It’s utter stupidity for any Muslim to condemn participation in politics —UNIABUJA Chief Imam

In this interview by SAHEED SALAWU, the Chief Imam of the University of Abuja, Professor Taofiq Azeez, speaks on the relationship between Islam and politics as well as democracy and democratic practices in contemporary times.


What is the relationship between Islam and politics?

Basically, I will say Islam is politics and politics is Islam. There is no aspect of Islam that is not political. If we take what we know as Islam, the five pillars, we will see that Islam is highly political. The kalimatu shahada, ‘la ilaaha illa Allah…’, our faith system, is a rejection and affirmation. La ilaaha illa Allah is an ideological statement and affirmation of Allah to show that a Muslim is looking for an alternative ideology, alternative philosophy, alternative leadership, and so on. That is why for the 13 years that the Prophet of Islam was preaching la ilaaha illa Allah, there was opposition, there was rebellion, there was rejection and there was resistance.

The kalimatu shahada is a declaration of the rejection of the prevailing order and a search for an alternative world order. If you look at our salat, it is highly political in the sense that all the cultures of the world are factored into our genuflections. The Occident stand up to give ultimate respect, the Orient bow and the Africans prostrate and kneel down. All these are in our salat.

Again, you will see that this is leadership, accountability, censorship. If the imam makes a mistake, we say ‘Subhan Allah’; we don’t follow him. Yet, he is our leader; he backs us and we follow him. That is confidence. He commands us with ‘Allah Akbar’ and we obey. But when there is a problem, we don’t follow. We call his attention that there is a problem. Even the zakat is an economic principle that is attached to spiritual activity. Salat and zakat go together in many places in the Qur’an. So, if you are spiritually inclined and you gather for a spiritual purpose, then the imam should look at the congregation and determine who should pay and who should take. That is poverty alleviation, that is economic egalitarianism, and politics is involved.

If you look at fasting, somebody must declare that fasting has started and somebody must declare that fasting has ended. And the whole world is involved. You must fast except if you are sick or on a journey. So, this is highly political. And hajj is the quintessence of the political activities of the Muslims. It is an annual congress by the representatives of Muslims, the children of Adam, at Arafat.


How would you assess the way politics is being practised today? What do you make of democracy and democratic practices in Nigeria and around the world?

Well, democracy today is the only feasible means of operationalising the political content of human activities. But then, there are two views. One is to condemn it because of the evils that are integral to it. Call it kufr, urge Muslims to stay away from it, call it any names. You say that Muslims are not supposed to tell lies, Muslims are not supposed to exploit people, Muslims are not supposed to deceive people. All these are integral parts of politics, democracy. So, one view is to condemn it with the left hand and then make Muslims suffer. Another view is to embrace it totally, completely, and practise it the way it is practised. In this case, there is no difference between the Muslim and the non-Muslim, whereas Allah says ‘You are the best of communities raised up for mankind’ – Surah 3, ayah 110. The best action for Muslims is to be at the middle, to take the medial position, the golden medium.

You cannot be a Muslim, a complete Muslim for that matter, and stay away from politics. If you do, it will crush you, because any idiot can just get to the National Assembly and move the motion that salat is noisemaking and therefore it should be banned, and it would be banned. If the government decides to ban salat, it is at your peril. If we leave politics for idiots, fools, scammers, thieves and other sundry criminals, we cannot complain when we see the consequence. The impact of governance is so much that even if you die, without government-approved certificate of death, you have not died. If you give birth to a child and you think government has no hand in it and you do not get the birth certificate, when the child wants to go to school or wants to travel abroad, you will be in trouble. If you think government has no business in your life because you are a spiritually endowed person, because you have takwa (fear of God) and you are close to Allah, when you want to perform hajj, you need government. You must pick international passport, you must follow other state procedures at home and abroad, before you move, when you get to Makkah. The Makkan authorities are not going to recognise you as a global Islamic citizen; they are going to recognise you as a citizen from another country. And this is part of the effects of governance.

