By Patrick Dele-Cole
March 2, 2021
In many places, including Nigeria, that which are Arabic and Islamic have been conflated and even combined to mean the thing – the clothes and robes, the hijab, purdah, etc., in a way that is not common to other religions and everyday aspects of life in other parts of the world with different religions.
In Europe Islamic schools have been established in an aggressive display of what it is to be Islamic or Arabic – exhibiting these differences in culture, clothes, etc. Even so the Islamic schools have to conform to the laws and regulations covering the education institutions and systems. In short, you may, in the United Kingdom or Germany, have chartered educational Islamic schools but the students still do the same examinations and learn from the same syllabuses as all other schools in order to get state recognised educational standards e.g. GCSE, A-Levels, etc., which are requirements for entering universities and tertiary institutions.
Arabic knowledge is built on foundation of Greek, Roman, Chinese and Indian knowledge. Its legacy was the foundation it laid for the remarkable explosion and spread of knowledge which was the Renaissance – (a rebirth after the Dark Ages), and the birth of the modern nation state.
Islamic/Arab knowledge was seminal to human development (and whatever ISIS or Boko Haram is doing is not knowledge – indeed it is based on lack of Islamic/Arabic knowledge – a total regression and denial of the essence of knowledge – debasing the heights of human development for the capture of a few boys and girls and the enthroning of self-immolation in the name of “religion”.
It has become fashionable to trace all of the problems of Nigeria to the machinations of all Islamic cult-like grips on the levers of power: appointments to political and administrative cadres in all branches of government. The North is accused of importing millions of Fulani Muslims from as far as Burkina Faso into Nigeria – fully armed to support the North.
There is an explosion of conspiracy theories beginning long before Usman Dan Fodio and his jihad, culminating, as the conspiratorialists insist, in the perfidy of the British in the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria in 1914 under Lord Lugard so that the Islamic element and programme can continue inexorably. Every single problem now arising in Nigeria is looked at from this trajectory – a deep-seated Arabic/Islamic/Northern playbook that has polluted our body politic, our Constitution, or political institution, etc.
Since the origin of this playbook is Arabic/Islamic, perhaps we should look at the originators – Arabs and Islam. What do Nigerians know about Islam, Arabism, etc? Arabs, horses, camels, language: Chronic disunity was the Arab curse, (their hamartia). It was a tragic flaw which sealed Arab destiny. Nevertheless, the military innovation of horses in war spread rapidly among all Arabs, while giving them great mobility and power, it also ensured that none of them gained an upper hand for long. It perpetuated an almost rebellious streak and sparked an explosion in Arab inter and intra raiding.
Every tribe was open to raid and insecurity. This vulnerability attracted larger and better-organised nations who soon discovered that, but something ran underneath the Arab mind: a spirit, indefinable but powerful, a latent base self-awareness, an inchoate nationalism. Arabs are most empowered when there is more than one dominant power in their area.
They did well when the Roman and Persian Empires were against each other; they prospered when Britain and France were at war, when United States and NATO faced the other Warsaw power. For example, Rome took over Palmyra in 272 and thus brought two great powers (of Rome and Persia) face to face.
During that face-off between the two lions of Rome and Persia, Imra al Quays, a fearsome Arab, led raids as far as 1700 kilometres while engaged in the building of the Himyari Empire. Arabs in their phonetic language described themselves as the ‘Rat with Iron Teeth’. Their land saw empires come and go. Sharmar, Ethiopia, Persia established Empires in Arabia. Rodent with iron teeth describes the various garbs the Arabs put on: first as mercenaries, then power brokers, metamorphosing into power breakers – then power grabbers. Even then throughout all this; the Arabs continued to display their inherent “dynamic disunity”, a central feature even which continues to play out till today.
For the rest of humanity life is a journey: for Arabs, life is the road. Mobility was always another theme in Arab history and was prophesised as such. “You shall be fugitives – You shall love your children’s land”. This mobility syndrome manifested itself as late as the 1950s and 1960s in restless Zeitgeist of those periods now known as the Arab Spring. The word, this restless impulsive mobility, equally applies to the super raids of early Islam, to the early migrations that preceded them as well as the flood of refugees of the 21st century.
Added to this military prowess of constant mobility, the Arabs were endowed with a language that was deep in meaning, difficult to master. Its mastery was celebrated by poets, orators and speakers who gathered to compete for who was most adept in the use of language: they travelled throughout Arabia. These were the word gatherers. The rhetoric of these “word gatherers” united their tribes, creating “asabiyyah” … spirit of solidarity, which powered the revolution of the wheel of fire that is the spread of Islam.
