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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 9    Issue 1   16-31 May 2014

Professor A. R. Momin

Boko Haram: A Disgrace to Islam

Nigeria, located in West Africa, is Africa’s most populous country with an estimated population of 174 million. It is an extremely diverse country with over 250 ethnic groups and nearly 500 languages. The largest ethnic groups are Hausa, Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba, who together make up more than 70% of the population. Nigeria’s population is almost equally divided between Muslims, who are largely concentrated in the north and the southwest, and Christians, who are concentrated in the south. The Muslim population largely consists of Hausa and Fulani people, while the Yoruba of the southwest are divided between Muslims and Christians. The Igbo of the southeast are mostly Christian and animist. Since independence in 1960, Nigeria has been plagued by political instability, civil wars, ethnic conflict, rampant corruption and mismanagement.

Nigeria has Africa’s largest oil reserves and one of the largest in the world. It is Africa’s largest economy with a GDP of more than $500 billion. However, poverty, inequality and illiteracy are conspicuous across the country. Most of the country’s people subsist on less than $2 a day. There is a stark contrast between the developed, Christian-dominated southern states and the poor, Muslim-dominated northern states. In some northern states less than 5% of Muslim women can read and write, while in some Igbo areas the literacy rate among Christian women is as high as 90%.

Since 2002 the northern part of Nigeria has been in the grip of reckless violence perpetrated by a militant movement called Boko Haram. Boko Haram was founded by a young Nigerian hardliner Mohammed Yusuf in 2002. In the Hausa language, Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden.” The basic goal of Boko Haram is to overthrow the present government and to establish an Islamic caliphate governed by Shariah. It considers any kind of association with the West, including modern education, Western culture and democracy, forbidden and unlawful.

The violence perpetrated by Boko Haram has been directed against government buildings, police stations, infrastructure and public services, politicians, churches, schools and Muslims who disapprove of its ideology. In 2009, it carried out a spate of violent attacks on police stations and other government buildings in Maiduguri, in which hundreds, including Boko Haram fighters, were killed and thousands of civilians fled the city. Nigeria’s security forces seized the Boko Haram headquarters, captured scores of its fighters, including the movement’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf, who died in police custody a few days later.

Boko Haram fighters regrouped under a new leader Abubakar Shekau in 2010. In September 2010 Boko Haram militants stormed a jail in Bauchi and freed hundreds of their jailed associates. In December 2010 they bombarded Jos, in which more than 80 people were killed. In June 2011 Boko Haram militants bombed police headquarters in Abuja, leaving a trail of destruction. In December 2011 bomb attacks carried out by Boko Haram militants killed dozens of people. In April 2014 Boko Haram fighters set off a bomb at a bus station in Abuja, which killed 70 people. On May 2 they set off another bomb near a police checkpoint in Abuja, which killed around 20 people. Between 2002 and 2013, bomb attacks and shootings by Boko Haram militants have resulted in at least 4,000 deaths.

About 270 Nigerian girls, including Muslims and Christians, were kidnapped by Boko Haram fighters on April 14, 2014. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said in a video statement on May 5, “I took the girls. By Allah I will sell them in the marketplace…. Allah has instructed me to sell them. They are his property and I will carry out his instructions….I will marry off a woman at the age of 12. I will marry off a girl at the age of nine.” He then added that some of the kidnapped girls could be set free in exchange of the release of jailed Boko Haram fighters. the fate of the kidnapped girls remains uncertain.

There is widespread anger and resentment against Boko Haram across the country. There have been large-scale protests and demonstrations against the failure of the Nigerian government and security forces to crack down on Boko Haram militants. In some of the northern states villagers have formed vigilante groups to keep an eye on the activities of Boko Haram and to resist their attacks. On May 12 residents of some villages in the Kala-Balge district of Borno state ambushed and killed almost 200 Boko Haram fighters and detained scores of others who were suspected of planning fresh attacks.

The reckless violence and destruction carried out by Boko Haram fighters has created an atmosphere of fear and insecurity across the country and has widened the gulf between Muslims and Christians. Many Muslims have stopped sending their daughters to schools due to fears that they may be targeted by Boko Haram. Prominent Muslim scholars and Muslim organizations, including the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Islamic Circle of North America, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, have unequivocally condemned the violence unleashed by Boko Haram. Nigeria’s Muslim scholars have questioned Boko Haram leader AbuBakar Shekau’s understanding and interpretation of Islam. The Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’adu Abubakar, a widely respected spiritual leader of Nigerian Muslims, has described Boko Haram un-Islamic and an embarrassment to Islam.