So, the middle point is that you practise politics. Not all of you will go. It is like a game. Not all of you who own a team would play on the field but among you would be coaches, mentors, spiritual supporters and the rest of it and then you support your team. Again, we are not going to the government house to read the Qur’an, so we don’t need a hafiz (memoriser of the Qur’an) there. We don’t need a saint there, we need a striker. I am particularly happy that Allah allowed (Bola) Tinubu to win the presidential election to prove that we just need a striker. You can’t back out as a Muslim that he (Tinubu) is not a good Muslim. We don’t need a good Muslim, we need a democratic Muslim. And then he has proved a point: that a Muslim does not need a non-Muslim to survive politically. Many Muslims are not likely to dare everybody and say a Muslim-Muslim ticket is the only way I can win election. These are the kinds of people to put in our political team. When you are playing a football game, you are not going to look for a player who would not kick another person in the leg in order to prevent him from dribbling him and scoring a goal against him. You are not going to use somebody who would have pity on a fellow player, who would not play tricks in order to score a goal and prevent the other team from scoring against you. Politics is just a game. This is the most feasible action for Muslims today. Later, if you are able to sanitise the system, if we do our best regarding political appointees, like one or two of our fathers, if we are able to handle whatever space we occupy in politics effectively, excellently, like being a Muslim vice chancellor, being a Muslim rector, being a Muslim provost, being a Muslim DG, being a Muslim registrar, being a Muslim minister, being a Muslim commissioner, we can begin to call attention to ourselves, to our religion, that there is something that drives Muslims to do good; there is something in Islam that makes a Muslim an excellent person.

If Allah says ‘you are the best of people’, He knows what He is saying. He knows the effect of faith. If it is wrong, the person is a bad person. If it is right, the person is a good person. This is the time to come out. If indeed you have any quality, spiritual; if you are pious, then go to the field of play. Go and interact with idiots, you go and interact with devils and let’s see who is going to triumph between the devilish person and the muttaqi (pious) Muslim. This is the midpoint that we must be preaching. It is utter stupidity for any Muslim to condemn participation in politics. The Muslims before led the world, reconstructed the world, left the world as a legacy for us to know how to navigate the world, how to lift the world to happiness. If a Muslim runs away from it, Allah may ask him. So, while congratulating Tinubu and other Muslims who have won elections and those who will win the next elections, I want to place a caution: they must not forget that they are Muslims. The Muslim leaders must not leave them alone. They must not allow them to melt into the mess of politics. The Muslim leaders have the responsibility to continue the advocacy for constructive engagement of the society. Islam is not just a ritualistic religion, it is a realistic religion. So, we have to engage the world because our predecessors engaged the world. That is why we are able to be Muslims today and we are confident and happy as Muslims. So, if we have a person who desires to serve Nigeria and goes there to serve Nigeria, God help him.


The presidential election won by Tinubu has been condemned by his co-contestants and in several other quarters as lacking fairness and credibility. What is your take on this and what is your advice for all and sundry going forward?

It is a normal thing. Has there been any election in Nigeria that is not flawed or criticised? You expect a loser to say that the election was free and fair? But look at a contradiction: one of the contestants, precisely Peter Obi, accepted the result of a senatorial election because his party won. He displayed the Certificate of Return of the winner. He agreed that the election was free and fair in Lagos and Abuja, what makes it not free and fair in other places? So, election is only free where you are popular, where you win. I am talking now as a politician. So, challenging the outcome of an election is not a big deal. Your supporters still need to be on the field to vote in the governorship election, so it will be very stupid to congratulate the winner. You must threaten that ‘I am going to challenge this election’; ‘This election has been rigged’. You must say all this normal stuff in order to encourage your followers so that they won’t be discouraged, so that they won’t be downcast. It is just political jingoism. It is not a big deal. It is nothing. This election has been won and announced. Only the winner considers an election free and fair. The losers must consider it not free. The only election that was free and fair in Nigeria was the one that was not declared. That was the 1993 presidential election. In my few years of existence and participation in politics, there has never been any election that is free and fair. There is no free and fair election. It is a game. If you win the game, fine, consider it free and fair. If you lose the game, you will consider it rigging. It is a normal thing.



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