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TURABI: REMEMBERING A GREAT AFRICAN INTELLECTUAL

This week, Bayero University, Kano, hosted an international conference in remembrance of the late Sudanese and African Muslim intellectual giant Dr. Hasan Al Turabi (died 2016 at 84) whose thoughts and ideas had greatly impacted on African and international Islamic political thought and who, to many of us, symbolised the leadership of the African version of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ikhwan Al Muslimun. 

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Al Turabi was at different times Speaker of Sudanese National Assembly, Foreign Minister, Attorney General, Secretary General of the National Islamic Front (the Sudanese Islamist political movement that has ruled the country by many other names since 1989) and, most significantly, as the Father of the Sudanese Revolution.

The Conference was themed “Thoughts and Ideas of Dr. Hasan Al Turabi and the Challenges of Contemporary Muslim Society” and, for those who knew Al Turabi and know Sarkin Kano Muhammad Sanusi II, they definitely know they are two of a kind. No wonder then that it was Emir Sanusi II that delivered the keynote wherein he said he hoped deliberations during the conference would spark positive discussions not only in Nigeria but around the globe, to further enrich knowledge. 

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And, indeed, Sarki Sanusi’s address, as expected, did ‘spark positive discussions’ (and may be followed on the conference’s website https://hassanalturabiconference.com/ and on Facebook at https://web.facebook.com/BukTurabiConfab/ and its hashtag #AlturabiConferenceInBUK).

Dr. Hasan Al Turabi was born in Sudan and educated in Sudan, Britain and France. He was a thinker, academic, reformer, leader, scholar, author, activist, revolutionary, politician, political prisoner, nationalist, freedom fighter, philosopher and an expert in constitutional law. He was an enigmatic personality who represented different things to different people. He was a polyglot who spoke many international languages. He was a leader of the Islamic Movement who engineered revolutions in Sudan and other parts of the Muslim world. He developed his own methodologies and ideas based on his close reading of Quran and Sunnah.

Al Turabi was a strong believer in Ijtihad and Tajdid who travelled widely and gave talks on different issues ranging from Sharia, inter-faith relations, ethics, dress code, politics, family institution, economy, riba (usury) to diplomacy. He impacted on the international policies and socio-economic development reflecting on contemporary societies. He championed the struggle for the liberation of Muslim women by emphasising their position as equal human beings who are essential in the development of Muslim ummah. He relentlessly struggled for social justice and the spiritual and material development of human being. He encouraged innovation and the use of arts to modernise society. 

The conference, aimed at bringing together scholars to synthesise the contributions of the great scholar that Al Turabi had been and preserve these for posterity; analysing the scholar’s intellectual contribution within the context of Sudanese socio-political environment and its impact in other countries, as well as outlining the lessons for contemporary times succeeded in attracting delegates from Sudan, Niger Republic, Mauritania, Egypt, Senegal, Ghana and the host, Nigeria.

The Al Turabi Conference significantly revisited the overwhelming similarities between Nigeria and Sudan, and the two countries’ long, historical and inextricable links over the centuries. Muslim Nigerians greatly benefited from Turabi’s intellectual contributions because, very much like their brothers and sisters in Sudan, they have been struggling under modern western system of democracy which has been at variance with the values of their respective socio-cultural environments. This has, rather predictably, created tensions and has elicited military interventions which only added to the complications rather than the resolutions of the problems.

Some of these issues, specifically power-sharing, wealth-sharing and the place of religion and identity in a plural society recently featured prominently in the re-structuring debate in Nigeria. As this debate drags on, Muslims have had to leverage their intellectual heritage to engage their plural societies. The life and works of Al Turabi, as discussed in this conference, resonated to be of immense benefit in this respect, emphasising the need to bring them closer to the new generations of Nigerians who will ultimately bear the brunt of this intellectual struggle in Nigeria.

The Al Turabi Conference observed that there is growing paranoia and xenophobia among Muslims, which undermine their self-confidence; that there is a poor culture of knowledge production, distribution and documentation in contemporary Muslim society; that women education in Muslim countries is not given its due priority; and that there is apparent failure to recognise and accommodate alternative textual interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence.

It also observed that there is absence of viable mechanisms for inter-faith dialogue in contemporary Muslim societies; that Islamic political and economic thoughts have not been fully developed; that domestic violence, forced labour and other social vices are prevalent in some Muslim societies; and that the Almajiri phenomenon continues to pose serious danger to the African Muslim societies.

Participants thereafter recommended that, as new issues and challenges emerge, there is need for new textual interpretations of the extant laws in Muslim societies; that there is the need for a paradigm shift in Muslim thinking on contemporary social issues and societal problems; that Muslim scholars should explore the possibility and feasibility of Ijtihad to address the challenges bedevilling their communities; that there is the need to imbibe the teachings of Al Turabi on inter-faith dialogue and religious tolerance; and that Islamic culture and civilisation should be fully integrated into the curriculum of Muslim schools in Nigeria.

The Conference further recommended that knowledge should be accessible to all, and the apparent monopoly of knowledge in a select few should be avoided; that freedom is necessary to emancipate human beings from the shackles of servitude and bondage; that there is the need to develop Maqasid Sharia based on the teachings of Al Turabi on pillars of Islam, inter-faith relations, and Da’awa; that Islamic scholars should appreciate the eclectic nature of knowledge and appreciate the diversity of its sources; and that priority should be given to the education of the girl-child and women.

Conference Delegates further stressed that Ijtihad gives Muslims opportunity to reinterpret issues hitherto considered settled, and also empowers them with flexibility and creativity to engage contemporary issues as they affect the lives of Muslims as Al Turabi did by looking at the Sudanese society and addressing its challenges during his time.

Further, Conference recommended the need to sustain and strengthen Nigeria-Sudan relations and emphasised that conscious effort be made by Northern state governments in collaboration with Ulama and Islamic organisations to address the Almajiri phenomenon which Al Turabi would have, and did, vehemently condemn; and that each Muslim society should be encouraged to understand its peculiar historical circumstances and develop locally-developed methodologies to address its problems; and that the ideas of al-Turabi be incubated and made intelligible to younger generations. 

Finally, delegates resolved that this kind of conference be organised as an annual event to go round African countries to facilitate cross fertilisation and sharing of ideas in line with the thoughts of the late Dr. Hasan Al Turabi.

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