Monthly Archives: August 2012

Iftar Flashmob Nigeria 2012 – Video

Well, Ramadan is over and I hope we all made the best of it. In a previous post, I introduced Iftar Flashmob catered for Nigerians by a Nigerian. Please read here it to familiarize yourself if you haven’t. We had fun with it and learnt one or two things about the average Nigerian worker at a bus stop (which sociologists might want to hola at us for).

We were able to capture only one usable video for one of our Iftar Flashmobs. This we have now compiled into something viewable below. But you should know two things: First, being that we had only one camera, the capture is centred on one party of Iftar-Flashmobsters; Second, some of the Iftar-Flashmob-Crew disapprove of music tracks (which I had a long line up of options) the video ended up simply with a freestyle guiding viewer. (Michael Bolton Jazz was no option, that would ve made it a Nollywood movie).

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Sallah in Edo: Eid in Okpella

Everyday things are not so boring, we just stop paying attention.

Beautiful Roadside in Okpella

Journey

As you may have judged from the topic, I spent my Eid (Al-Fitr) in Okpella Town, Edo State (in Nigeria, for non-Nigerians). Edo is located in the south of Nigeria and I had never spent an Eid, in Nigeria, anywhere other than its north. I have been meaning to explore other parts of Nigeria so this time around I joined a friend of mine from Edo who was going back to celebrate Eid.

I got my camera ready and my mind became sharp for observation. We left Abuja, passed through Lokoja then Okene then finally my destination Okpella. It was interesting that during this four-six hour trip, there were remarkable changes in the architecture of buildings from Lokoja to Okene to Okpella. Unfortunately I didn’t capture this transition on camera.

Ohhh the road was interesting. I wouldn’t want to go into details but I can tell you this: we spent more than an hour extra on the road, we changed our road once and we had “encounter” with some pretentious cops (who by the way transformed to VIO officers in the duration of our dealings)

Arrival

My destination at Okpella could be called premature by many who are familiar with the route because the next popular town ahead of Okpella is Auchi: I could have completed the trilogy of Lokoja, Okene and Auchi. However did you know that Okpella is larger than Auchi? Okpella is also 15-20 mins to Auchi; let’s just say I became familiar with Auchi even more than Okpella during my stay.

Friday Prayers

We arrived on a Friday, before the Friday prayers. We rested and headed to new central mosque of Okpella. Unfortunately I took only one picture inside.

The most astonishing view for me was that about half of the congregation were Fulanis (the Nomadic type). Keep in mind that Okepella is a Muslim-majority town and in the south. When I mentioned this to a friend, there was a surprising reaction but not quite my surprise. The surprise for my friend was that the Fulanis actually go to pray. Later on another was also surprised at their presence not their percentage. What does that say about the perception of Nomadic Fulanis by other Muslims? hmmm… (The Fulanis have been at the centre of my Eid experience last year which you can read and enjoy the pictures at this link)

A Fulani man in the mosque rocking a Gucci bag (or is it LV?)

Unlike most mosques in the north, the call for prayers had a traditional cadence to it. By that I mean it carries the history of Islam in Nigeria; Caliphate of Usman Bin Fodio. The Islam of the time (before Saudi became rich and it’s Islamic teachings dominant) was biased towards Sufism because the authorities in Islam were Tareeqah. Their Tareeqah may not be recognizable to today’s ritualistic renditions of it. The Quran was recited in the Warsh form of reading which is associated with Tareeqah of the past. After the prayers, the Imam led a congregational supplication in which he recites “Fatiha and Salat Al Fatih“. Now this recitation is an anathema to non-Tareeqah Muslims and so much controversy is around this… but that is not my point. The point is it gave away the community’s Tareeqa bias.

Kids

Talking with kids is always an enriching experience I find. I couldn’t help but observe some of their idiosyncrasies.

This group caught my attention because one of the kids was playing with a crude firework I used use and loved as a kid. It’s made of a bicycle-tire spoke, a nail, a string and a pice of wood; the flammable substance of a match stick is the fuel. I promised them a few shots and without my prompting they posed so well. Now that I think about it, my friend from Okpella is an expert at posing for pictures, perhaps posing is an Okpella thing.

    

Two more things. First kids in Okpella are fond of shouting “Allahu Akbar” unanimously after the Imam says the last “Allahu Akbar” in a prayer (mind you, the prayer still hasn’t finished at that time). I first heard it in the Friday prayer, then the next prayer, and after another one, I could predict it. Even the kids that are playing around in the mosque and not really praying somehow keep track of the progress of the prayer because the chorus is too planned to be a coincidence. I don’t know what to make of this, the adults couldn’t help me either especially since they can’t recall whether they used to do it.

