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Ramadan with a Celebrity Sheikh – No Groupie

Alhamdulillah. I have been humbled by Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan this Ramadan, after reluctantly watching his Tafsir (exegesis) videos on Surah al Baqarah. For years I have been unable to appreciate why many people revere his teaching because I had failed to be impressed by his videos which I sampled, nor attain insight. Celebrity Sheikhs get a different treatment from me. So I tried to assess his teachings by disregarding his celebrity status, which leads me to being cynically critical, which collateralize any learning. Some of his more popular videos cannot be considered classes because they were usually speeches, but I judged him based on that too.

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The bulk of the flaws I notice are in his examples and analogies, especially because I was informed that those are supposed to be his strengths; in addition to his relaxed language. Other flaws I couldn’t notice were probably beyond my scope of knowledge. He was alright, but not insightful enough for me, but perhaps for some people; so I moved on. I have since adjusted to keep my eyes on the prize, that is the main points, and not to sweat the small stuff i.e. examples and analogies. This Ramadan, I caught him in his element, which is Tafsir emphasizing linguistic analysis (Lughah, Nahw, Ishtiqaaq, balagha i.e. Lexicography, Syntax, Etymology, Rhetoric). Hats off to him, and may God be pleased with him.

The title of the videos is called Ramadan Exclusive Surah al Baqarah; at least that is what you should search for on Youtube. Content wise, it is quite rich, covering no more than 2 verses in some sessions which typically last an hour. It seems he surveys works on Tafsirs, then presents the most convincing opinions to him. Some of the big shots he references are Tabari (of course), Imam Razi, Ibn Ashur, Farahi, and Islahi (whose Tadabburi Qur’an is still only available in Urdu). Just their names should make your mind salivate. He wanders into biblical sources, to Seerah, to recent statistics, to other parts of the Qur’an, to extra-biblical sources, to academic sources, to video games with no sense of boundaries, in order to drive his points. All the while, he is anchored in Arabic linguistics.

It is narrated that Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, the renowned theologian and exegete, was walking among huge crowds celebrating him while an old woman looked on confused. She asked, who is that? They told her: “He is Imam al-Razi, and he has 100 proofs of God’s existence.” She asked again, laughing, “But why would he need those, unless he had 1000 doubts?!” The Imam was impressed by her remark and used to pray thereafter: “O Allah, grant me faith like that of the old woman!” – Well Known

The first time I committed some scholarly respect to Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan was when I read his response to a controversy raised by some Youtube Salafi’s because of a statement he made at a speech; that people should downplay their obsessions with Aqeedah and connect more with the Qur’an instead. That sure hurt Salafi pride, because what is a Salafi without cramming your Tauhid Al Rububiyya/Uluhiyya/Asma-wal-Sifat?! My respect then was similar to what I have for Dr Yasir Qadhi, because they both appear to have been at one point staunch Salafi-breeds, then they transcended labels, leaving the containers but with a lot more content. Now that I have some insight into Ustadh Nouman’s understanding of the Qur’an, I can appreciate his response better. More than anything, his Tafsir is loaded with theological content, discussed so casually, but profoundly, that it may miss the attention of a trained theologian. Ustadh Nouman is the guy in between Imam Razi (a sophisticated theologian) and the simple Old-woman with basic true beliefs that Imam Razi envies. For instance Ustadh Nouman discusses: the potentially controversial prostration of the Angels to Adam, like that which the brothers of Yusuf did to Yusuf (AS); offers a refreshing understanding of the verse (Q2:61) often read as salvation to Jew, Christians and Sabeans, even while holding the belief that salvation is not exclusive to Muslims; etc. Some of these appear to be opinions he arrived at rather than read from some author. It is through this Qur’an theology that he transcended the Salafi Aqeedah, I suppose, by understanding it more profoundly.

Without sound effects of thriller movies, the videos are full of twists. How many Tafsir sessions do you know that try to empathize with Satan (Iblis). Ustadh Nouman manages to get you into the shoes of Iblis, similar to the biblical account of fallen angels, or those who hail Satan as Lucifer (the light bearer), so that one begins to feel they would act the same in Satan’s shoe. Then Ustadh Nouman rescues you from that shoe of ignorance and arrogance into the bigger picture, as if reflecting an accusatory mirror, so that one humbles themselves before God. Similarly he succeeds in getting one to empathize with the Hypocrites of Madina, especially those who signed up for Islam simply because it was fashionable or pragmatic, and then realize it is demanding much from them. In a similar vein to that of Iblis, one is made to appreciate their error.

