for I’tikaf. This is injustice of the highest order.”
Another student, Raji Olamilekan claimed the Muslim Community discreetly sold the available 60 forms at the rate of N200 to students alleged to be loyal to them, while most of their mates were on holiday break.
“When we resumed and wanted to obtain the form. They told us the form has finished, because they printed limited copies, which only allow the participants to use mosque facilities.
“For feeding arrangement, participants, both students and outsiders, pay N15, 500″, he stated.
Until this year edition, the I’tikaf has been successfully coordinated by the UNILAG chapter of Muslim Students Society of Nigeria for decades.
The committee do source for funds from wealthy Muslims and members to feed the students for free during the holiest month.
Interestingly, the arrangement gets better by the year, and it’s gradually turning into a Mecca of some sorts, not only for the Unilag students, but to indigent students/participants from outside Unilag who often prefer the Mosque as an alternative I’tikaf venue- where they pay less, and still maximize the countless benefits of I’tikaf.
But this year I’tikaf arrangement has summarily shut out most students. The oppressive pricing and unwholesome arrangement were not only unfavorable it has led to confusion which further revealed the internal politicking within the UNILAG Muslim Community.
But while some simply returned home, either via outright denial that was occasioned by limited number of forms or because of inability to foot the beyond-the-student I’tikaf feeding fee; others simply frantically sought for very scarce alternatives for the fulfilment of the annual spiritual exercise.
When our reporters visited the school Mosque on Monday, May 27 (the 22nd day of Ramadan), apparently, there appeared no sign that students were denied access to the main Mosque for I’tikaf as claimed on the social media, as some students were seen engaged in the acts of Ibadah (worship), while others had gone for lectures.
But on the contrary, we met Ismael Abdul, who confirmed the story to our correspondents, however said; “It’s not a false alarm. They denied us our rights as students of this school. You met us in the main Mosque because their officials are not around to harass us. They will be back around 10pm to chase us out like animals. We would then stay outside, at the Quardragle (pointing at the place) till 3.00am. Then, they would open the gate for everyone to come in.”
Abdul condemned the situation, stressing that he had never experienced such harsh treatment in his life, especially as it was meted by Muslims upon fellow Muslims.
“We struggled to buy their Iftar and Sahur tickets, because there is no provision for us. They made provision for 60 but we have over 5000 Muslims on campus. What do they expect us to do? They are charging N100 per meal. Thank God that MSSN gives us free Iftar and Sahur at Amphitheater, a stone throw from the Mosque. We want our MSSN back. We’re tired of them (Muslim community)”, he concluded.
‘WE DIDN’T ENVISAGE IT’
An active member of MSSN, who didn’t want his name mention was obviously not happy about the development.
He said; “We didn’t envisage this problem. We thought the Director of Students Affairs (DSA), who is now in charge of our activities, would keep to her promise and would have re-instated MSSN by January, 2016 as promised, but here we are today, MSSN activities are still under suspension, because different forces want to control the organisation. They detached us from the National body to achieve their selfish interest.Thus, no one ever thought of this development. But Allah’s decree has to come to past.”
He insisted that if the society’s activities had not been suspended, the pandemonium would not have occurred in the first instance, noting that; “We know how to manage the students. This is what we have done for years, organising hitch-free I’tikafs, among other laudable students-friendly programmes.
“Last year was far better than this year because students were incharge. The food was free. Admonition was well coordinated. We invited learned scholars for series of soul inspiring lectures. Gifts were shared among Brothers and Sisters, amidst other goodies expected from us (students’ body) in Ramadan”, he stated.
He said absence of the students’ body has great effect on the conduct of this year’s itikaf.
According to him these include:
“Reduction of student mu’takifuun (campees), partial resumption of students to school as Muslims prefer to observe their fast, staying at home because of absence of a comprehensive, students friendly arrangement; absence of quality tafseer, inadequate meal for fasting Muslims even when they paid for it. This why we are still providing free Iftar and Sahur at Amphitheatre and within the hostels. Spiritually however, though not comparable, Taraawih, Tahajjud and Tafseer still hold daily.