Growing Discontent among China’s Uighur Muslims

Chinese society is ethnically heterogeneous. The Han Chinese account for about 92 per cent of the population and dominate politics, economy and the administration. In addition, there are 56 distinct ethnic groups, officially designated as nationalities or national minorities, which comprise nearly 120 million people and constitute about 10% of the country’s population of more than 1.3 billion. Ten of these national minorities follow Islam. The most important among Muslim minority groups are Hui (9 million), Uighur (8 million), and Kazakh (1.2 million). The other significant Muslim communities are Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Tatar, Salar, Bonan, Tajik and Dongxiang. The Hui, who comprise about half of the Muslim population in China, are distributed across large parts of the country. They are the descendants of Arab, Central Asian and Persian merchants who began arriving and settling in China since the 7th century. They married Chinese women, which resulted in their gradual assimilation into Chinese society. The Uighur, Kazakh and Kirghiz Muslims, on the other hand, have substantially retained their original languages and cultural traditions. In 1949 China’s communist government annexed the independent Uighur state of the East Turkestan Republic and made it a part of China. The largest concentration of Uighur Muslims is in Xinjiang, which encompasses about one-sixth of China’s territory and is officially designated as the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Xinjiang is rich in gas, minerals and farm produce and is the doorway to China’s trade and energy ties with Central Asia. The Uighur and Kazakh speak variants of Turkic languages and share substantial cultural and religious traditions with the Muslims of Central Asia.

Chinese authorities have invested heavily in Xinjiang during the past decade, especially in infrastructure projects and gas pipelines. Xinjiang is now the 10th fastest-growing region in the country. However, the benefits of development have bypassed the Uighur Muslims. The plush jobs have been pocketed by the Han Chinese, while the majority of the Uighur have no choice but to work as manual labour, such as working in coal mines, cement plants and construction sites. Unemployment among the Uighur is widespread and high. They make up only one per cent of the work force in the energy industry in Uighur, and the rest comprise the Han Chinese who have migrated to Xinjiang to work.

An unmistakable shift in the demographic composition of Xinjiang has taken place in recent decades. The Han Chinese made up about 7% of the region’s population half a century ago. They now comprise about 40% of Xinjiang’s population. Widespread inequality, high rates of unemployment, economic and political marginalization, discrimination and the repressive policies of the Chinese government have led to a growing sense of alienation and discontent among the Uighur.

The Uighur have persistently demanded greater political and cultural autonomy, but with no success. Some of the Uighur groups have resorted to violence. There were violent clashes between the Uighur and the Han Chinese and the security forces in Xinjiang in 2009, in which nearly 200 people died. In October 2013 a Uighur man drove a car through a crowd near Tiananmen Square in Beijing, which resulted in the death of four persons. In March 2014 a bomb attack on a railway station in the Yunnan province, allegedly carried out by Uighur militants, killed 29 people.

It is high time Chinese authorities realized that marginalization and exclusion and repressed identities breed radicalization and extremism and that state tyranny may prove to be counter-productive in the long run.

Combating the Scourge of Polio in Pakistan

Though the polio virus has been eradicated in most parts of the world, ten countries continue to be vulnerable to the virus. These include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Somalia and Israel. The polio virus is endemic in just three countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Syria, which was polio-free for 14 years, was re-infected with the virus from Pakistan. The World Health Organisation has recently issued a grave warning about the resurgent threat of the polio virus in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Syria.

Pakistan was close to eradicating the polio virus in 2005, when only 28 cases were reported. The efforts by international health agencies, NGOs and the Pakistan government to eradicate the polio virus through mass vaccination programmes have been thwarted by some extremist groups, many of whom have an ideological affinity with the Taliban, who believe that polio vaccinations are a conspiracy by the United States and other Western countries to sterilize male Muslim children. Many health workers were roughed up, kidnapped and even killed. At least 33 health workers have been killed in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province since 2012.

According to the WHO, Pakistan recorded 91 cases of polio in 2013. Since January 2014, 59 new cases of polio have been reported. Of these, 42 cases have been reported from the tribal areas of North Waziristan, where extremist and hardliner groups do not allow polio vaccinations. These groups use FM radio to spread the false message that polio vaccinations are in reality aimed at decimating the Muslim population. Such false and misleading messages are also spread by extremist groups in Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Winds of Change in Saudi Arabian

Saudi Arabia has generally been perceived as a closed and conservative society. This image is set to change with recent developments in the kingdom. The winds of change that are blowing across the kingdom can be felt in respect of education, especially women’s education, gender relations, in the growing use of modern information and communication technologies and in women’s greater visibility and participation in public life.