While many Muslims would claim the genealogy of Islam was through Judaism (Musa AS) and Christianity (Isa AS), many despise Jews in a racist sense, justified by Qur’an’s reference to their ancestors. The same Muslims would also proudly say they don’t believe in original sins, as in Christianity. This may have been amplified by recent international affairs of Palestine and Israel, though an un-empathetic reading of the Qur’an could also lead to similar attitudes. The videos remind Muslims today that the Jews in the Qur’an are actually Muslims; like an earlier generation of Sahaba. We are reminded that Ya Bani Isra’il is a honorific address, rather than a prelude to accusation and curses. By cross-referencing incidents that are mentioned in passing in the Qur’an, with more detailed accounts from biblical (and extra-biblical) sources, it appears the Qur’an conceals some of the wrongs of the historic Jews. Therefore the Qur’an which has been accused of being anti-Semitic, may be pro-Semitic compared to the biblical sources.

Taking the empathy with the Jews further, the entire story of the Jews in the Qur’an is not presented as history lessons, but as commentary on Muslims today. Muslims today look down on non-Muslims because they feel they are saved, like the historic Jews. Muslims today kill their scholars which they don’t agree with, like the historic Jews killed their prophets. Some Muslims mix-up their religion with others and superstitions, like the Egyptian Jews mixed up their religion with their neighbor’s (Canaanites) belief in cows (which led to the molding of the golden calf). Muslims make so much noise about matters of the mind (e.g. Fiqh discussions/arguments) and ignore matters of the heart (e.g. Fiqh applications and relationship with Qur’an). There are many other examples.

Also valuable is Ustadh Nouman’s experience as a teacher. You can’t really buy experience. Over the years, Ustadh Nouman has had several inquiries thrown his way which are valuable because many people would have similar issues. Of course not all the questions were sincere but we can benefit from the sincere ones, especially if we have been indoctrinated not to ask certain “blasphemous” questions. He has had to come up with convincing answers over the years, which may not necessarily be convincing to you, but worth listening. Why did God inform the angels about creation of man when He seemed to have already decided to do so with or without their input. Why did God allow for the interaction between Iblis and Adam when He seemed to have planned they would both end up on earth. Why did God ask the Jews to accept His guidance while terrifying them with “mountain above them” (Q2:63), since their answers may not be sincere.

Then there is the creativity that goes into his understanding. Many undervalue the role creativity plays in problem solving, including the problem of guidance for Mankind. Ustadh Nouman displays such bridled creativity. Creativity allows us to understand a thing differently, which leads to new insights. Call it Ilham, but like Elizabeth Gilbert, I call it creativity.

Generally speaking, I find writing to be richer in content, depth and insight than videos. Videos also have a way of devouring our time in exchange for an idea that can fit in two sentences, so I may not be able to afford the time for Ustadh Nouman’s classes but there is certainly a lot to learn. It is all pedagogical preference. I recommend it. I should mention that having a bit of Arabic would allow you pick up some Arabic lessons in addition.

We have all had those moments when we feel the Qur’an is talking to us, but I had Tafsir talk to me. The reluctance I had approaching these videos was mainly because my cynical  criticism of the “Celebrity Sheikh” which was a barrier to learning. This is in no way saying I know half the stuff he knows, which is perhaps why I fixate on the few things I know, which I felt he wasn’t presenting well in his examples. With only 10% of your knowledge, I believe I can criticize your talks, and with 20%, I can even make parodies on Youtube, plus memes. Why do you think critics rule social media?! I still find some of his analogies and examples either an over simplification, or not the most appropriate for his points. However, his points manage to come across. Many times, his points are quite enlightening. There is much to learn from Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan.

Another important outcome of watching these videos is that it has re-ignited the courage in me to resuscitate a project I had been working on, but left fallow for 3 years now. It is called Qur’an Hacking (aka Qur’an Haqqing). In summary, this entails outputting primarily eisegetical, but also exegetical, reflections on the Qur’an using the tools of literary theory, fine art, performance arts and other paradigms of expression. I shall follow up with more information soon InShaAllah. For now it suffice to say that Ustadh Nouman was exhibiting a number Qur’an Haqqing skills very well.

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Thoughts of Train – ABJ to KD

The anticipated Abuja-Kaduna train has been launched, and this is not a bluff. Apart from the train actually moving, the train service is littered with issues that could make the train travel unbearable. Consider this post a review of the train experience; the main issues are absence of information and non-optimized processes.

