There can’t be much disagreement or argument about the fact that there
exist a slight difference in the way Muslims in northern part of
Nigeria perceived Islam to the way their counterpart from the south
There is a general perception that Muslims in the south seems to be
more refined and moderate, while those in the north tends to be more
radicalized. This manifest in the ways and manner both people react to
According to Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi state while presenting the
report of a committee setup by the Northern governors on insecurity
and healing process, he asked: Why is there no conflict between
Christians and Muslims in the south as it is found in the north?
According to the governor, contrary to the popular belief, Islam came
to Nigeria from the southern part of the country and not from the
north, adding that, Islam came to the south before coming to the
north. Governor Yuguda noted that, the first sharia court was
established in Iwo, Osun state, its there in history. He said.
The governor didn’t stop there, he went further to say that, Karem
borno which many thought first received Islam in Nigeria only had
Islam 1200 years ago, while Sokoto, the seat of the caliphate, And
Sultan, the spiritual leader of Muslims in the country only came in
contact with Islam over 200 years ago, but according to him, Islam
came to Lagos much earlier than karem borno empire.
Governor Yuguda also added that, the first islamic university in
Nigeria was established in the southwest, Ogun state to be precise,
but he wondered why all the bloodbath in the northern region.
Substantiating his claim, Yuguda said, there are Muslims and
Christians in the south west who live peacefully with each other, with
each practicing their religion, adding that, in the southwest, you see
a church on top of a building and then a mosque on the ground. They
are leaving just as Allah has said we should live both in the Quran
The Bauchi state Governor then asked regarding the current insurgency
in the north, Are they reading a different Quran? I ask myself always,
why is there no crisis there, why is there crisis in Northern Nigeria,
The above submission from Governor Isa Yuguda indeed lay credence to
the fact that, there seems to exist a slight difference in the way
Muslims in the south perceive Islam to their counterpart in the north.
In the north for example, a perceived, even if not confirmed
desecration of the Holy Quran could lead to riot where over 100 people
could be killed. However, their southern counterpart on the other hand
don’t act with such rashness, they critically evaluate at the
situation, establish the facts and ensure a violent free correction.
This is not to generalize that all the people in the north believe in
such violent reactions, many peaceful northerners don’t share in such
believe and they actually detest it, but certainly, there exist a very
large number of people that does believe in such violent reaction.
Also, it is worth to note that, not everyone in the south believe in
such peaceful reaction to such situations, but they are a very small
However, many have been asking, what is responsible for this slight
difference since it is the same religion, with the same holy book as a
source of guidance, the same Prophet Muhammed as the teacher and the
same God as the ultimate.
- Why do some Muslims believe in violent reaction while others believe
in peaceful reaction?
- Which of the two groups is following the tenate of Islam as taught
in the holy book and by the Prophet of Allah?
To address the questions, one have to take a look at the historical
background of how the south and northern part of the country embraced
Islam as a choice of religion.
From the beginning, Islam is a religion which started with education.
The message of the religion was taught to people first in the family
of Prophet Muhammed and subsequently to people in his area and then to
the street. People are not required to embrace Islam until they
understand what the religion is all about. It is not a religion
imposed by a superior authority, but rather, a religion preached to
people and embraced after understanding.
According to the Prophet of God, Allah says in hadith Qudsi, “know me,
before you serve me. For if you do not know me, how then can you serve
So basically, it is wrong to be an ignorant Muslim. For ignorance is
not an excuse in Islam. Prophet Muhammed (S.A.W) also said, seeking
knowledge is mandatory on every Muslim, Male or Female.
According to the history of Islam in northern Nigeria which started as
far back as 6th Century, Islam was spread in the north with the
conversion of the kings and chiefs.
History have it that, In the north such as Kano, Borno and other
places where Islam started with the conversion of their Kings and
Chiefs, the superior authority used their power, wealth and influence
to adopt Islam as the state religion. Unlike in the south where Islam
started from the scratch and with the masses who had nothing.
The religion of Islam in the north grew from top to down within a
short period after the conversion of the kings, while in the south,
the religion gradually grew from down to up with massive education and
considerable understanding by the masses themselves.
Among the mass southern Muslims, there is considerable understanding
of Islam, even Christians in southwest understand Islam to some
extent, and hardly can people be misled by any scholar or authority.
Southern Muslims question religious authorities,they don’t just accept
whatever is said to them. Even if they do not understand Arabic, they
read the translated version of the Quranic text and make their own
meaning from the original text. In case they find it difficult to make
meaning from a text, they approach clerics for explanation, meet
different scholars on the same subject to establish the truth. Even
the unlettered one’s hold dear the basic principles of Islam. One of
such principles is the sacredness of live.
From childhood, southern Muslims have been informally educated about
basic principles of Islam which they know as constant. A Yoruba saying
goes thus: ‘’ Ati kekere ni imole tin ko omo e ni esin’’ meaning,
Muslims teach their children Islam from childhood.
