“Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by sword the faith he preached” – Manuel 11 Palaeologus.
The above words ascribed to Byzantine Emperor Manuel Palaeologus as contained in the Seventh Conversation edited by Professor Koury and which eventually won the attention of His Holiness Benedict xvi as captured in his famous Regensburg Address delivered on September 12, 2006, clearly portray the unmistakable correlation the religion of Islam may be sharing with
extremism that can as well be classified in some way or to some degree as terrorism – which at times is mildly disguised, depicted or referred to as Jihad/holy war. Just like Muslim scholars are inclined to emphasize, Pope Benedict xvi himself did in fact acknowledge in his foregoing treatise that even “ the emperor must have known that Surah 2,256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion”. But the fundamental question is: is this provision in the Surah widely understood and accepted by all Muslim faithful as what is truly obtainable in practice? While this is most unlikely to be the case in the light of some questionable activities of some Islamist sects, it is the view of His Holiness – Pope Benedict – that: “According to some experts, this is probably one of the surahs of the early period when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat”. Curiously, granted there were a modicum of truth in this assertion, could it possibly be that the allegation of support for extremism often leveled against Islam by some elements may not after all be unfounded?
It is though fathomable that not all Muslims are favorably disposed to accept the use of any form of compulsion as a method for the propagation of Islam under any guise or circumstance, yet it is arguable that the religion of Islam itself does not actually seem to discourage the naked, cruel and continuous use of force as a means of sustaining its survival. For sure, it still boggles one’s mind why even in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and a host of others that are almost hundred percent peopled by Muslims, there exists a high propensity of blood-letting in the name of Islam. And to say that this tendency appears to be as old as the evolution of Islam itself, is not in any way an understatement. Hence according to the Egyptain-born Journalist Magdi Allam – who converted from Islam to Catholicism and was subsequently baptized during the Vatican’s 2008 Easter vigil presided over by Pope Benedict – “it is scientifically and historically correct to affirm that Islam is a religion that was spread by the sword”.
What is more, aside from every other account of the evolution of Islam in different countries of the world, the Usman Dan Fodio’s Jihad of 1804 in parts of the territory known as Nigeria today remains a testimony to the unpleasant role of the sword in the propagation of Islam. Incidentally, that Islam is today the religion being professed by scores of people of Hausa descent across and even beyond the Northern parts of Nigeria (who were originally pagans before the advent and eruption of the Usman Dan Fodio’s Jihad and conquest of Hausa land) owes a great deal to the terrible role of the sword or, better still, prophet Mohammed’s “command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”. Unfortunately, this is no less the same hawkish approach that saw the seemingly gradual but forceful Islamization of both the Yoruba and non-Yoruba communities in the South-West and parts of the North-Central and South-South geo-political zones.
Strangely enough, that the terrorism of forceful conversion to Islam during the life and time of Prophet Mohammed did in fact rely more on the use of sword as directed by him, only goes to show the prevailing desperation at the time and the sort of morbid fascination with sword as probably the most dreaded weapon of war in his time. It is therefore no surprise that the same sword has continuously been used in different climes and forms by successive generations of extremist Muslim faithful for the same purpose of spreading the message of the prophet as a way of sustaining the survival of the religion.
Now come to think of it. There are people who believe or are wont to argue that the raging activities of the Boko Haram sect are un-Islamic/anti-Islamic and so do not in any way represent, reflect or conform with the credos and tenets of Islam as well as the wishes and yearnings of prophet Mohammed as enshrined in the holy book of Islam. For these persons, associating the dastardly operations of the Boko Haram sect with the larger national or global Islamic agenda and modus operandi is tantamount to attempting to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it. Hence for the Sultan of Sokoto – Alhaji Saa’d Abubakar and his ilk, Islam is and remains nothing but a “peaceful religion”. And here lies the crux of the matter. Though as tritely familiar as Sultan’s remark is, there is one question that obviously and urgently needs to be addressed by those who believe they know or are positions to know. The question is: if indeed the Boko Haram’s ongoing bloody mission to Islamize the North and Nigeria by extension is in any way fundamentally different from the 19th century Jihad of Usman Dan Fodio in Hausa land and beyond, how then can we differentiate the motives and the methodologies of the two Jihads as relates to their common pursuit of Mohammed’s “command to spread by sword the faith he preached”?
Indeed it can be rammed home that Islam is a peaceful religion and that not all Muslims subscribe to and/or are favorably disposed to the diabolic recourse to sword as a recipe for spreading the message of the prophet, but then nothing could be further from the truth about the “command to spread by sword the faith he preached”. In the circumstance therefore, this directive forms the central premise of the awful truth about the religion of Islam which, for all intents and purposes, appears to be tailored from the time and life of Prophet Mohammed to survive and be sustained with the aid of the sword. And given the dynamism associated with contemporary ordinance or the quality of 21ist century arms and ammunitions being manufactured and used today, we are therefore increasingly being confronted with the realty of new vistas for the propagation of the cause of Islam the world over. In essence, the ultimate realty in Nigeria today is that we have all been conscripted to face the emerging renewed phenomenon of the terrorism of Islam being championed for now by the Boko Haram sect. This is why our 21ist century travail in Nigeria can aptly be located in the paradigm shift of Jihad or what some analysts perceive as the changing face of Islamic terrorism.
Onyiorah Chiduluemije Paschal writes from Lagos