Islam: The Buried and Untold Stories
(This is the second report on the interview conducted with Sheikh Abdurrahman on May 2nd, 2021. For its entire recording, see https://fb.watch/5eN6-jkkUu/)
Islam is a peace-loving religion. The etymological definition of Islam in itself is peace. Yet, evil-loving, terror-wrecking politico-religious extremists have painted the Islamic faith in a bad light. Al Qaeda’s bombing of the Twin Towers in the United States in 2001 further dichotomized the already strained unification of Islam and the rest of the world. The issue is not with the religion, but we have to wait for the gradual reconciliation of the bombing victims with the adherents of a religion on whose tenets terrorists allegedly claimed their foundation was based. It has not been any easier in Nigeria, as the Boko Haram group has been wreaking havoc on the citizenry for years. It is difficult to convince people not to feel awry towards a religion, peaceful as it may seem to Muslims, if their families have been adversely affected by the atrocities of a terrorist group that allegedly attributes all its actions to Islam. It cannot be easy to maintain a good perception of an institution if some have bastardized it.
On the backdrop of the widespread disdain for and unwelcome reactions toward Islam and Islam-related claims—one of the most recent being the request for female schoolchildren to wear the hijab—Sheikh Abdurrahman Ahmad, the Chief Missioner for Ansar-Ud-Deen Society in Nigeria, granted the Toyin Falola Interviews team audience on May 2nd, 2021. The Missioner spoke at length on a range of Islam-related topics, particularly on Islam and women, Islam and insecurity in Nigeria, and Islam and children’s education. The interview opened with an introduction of Sheikh Ahmad, a well-versed scholar in both Islamic and Western education. Sheikh Ahmad enjoyed a beautiful career stint as a journalist before fully switching to working with the Ansar-Ud-Deen.
More often than not, many see Islam in a bad light. This may not be their fault, given that politico-religious extremists always tie their evil deeds to the religion. Therefore, it is reasonable to ask ourselves what would most likely come to the mind of the average Nigerian at the mention of the word “Islam,” especially when the present situation of the country is considered. Almost everyone has his/her preconceptions and perceptions about Islam. But the real question is: has Islam in any way contributed to the development of society? Sheikh Ahmad took us on a journey of reflective realization to prove Islam’s immense contributions to world development and in various fields of human endeavors such as mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, and trigonometry, which can be traced back in time.
Interestingly, the Sheikh asserted that Islam’s contributions to the fields of human endeavor are well-documented and are not restricted to the oblivious past. For example, the widely-used numbering system can be considered one of Islam’s contributions to world development. Also, Islam is heavily invested in the financial world, creating viable systems for economic growth in different countries. The Islamic Alternative Finance has been a bulwark supporting economic and infrastructural development in Africa and the Middle East. However, one of the precepts of Islam is not to make unnecessary profits; therefore, the Islamic financial institution offers no-interest loans. In developing countries like Nigeria, a no-interest loan financial system will give room for financial inclusion, as the masses can access loans for their small- and medium-scale businesses, paying back only that which they borrowed, without any seemingly stressful interest. At the heart of infrastructural development and the scaling of small- and medium-scale enterprises is Islam, a religion whose precepts are favorable and help new and upcoming businesses thrive. The Sukuk Bond has also brought financial emancipation to many and inclusion for the financially ostracized.
During the expository and educative interview, the Sheikh explained “Zakat” and how to calculate it. It was also revealed that the annual contributions to Zakat are greater than what the world’s biggest philanthropists give. Given such worthy contributions to world development, one would expect for the stories of Islam’s contributions to be told. Why, then, do we not hear of these good deeds? Why are we limited to the news of Boko Haram’s havoc and the gory details and resulting strained relationships that 9/11 caused? This brings to mind the foreign media’s continual portrayal of Africa as an emaciated, always needy, suffering continent wasting away and still largely under-civilized. Where is the mainstream media when it is needed? Where are Islamic scholars? Why are they not projecting the message of Islam’s contributions to world development as a counter move to nullify the widespread misgivings about the religion?
According to Sheikh Ahmad, though modern Islamic scholars are not doing enough to tell the story of Islam’s contributions to world development, the stories are being told nevertheless. But the private ownership of mass media is one of the biggest factors affecting the dissemination of stories on Islam and its lofty contributions to global issues. The media is controlled; it is censored. Editors, owners, and stakeholders in media houses hold the key to what can and cannot be published, leading to some stories being swept under the carpet. In the end, it is no longer about telling the stories that matter; it is now about telling stories that they want the public to know while shrouding other stories in a bid to maintain world order through the regulation of shared knowledge. As a countermeasure, Islam-friendly media houses like Al-Jazeera have been created, and they are expected to propagate Islam’s contributions to global development. More so, the achievements and contributions of Islam to world development are widely published in books found in libraries worldwide.
I challenged Islamic scholars to take it upon themselves to change the world’s perception of Islam by uniting to proclaim the religion’s immense contributions to global growth. Sheikh Ahmad caught on to the challenge, as he animatedly disclosed that Islamic scholars are working on reorienting the world about the religion. The media, he said, is not talking about the attacks on Palestine by the Israeli government. He asserts that the media has shut its eyes against the bombing of religious folks who went to pray peacefully. Yet, the same media is quick to capitalize on the extremely bad eggs that use Islam as a façade for the atrocities they commit, and it swiftly infuses Islam or Muslims into the next Boko Haram attack.
In the end, it comes down to the maxim that if you do not tell your own story, others will tell it in a warped way, which would likely not be true. The clarion call has been made to Islamic scholars. Will they rise to the challenge?