The train ran free for the first two weeks between Abuja and Kaduna, moving at 100 km/h (but would be 150 km/h after the trial phase). There are 8 stops in-between. The cost is N600 for “economy class” and N900 for “business class”. Below are captioned pictures from our trial ride between the Idu station and the next station (Kubwa station); courtesy of Saj.

Nice Floors


The Train!! 💃💃💃


Nice Stairs 😎😎

Ticketing!!


Wait…is this an Airport or a Train station? Hmm 😕😕


Tadaaaa!!


I would call it Thomas, but that’s not original. Idu will do. Idu the Lone Train that travels to Rigasa 😊😊


Its obvious that we will leave “IN” time; but it begs to question…will we leave “ON” time? 🙈🙈


Inside Idu the Loner. Standard Carriage…or as we call it over here…Economy 😎


Mystory 😊


The journey through Idu’s eyes 😊


Arrived at Kubwa! More passengers awaiting to board than expected! 😁


Each stop has a “5 minute dwelling time”


Arrivals 😆😆

Kubwa Station. Idu’s first stop on its way from Idu, Abuja to Rigasa, Kaduna.


This passenger told me to take a picture of him and NEVER delete it 😂


…And this passenger had live chickens inside his box 😂😂😂. Nigeria Railway Corporation…Prepare for what’s coming 😂

I have been unable to find a reliable way to provide them with feedback, so I shall list the issues, and hopefully direct the relevant authorities to this content, or at least have those interested in using the train services.

Locating the Station

The closest station to the city center is Idu Station, but certainly not the easiest to locate. Idu is the industrial area of Abuja, so it makes strategic sense to position the train station there for movement of input and output to the plants/industries. However there is not a single signboard pointing to the location, even articles that made the launching public did not divulge the location; how could they when the location is has no address nor direction, only its man-given latitude and longitude points. So I stored the address using Google Maps (luckily there was phone network coverage).

It took about an hour to locate the place, after getting into Idu. At one point I became hopeless because even the Okada guys in the area did not know where the station was. All of them boasted with the competency to take me to the rail, which to them is just any point on the train track. Luckily one of them that had been busy on his phone suddenly recalled that he had taken someone to a train station there during the week. He led me there; through 4 round-abouts, then an excursion into the bush and out to a serpentine road. The road had some interesting potholes to keep from being bored of the bush, and the last-mile from the road to the gate was not tarred so that it awakens you from your slumber. On my return, I followed the serpent to a more straight forward road to the main road. Let me save you the hassle I suffered, see the Idu station below (you can zoom in and out):

Train Schedule

In other words, no train timetable! There should be a schedule even it was just a trial run. Actually there should be one especially because it is trial run. The idea of a trial run should be to test the machines and processes. However, it seems they have neglected the processes and focused on the machines; in other words they (NRC) are thinking mechanically about an innovation. It is for this reason that it took us two weeks to test the train for 15 mins! I used the first weekend (Saturday) to locate the place and find out about the schedule, then the next weekend to follow the schedule because the trial run did not operate on Sundays, and work won’t allow me weekdays.

A staff I met there told me that the trial train leaves Abuja 8:00 am daily. So it turned out they have a schedule, they just don’t want to share it; it is not even pasted or printed anywhere in the station. Prior to confirming the existence of a schedule, it seemed imaginable that the trains would operate like cars in car-parks i.e. fill in the seats with passengers before taking off.

How does a train service commissioned in 2016 not even have a website for train schedule and ticketing. One would assume, websites come free with every train station.

Ticketing System

In the absence of a website, and ticket vending machines, what do you have? If you said humans issuing tickets, that would be wrong since you need humans issuing from a machine anyway. The right answer is: you have a scissors-cut cardboard ticket that is signed with a pen by a staff for authentication. Unless the ticket signatories for every station would be static and limited, I doubt this has any authentication function… but more on that in the next issue below.

At the point of collecting tickets we were challenged to produce ID cards out of thin air before we get tickets. This information was not provided during my inquiry visit; I was told to simply show up on time and collect ticket. I had an ID but none in my travel company had one so… we didn’t plead but they understood it was an oversight on their part and so we were allowed through especially since the ticket we wanted was to the first stop. Other travel parties there had similar issues. A point to note here is that this is about 11 days after the trial run began, which means I inquired from them 4 days after it started but there was no mention of ID card then.

Station Processes

You would expect improvement on anything after 11 days running. Even fat people lose weight in 11 days, even APC probably made an impact in 11 days… how come this is not the case with NRC. If however we assume that they’ve made improvement, then it would be fun imagining how bad the train station was on the first day.

