The Director of Muslim Rights Concern, Professor Ishaq Akintola, speaks with BAYO AKINLOYE about the Ecclesiastical (Christian) Courts Bill that recently passed the Second Reading in the House of Representatives expressing reservations about the proposed courts
The proposed Ecclesiastical Courts have been described by some as a stupid idea. What is the position of Muslim Rights Concern?
If the idea of establishing ecclesiastical courts for Christians had been mooted earlier it would have been perfect; but (right) now it is belated. It is an attempt to copy Shari’ah. Why must the Christian Association of Nigeria be a copycat? Why must it always seek to do whatever Muslims do? Take the pilgrimage issue for example: Muslims are deeply committed to it. They have been going on pilgrimage from Nigeria by trekking to Saudi Arabia even before the advent of aeroplanes. Suddenly, CAN found it fashionable to demand its own pilgrimage commission, even though pilgrimage is not mandatory for Christians.
CAN appears stuck to one dogma, namely, to oppose anything Muslims want to do even if it will benefit Muslims or Nigerians in general. But if Muslims succeed in bringing such an idea to fruition, CAN will demand parity. CAN is unnecessarily and blindly politicising religion. Can you remember the Islamic bank imbroglio? On that issue the Christian group made a mountain out of a molehill. It claimed Nigeria was about to be Islamised. It threatened hell and brimstone. One popular bishop from the South-East even led his congregation in a public demonstration against the proposal. (I will call that) much ado about nothing. The Islamic banking system started about five or more years ago now; has Nigeria been Islamised? I cry for Nigeria. This country is sandwiched between fanatical Christians and extremist Muslims. If you watch Muslims closely, they have this trait of originality. They bring out ideas from tradition, from their own scripture. Although detractors call us fundamentalists, that is exactly what religion is all about – I mean any religion worth its salt. Religion must come from the roots. I marvel at attempts to produce mechanised faith.
But some have also said it is an innocuous proposal. You don’t agree with that, why?
Please, don’t put words in my mouth. I haven’t said that I don’t agree with it. I couldn’t give a damn. I have always maintained that Christians should tell the government what they want instead of blocking proposals made by Muslims. The sky is wide enough for all birds to fly without their wings touching one another unless we have hidden agenda. What is next after Christian courts? (I think) CAN should demand Christian banks. And why not (also demand) a Christian version of OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation)? Oh, (I am) sorry, they have that already – the ‘Dis-United Nations Organisation.’ Sorry, ‘United.’ The organisation (UN) serves that purpose (OIC’s) already.
The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs stated that the proposed ecclesiastical courts bill is an invitation to chaos. Is that the view of MURIC too?
What do you expect? Should Muslim Rights Concern’s response be different from that of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs? Forgive me if I answered your question with questions. I am only being typically Nigerian. What is the nature of the existing law courts: the magistrate, high court, appeal court and perhaps the Supreme Court? Who laid the foundation of those courts? Was it not the British colonialists? Were the British Muslims? Nigerian law courts have always been Christian courts and setting up Christian courts is sheer duplication and a waste of energy. That is the chaos NSCIA is referring to. They should go ahead and get Christian courts. But we should be given our Shariah courts in all states and cities – including Otuoke (former President Goodluck Jonathan’s home town). Muslims will not be a dog in the manger. Have you also thought of the implication of canon law on the current law courts and lawyers? Somebody out there must be looking for another job soonest.
How can the proposed Christian Courts designed to adjudicate legal matters among professed Christians be seen as a problem?
What are we talking about? The common law being used presently is Christian law. You can check the records. I did not say so. Sir Mathew Hale said so. First, Baron Kenyon said so. Lord Chancellor Finlay said so. Lord Summers too said so. These experts in British common law from which Nigerian laws derived their legal inspiration affirmed that British law is based on Christian canon law. Justice (Adolphus) Karibi-White also tied the umbilical cord of Nigerian laws to the holy Bible. Therefore, CAN is out-Heroding Herod by seeking to introduce separate Christian courts. Even Oliver Twist knew his limits.
Did they stop Muslims from having Shari’ah courts in states where there are Christians?
Are you asking me? Who does not know what CAN has done or said about Shari’ah in Nigeria? Where were you in 1999 when CAN threatened to burn down Nigeria when Senator Ahmad Sani introduced Shari’ah in Zamfara State? Former Governor Segun Osoba of Ogun State threatened never to allow Shari’ah practice. Lagos State government under Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu threatened to arrest us on the day we were to launch Shari’ah panel in Lagos and we dared him. His policemen failed to show up. Has any southern state allowed the establishment of Shari’ah to date? And you still sit there asking me if they had ever stopped Muslims from having Shari’ah.
Do you see Muslims also calling for Sharia courts in the South-West?
We have been doing that for ages and we will not rest on our oars until it becomes a fait accompli. Can you guess who has been the opponent of Shariah courts in the South-West? It is CAN, of course. It is the same CAN who now wants Christian ‘Shari’ah.’ I just can’t stop laughing. CAN is now craving what it has denied its own brother. Wonders will never cease. What happened to Jesus’ exhortation about loving one’s neighbour and even praying for those who curse you? How would CAN feel now if Muslims oppose their own version of the Shari’ah court?
Some have stated that instead of Muslims antagonising or criticising Christians, they should see the issue of the proposed ecclesiastical courts as a constitutional challenge and not a religious issue. Do you think so?
Have the Christians ever seen it like that when Muslims want to introduce something? That is another question to answer your question. I remain a Nigerian. But just think about it: what did Osun State branch of CAN do when Muslims won a court case concerning wearing of hijab (by pupils in public schools)? They went berserk. They desecrated church garments by wearing choir apparels to school. Why couldn’t they simply adopt their own veil? After all, hijab is a veil and the Bible instructs women to cover their heads, according to I Corinthians 4-12. That is one plus for Catholics. Their women use the veil and I have seen Catholic nursery and primary schools where the girls use veils that match their school uniform.
Nigeria, though it is considered a secular nation, is a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and CAN has never been happy about that. Do you think it’s proper for the country to be an OIC member state?
Nigeria also joined a global anti-Muslim organisation called the ‘United Nations Dis-Organisation’ whose pastime is the use of the platform for illegal, immoral and unjustifiable invasion of and destabilisation of Muslim countries. Is it right? The invasion of Iraq took place without the United Nation’s mandate. Yet, the UN kept mute because the action served its secret anti-Muslim agenda. What was worse was the fact that the invasion was based on a false premise since even the invader-crusaders later admitted that Iraq had no Weapons of Mass Destruction but arrogantly insisted that they would not apologise for the genocide and massive destruction of infrastructure. It was (and still is) a case of conscienceless power subjugating powerless conscience.
But CAN will not look at these facts. It is always out to sensationalise and to stand logic on its head. They know the facts but they always prefer to create tension. The leaders of CAN know that the OIC is made up of both Islamic and non-Islamic countries. It is more or less an economic forum. Uganda, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Benin, Mozambique, Guyana, Central African Republic and Gabon with insignificant Muslim populations are members. There are many more countries in that organisation; even France and Russia are members. Are you surprised? Just Google it and the list will pop out staring at you. But trust CAN, it will never tell its members the truth.