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The National Mosque Still Stands

Abuja National Mosque

I write to rebut the averment made in an article with the caption: “The rise and fall of the National Mosque” by one Alhaji Mutiu Adebola Adenola and publishes on page 13 of the Daily Trust of March 19th, 2020.

Alhaji Mutiu said that the National Mosque “was losing its standards”, (whatever that meant); that President Obasanjo it was that came to the rescue of “the Mosque from its first fall”, “spearheaded the donation for the renovation…”; that from being a “ “Mecca” of sort for all who is who in Nigeria”, a “meeting point of great Muslims”, the Mosque is now deserted by those that matter whose attention is turned to the an-Nur Mosque; President Buhari has his own Jumu’ah mosque within the Villa and thus, the worshippers in the National Mosque today “hardly fill the inside to capacity”; that it “has now become a funeral place for big personalities”; that the appearance of the “clerics at the National Mosque” is the personification of destitution and wretchedness. Alhaji Mutiu ended his article by calling on “all relevant stakeholders, especially the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs headed by the Amirul Muslim, His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, to please do something fast” so as “not to allow this national Islamic heritage become a national funeral mosque.”

The National Mosque, Abuja was never in need of rescue from President Olusegun Obasanjo. It was His Royal Highness, Alhaji Mustapha Jokolo, the then Emir of Gwandu that confronted Obasanjo over the government’s clandestine move to complete the building of the National Ecumenical Centre that had remained under construction for more than 20 years after the National Mosque was designed, built and commissioned during President Ibrahim Babangida’s era.

As the then Chairman of the National Mosque Management Board, Jokolo drew the attention of Obasanjo to the impropriety of government’s plan on the National Ecumenical Centre. It was then that the government conceded and offered to assist both Muslims and Christians through fundraising public functions. Thus, the National Mosque held its fundraising meeting at the Eagles Square, Abuja where Obasanjo’s government pledged two hundred million naira only (N200,000,000) the payment of which was staggered, incomplete and lingered to the time of President Jonathan before it was finally redeemed.

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Alhaji Mutiu entertained doubt as to “(w)hether the money spent for the renovation commensurated (sic) with the level of work done”. The total money realised during the fundraising was 2.5 billion naira. Many of the state governors and people of means chose to tread in Obasanjo’s footsteps: they refused to redeem their pledges to Allah totalling more than a billion naira. Most of them had transformed into lawmakers in the Senate. If their successors in the states had done what President Goodluck Jonathan did with what remained of Obasanjo’s pledge, the National Mosque would be more than one billion naira richer!

On the renovation work, about seven hundred million naira only (N700,000,000) was spent, and the balance is held in trust for the Mosque by the committee set up at the behest of His Excellency, President Olusegun Obasanjo – The National Mosque Board of Trustees with His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, CFR, mni as Chairman.

And by the way, Alhaji Mutiu; His Eminence is not “the Amirul Muslim”. He is the Ameerul Mu’mineen of Muslims in Nigeria.

My brother Mutiu, what you consider as a desertion of the National Mosque by influential personalities and top government functionaries does not depict any blemish on the Mosque or the way it is run. The Capital City is expanding with new Jumu’ah mosques springing up in quick succession in many locations. This is not a malign development. People prefer to pray in mosques that are near to them.

I agree with you, Alhaji Mutiu, that President Muhammadu Buhari’s absence in the National Mosque has dwindled the attendance of some worshipers. Worshippers’ worth in any Masjid is not measured by affluence and power. By the time everyone removes their shoes at the entrance of the mosque (Ta-ha 20:12), we are all equal before our Maker and we say Allaahu Akbar (Allah is the Greatest!). And since the places of worship are only for Allah, we do not invoke the name of anyone other than Him (Jinn 72:18).

