Sunday, April 16, 2017

USA Africa Dialogue Series - Chibok Abduction and the Burden of History and Theology: An Addendum to Emir Sanusi Keynote Address

"If you bury your past in your backyard, your children will play in it." Ghanaian Proverb

#BringBackOurGirls was unarguably the most popular hashtag in 2014. On April 14, 2014, the same day Boko Haram carried out the bombing at Nyanya motor park, the group abducted 276 schoolgirls in the town of Chibok but 57 of them managed to escape. After three years of rabid and organized protests from female amazons like Oby Ezekwesili, Aisha Yesufu and other activists in the BBOG movement, the government negotiated for the release of 21 girls on October 12, 2016.

Before "we use the dramatic case of the Chibok girls as a referent and a plank, but not the exclusive focus of its struggle" or before we dilate the Chibok episode to "the broader social reality of African women" as advised by Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (SLS) in his keynote address, let us halt and address the burden of history and theology. It is time to step back in an astern direction and review the Chibok story from the perspective of Boko Haram.

There are so many tragedies associated with Boko Haram that would have been averted if only we LISTEN. Diagnosis first, prescription second is a neglected cliché in the crowded landscape of assessment of the Boko Haram insurgency. For almost a decade, even if the Nigerian government knew why they were fighting, the government arguably was never entirely certain of whom they were fighting. For people like Emir Sanusi, the problem is not ignorance but the burden of revisiting the dark pages of history and theology.

In his keynote address which I came across on the wall of my beloved mentor and brother Adamu Tilde, Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi depicted a poignant dissection of the multifarious gender-specific issues that are now manifest as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency. Notwithstanding his excellent statistical breakdown of the problem, Emir Sanusi's keynote address evaded the burden of history and theology and there is a reason for this evasion. Revisiting how the burden of history and theology played a major role in Boko Haram's legitimation of sexual slavery will broach some thorny and ethical issues of the conduct of Northern Nigeria's aristocratic suzerainty which is the genealogy that produced Emir Sanusi.

Indeed, the sexual slavery of Boko Haram has a historical precedent and Boko Haram leaders are nimble enough to claim that their action is a continuation of an extant praxis whose roots can be traced back to the pre-colonial Islamic caliphate and emirates in Northern Nigeria as well as the praxis during the era of Prophet Muhammad. So Shekau and his ilk asked: "Why the outrage over the Chibok girls? What exactly have we done that is new to the people of this region?" The Chibok kidnapping is often presented by scholars and pundits as an event that evolved out of a vacuous space. This rendition is far from the reality and I will explain my point by making reference to Boko Haram leaders.

In the aftermath of Post-World War 1, the institution of slavery in Islam was gradually suppressed and outlawed. Several Muslim-majority countries promulgated laws that abolished slavery starting with Saudi Arabia and Yemen in 1962, Oman in 1970, to the last country to abolish slavery in the world, Mauritania in 1981 and 2007. Although the institution of slavery in Islam was sealed for further debates from the 20th century when several Muslim-majority countries outlawed slavery, de Facto forms of slavery continue to exist in Mauritania and neighboring countries in the region such as Mali, Niger, Chad, and Sudan amidst criticism from anti-slavery organizations.

The debates on slavery in Islam was re-opened by Abubakar Shekau in the aftermath of the Chibok kidnapping. After the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls began to trend on twitter, religious leaders in Nigeria and the Arab world, including the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa'ad Abubakar III, and the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, `Abd al-`Aziz Al al-Sheikh, condemned the kidnapping of the girls. The condemnation of slavery was also the 12th issue addressed in the "Open Letter to Baghdadi". Notwithstanding the international outrage against Boko Haram, the Islamic State and theologians who share the group's ideology lauded Boko Haram for the kidnapping of the girls. In its official English magazine Dabiq issues 4 and 5 (October and December 2014), the Islamic State cited the kidnapping of the Chibok girls as a justification for its own sexual enslavement of Yazidi women in Iraq.

In a Q&A session posted on JustPaste, Musa Cerantonio, an Australian convert who supports the Islamic State, also cited Imam Shinqiti Adwa' al-Bayan Volume 3/387 as a theological justification to support Boko Haram's action. Abu Malik Shaybah al-Hamad, the Tunisia-based Anṣār al-Sharī`a member, who facilitated the union between Boko Haram and the Islamic State also cited the kidnapping of the Chibok girls as the major event "that strengthened his belief that Boko Haram is indeed a genuine jihadi group based on the group's revival of the Sunna of taking unbelievers as captives".

In his piece "Time to Debate the Texts Used by Extremists", Hassan Hassan argued that ISIS did not bother to present a religious justification for the immolation of the Turkish soldiers because Muslim clergy failed to respond adequately to the religious justification they provided when Muath al-Kasasbeh was burnt alive. The same case can be applied to Boko Haram. The reason Boko Haram sexual slavery persisted before and after the Chibok kidnapping rest on the fact that the logic behind the group's legitimation of slavery through history and theology was hardly refuted and the reason for this lies in the burden of history and theology.

On March 26, 2014, less than a month to the Chibok kidnapping, Abubakar Shekau delivered a video where he hinted on the group's mission to enslave women and girls. In the video where he also claimed responsibility for the killing of al-Albani, Shekau said: "By Allah, you should hear this again, western education is forbidden. University is forbidden. You should all abandon the university. I totally detest the university. Bastards! You should leave the university. Western education is forbidden. Girls! You should all go back to your various houses. Enslaving the unbelievers' women is permissible. In the future, we will capture the women and sell them in the market."

