This is in response to ‘Time to appoint Chief Imam for National Mosque’, written by my intimate writer-friend, Ustaz Muhammad Ajah, published in Daily Trust, among other publications, on April 1, 2017. How I qualified the author of the piece I am responding to tells you there is no malice in the piece you are about to read.
Ustaz Muhammad Ajah earns my adoration in establishing himself as a writer of repute, exhibiting, in the process, critical thinking as a commentator on burning national issues. I am proud of being on his mailing list which enables me to read his articles prior to their publications. I met Ustaz Ajah at a public function recently where I intimated him of my desire to pen this rejoinder.
I should declare, from the outset, that this is not an official response from either the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) or the Abuja National Mosque Management Board. Whatever you read here is what I felt compelled to write as an insider version of Ustaz Muhammad Ajah’s article, as one who has been within the vicinity of the Abuja National Mosque for more than 20 years.
‘Time to appoint Chief Imam for National Mosque’ does not have the DNA of the Muhammad Ajah I know; he must have written it in haste, and thus the product made an alarmist of the author, which he is not. For example, contrary to contents of the article, there is ‘no vacuum in leadership’ as far as the Abuja National Mosque is concerned, before or after the demise of Sheikh Musa Muhammad. And the ‘leadership of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA)’ has not failed in ensuring that the Abuja National Mosque satisfies Shariah conditions for the acceptance, in the sight of Allah, of people’s devotions and other religious ceremonies. The three co-equal deputy chief imams have been undertaking, with diligence, their duties of delivering Khutbah, leading prayers, conducting wedding faatihahs, expounding the teachings of Islaam in daily Magrib-to-Ishaa ta’leems, overseeing funeral arrangements, offering salaatul janaazah on a deceased person, and whatnot. That is the essence of imamship, not only in the Abuja National Mosque, but in all mosques in this Ummah. Once the officiating head of a religious ceremony (imam, deputy imam, or any learned taqiy) is qualified and accepted by the congregation, the ritual is whole and recompensed by Him whose countenance is sought in observing it.
Also, I do not know ‘… Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Ibrahim…’ as contained in Ustaz Ajah’s article. For a good writer like my friend, this type of slip reinforces my belief that he wrote the article in haste, as information on such respected personages as Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar, is just a click away on the internet. I got the full name here from his Wikipedia entry, by the way.
I referred to the three deputy chief imams above as ‘co-equal’ because some people imputed false hierarchy to the trinity of the deputy imams. The appointment letters are identical; all of them are of one and the same position - no one is superior to the other - in so far as the spirit and letter of the appointment document are concerned, as signed and sealed by the late Secretary-General, NSCIA, Alhaji Abdullatif Adegbete, at the behest of His Eminence, the Sultan, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar. There was nothing like the first, second or third deputy chief imam as is being held and disseminated in some quarters. Sheikh Dahiru Usman Bauchi is among the proponents of this alien idea of first, second and third deputy…. the NSCIA does not know this classification!
Ustaz Muhammad Ajah has, with a marked preferment, chosen the respected Sheikh Makari, out of the three deputies, all of whom he, however, described as ‘exceptionally qualified’, as the most deserving to be the chief imam for, according to him, (a) being the one ‘who led the first Juma’a service after the death of the Chief Imam’ (b) he conducting ‘the wedding of the daughter of President Muhammad Buhari, Zara.’ (c) his ‘uncommon’ Arabic accent, as ‘an associated professor of Arabic’, (may be the writer means Associate Professor). (d) ‘He conducts the Friday sermons without papers, a style of best Imams in the home of knowledge - Egypt, where he graduated from Al-Azhar University, Cairo.’
Let me also state that I maintain very cordial relation with all the deputy chief imams at the Abuja National Mosque. I spoke to all of them before the publication of this rejoinder. I do not prefer any of them above the other in line with the dictates of NSCIA in appointing them. Sheikh Ahmad Onilewura is the eldest of the lot, jovial in his manners, amenable and conscientious. If I were asked to endorse any among the trio, Sheikh Ahmad Onilewura would have been the one. However, I will not.