The efficiency of train services depends significantly on the efficiency of processes within the station. The processes are: update on train services (e.g. train platforms), ticket purchasing, ticket validation, queuing in-out, luggage screening, security checks, etc.

Queuing in and out of the train alone seemed a challenge for the Kubwa station staffs (see picture above), and they have the audacity to write that the station stop-time is only 5 minutes before they move to the next station. It was getting to 10 minutes when we left the Kubwa station, and the train that dropped us was still standing; in other words stand-still. Perhaps the station was understaffed for the trial run? If that is the case then it was a bad trial run.

Feedback Channel 

I could not find a reasonable feedback channel to the NRC on how to improve the new trains. NRC has a liaison office in Abuja, but how bad would I want to give a feedback that I would go there? I could not find a email address, nor a feedback box at the station. I was advised to tag the relevant parties on twitter or Facebook along with my feedback but I could not find an NRC account. I shall try the Ministry of transport and aviation. The absence of a feedback channel means the NRC is probably very proud of themselves at the moment; unfortunately.

By the way, does the NRC have the capacity to manage the processes of this train service? I suppose the Chinese companies setting up the trains would continue to service it for now. I don’t know, because this information is also not available. My best guess is that it would be a partnership for a while.

PS: It appears the trial run has been extended, perhaps indefinitely, or as I read somewhere, by the end of July.

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Niggas in a Death Scandal

 

Scandals are subjective, a representation of the collective subjective. We simply have to agree that something is scandalous and it shall be, after all the audience are the most important component of a scandal. Scandal is indeed democratic. Just because scandals often have to do with the violation of moral codes (or ethics) it doesn’t mean scandals are morally corrective; instead they are interesting deviations from the norm that have a willing crowd ready to express concern. This became clear to me recently after engaging in a discussion about a “scandalous” selfie; although late after the storm of the scandal has subsided. The selfie shows the self-er, with what seems like two friends and a wrapped dead body in the background given a Muslim burial. It was snapped at the burial of the selfer’s friend. The selfer posted it on his Instagram page with the caption:

Selfie with my dead nigga !!! Rest in peace !!! Keep rocking till we come !!! Safe journey man

The picture was widely shared with outrage and it seems there are a number of points that offends people’s sensibilities. How dare he take a selfie at a solemn burial where he should have been reflecting. How dare one of the friends smile in the picture. How dare he make such a comment about the dead. How dare he share it on social media. The outrage is guttural, emotive, reactive, instinctive but hardly reasonable after closer inspection. Beneath the surface of the scandalous accusations, there is lack of thoroughness, hypocrisy, inconsistency and ignored but relevant aspects of the picture. The scandalous contagion was widely spread and accepted; hence it became a scandal. The responses and comments on the issue are reminiscent of a scandalous blasphemy  in Kano when a Muslim man referred to another as the personification of God; many Facebook commentators said it was worse than all the killings and pillage and oppression carried out by Boko Haram. Similarly I see uncritical instincts shadowing reasoning in this case.

In summary, my arguments are two. The picture does not merit the scandal it caused, if scandals are to be based on careful reasoning. Secondly, the person deserving the most heat of the criticism is not the selfer but those who promoted sharing of the picture in the first place. Although Christians also found the selfie offensive, Muslims took it more personal, to the level of blasphemy or sacrilege; and when asked they incline towards religious explanations. It is for this reason that I shall argue from a Muslim perspective.

It seems the issues people have with the picture are that: it was taken as a selfie; the language used in the first comment; and the pose and smile of one friend in the picture. Scandals, even on selfies, should not be based on careless presumption on the circumstances of the event. Selfie being a prevalent phenomenon today has even warranted a fatwa (or opinion of scholars) on it; most notably selfies with Ka’bah in the background. The egotistic nature of selfie contributes to its ability to disturb our ethical sensibilities. Any thorough (Islamic) legal ruling condemning a cultural phenomenon is bound to be padded around by so many conditions that the focus would be on the conditions rather than the phenomenon. For example, a ruling on the appropriateness of cultural ceremonies like weddings and birthdays depends on the conditions (activities) under which the ceremonies occur. The exception to this is where there is clear scriptural basis to make a judgement on that cultural phenomenon (which probably must have existed similarly at the time of The Prophet).

If selfie itself is not a taboo, then perhaps the public excitement comes from conditions around the selfie, most notably the first comment. Language also is another cultural phenomenon that may be used rightly or wrongly, regardless of the form it takes. The object of language which is subject to moral judgement is its content; not so much its form. So let us now take the scandalous comment and change its form, but maintain the content.