Shekau's hint corroborated with the hint that Muhammad Yusuf gave during a lecture he delivered on September 9, 2008, 6 years before Chibok kidnapping. In the lecture, Yusuf said "If you are fighting jihād, then anyone you see is an enemy of Allah. The same way you detest the sight of a beast, that is the same way you should detest the sight of their women. However, if you stay back and admire their women, then you should be prepared for a disaster. I hope it is understood. How will you prepare to fight and admire their women at the same time? Even if they are gathered together, they should be viewed as beasts. They are property and booty."

So, it never really came as a surprise for those who are studying Boko Haram closely when Shekau announced his kidnapping of the girls in his video titled "Message to the Umma" delivered on May 6, 2014, where he said: "Yes, we will capture slaves. Who told you there are no slaves in Islam? What are human rights? Bastard liars! The One who created His slaves is the One who does not know his rights? Any female who has attained the age of 12, I will marry her off. Any girl who has attained the age of 9, I will marry her off, the same way they married the Mother of the Believers, the daughter of Abū Bakr, `A'isha, to the Prophet Muhammad at the age of 9."

Professor Moses Ochonu discussed how sexual repression fuels youth extremism and recruitment into Boko Haram. Although I don't totally agree with Prof's provocation, I concur with him that the ideologues of the group often fetishize the kidnapping of "female captive concubines that could be sexually enslaved lawfully in the warped doctrine of the sect".

So how did Boko Haram leaders legitimized slavery?

In his May 6, 2014, video Shekau said: "O people! You should know that there is slavery in Islam. Allah's Messenger captured slaves. In the Battle of Badr, Allah's Messenger captured Naḍr b. al-Ḥārith and `Uqba b. Abū Mu`ayṭ as slaves, and he ordered that they should be killed." In the same video, he said: "Imam Shinqītī said in his tafsīr none doubt the permissibility of capturing slaves except unbelievers. Please go and check the tafsīr of Imam Shinqītī. There are also several verses in the Qur'ān: "But if you fear that you cannot be equitable, then only one, or what your right hands own." (Q4:3) You should go and check the interpretation of "what your right hands own" [=concubines]. You only intended to prevent us from Allah's religion by claiming that there is no slavery."

Shekau further said: "So where did you derive the evidence to capture and imprison people? What are your reasons? You are doing your own incarceration, but do not want us to follow Allah's command. "But those favored will not give their provision to those [slaves] whom their right hands possess." (Q16:71) This verse is in sūrat al-Naḥl in the Qur'ān, and it concerns slavery. "Do you have among what your hands own partners in what we provided for you so that you are equal therein?" (Q30:28) You will find this verse in sūrat al-Rūm. As such, my brothers, if there is no slavery, can you practice the religion? By Allah, we should open a market and sell people. Whoever refuses to follow Allah and prefers to be an unbeliever, he is a ram ready for sale. Jonathan, Obama, and Bush, if I capture you, I will sell you. I will put you in the market for sale, even though your monetary value as unbelievers is small. Does an unbeliever have value? I am the one who has value. […] If you repent, Allah will accept your repentance. However, if you do not repent, then you should know that you are a ram ready to be sold in the market. Afterward, I will slaughter you, but I will not eat you because we do not eat human beings"

Elsewhere Shekau said: "Today, the people who are saying there is no slavery or the verses concerning slavery have been abrogated are secularists who aid Bush and Obama. Allah says and His Messenger explained that you must wash the plate from which an unbeliever before you use it to eat. However, you are holding hands with Bush and Obama. You are here standing and laughing with them, accepting them as your advisers. I am referring to you, King of Saudi Arabia. I do not have any business with this type of people. My brothers are the likes of Zarqawi, Abu Yahya al-Libi and the brothers of the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham. Our brothers are the people of Afghanistan, Chechnya, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Mali. Our brothers are those who implement the laws in the Qur'ān. We do not follow Saudi Arabia. Until the day, we see the Islamic State of Saudi, we will have nothing to do with Saudi Arabia. This is my own revolt. I will not fear anyone. I will call anyone who does not follow Allah's laws an unbeliever. You can eat me, but I will not leave my religion."

Despite the detailed justification Shekau and his ilk provided to legitimize their obnoxious acts, little or no attempt were made to refute their logic. Shekau was nimble enough to reiterate how his sexual slavery fit into a pattern of slavery spearheaded by the Aristocratic establishment in Northern Nigeria. Because his logic was left without refutation, Shekau and his ilk embarked upon their campaign of sexual slavery and many more women and girls were abducted by the group.

So as much as I extol Emir Sanusi for his progressive reforms which should all be supported by well-meaning Nigerians, the logic behind Boko Haram's sexual slavery has not been broached. Before "we use the dramatic case of the Chibok girls as a referent and a plank, but not the exclusive focus of its struggle" or before we dilate the Chibok episode to "the broader social reality of African women" as advised by Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (SLS) in his keynote address, let us halt and address the burden of history and theology.

Our decision to neglect the crux of this subject is akin to those who pour water in empty baskets. We will keep screaming Bring Back Our Girls while Boko Haram will persist on their campaign of sexual slavery feeling contented that indeed they are the true heirs of the aristocratic establishment that reigned before the British colonialists curtailed and transformed the administration and modus operandi of the emirate system in Northern Nigeria.

For more discussion on this piece, you can pre-order my forthcoming edited book co-authored with Michael Nwankpa titled "The Boko Haram Reader: From Nigerian Preachers to the Islamic State" via this link

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