Discourse

Re: Ikoyi tragedy and casual bigotry against Yoruba Muslims: My Views, My Experiences

By Adeola Agoro

I read Kperogi’s article with a smile playing around my lips. It brought back the contents of the second chapter of the first part of my (yet to be published) book, ‘Journey to Islam: The Journey So Far’.

While I wouldn’t say Kperogi was totally right in his submissions, I’ll say that I agree with a lot of what he said.

I was born a Christian. I converted to Islam in 2009. I have spent enough time in the Islamic religion to form an opinion about it. I can say what is right or wrong about the religion and those who practise it.

I started writing the book, ‘Journey to Islam in 2017. Then I paused. Life is a journey and you can never really capture it all until the last day, so I said, ‘Let’s see if something will change and I may have to change some things in the book’.

As Jon.Bellion said in my one of his songs that I love so much, “Nothing has changed, he’s the same…” From the point of writing that book till now, let me say nothing has changed. So, let me share the second chapter of the first part of that book below:

2’Yerima and Other Influences

Long before my innocent mind began to get conscious of the fire religious strife and crisis caused by displacing people and rendering many homeless, fatherless and sending several to their early graves in Nigeria, I knew about religious marginalisation. I grew up to know about religious sentiments, influences and stigmas.

I grew up amongst a certain class of Christians who considered themselves holy. Going to church on Sunday, coming back to eat jollof rice and chicken and watching good family films like the ‘Sounds of Music’ was a way of life. In those days, we were made to believe that the Christian kids were the ones who wore crisply ironed clothes on Sunday. They were the ones who wore ‘ready-made’ clothes with socks and nice shoes to match. Looking back now, I must admit that it was the highpoint of Christianity to wear the kinds of beautiful dresses with hats to match that I wore on Sundays.

Looking that good meant I was a Christian. Or so I was made to believe. We were the sheltered ones who were not allowed to mix with just any other children in the neighbourhood. We were only heard from the confines of our homes and hardly seen. On the other hand, those who wore clothes sewed with ankara materials, who played outside, who went to Arabic schools or who chanted Arabic language as dictated by their teachers were regarded as considered to be a little lower than us.

The explanation was not really made; we just knew.  I knew how the opinions of certain people about you became coloured the moment they found out your name was Mojeed or Shakirat or whatever Muslim name it was. Oh no! It just meant that you must be ill-bred. It meant that your upbringing was not all together complete.  In cases where they couldn’t fault you for being half-baked because you were a Muslim, they assumed that you were aggressive and stubborn. In Ibadan where I spent my first sixteen years, Muslims were referred to as ‘Imale’ (followers of the hard religion).

To this day, there is an area in Ibadan known as ‘Imalefalafia’ literarily meaning the ‘followers of the hard religion want peace’.In the Christian family where I grew up, a Christian was more likely to be trusted for anything than an imale. By a stroke of fate, I discovered that most of the people hired for house chores and such other things in my family were Muslims. It went to show that the Muslims around us then were not educated and so had to take the lowest of jobs. I could remember that the woman who did our laundry till I grew up was called Iya Seki (Sekinat). It was just assumed that Muslim families didn’t care about educating their children beyond a certain level.

I can’t remember if anything was ever done to assist them in that regards. In a funny way, it didn’t matter if you were a Baptist or Anglican, if you came for a domestic work and it was discovered that you were a Christian, it used to elicit a level of surprise that you were not educated or that you chose to do some menial jobs. It was certain that your employer would ensure that you either went to school or learnt a vocation. All you to had to do worm your way into the minds of your employers or to get favours was to say you were a Christian. (It might matter though if you were a Celestian or aladura.

You were not quite different from a Muslim in the estimation of the holier-than-thou Christians). But things did not have that kind of colouration the moment I stepped out into the real world. From the moment I left home for my higher education till the moment I embraced Islam, it never mattered to the Muslims I met whether I was a Christian or Muslim or traditionalist before help came my way. All that mattered was the fact that I was a human being. And very much unlike what I grew up to know with somebody preaching to you that you must accept Christ to enter heaven and bearing heavily on your whether you wanted to talk religion or not, the Muslims I met NEVER tried to talk to me about their faith in a you-must-accept-it-by-force manner.