The Romans and the Persians and the Arabs themselves played deadly musical chairs but the Arabs believed that they never will be more unfortunate than when their kings were Persian. They hated the Persians with visceral passion. They also hated the Turks. Both Persia and Turkey returned the sentiment of hatred of the Arabs in full measure. Arab legitimacy was entrenched in their language – it rested above all in their control, not of institutions but in rhetoric of their language. Thus, by the time the Quran came out it was, therefore, not only the Scripture of Islam, it was also the founding text of Arab as we know it with all the historical weight of the Pentateuch, a Magna Carta and a Declaration of Independence, all rolled into one.
The foremost Arabic scholar Ibn Khaldun said that Muhammad “gathered the Arabs together upon the word of Islam”. This is a similar saying in St John chapter 1: “In the beginning was the word and the word was God. The word of God was made flesh”. The day Muhammad was born is called ‘Day of the Elephant.’ Riyadh (Arab) and Teheran (Persian) are physically separated by the Gulf of Hormuz but are also separated by an abyss of antique antagonisms older than Islam and deeper than the Persian Gulf. Arabic independence was sustained by their language, which Byron, the poet, described as a form of oratory, a transformation of speech from the audible to the visible. “Recite… by the pen and what they write”.
The Kahins travelling from town to town, settlement to settlement were the poets (orators, poets, rhetoricians,) didacticians – early Arabic rappers and custodians of the language “The old oral magical world of the Kahins come together to the new era of recording technology” as one Arab historian put it.
There are copious examples of these descriptions of Arabic as etherealising speech and vision and hearing the script that fills the ears of him that sees it. In Arabic letters are not just phonetic, they are phonic, acoustic: Arabic is not a dictation, it is a notation like that of music, according to another Arabic scholar.
Legitimacy for the Arabs rested on their control not of institutions but of rhetoric, of language. Was this a similar experience in Nigeria when the Fulanis through language controlled the Hausas? Thus control of Northern Nigeria is not based on control of institutions but control of rhetoric Hausa language. In Bonny, the ruling houses virtually abandoned their language of Igbani, and adopted Igbo as the controlling language). (Yoruba – the language of the Ifa priests – is substantially different from spoken Yoruba; in Igbo the language of the controllers of the society of the Aros, is unique, so also is the Jeli families of West Africa. Babalawo and other Yoruba deity priests in Yoruba speak a higher or different form of Yoruba, not easily or commonly understood. In Igbo the opi praise singers use a language not common to most Igbos.
Among the Ijaws, the priests of Akaso speak a dialect unknown to most Ijaws. Till recently, devout Catholics preferred mass said in Latin which seemed holier to them. The Catholic choristers sang in Latin, which they did not understand. Today the most non-Arabic Moslems worship in Arabic, which they do not understand in much the same way as old Roman Catholics used to pray in Latin. The Ogala masquerade in Igboland sings in a falsetto voice and in a language which the followers do not understand. The Pipilibo masquerade in Ijaw Kalabari also sings in a falsetto unknown to the followers.
The one force that brought the separate Arabs together was language – not the everyday speech but a rich, strange, subtle, suavely, hypnotic, magically, persuasive, difficult “high” Arab language that evolved from the larger Arab identity – a reversal of the divinely inflicted disunity of Babel in the Bible. Wisdom according to popular folklore descended in three organs of the people of the South – the brains of the Greeks, the hands of the Chinese and the tongues of the Arabs. The Arab spring has shown how words – slogans, chants, propaganda, mis and disinformation which are mesmerizingly magical can still shape the course of history.
The Arabs had had a long history. As early as 853 BC – Arabic was known. Mohammed produced in AD 582 the seminal works of the Koran: the beginning of the Arabic information technology establishing new ways to use and control language and shape identity. Language coarsed and strengthened a 3000 year past, making the Arabs legible and visible into their historic present and the establishment of an empire, taking over settled states and becoming the new rulers.
11. Mohammed had found the two keys of unity – the discipline of the worshippers and their shared allegiance. But the greatest key of all was Mohammed’s power over language – the special oratorical high Arabic.
12. In Mohammed’s’ hands the tongue was inspired via an angel by God who had chosen Mohammed as his Prophet – Noble Messenger, forging the Arabs into temporary unity. This unity was doomed, for he himself prophesied that the Arabs would break into 73 sects – that is the reality of disunity because the Arabs were, according to Mohammed”, the worst in unbelief and hypocrisy and the least to know the laws of Allah”. (You would find similar statements from the Prophets about Jews in the Bible).
13. Arabs also had a raiding ethos, whose predatory skills were merged into the spirit of the believers. They were orators and predators with a unique ethnic self – awareness, with which they launched a tsunami of physical expansion, probably unequalled since the beginning of time.
14. Poetry made Arabs morally and spiritually a nation before Mohammed. It is the supreme example in human history of how language can win dominance. In less than 100 years, the Arabs built an empire larger than the Roman Empire – a founding and binding the enduring cultural empire of Islam. Hitler had such power as did Trump.