A multi-billion dollar new university, called King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, opened in a sprawling 36-kilometre campus along the Red Sea coast about 80 kilometres north of Jeddah on September 23, 2009. The university is equipped with state-of-the-art laboratories, three-dimensional imaging facilities and the world’s 14th fastest supercomputer, worth nearly $1.5 billion. The university will have mixed-gender classes. The hi-tech university has already enrolled 817 students from 61 countries. Nearly 15 per cent of them are female, who have previously studied at foreign universities. The teaching faculty includes 71 professors and instructors, including 14 from the US, 7 from Germany and 6 from Canada. Classes will be held in English. The university has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and the Imperial College, London. The world’s largest women’s university, Princess Noura bint Abdur Rahman University, opened in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It can accommodate 40,000 students, and has a 700-bed hospital and a medical college and research centres for information technology, bioscience and nanotechnology.

Saudi Arabia has experienced one of the fastest rates of growth in the use of digital technology in the Middle East. This is reflected in the Internet penetration, which now covers nearly 50% of the population, the growing use of social media and the rapid growth in e-commerce. Saudi Arabia has more than 3 million active Twitter users and is ranked as the fastest-growing Twitter nation in the world, with 50 million tweets per month. In addition, there are 6 million Facebook users and 90 million people who regularly view YouTube. Since Saudi Arabia has little social life or scope for political discussions, Twitter is widely used for sharing views and opinions on social and political issues, such as government policies and women’s rights. Saudi Arabia has the second-largest e-commerce market in the Middle East after the UAE.

In May 2014 a special website called Tawasul (communication) was launched on the orders of King Abdullah. Web users in the kingdom can now petition the king directly through this website. Every message on the website will be forwarded to the king. Saudi citizens can use the portal to lodge complaints against government departments or officials.

In 2013 King Abdullah announced that women would be allowed to vote and contest in the 2015 municipal elections. On January 11, 2014 he appointed 30 women to the 150-member Shura Council. Though the government ban on women driving cars remains in place, Saudi Arabia issued its first flying license to a female pilot, Hanadi al-Hind. In 2013, four women lawyers have been given licenses to practice as advocates in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia’s first woman-owned law firm, led by Bayan Zahran, opened on January 2014. The firm focuses on labour and business law as well as women’s rights.

For the first time, Hanadi al-Hindi, a 35-year-old Saudi pilot has been given a flying license The winds of change in Saudi Arabia are a harbinger of a spring of freedom, openness and accommodation.

Qatar: Disquieting Consequences of Affluence

Qatar is now one of the richest countries in the world, thanks to its vast oil and natural gas reserves and the construction boom. Qatar has the world’s largest reserves of natural gas (15% of the world’s total gas reserves), producing 77 million tonnes of gas per year. Qatar has an average per capita income of $100,000, the world’s highest GDP per capita. Since 1995 Qatar’s per capita GDP has more than doubled every five years. In 2012 Qatar’s economy grew by 19%, the fastest in the world, thanks to the production and exports of liquefied petroleum gas and petrochemicals. The country imports goods worth $ 23.3 billion, one-sixth of its purchasing power. About 14% of Qataris are billionaires.

Qatar has invested about £10 billion in Britain. It bought 24% shares in the London Stock Exchange, purchased London’s iconic luxury store Harrods for $2.2 billion in 2010, and contributed 95% of the finances for the construction of The Shard Tower in London, the highest skyscraper in Europe. London’s No. 1 Hyde Park, the world’s most expensive block of apartments, is Qatari-owned. Qatar is the largest shareholder, with 25.999% shares, in Sainbury’s, Britain’s third-largest chain of supermarkets. It invested $5 billion in the Chinese Stock Exchange and has substantial stakes in the French Total Oil group and the British Shell.

Rising affluence is often accompanied by disquieting consequences, including a culture of consumerism, family structure and gender relations, and changes in values, lifestyle and dietary patterns. Most of the food in the country is imported. Fast food outlets have mushroomed across the country and hamburgers, pizzas and colas are becoming increasingly popular with young boys and girls and even children. A sedentary lifestyle and excessive intake of junk food have begun to take their toll on health. According to the figures released by the World Health Organisation, some 73 per cent of men and 70 per cent of women in the country are overweight. In a 2006 study of children between the age of 12 and 17, nearly 29% of boys and girls were found to be overweight. Many of these children and adolescents have diabetes and other obesity-related illnesses.

According to local media reports, nearly 40% of marriages now end in divorce. Intimate, face-to-face relations, which characterized Qatari families a few years ago, are disappearing in the face of rapid social and technological changes and rising levels of prosperity. Large numbers of children are now being raised by nannies, mostly from the Philippines, Nepal and Indonesia.

The Prophet said: "Verily, by God! I am not apprehensive about you being afflicted with poverty and destitution. I am afraid the (bounties of the) world would be spread out for you as they were spread out for those who went before you, and you might get too enamoured of them as they did, and (in consequence of it) it might destroy you the way it destroyed them".

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