The original form is “Selfie with my dead nigga !!! Rest in peace !!! Keep rocking till we come !!! Safe journey man” in ebonics (Black American English). It is important here to note that ebonics and rap have been unjustly associated with bad morality in the public’s subconscious.

The content of the comment in a more a recognized English is equivalent to:

“Selfie (a moment to remember) with my deceased companion. May you rest in eternal peace. May we also share in the eternal peace when we die. May you reach the peace that awaits you”.

I don’t think many would find the content shocking, after all we have similar sayings which are considered virtuous. So the outrage seems to be merely on the form of language, by those who don’t appreciate the form; I would say that is classist. Interestingly, it appears the selfer is not completely ignorant of Islam’s burial rites because the last comment on the picture is him referencing the late Albany of Zaria on the topic.

So who has definitely violated a moral code; at least in Islam? As we have seen, the action of the selfer, is marred with ambiguity since the content is open to different understandings. However, there is less ambiguity surrounding the action of those who shared the picture, especially those first to share. The language used by those sharing to accompany the image leaves little space for other interpretation other than they are escalating the scandal; or creating a scandal. The first sharer was the one who made available the “scandalous” image to an audience outside the reach of the original post. The first sharer is probably a “friend” of the selfer. The first sharer is like a friend who broadcasts what he sees as your flaws to the world for them to judge. The circle of friends may not be as closed, because hashtagging could easily expose your post that would typically be restricted to a circle of friends, now to a community of strangers who can judge you with little or no information about your background which could contextualize your action. Nonetheless, it appears there was no hashtag on the picture posted by the author, so it seems someone else took the liberty to share the picture to the public for judgement.

Defamation of character is a serious offense in Islam, attested to by Qur’an, Hadith and Seerah. As a result privacy in Medieval Muslim architecture was a major design consideration. Even adjudication in cases of character assassination is very stringent in Islamic legal philosophy. We may not see it that way, but social media has primed us to celebrate the failings of others, even if we have to imagine them failing. Perhaps it makes us feel good about ourselves since the level of astonishment at scandalous failings is proportional to how far we consider ourselves from committing the same act.

Rather than investing time into promoting a scandal that may not even be justified, why don’t we justify our claims of superior moral character to the scandal actors by considering the morality of our response to them. In an attempt to shame them, rightly or wrongly, we shame ourselves. Selfie + ebonics + burial may not be wrong. But sharing a post on character defamation for no reason but to confirm your disapproval may be wrong.

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Celebrity Sheikhs

As cultural phenomena, popular music concerts, Christian evangelical crusades and Muslim ‘lectures’ are more or less the same. There is always a celebrity figure, there are always fans, there is always hyping the event and promotion (posters, billboards and media promo), and there is the tendency to be considered ‘cooler’ after attending. The main difference is the content. It is like having a tank; some use it so deliver water, others kerosene, and others diesel. Recently Nigeria has witnessed a frenzy in Muslim celebrity speakers, featuring such platinum speakers as Zakir Naik, Mufti Menk, Khaled Yasin etc.

Consumerism has long infiltrated Islam, shortly after colonisation via capitalism. These popular Muslim lectures are a product of a consumerist culture, where the product is lectures, and the sustaining myth is that listening to more lectures leads to being a better Muslim. Compare that to the consumerist phenomenon where the product is gadgets (phones, headphones, watches etc.) and the sustaining myth is that owning these gadgets would make you cooler, or rarely more efficient. In the case of gadgets, there is a veil of deception because many are either unwilling to admit, or are unaware zombies, that they are aiming to be cooler/hip/current. Whereas in the case of Muslim lectures, many Muslims are quick to defend that they are indeed performing righteous deeds which would lead to their righteous transformation.

But how true is the sustaining myth; are these lectures making better Muslims? That requires a statistical answer and criteria for evaluating better Muslims. Since the power of any myth lies in the ability of the myth to be propagated and believed, then we can assume they believe they are becoming better Muslims. Perhaps we can count on a psycho-social placebo effect.

Now what is the effect of Muslims believing they are becoming better Muslims? In other words, what is the effect of consumers who believe they are becoming cooler or more effective? In addition to contentment in keeping up with their practice, even at the expense of more useful practices, we can say that the Muslim consumer would continue consuming, more and more.