15. The lexicon of the Arabs is embarrassingly rich. It has eighty words for money; two hundred words for beard, five hundred words for lion, eight hundred words for sword, and one thousand words for camel. There are 50 Arabic dialects, eight of which are foreign languages. Charles de Gaulle was reputed to have wondered and despaired on how anyone can govern a people who produce 243 different kinds of cheeses: or a people who have 1,000 words for camels!!
16. Turks, who were the neighbours of the Arabs, were not just another kind of non-Arab but were anti-Arab, with loud warnings against Arabs who feared that Turks would eventually ruin them. The Arabs believed and feared nothing more than that their slaves, i.e. the (Turks), “with their small eyes and broad faces like hammered shield”, shall own them. The Turks in fact would dominate Arabdom for the next 1,000 years.
17. Slavery for Arabs was always a feature to exploit great tracks of land with cheap labour/manpower and garnering profits. With Zan – slaves became slave masters buying and selling free born Arabs for few pennies, using female descendants of Mohammed as concubines and making them work as maids. The Arabs revolted as a unified unit, reunited and returned the Turks to slavery.
18. As for the Persians they enjoyed a special love-hate relationship with Arabs. At one stage three Persian princesses married the three most prominent Arab Princes. They dominated male Persians and supposedly submissive, Arab Princes. Although Mohammed preached equally – “nor is any Arab superior to any non-Arab except in piety”. In reality there was not equal treatment between the Arabs and Persia and Turkey.
19. Al JAHIZ is not the noble scion of some ancient Arabic tribe but the grandson of a black slave of Basra. He became the defender of Arab orthodoxy in the dispute with the shuubiyyah. “The Book of the Stick” – the stick is the tool of the Arab orators and philosophers and their interminable disputations, similar to the disputations of the Greek philosophers, the stick was also the symbol of KAFUR, the black eunuch slave, who seized the throne of Egypt.
20. As an Arab orator put Kafur’s exploits; “Even in well hung, well-heeled white man, the sense of gratitude soon pails; what thanks can be expected from the black man with balls?”
21. The Arabs had a fine sense of history as well as collecting and, preserving knowledge. Al Akims library had 400,000 volumes, more than the then British museum 400years later. There are 4000 undoubtable Arabic loan words in Spanish. In bull fight the matador performs; the crowd shouts “oleh”. In Arabic the mata is-”to die” oleh is –”praise Allah”.
22. Ala Sahid ibn Abdaid had 400 camels to move his library of manuscripts. European hospitals grew from Arabic ones. Words like – rice, lemons, sugarcane, new textiles and dye stuffs were basically Arabic. English has over 2000 words of Arabic origin including e.g. cheque – (sakk), carafe (ghiraf), alcohol (al-kuhl), coffee (qahwah which also means wine), sherbet (sorber), chiffon (shiff), mohair siket (mukhayyar), mawsili (cloth from Mosul) satin (zayhumi from citong), jacket (shakkah), mutrah mat: tallyho – ta’ali hun.
23. The Abssid and the birth of writing on paper in their singular pursuit of knowledge typifies the Arabs thirst for knowledge. That thirst can be broken into three stages. Stage 1 was the copying of the Quran and all the teachings that related to it. Stage 2 was more writing in keeping with the spread and the need to run an empire in the language of the rulers. Thereafter the army of copiers moved as the Arabic empires grew. Stage 3 i.e. from expensive parchment and papyrus to paper: this was as fundamental a change as the leap from paper to computer screens in the 21st century. Paper came from China around 75AD when Arabs captured some Chinese during the rule of Abassid Caliph Al-Muman, AlRashid.
24. With the conquest of the Berbers in North Africa, Arabic became pidginized. Iraq was the seat of Arabic learning where Arabic scholars gathered including the grandfather of Mohammed’s most distinguished biographer, Tsaniq ibn Ziyad who raided a church in Iraq, enslaved an Arab Christian – Nusayr a slave who had bought his freedom. During that time slaves could buy their freedom and were freemen, but dependent (mawla) of the Unar Yqad clan. Musa ibn Nusayr was a mawla by heritage. Musa led the forces that raided across North Africa, gathering so many Berbers, that the forces could hardly be called Arab anymore. Musa led thousands to feed, pay and provide women for bed, boat and booty.
Musa governed North Africa. He sent a force across the straits of the Mediterranean Spain, led by his Berbers lieutenant Tariq ibn Ziyad, to wrest the peninsular from the Visigoths in 711. On his way Tariq gave his name to the shark fin mountain jutting out of the sea. Jaba Tariq was later gabled by Spanish tongue to Gibraltar. Arab rule in Spain would last for 800 years.