To this day, no Muslim that I met in those days condemned my religion. I would sit and dine with Muslims and we would be talking but the moment it was time for prayer, they would excuse themselves, do their ablution and quietly withdraw to pray without as much as invite you.  If you visited them on Fridays, they would leave you in their house, go to mosque to pray and come back to meet you. Not only were they respectful of your religion, they trusted you with their possessions.

I wonder if there are Christians who would leave you in their house on a Sunday when going to church without pressurizing you to go to church with them – whatever your religion or sect.This was my unprejudiced observation until I met Yerima. Sen. Ahmed Sani popularly known as Yerima was the Governor of Zamfara State then. Yerima came into national prominence for the introduction of Sharia Law to Zamfara State. Under him, the Penal Code became more effective and whoever erred or contravened the law faced summary actions.

The name Yerima meant fear to non-Muslims outside his state. It was the general opinion that if you were not a Muslim, you couldn’t be safe near a fanatic like Yerima and in fact, you had no business being in Zamfara. I had started making a mark in journalism when one day, a friend I went to school with called to say she met Yerima’s ADC and discussed the prospects of me coming down to Zamfara to interview the governor. Without thinking about it for a moment, I turned down the opportunity.

Me, Yerima? No way!! As hungry as I was for good stories, I didn’t think Yerima was an area I could approach and I thought I was not the kind of journalist he would want near him for an interview. After all, I was a jean-wearing journalist with braids and totally un-Islamic in all ways.Little did I know that fate was bringing me in contact with Yerima and that was going to be an opportunity to see all Muslims in the same light – accommodating and not condemning of your religion. I met Yerima in the Summer of 2006. I was one of the panellists on a live broadcast of the breakfast show of Ben TV where Yerima was a guest. I had gone there dressed in jeans with my braids pulled up and complete with trainers and clanging bangles.

I looked a complete I-don’t-care type – a yuppy woman.

After the television program, along with some other journalists, I went for more exclusive interview for my newspaper and despite Yerima’s stance on Sharia, he didn’t as much as look at me as a sinner for once.

The biggest part of it is that when I returned to Nigeria and applied to be one of his media consultants, he gave me the chance without delay. There I was, a Christian and a woman for that matter!I was treated with much respect and dignity and everybody around him respected me for what I had to offer – my brain.

Whenever I had a job to discuss with him or show him, he would attend to me but he never allowed us to be alone together. And when it was time for prayer, they would all go for prayers and come back to resume whatever I had to show him.

It was around that time that I began to feel naked by not covering my head and body. Something in me told me it wasn’t right. Yerima and those around him preached to me through their behaviours without saying a word. They accepted me the way I was. They worked with me without discrimination and they made me see what beauty there was in Islam.

In those days of surrendering to the silent and beautiful pull of Islam, I couldn’t stop asking myself if any of those I grew up with in my Christian background would be so accommodating. Would they give a Muslim woman a chance to work with them, dine with them, make money and not go to church with them?

Would they have a very attractive Muslim woman around them and not as much as make a pass at her?I doubt. Seriously, I doubt.

From Justice Babatunde Adejumo, President of the National Industrial Court to my mentor and father, Sen. Umaru Dahiru through whom I finally embraced Islam, through whom I went for Hadj, through whom I grew in faith and through whom I have learnt a lot, to Arch. Halima Tayo Alao, to Dr. Mahmuda Aliyu Shinkafi and so many others, I have been given opportunities by a lot of Muslims without any asking for anything in return.

These are all people of deep faith who never asked me to compromise my former religion till I was personally convinced. I am indeed lucky to have seen the light of Islam myself through the conducts of these Muslim people.

These people showed the way to Islam more through deep love and acceptance of everybody whatever your religion than through talks. May Allah continue to guide them in their faith and make them lead more to Him through their conducts, ameen.’

That’s that about the second chapter of the book.

I’ve not come here to say I agree or disagree with Kperogi, but I know that a Muslim will most likely accept you for a job or marriage or anything sooner than a Christian will.

Well…. I stand to be corrected after so many years of holding that belief.

*Agoro JP writes from Abuja.

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