Having celebrated Sheikhs is not new to Islam’s tradition, but I contend that having celebrity Sheikhs is a new phenomenon because celebrity as we know it today is a product of consumerism; energised by capitalism. Sufi Islam is more accommodating of celebrity culture given its aggrandisement of Sheikhs and donations. On the other hand Salafi Islam, being similar to protestant movement, is very vocal about its disapproval on aggrandisement of Sheikhs which they consider as a serious threat to monotheism. To the Salafi strand, sainthood is deification, and so ascribing divinity to them, or contradicting the sole monopoly of God’s omnipotence. So it is quite interesting when a common theme in lectures given by Salafi-inclined Sheikhs is the denouncing of celebrity status; often in the catch phrase “There is no celebrity in Islam!”. This is pure irony!

It appears those preaching against celebrity status of Sheikhs forget one key fact, which is not simply that they are celebrities, but that they are being listened to precisely because they are celebrities. What is the effect of a celebrity Sheikh who constantly reminds his fans (audience) that he is no celebrity, and that there should be no celebrities in Islam? Some would be quick to call it hypocrisy, and that would be justified, but not charitable.

I would like to think they do not understand the complexity of celebrity as a product of culture; as would be elucidated by cultural studies. They would then appreciate that cultural products are a result of interaction. They would also know that their actions have more impact to culture than their spoken words; such that even if they organise a specific event to discourage celebrity status, the more lasting impact is that they were able summon their fans privileging their celebrity status rather than what they were able to tell their fans. They would then appreciate why the Prophet (SAW), on many occasions, does an action before explaining it, making him a conscious culture producer; walking before the talking.

The situation of those celebrity Sheikhs then becomes one of saying one thing consciously, and doing and promoting its opposite unconsciously. It is not different from those who seek to justify their actions by first saying “I do not mean to justify so and so, but…”. Or those who excuse their actions by saying “I am not trying to provide an excuse for my action, but…”. This self fulfilling deception comes in several varieties.

Others criticise the phenomenon of celebrity Sheikh as an unnecessary expense because inviting these celebrities is quite expensive due to logistics; because I don’t think they charge for their lectures. In addition to plane tickets and accommodation, the venues are typically worth millions of Naira for rent; although the venues may be donated or sponsored by a ‘big person’. The criticism actually has two parts: first, organising these events are expensive; second, why not make use of local Sheikhs instead. Understandably, many have no issue with the first part because they understand that transport and accommodation is not free. The second criticism is often presented as a variation of the import-vs-local debate, where the critics say: why don’t we patronise local Sheikhs as we do international celebrity Sheikhs. Which would mean creating local celebrity Sheikhs, if that criticism is taken seriously. Alas, the criticisms are not at celebrity Sheikh culture but about celebrity Sheikh consumption.

Perhaps the Celebrity Sheikh is above criticism. After all he would be the hardest on himself.

Some celebrity Sheikhs however embrace their celebrity-ness, and simply put effort in humility. But they understand, I believe, that there is now celebrity in Islam, and they are it. But I wonder if they appreciate how entangled their celebrity status is with consumerism of Islam’s knowledge, and what that does to Muslim consumers.

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Dorobucci

Dorobucci! Dorobucci!

It kept resounding in my head after a colleague played it over and over at the office. So when Youtube Nigeria suggested the video of the song to me, I caved in and clicked. How enlightening that experience turned out to be. Even exaggerated frivolities can lead to epiphany. I decided to watch the video again and share some of that insight. My claim is that Dorobucci (music video) captures the imagination of many Nigerians on how intertwined power and self-aggrandisement are.

Here is the link to the video. The video is suitable as social commentary because the producer and the several artistes are as representative a sample as can be. The opening scene is at a CEO boardroom presentation with a pretty female presenting her slides as well as herself to the male CEO, while he and others sip expensive looking drinks. The scene ends with cash opened in a briefcase for all to celebrate which shows that the “CEO” is more a mafia boss than a leader of a corporation, or perhaps the two are not different in the imagination of Nigerians. Nigerians tedn to treat a crook and a statesman/politician the same way without an ethical distinction, but with a benevolent assumption of humanitarian generosity.

The two groups of statesmen and business men (crooks included) are grouped under the name of Big Boys. What Big Boys do is they call the shots; or swing the shots, since the sports of the rich man is Polo. For the less energetic rich men, golf is the next appropriate metaphor for a rich man swinging shots. For favour golf has over polo with the white man, the video captures a Big Boy from a rooftop in Ikoyi (Lagos) taking a swing with his expensive golf club, the ball flies overseas and lands in the courtyard of the White House – a hole in one! The Big Boy is that rich man who swings shots from the business capital and lands effortlessly in the government capital; both are executives after all. With the such easy access into the government domain, and the easy access to “scoring”; it can be interpreted as having the government’s administration in the pocket of the Big Boy. The White House here symbolises any government with considerable global influence; after all globalisation is a phenomenon consuming both in governments and businesses. Nothing appears like progress to the colonised subject than the White House especially when it is occupied by a Black Man.