Actually, we are not missing the President at the National Mosque for a number of reasons but we pray for him wherever he may be: (a) In his wisdom, he has elevated the mosque in the Villa to a Jumu’ah Masjid to lighten the burden that presidential movement causes people around the National Mosque every Friday. Those who were praying at the National Mosque for a presidential handshake and seeking the allurement of this world have stopped coming and followed the President to the Villa mosque; many influential people, however, have not altered in the least their constancy in praying at the National Mosque; their reward rests with Allah. (b) Security agencies do not differentiate between the measures to take when the President attends a public function, and when he goes to the National Mosque to pray with other Muslims. They close all entrances and roads leading to the Mosque and divert all traffic as if it is only the President and his entourage will be performing the prayers. Any Imam of the National Mosque that goes out of the Mosque premises on a Friday that the President would attend, that Imam will be extremely lucky to be allowed to drive into the Mosque for the prayers. Many people stopped coming to the National Mosque because of this stiff security arrangement. (c) The Sai-Baba throng creates a constriction around the President and thus straining his security details in protecting him while inconveniencing other worshippers. But I kept wondering, recently, amidst the current realities, if the “Sai Baba” chorus would be heard or the security personnel around him would be under any strain should the President decide to pray at the National Mosque!

It “saddens” Alhaji Mutiu that the “National Mosque has now become a funeral place for big personalities.” Honestly, I do not understand why the National Mosque is derogated by Alhaji Mutiu because of Janaazah. It is a garland for the National Mosque to be the transit terminal where people, regardless of their status in society, are adorned for their final flight at a time when the Mosque needs nothing from them when they cannot do anything either for themselves or for anyone. Every mosque should have a Janaazah unit as does the National Mosque where with a phone call the family of a deceased person could access complete funeral rites for the body – Ghusl (washing), Kafan (shroud), prayer and burial. During epidemic like COVID 19, however, the entire process changes and surrenders to the advice of medical officials on how to handle bodies and protect people from being infected.

The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) has since moved the National Mosque, as an institution, to the next level with the appointment of Prof. Shehu A S Galadanchi, CON as the Murshid together with three other coequal Imams: Sheikh Ahmad Onilewura, Dr Muhammad Kabir Adam, and Prof. Ibrahim A Makari. These, together with other members of staff, form the Management of the Mosque, a departure from what obtained in times gone-by when Imams only obeyed orders. The help of another very important entrant was enlisted into this echelon: a seasoned administrator, Ambassador Haliru S Shuaibu who heads the Finance Department.

The able leadership of Prof. Galadanchi has brought to an end the distressing phenomenon of begging inside the Mosque after prayers. Whoever has any challenges needing assistance they are to channel that to the Welfare Services Department superintended by Imam, Dr Muhammad Kabir Adam. Each case, after verification, is treated according to its merits and assistance dispensed in like manner. A separate account, and which will soon be allocated funds directly from the budget, deals with such matters.

The National Mosque Library is under the supervision of Imam, Prof Ibrahim Ahmad Makari. Every month the Library boasts no fewer than one million naira worth of books, not relying on donations; from one member of staff a few years ago, we now have about 7, and the librarianship is handled by a professional – just the right blend of academic concern and administration.

Prof. Makari also heads the National Mosque Academy with Sheikh, Dr Shehu Usman Muhammad as Principal; a semi-autonomous, self-financing body which, from its take-off, as unusual as it may sound, did not wait for the breakeven point before it started paying salaries to its staff – ample salaries, as and when due, comparable to those paid by institutions of a similar standard in the FCT.

All the Imams and scholars at the National Mosque conduct daily Ta’leem between Magrib and Ishaa prayers, treating the exposition of myriad books of Islam and of other sources of the Shari’ah. Additionally, there is a monthly Muhaadarah (lecture) where experts on various fields of the Shari’ah are invited singly for presentation of papers in the area of their expertise.

The National Mosque used to be one of the few mosques where Jumu’ah was offered around 2:30 to 3:00 pm. Not anymore! The Murshid’s order was clear: Translations of the Khutbah should start by 1:00 pm, to finish by 1:30 pm, and Jumu’ah must commence by 1:45 at the latest.