Finally kids in Okpella like rice and stew, but not like you (hopefully) and I serve it. They load it in a plastic bag, mix the concoction, tear an end of the bag and squeeze it out like a smoothie. Similarly I saw too many kids doing it to be a coincidence… unless it’s an Eid thing, but I doubt it.

Kid holding a plastic of rice and stew

Tradition Lives On

Since this was Eid Al Fitr, it was preceded by fasting and so we arrived at Okpella during the fasting month and had a chance to experience fasting there. Before the dawn prayers (which marks start of fasting), Muslims are encouraged to wake up and eat. Today in the north, you hear the first call for prayers to warn you it will soon be time; better set your alarm right. In Okpella, it is the traditional style; the town-crier goes about hitting a drum to wake people up (this may be in addition to call for prayers). This is just cool. I hear some Northern towns used to do similar but not anymore.

Tradionally, The Imam is escorted around the town after Eid Prayer

On Eid day, 2:00am, I was woken up by crowd singing in front of my residence. It felt like a mobb at first, and confusing, I checked the time… then I was relieved to understand part of what they were saying; as my ears adjusted. I could here “Assalamu ‘laikum!” repeated in chorus in addition to much I couldn’t make because I don’t speak Okpella (Yes the language is also called Okpella). There is something similar in the North which we used to enjoy (and do) as kids; also during fasting. It’s called Tashe. We would dress up (not unlike halloween), knock on doors (not unlike trick-or-treat) and perform all sorts of arts. This one in Okpella, though sounds like Tashe, is more like a Christmas Carrol because they were welcoming Eid. After a while they moved to the neighbors.

Did I mention I recorded it from my room? Here it is below, have a listen.

Things were quite traditional for the Christians too. Sunday morning, I heard the church bells which sounded more like a gong. I didn’t see the instrument but it is either a church-bell made to sound like a gong or the bell was broken.

Eid Prayer

Eid prayers are usually performed in the largest congregation, even bigger than Friday prayers. Therefore hardly any one mosque is able to accommodate the congregation; and so there is usually a designated Eid prayer ground in most towns and cities.

Eid Prayer Ground

The prayer ground, being for a town, was much smaller than the ones I ve been to in the north. But it gave a chance to gauge the population of males and females. That was a surprisingly a rough 50-50; unlike the North that I am aware of which is probably less than 20%. It seems females in Okpella are more present in congregational prayers. But that is not the best part. The ages of the females are mostly adults and parents. The few that go to Eid prayers is the north are usually the girls but rarely the women.

Female Congregation

Male Congregation

My friend pointed out that the reason there weren’t many young ladies was that they were at home working (cooking for Eid etc). Before feminists jump on me at this disclosure, my focus is not on cooking-instead-of-worshiping. Rather it is in contrast to the North where the mothers cannot leave (or trust) their female children to take care of Eid preparations. Profound realization.

Poetry Lives On

I am a fan of poetry; mostly spoken word. Let me take you back to the Eid prayers. Eid prayers, unlike Friday prayers, have a speech that comes after. In the North, the prayer is immediately followed by speech. Same thing appeared to be happening until a man stood up and started reciting poems praising the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). I doubt he was the author of that beautiful piece (in arabic). That made my Eid prayer! For fun I took a picture I thought was funny: that the holder of the umbrella for the Imam had no idea it had turned upside down

Umbrella flipped and holder unaware

There is more I have to share but given that some of my readers have complained about the length of my posts, I will grudgingly stop here. I have procrastinated long enough before sitting down to write this anyway.

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A Case for Activism – From The Quran

A country man went to the Grand Mosque in Mecca with a burning prayer he needed to be answered. He wanted wealth, lots of it; he is Nigerian after all. Like the desert-dwelling Bedouins at the time of the Prophet (SAW), he lacked etiquettes of being in holy sites. He repeats loudly “Oh God! All I ask for is Money! Money!! Money!!!”. Imagine sitting and attempting to meditate beside this fellow.

It happens that there was another Nigerian in that situation (beside the country man); unable to get some quiet so many miles from the rawkus of his business. The rich Nigerian turns to the poor Nigerian and says “Hushhhhh! here you go”, handing over a ten thousand dollars “please leave now so we can have some peace with God”. The poor man’s prayer was granted. God works in mysterious ways.

This is an urban legend in North Nigeria (best told in Hausa); its authenticity is dubious or perhaps there is just some embellishment. It is told for the joke in it. But I have come to see a new and deeper meaning in it.

Purpose of Worship (in Islam)

Why do Muslims worship God? Why should Muslims worship God? Many Muslims don’t ponder this question. This was evident in a recent discussion that led me to writing this. Perhaps it is because most Muslims are born into the religion (certainly this is no excuse). Another reason could be that most Muslims mistakenly think the answer is found in a popular Quran verse which says:

“I have only created jinns and men that they may serve me” – Q51:56

But this verse (51:56) does not answer our question but answers another question “What is the purpose of creation?” (of course this verse implies that every action, excluding prohibitions, could be an act of worship).