The Big Boy and Big Girl are further enshrouded with the garment of a celebrity. The video shows this connection effortlessly in subsequent scenes. Business men compete with politicians in this arena for celebrity title. To the uncivil and tabloid-minded public, they two groups are simply Big Boys and Girls treated as celebrities. At this point in the video the two titles (business men and politicians) are now smugged together so that henceforth the video only deals with celebrities. Next we see the glorification of fashion consumerism by a female artiste whose worth and popularity depends on her choice of fashion; she seems to have a personal fashion assistant. Then a male artiste living the celebrity vacation in speedboats filled with foreign light-skinned women. The next artiste sings his part lavishing in fame at a club, showered with fans supplicating at the red carpet… and of course a well decorated woman delivering herself to the club aka the domain of the male artists where he wears a hat like a crown. All of this is celebrity gossip material; fashion, vacation, clubbing and red carpets.

It came as a bit of relief to see the next artiste playing the role of the wife of a Big Boy; so far it has been about male artists having females. Actually the female is still being had here but at least she is milking it and becoming a Big Girl by association. Most wives of Big Boys automatically become Big Girls, just in the same way with offspring. This reflects a reality in Nigeria where relatives of Big Boys/Girls become Big by relation; even in-laws these days enjoy this social privilege. The scene ends with the female artiste slipping into the arms of her Big Boy husband, living like a queen and protected by bodyguards. The song had many artists so it wasn’t a surprise that one more artiste gets his scene acting as a Big Boy who is a big careless spender, gambling James Bond style, and of course surrounded by women, in that rare occurrence of a gambler’s streak.

The final scene is a culmination point of all the several Big Boys and Girls that have been featured in the video. It is a celebrity party mimicking the high-class parties from The Great Gatsby. The parties in The Great Gatsby in a lot of ways are an melting pots for ambiguation between the Crook, the Businessman, the Lobbyist (politician). In two words, the personalities at those parties are Big Boys or Big Girls or Shady Figures.

PS: This is among posts that were written several months ago which I dug up and decided to publish.

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Anty Bilkisu: For Social Justice & Gender Equity

Anty Bilkisu

Hajiya Bilkisu was Anty Bilkisu to me

And many others like me who lived in

 

Houses
That complain about unstable ecosystem in
Her absence

 

Stairs
That lift her up like she did them with
Her presence

 

Walls
That want to endure harsh outside weather to get
Her welcome

 

Carpets
That are soothed by the whispers of
Her supplications

 

Curtains
That selfishly block a secret not too many notice –
Her radiance

 

Us
That miss her we seek her by living
Her ideals

Anty Bilkisu - 1 - CoverAnty Bilkisu - 2 - BackAnty Bilkisu - 4 - ContentAnty Bilkisu - 5 - ContentAnty Bilkisu - 6 - ContentAnty Bilkisu - 7 - ContentAnty Bilkisu - 8 - Content

To purchase a copy contact Usman Musa on 0803 286 6545

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NYSC: Kufr, Sexist and Tyrannically Bad

Having background in Computer Science applications, I appreciate that the design of any information (collection and processing) system is crucial. Performance of a system could be the best there is, theoretically, but a disregard of potential users in mind could make the enterprise a failure. That crucial design stage is when cultural nuances are embedded, religious options are made available, minorities are made relevant… In the past few weeks, while assisting my wife in registration, I have laid the following charges against NYSC (Nigerian Youth Service Corp): Kufr, Sexist, Tyrannically Bad… and for good reasons

NYSC has been automating its registration process; which seems like progress. It depends on whether progress is simply moving forward, or moving forward without crushing your subjects.The main issue is simply that when a woman decides to keep her surname after marriage, the precocious NYSC registration system changes her surname for her, and even cleverly requests that she cannot proceed with the registration until she provides documentation for Change of Name. And her forcefully changed name is what will appear on the NYSC certificate; that necessary paper to get a decent office job in Nigeria.

Who cares if you are married or not, during your NYSC? Your spouse and kids if you have those. Without a proof of marriage, get ready to be deployed to any of the thirty six other states in Nigeria. But show up a marriage certificate, and you shall be with your household.

Kufr

NYSC is Kufr! Kufr to Muslims mean rejection of an established truth. Groups like Boko Haram attribute it to individuals, institutions and organisations to legitimise deadly attacks on them. Forcing a Muslim to take an option, which is not conducive to the Shariah, is to force a Muslim to go against the Shariah; in other words Kufr. So when two separate NYSC staffs inform you that you have to change your name because that is what the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s constitution says, before you can perform the obligatory NYSC as a married Muslim woman, then many will be willing to call the practice of NYSC is Kufr! I thought so… for a while.