Whatever they are told, they weigh it with the basic principle of
Islam and their own previous knowledge. This is hardly the case in the
north. Considering how Islam was introduced to the people, there was
less room for much questioning, the masses mostly follow directives
given by superior authorities without questions. When superior
authorities says go, they go without truly understanding if their
going was justified, and when they are told to come, they come without
asking questions. This defining point shaped the current situation in
northern Nigeria and explains the slight difference in the way both
region perceive Islam.
The reaction to “Desecration” of the Quran and the name of the Holy
Prophet is a major point of difference.
This thus calls for a brief discussion of the attitude of Muslims and
Christians to this subject as a report on history of radicalization of
Islam in Nigeria captures.
As captured in the report, both Christians and Muslims have different
attitudes to their “Holy” books, the Bible and the Quran.
While the Christians are free in the ways they handle the Bible and
can put it under their pillow for “protection” and on their dining
table for use before meals, the Muslims hold their Qur’an in respect
that borders on awe. For example, the Qur’an cannot be put on the bed,
especially on ones where love is made between couples. It should not
be put on the floor, table or any place where anyone that has not
performed ablution can have access to it. The tendency for Christians
not to treat the Qur’an with the level of respect that Muslims accord
it has been a source of problems, and a number of conflicts have been
linked to this. Closely related to this is the extent of respect that
should be given to the Prophet Mohammed. Muslims are unequivocal in
their demand for respect for the Prophet, while Christians are less
inclined to giving the Prophet any special attention. While most
Christians are willing to respect the sensitivity of Muslims by not
desecrating the name, they do not have any special desire to accord
the name any special respect. Saying the usual “Peace be unto him”
after the mention of his name, for example, is not what Christians are
inclined to do.
While many Muslims are willing to accept this, they take seriously any
conscious attempt to desecrate the name. Again, this has been at the
center of violence in northern Nigeria.
While Muslims in the south also frown at any form of desecration of
the Holy book an holy prophet, they believe such desecration should be
peacefully corrected with education of the culprit. There hasn’t been
any form of violent reaction to desecration in the south, though, they
express their displeasure with such desecration and try to ensure it
A focus group discussions undertaken show slight differences as to the
manifestation of desecration as a cause of violent. While all those
who took part in the discussions recognize it as a cause of problem,
many of those who took part in the discussion in the South-West argue
that it needs not be an issue that should lead to violence where lives
While some of the Muslim participants in these discussions claimed
that they will be offended with any form of desecration of the Quran
or that of the Holy Prophet, they also claim that they will not be
violent over this. The position here contradicts with that expressed
in the North where some of the participants argue that there are
“legitimate” grounds to be violent over any issue of desecration.
This slight difference in reaction to same issue can be traced back to
the origin of Islam in both region. While those in the north receive
islamic do’s and don’ts from their ruler as a form of state law that
should be strictly adhere to failure of which may be punished, those
in the south learned about it on their own through islamic education.
Therefore, there is every tendency that those who learned through
islamic education could have been properly exposed to the diverse
nature of the law and its applications, while those who receive it as
an order may have not.
The focus group discussion report established that, there are four
types of desecration.
- “deliberate” desecration, where all sides seem to agree that the
name of the Holy Prophet or the Quran has been deliberately
- “alleged” desecration, where a third party alleged that someone has
desecrated the name of the Quran or that of Prophet Mohammed;
- “perceived” desecration, where actions are seen, often wrongly, as a
desecrating the name of Prophet Mohammed or that of the Islamic Holy
- “unintended” desecration where actions have been taken in ways that
unknowingly desecrated the religion.
One should be able to determine and react based on which of the above
four desecration is involved.
In most of the conflicts involving Muslims and Christians, the origin
has always been linked to alleged insensitivity of the latter to
Islamic doctrine, including alleged desecration of the Qur’an and lack
of respect to Prophet Mohammed.
In recent times, two conflicts between Christians and Muslims
dominated national attention. The first was the crisis in Jos and it
emerged when a lady who was allegedly dressed in a manner that exposed
parts of her body, attempted to pass through a barricade mounted by
Muslims during a Friday prayers. She was prevented from passing and
In response, Christians fought back and the entire state went up in
flames, requiring the intervention of the Federal Government to send
in armed soldiers to quell riots that later spread across the entire
state. But the crisis in Jos can only be understood against wider
national politics. There were political crisis within Plateau State
and tensions were rising between the major ethnic groups in the state.
The crisis was later to result in a state of emergency being declared
in the state by the Federal Government.
The second conflict was the Kano conflict. In this case, an Ibo woman
whose family had recently moved into a new house used the Arabic
section of the manual of a transistor radio to clean up her child who
had just excreted. In the meantime, a Hausa Muslim who had been
invited into the house to assist in making some repairs saw this and
presumed that the Arabic manual was the Qur’an. He drew the attention
of other Muslims to the fact that the Ibo Christian family had
desecrated the Qur’an. As the unsuspecting husband of the woman
returned home from work, he was attacked and killed. This was to
result in major conflict between the Christians and the Muslims in
To be Continued
Abdulrazaq O Hamzat writes from Abuja and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org