The best reason I‘ve heard (apart from those who I think misunderstand the above verse) is that Muslims should worship simply for want of rewards and fear of punishment. This view is popular among extremists (within Muslims and the Islamophobes).

 “O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,
and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.
But if I worship You for Your Own sake,
grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.” – Rabi’ah Al Adawiyya

Such reward-punishment understandings explains the mental barrier among many Muslims from appreciating the famous prayer of the exemplary woman Rabi’ah Al Adawiyya (Quoted above). Rabia’h is making the point that God should be worshiped for his own sake, for being all the *99 names* He is, for gratitude (of having access to his 99 aspects). This is the best answer I have come across.

The first chapter of the Quran (Surah Al Fatiha), nicknamed The Essence of the Quran, supports the point that worship should be gratitude. The first verse starts with “Thanks/Praise be to God”. It is logical that the first verse instructs to worship. The first verse of the Quran compendium instructs Muslims to Glorify/Show-gratitude to God; this is the instruction to Worship. Thus Worship = Showing Gratitude.

Gratitude = Action

“And thank Allah for the hands He blessed you with, by extending them to acts of goodness” – Uthman Bin Fodiyo (Minhaj Al Abidin)

The question now is “How do we show gratitude?”

“Gratitude is the prime of moral value of the Quran and the foundation of its ethics and morality” – Ziauddeen Sardar

The answer is that we show gratitude by action. Ziaudeen Sardar puts it very when he said “Both gratitude and ingratitude manifest itself by working to improve the lives of others and enhancing the environment we inhabit”.

So when we carry out acts that are normally classified as worship (prayers, zakat etc) we do that to show gratitude. An interesting point is that all these acts of worship have a situation when it is permissible not to carry them out; subject to a deficiency (This I shall indulge in another post insha Allah).

Activism

“The end of prophesy is a sanction against our intrinsic inclination to look perpetually for a messiah so we can place all our burdens and responsibilities on his shoulders. It suggests, in particular, that it our own responsibility to stand up to tyranny and oppression” – Ziauddeen Sardar

Activism is strongly associated with rebellion. It is so because the activism that gets our attention is when it is outwardly carried out on political/military spheres. But in essence this is no different from limiting the definition of Jihad to military occupations. Activism is primarily internal but depending on the circumstance, it may spill in to the political/military sphere. In fact Activism IS Jihad. This means that a leader could be an activist too, in its fundamental form. Leadership and activism are not antithetical.

But you might say that the Quran instructs believers to “Pay heed unto God, pay heed unto the Apostle and to those from among you who have been entrusted with authority” (Q4:59, Muhammad Asad). Fazlur Rahman elaborates that the leaders referred to here are those that have been duly elected or appointed authority. Certainly, fraudulently elected leaders are not worth paying “heed unto”. This verse does not give even the right leaders complete autonomy as it continues by saying that the leaders should be judged according to the Quran principles (also evident in the Prophet’s life). If people rebel against “honest” leaders then there will be “corruption on earth”.

So what is the criterion on which rebellion is sanctioned in the Quran? (note that rebellion here means Activism that has culminated in political/military sphere)

That criterion is what the Quran calls Fasad fil ‘ard (Corruption on the earth). Fazlur Rahman elucidates on this as “any state of affairs that leads to lawlessness – political, moral or social – when national or international affairs are out of control”

But you might ask how do we decide whether a leadership is really supporting “corruption on the earth”, especially given media tools that can be used as negative propaganda? This calls for transparency (which the Quran also instructs on). Uthman Bin Fodiyo says its permissible for a leader to make public some of their good deeds for the education and guidance of the followership (in Minhaj Al ‘abidin). Bear in mind that this permission comes from a work which generally condemns public piety even those that “let their acts of piety be known so that others would imitate them”. Uthman Bin Fodiyo is emphasizing transparency.

Back to The Urban Legend

Now back to the urban legend we started this post with. You can see the rich Nigerian being an activist in helping grant the prayers of the country-man. It is the rich Nigerian’s expression of gratitude.

A popular hadith (tradition on the Prophet) reports that the Prophet said the supplication of the oppressed will not be rejected [Ibn Majah 1:557]. So next time you hear the poor expressing their frustration/oppression (in prayers or curses), make/re-affirm your resolve to change their situation. We should all hope to express gratitude to God by aiding in granting their supplication.

And if all this is not persuasion enough to be an Activist that shows gratitude to God, here’s a Quran verse 4:75:

“And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)?  Men, women and children, whose cry is “Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from Thee one who will protect and raise for us from thee one who will help” – Q4:75 Abdallah Yusuf Ali”

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