But it is actually not. What the NYSC is doing is that it is enforcing an option that is not recommended according to Islamic tradition. True that some would insist Islamic tradition requires a woman maintain her maiden name, but it is mostly for the sake of identity and lineage so some sophisticated social security number could make it easier for those Muslims to accept that a woman should change her name to her husband’s. Until Nigeria’s social security number (or National Identity Number) gets fully deployed to address this Shariah requirement, those who consider NYSC as the arm of the devil would have a strong point… if only the reference to the Nigerian constitution is true. We checked the Nigerian Marriage Act of 1990, and guess what, it is quiet about change of name. Neither do customary laws instruct adherents to change their names on marriage; which by definition depends on the varying custom. So it is not Kufr because the NYSC staffs are wrong. Whether it is Kufr or not, the issue remains: a woman who decides to retain her name after marriage cannot register for NYSC.

Sexist

NYSC is sexist! This issue is a female issue; specifically a wife-issue. Since NYSC has failed to give an explanation for why this issue exists, we have no choice but to interpret as fit the situation, with no obligation to be generous in the interpretation. By refusing a married woman the option to keep or change her name, NYSC is saying what many men are saying, which is that married women have no identity seperate from their husband’s; while accepting that her husband’s identity is indifferent to her existence. Double standards, from point of view of both equity and equality. This set up even makes women’s maiden name ominous in the sense that changing her name is equivalent to the her husband purchasing her from her father; that’s what you do when you buy a car from someone.

Perhaps it is not sexist. But how could this excuse pass? There is one way to pull this off, and even courts, as well as the Shariah, agree with me. The crime of the mentally sick is a crime void of intent; in other words it may not be punished but someone is going to fix the issue, and someone else is going to a facility/hospital to be fixed or quarantined. The crime here is by NYSC on married women. NYSC registration system is either sexist or mentally sick… actually it could be both, but let us focus on the latter. Simply looking at report cards of kids in primary school, it is a thin line between being an extremely poor student, and a developmentally slow. So NYSC is either an incompetent organisation or developMENTALLY poor.

Tyrannically Bad

Based on the above, a conclusion to be drawn if one is generous to NYSC, is that NYSC registration system is poor at best because it is discriminatory.

When incompetence becomes the air you breathe, or the water you swim in, you lose your sense of identifying excellence. As we have seen, you become difficult to distinguish from the mentally incapacitated, which also means critical thinking is nowhere to be found around you. Your arguments become appalling so much that the only more unsettling thing is the casual way you defend your actions. When you stay quiet on an issue, we can only suspect why you fall short, but when you speak, you risk exposing your dumbness. After engaging the management of NYSC staffs on the above issue, there were two defensive arguments where I think staff of the NYSC outdid themselves.

The first defense is that their registration system forces women to change their surnames to their husbands’ in order to prevent other women who lie about their marital status from manipulating the NYSC into getting posted to the state of their fathers. Apparently these women create fake documents showing that they are married to their fathers. I’m sure NYSC felt really smart coming up with this idea, but they seemed almost dogmatically amnesiac in how they fail to see the implications of their “brilliant” idea; or how they dismiss it. The first implication is that ALL married women in NYSC who do not wish to change their names will now have to change their surnames just so they can do NYSC. Secondly, the registration system automatically rejects the application of any married woman who has the same maiden name as her husband’s surname. Imagine how many tens of thousands of graduates suffer from this, every batch from this batch.

Their second defense is simply “deal with it, what is the big deal”. Very Nigerian indeed. The message we kept receiving was what is the big deal in changing a woman’s name to her husband’s surname. It came in different flavours: “Just change your name, it is easy now”, “every woman should be proud to use her husband’s surname for herself”, “It is just change of name, it only means changing your surname, not that your own name has to change”. Patience is a virtue when you are being condescended on by people who fail to see the implication of being forced to change your name. Identity and its construction is obviously something the management of NYSC have not pondered upon. How could an organisation like the NYSC with the aim of nation building be so sociologically ignorant?!

As far as critical thinking goes, there were other noteworthy but less impacting follies which they brought up as their arguments. But I reserve the right to forget them. I thank God I am done with NYSC, and I am not a married woman going into NYSC. May God make it easy for married Nigerian graduates.

PS: Any feminist or women rights group interested in raising this issue up, contact me please for more info.

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