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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Why Islam In Northern Nigeria Is Different From The South – By Abdulrazaq O Hamzat



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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

perceived it.


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

and Hadith.

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,

Yugda asked.


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

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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

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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

is corrected.


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

be lost.


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.


These are:

  • “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

book; and

  • “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

was attacked.


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 discus4now@yahoo.com

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