Sheikh Muhammad Kabir Adam has experience in conducting the affairs of the Mosque for being the first Mu’azzin for about three decades, and has served as Acting Chief Imam in 2010 and 2011 when the late Chief Imam, Sheikh Musa Muhammad went for Umrah or Hajj trips. He has been a close friend since the ‘90s when I came to the mosque. We have been on hajj trips on a number of occasions. Sheikh Ibrahim Maqary is a bosom friend (and recently a brother in-law) whom I met in the 90s during my stint at Al-Azhar University for the Dauratul A’immah course. I have not met anybody in my life as humble, amiable, ebullient, and, - if I may add, unassuming - ever-willing to share, with others, the knowledge Allah has bestowed upon him, as Sheikh Ibrahim Makari.
Late Sheikh Musa Muhammad it was that established the alternation of leading prayers by the three deputy imams in his absence, which has not been altered in the least till date. What Ustaz Muhammad Ajah listed, therefore, as his reason for advancing Sheikh Makari was just a coincidence that occurred on the first Friday after the late Chief Imam’s funeral in which Sheikh Makari delivered the khutbah and led prayers. Ustaz Ajah was oblivious of the fact that the late Chief Imam, on his death bed, called Sheikh Muhammad Kabir Adam, one of the three deputies, and instructed him to lead the Jumu’ah prayers, just as exemplified by the Prophet, blessings and peace of Allah be upon him, in similar circumstances, a deed among other considerations, that later led to the ascension of Abubakr As-Siddeeq to the Caliphate.
There were two versions of Ustaz Muhammad Ajah’s piece - the one he sent by email to his contacts, and the other an edited and Daily Trust-published version in which his reasons (b to d) for preferring Sheikh Makari to others were expunged. Of course conducting the marriage of the President’s daughter should not merit mention amidst the reasons for preferring an imamship candidate. Unknown to Ustaz Ajah, Sheikh Makari led the Jumu’ah prayers on that Friday, but Sheikh Muhammad Kabir Adam conducted the wedding of the President’s daughter. In his self-effacing nature Sheikh Makari will not vie with anyone in trying to conduct marriage for anyone’s offsprings no matter how highly placed they may be. So, even though it was his turn to lead the prayers on that day, and he had, Sheikh Makari did not conduct wedding for the President’s daughter as claimed by Ustaz Muhammad Ajah.
I cannot fathom what Ustaz Ajah was trying to emphasise by ‘uncommon Arabic accent’ because I have not heard him speak Arabic to judge his proficiency and what accent may mean to him. We converse in English. But I am sure of one thing: with all the years he spent in Cairo, Sheikh Makari does not speak like an Egyptian. There is no trace of the Misr dialect in his speech. This is not a weakness but a token of discipline and wide intellectual interaction with diverse scholars through their writings. He speaks fushah (classical Arabic) devoid of any accent other than that of an Arabist of northern Nigerian extraction. And delivering extempore (unscripted) khutbah cannot be a paradigm for preferment. Yes, it is the norm in Egypt; hardly will you see an imam with a written khutbah. It is more of a tradition in that citadel of knowledge. In Saudi Arabia or Nigeria for example imams prepare a written khutbah every Friday. We have copies of the Khutbahs of Sheikh Usman Bin Fodiyo and Sheikh Abdullahi Bin Fodiyo. They wrote and read their khutab (plural of khutbah). When I visited Senegal, the imam of Madinah Baye Mosque read one of the khutab of Sheikh Ibrahim Nyas. I hope Ustaz Muhammad Ajah does not place his anointed above Sheikh Usman Bin Fodiyo because of the former’s ad-lib rendering of the khutbah.
Another dimension of this article that I found unsettling was the insinuation of politicisation of ‘the selection process’ which ‘has nothing to do with Islam’. I wish my respected brother will expatiate on this, rather than insinuate. It is enough crime to the credit of anyone that he should say what he has no knowledge of. The standard in Islam is to get all the facts before making any comment.
Abubakr Siddeeq Muhammad wrote this piece from Abuja
If you are happy to be contacted by a Daily Trust journalist please leave a telephone
number that we can contact you on. In some cases a selection of your comments will
be published, displaying your name as you provide it and location, unless you state
otherwise. Your contact details will never be published. When sending us pictures,
video or eyewitness accounts at no time should you endanger yourself or others,
take any unnecessary risks or infringe any laws. Please ensure you have read the
terms and conditions.