Blasphemy: Equality of Believers and Non-Believers in Northern Nigeria

Blasphemy: Equality of Believers and Non-Believers in Northern Nigeria

By Leo Igwe

If the controversy over blasphemy allegations, especially as brought against Mubarak Bala in Kano, has revealed anything, it is the entrenched unequal relationship between believers and non-believers in the region. It is the flagrant violation of the humanity and dignity of non believers by Muslims.

The debate has demonstrated the despicable role of religion, as in this case, Islam in perpetration and perpetuation of inequity and injustice in Northern Nigeria. All Nigerians are equal before the law, as declared in the Nigerian constitution. All human beings are born equal in dignity, as affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These provisions imply that no Nigerian should be treated as less human or less a citizen; nobody should be denied of his or her humanity or citizenship based on one’s religious belief or unbelief.

Unfortunately, this is not the case in Kano and other parts of Islamic Northern Nigeria. In these places, Islam is privileged and non-Muslims are treated as second-class citizens or as no citizens at all. While the profession of Islam invests humanity and citizenship, lack of faith in Islam is a human, family and state deal breaker. Let us take the case of Mubarak Bala to illustrate this point. Mr. Bala was born in Kano, but lives in Kaduna. He was born into a Muslim family. And the family expected him to remain a Muslim for the rest of his life.

Growing up as a Muslim, Bala enjoyed all the full rights as a human being, and a family member, and yes as a citizen. The father, an Islamic scholar, fulfilled his parental role and responsibilities. The Sharia Government in Kano treated him as a Islamic citizen. But in 2014, everything changed. Bala renounced Islam, and those rights were either taken away or trimmed down. Islamic Kano state abdicated their duties and obligations to protect and guarantee his rights.

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Family ties were severed. Bala’s father disowned him. Bala became a persona non grata in his Islamic family, community, and state. Family members consigned him to a mental hospital because Muslims regard apostasy as a form of mental illness. Those who leave Islam are believed to be sick in the mind; they are seen as psychiatric patients. The profession of the Islamic faith is an indication of a sound mind. Now, imagine the other way round.

Think about a situation where Bala’s was an unbelieving family, and members consigned him to a mental hospital for professing Islam. There would have been an outrage across the Islamic world, from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia. Muslims would have pressured and protested until he was released. But that did not happen. Muslims looked the other way while Bala was undergoing treatment at a mental hospital in Kano. Except in the quack Islamic medical corpus as used in Kano, there is no research anywhere that links apostasy to mental illness. Instead, studies abound that relate religious profession to psychological imbalance.

Having said that, what transpired in April 2020 confirms the unequal relationship between Islamic religious believers and non-believers in Kano. Muslims profess beliefs that are critical of other gods and prophets. Sometimes they make declarations urging Muslims to kill, hate and enslave non-believers. And nobody arrests them for making blasphemous statements. Nobody reports them to the police for insulting other gods and prophets; for ridiculing other religions, faith, and non-faith traditions. Nobody petitions asking that Muslims be arrested, investigated and prosecuted for contempt on other faiths. But in the case of Mubarak Bala, Muslims petitioned the police, alleging that he insulted the prophet of Islam in a Facebook post. They said that Bala called their prophet a terrorist and a paedophile.

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Look, the issue is that Muslims believe that they have the exclusive right to describe Muhammad as a prophet. And nobody has the right to believe or designate him otherwise. This assumption is misguided and mistaken. Muslims openly and publicly discount and dismiss other gods except for the Islamic God (Allah). Meanwhile, they are of the view, strongly of the position, that nobody should criticize their god, Allah, and their holy book, the Quran. Criticism of Islam and Islamic prophet is seen as a form of insult and disrespect while Muslim criticism of other religions is taken to be an expression of faith.

Muslims in Kano and everywhere in the world need to realize that believers and non-believers are equal in dignity and right. They should learn to treat others – all non-believers-in the spirit of equity and fairness.

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