There is also the National Mosque Properties Management that Ustaz Abubakr Siddeeq Muhammad oversees. This going concern, by the authority of the Murshid, holds in trust for, and manages properties of the National Mosque. Our aim is to make maximum use of all properties for the Mosque to be a self-sustaining, financially independent religious institution. We are starting with the National Mosque Mini-Shopping Mall which will be commissioned soon. The Mall will replace the “Open Market Space” that has turned the aesthetic and ambience of the Mosque into an eyesore with shanty shops and eateries. We had a one-on-one interview, screening and selection of all individuals and corporate bodies that applied for shops and office spaces for the Mall, but for COVID 19 we would have by now released allocation letters to successful applicants. It is no longer “free-sabeelillaah”; everything must be paid for fully!

The large expanse of land which is attached to the National Mosque overlooking the Yar’Adua Centre is Plot 63 which belongs to the Mosque. From the original plan, there is a flyover that passes through the land; whatever remains after the crossing of the flyover shall be used by the Mosque for chargeable parking, garden, event centre and shops for offices and other commercial activities.

There is in addition to the above the Eid Ground (Plot 514) along the Airport Road for the National Mosque. This mighty space of land spanning over 37 hectares, we demarcate to several segments, including another plot of about 4 hectares attached to the whole, so that aside from the annual Eid prayers that hold twice in a year, the place could be busied and further utilised toward swelling the coffers of the Mosque. This is an opportunity for investors in Nigeria and from abroad to come and partner with the National Mosque in the establishment and management of the following areas: (1) hospital, (2) international school, (3) multi-purpose shopping mall, (4) estate development, and (5) amusement park.

My brother Alhaji Mutiu, you said: “The clerics at the National Mosque are not really looking as expected.” You even “wonder how we have clerics at the national level living below average.” I do not think that has to do with the institution itself to some extent. It is in the psyche of the individual and their sense of self-worth. Some scholars, (this is not confined to the “clerics at the National Mosque”) may choose to appear “dishevelled and dusty” or in “sackcloth and ashes” because they thought donning nice tunic may turn down the tap of alms that flows to them. Others among them are self-effacingly “really looking as expected”, that the unthinking accounts them wealthy because of their restraint; they do not beg of men with importunity (al-Baqarah, 2:273).

I agree with you wholly, Alhaji Mutiu, that miserable existence should not be the lot of “clerics”. Except if some people are jealous of them because of that which Allah of His bounty has bestowed upon them (an-Nisaa, 4:54). People of means, many of them, hardly come to the Mosque for Jumu’ah without an offering to the Imam. Whoever among the Imams happened to be on duty for that Friday shared such offerings with his brother-imams. But suddenly an edict was issued that whoever brought any offering they should take it to the Management office and get their receipt or deposit it in the Mosque’s account. This would have been a good idea if such offering were to be kept in a pool for distribution to the Imams, but it was not. Most of the Imams at the Mosque are academics with leadership positions in their universities, but these, or those among the Imams who are full-time and residents of the Mosque premises deserve extra care and by given whatever comes in their favour.

Moreover, it is high time we had endowments for Imams, their deputies and Mu’azzins for not only the National Mosque but for all mosques. An investment by the Mosque or for it the proceeds of which are designated for the various offices of Imams and those working with them. Imams come and go but their offices remain. Thus, the designation will be for whoever occupies the office for life, as well as for those that will come after them. This will be an extra income for them to be “really looking as expected” of the high offices they occupy.

Finally, Alhaji Mutiu, thank you for your article. Rest assured that imposing structure, the admiration of beholders, the twenty-year senior of the National Ecumenical Centre in completion and commissioning has not fallen; The National Mosque Still Stands!

Abubakr Siddeeq Muhammad,

National Mosque, Abuja

deedat@gmail.com

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