“They went to import two (2) Haafidhs (Reciters) from Ibadan because they want Hufaadh (memorizers) to lead Tahajjud and it’s only MSSN that provided three (3) Haafidhs while other groups couldn’t. So they decided to delibrately sideline MSSN members and went ahead to import the Hufaadh, with extral cost, extral time and scarce resources, and of course, with the external influence they claim to be preventing”, he noted.
The activities of the vibrant MSSN was suspended amidst controversies last year. The move came on the heels of a petition by anonymous members of a splinter group to the Vice-Chancellor (VC), Prof Rahamon Bello, accusing MSSN leaders of corruption, the claim they rejected.
Though panel found none of the accused MSSN leaders guilty of corruption, it went ahead to suspend their activities and called for a review of the Bye-law.
Unilag authorities also demanded that the Branch distant itself from its higher bodies, MSSN Lagos State Area Unit, Zonal body and the National Secretariat- the action that has been described by many as, illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional, since MSSN Unilag is a branch of the National body, an autonomous, corporate entity recognised by law.
The students in their hundreds later staged peaceful protests demanding the return of their darling society. They also warned the authorities to stay out of their affairs, as doing so infringes on their fundamental right of association. Consequently, the management promised to resolve the crisis and produce a ‘newly reformed’ MSSN early this year (January, 2016), but it remains uncertain how and when this would be actualised.
‘The fate of the mu’takifuun
Former Naibul Amir (Vice President) of the institution, Ustaz AbdulGaniy Adebisi, while speaking with our correspondent described the situation in UNILAG as unfortunate, stressing that, “The students could not be said to be observing I’tikaf based on the current situation. We can’t call it itikaf but rather ibadah (act of worship).”
“If they sleep outside the Mosque from 10pm to 3am before they are allowed into the Mosque, then it’s not I’tikaf. They are supposed to be resident in the Mosque, a major condition for the spiritual exercise. The spiritual consequence of what becomes the status of the Muttakifun (campees) solely lies on the leadership of the Muslim Community.
Ustaz Adebisi supported his claims by quoting Qur’an 2:187 where Allah says: “….And do not have sexual relations with them (your wives) and encamp yourselves in a Mosque (for prayers and invocations, leaving worldly activities) …with emphasis on the Mosque,” he concluded.
‘Muslim Community keeps mum’
Efforts to speak with the members of the Muslim community yielded no results. Our Correspondent visited the Mosque on several occasions with no representatives in sight to speak with TRNG.
“They aren’t always around. And the people who can speak for them too are not around, except you come at night”, one of the students told our Correspondent.
After several attempts, TRNG eventually accosted Dr M.A Olopade of the Department of Physics, Faculty of Sciences, who insisted on conducting a background check about Renaissance before granting interview.
“This is the first time I’m hearing the name of your medium. I can’t speak with you on this issue until I finished my background findings on the organisation you said you represent”, he said.
When asked when to call back, he replied; ‘I can’t tell you when. If you like, publish it, I don’t care. I can’t talk to you until I’m done with my findings.’
On Thursday, June 30, 10:24am TRNG sent Dr Olapade a reminder, which read thus:
“Salaam alaykum. Sir, my name is Rasheed Abubakar. I called you yesterday (Wednesday, June 29) regarding the Unilag I’tikaf brouhaha, and you insisted on doing a background finding about the medium I represent. Visit encomium.ng to learn more.
“I also write for therenaissanceng.com. It’s very important I hear your own side of the story.
“Jazakumllahu khairan as I await your response.”
Dr Olapade didn’t reply as at the time of filing this report on Friday, July 1.
The big question on the lips of many is: why would Muslim students face the worst scenario of its existence when it has a Muslim Vice Chancellor and a Salafi Students’ Adviser. The VC, being a Muslim is now being deemed disappointment rather than a blessing.
They also inquire to know the essence of the Muslim Community if the welfare of students is considered second to none by the mother body whose paramount concern should be their welfare.
By Rasheed Abubakr