25. Arabic itself borrowed from others: translated all known works into Arabic chemistry from Greek, Coptic and Syriac, Persian and Sans Krit. They learnt new sciences medicine, botany, pharmacology, astronomy, astrology, geography, geometry, engineering, music, mathematics and more; thereby enriching Arabic and world knowledge. Arabic adopted the cipher, the figure o, zero – (only Sankrit in India had it). The Arabs introduced zero in the world resulting in a cataclysmic progress in knowledge. Moreover Arabic added more of their own knowledge to KNOWLEDGE, for example medicine, trigonometry, mathematics, astronomy. Alcohol, algebra, and algorithm were all of Arabic origin. At last Arabic was written in plain prose; no longer only the stylized phonetics because their empire needed normal prose. There is a historical theory that if it was not for the Arabs, Europeans would have had no Renaissance. Put differently, the Abbassid rulers were themselves princes of the Renaissance of which the later European episode was a continuation after a long delay period. Reparations
26. Islam/Arabism came to Africa via Berbers of North Africa, down into the Sahara and across it to Nigeria and other West Africa countries. When blacks ask the West for reparation, why do they not ask the Arabs for the same? The latter having a history of black exploitation starting from 600AD i.e. if the first slaves arrived in the US in 1619; black slaves have been in Arab lands and empire and other Arab nations before 600AD.
27. Reconstructing Arab society on a democratic political basis and reconciling Islam and the modern world remain the greatest tasks confronting the contemporary generation.
28. To say western education is haram is similar for the Pope to say Latin is haram, anathema – a language that suffices every pore of Catholicism. Knowledge is universal: and is studied as such. The study of Islam trends over all the information above and more; it includes Medicine, Mathematics, and Algorithms etc. So is the study of Chemistry. This is not to say that there is no ideological or spiritual difference between religions. The positioning of Islam and Christianity is Political, not spiritual. People use religion for political gains. But fundamentally all religion inspires the spirit; reaches out to others because the journey to spiritual bliss is the same no matter which religion you espouse. More fundamentally, knowledge is one: the more you learn, the more you know. Moslem leaders must appreciate the Universality of Knowledge. It is not a steak you can cut up and divide: this is good knowledge, this is bad knowledge. In fact the very process of acquiring knowledge does overwhelm those unhelpful distractions of western or Islamic knowledge. They are not polar opposites. They are inextricably intertwined. Our Moslem, Christian, atheist leaders know this. To the purveyors of Islamic hate in Boko Haram, Moslem clerics must open their eyes to the contribution of Arabic knowledge in all its myriad forms to the body of human knowledge. No amount of hatred could possibly justify the seizing of school boys and girls from school – what is that supposed to prove? That Islam is an uneducated religion? Incidentally in Saudi Arabia no woman who is below 18 years can marry.
29. Islam Arabism is not a clog of progress and development as simply been demonstrated by fantastic strides made in Abu Dhabi, Qatar, even Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Indonesia. When Abu Dhabi started their incredible transformation they had nothing except the will to succeed and dig itself out of poverty. Nigeria has many more resources but could, with benefit, borrow the will to succeed, coupled with a readable plan to do so – getting our people, all our people out from the trough of debilitating poverty and iconoclast analogous backwardness.
30. The economy of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Kuwait-work. They are successful, they invite foreigners to invest in their countries, their economy is buoyant; Jews, Christians and Muslims flock there. Each of these groups work with the others to keep the economy buoyant. Switzerland is a Christian country, having one of the highest standards of living, the economy is booming. Religion has nothing to do with the economic power Switzerland has become.
31. Israel is a successful economic and military power; it is also the IT headquarters of the world producing more start-up operation companies than any other. This was achieved without the admittedly fractious religious underbelly disrupting its meteoric impressive growth. Economically Nigeria has all the conditions to be economically successful but it is held back by religious primitivism; Some Archbishop and some Islamic cleric will find some reason to stop a clear economic advantage. Religion must not be used to slow or impede Nigeria’s march towards its destiny.
32. Nigeria has a Space Agency. It cannot fly a drone from the international airport to local airport. United Arab Emirate (UAE) has a Space Agency and their rockets, piloted by a woman has just flown round the planet Mars. Both countries are massive Islamic countries. Pakistan, Malaysia, India have put men in Space. Malaysia is progressing. Pakistan has the nuclear weapons. All these countries have cows and camels but someone political discourse and progress and development move on as a fast chip while we regress to cow head mentality. We are better than this. At least we ought to be.
33. Let’s surprise ourselves by choosing these countries as our models. If Nigeria had 5 or 6 cities like Dubai, then we would have left poverty behind and hopefully a nativist religiosity which is the chain and ball holding us back.
34. But to get to be Switzerland, Dubai, Israel, we must really badly want to do this. That decision has consequences: it implies we are willing to change our ways.
Original headline- Arabs, Islam and Nigeria
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