Tuesday, 14 October 2014

(102): Ali Mazrui: The demise of a scholar and global-statesman

I just sat in the office early morning on Monday 13th October 2014, when I noticed that I had three different text messages on my phone, the first of the three from Dr Abubakar Alhassan started with Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un (from God we came and unto Him we shall return), I was in a state of anxiety  before I even started reading the text message, for I knew we must have lost somebody dear to our hearts, and so the message stated that Professor Ali Mazrui has passed away the night before.

There is no better person to break this news to us than Dr Alhassan, since Dr Mazrui himself stated that he has two sons called Abubakar, and of course Dr Alhassan was the second one. Professor Ali Mazrui is a household name not only in Africa but globally, yet for any student of the social sciences, Professor Ali Mazrui stands out. Here is an African scholar who greeted our screens through his award winning documentary, Africans: A Triple Heritage, was a professor in almost every major university worthy of its name around the world, an adviser to heads of government, a public intellectual, an activist, African nationalist, historian, sociologist, political scientist and an authority in the study of dialectics and Islamic political thought. Until his death he was a scholar and global-statesman.

It is difficult to find a scholar of his caliber with such humble mien, willing to learn from others, and respect for his students and colleagues alike. In the last fourteen to fifteen years I have listened to a number of distinguished professors, read some of their work, yet without exaggeration Professor Ali Mazrui remains exceptional.

I only met Professor Ali Mazrui once, courtesy of the effort of Dr Abubakar Alhassan, who with the support of Bayero University, Kano invited the erudite professor to deliver a public lecture at the BUK old campus in the year 2000. I was a 300 level undergraduate student then, and Malama Binta Suleiman who was teaching us Broadcast Continuity Writing announced at the end of the class that our next lecture on Saturday morning will not take place, and a wave of silence arrested the mood of the class; and she then announced that Professor Ali Mazrui will be delivering a lecture on that day, and so she couldn’t afford to miss it.  For we the students, you can imagine the level of excitement for having the once in a lifetime opportunity to listen to one of the most distinguished African Professors in history.

Early hours that Saturday morning, we were at the old campus to make sure we get Sahun Farko (the first row). But within an hour, after a well-coordinated publicity around the city of Kano, the Bayero University theatre has become too small to accommodate the sea of human beings flowing into the old campus. It was more than a university event, it was a real public lecture. We were so lucky to get in.
Extra television monitors had to be provided in the open theatre, and extended public address systems to cover other areas of the campus so that people could listen to this important lecture, yet for the audiences jam-packed in and outside the venue, they were only waiting for one thing, the first sight of Professor Ali Mazrui. 

Our professors, lecturers and other invited guests were already on the high table waiting for the arrival of the special guest. Almost everyone among the who is who of Bayero University was there, and shortly afterwards, the then Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University, Dr Muhammad Yahuza Bello, as representative of the Vice Chancellor, late Professor Musa Abdullahi, and Professor Emmanuel Ajayi Olofin, the Chairman of the Public Lecture series led Professor Ali Mazrui into the lecture theatre, and within seconds the entire hall was gripped with a thunderous ovation. Welcome Professor Ali Mazrui.

As our teachers of Makarantun ilmi (traditional Islamic schools), always remind us that Al ilm Annaafi’ Yukassiru Sahibuh, a beneficial knowledge humbles its possessor, the first lesson of the day was the humility exhibited right from the introduction of the guest speaker through to the entire event. Professor Olofin, a highly respected Professor of Geography told the gathering that if it would take what Professor Ali Mazrui has done to become a Professor, he himself wouldn’t have been qualified to be one; of course Professor Olofin has ticked all the dots to be a Professor, yet when the intellectual giants mount the podium, they were so humble that we students could only exchange the smile of admiration.

The title of the lecture was “Nigeria Between Lord Lugard and the Digital Divide: Political Culture and the Skill Revolution”. But during the introduction Professor Mazrui stated that  his paper is caught between the influence of three personalities, Lugard who amalgamated the northern and southern protectorates of Nigeria, Bill Gates who at the time was the leading symbol of the digital revolution, and of course Uthman Danfodio, the 19th century reformer. It was in the analysis of these three personalities that a glimpse of the dialectical ability of Professor Mazrui to make comparison on issues that might on the surface look unrelated, captivated the audience.
“Northern Nigeria was historically the first in literacy among the peoples of Nigeria. Northern Nigeria was also the first in written literature. But Northerners as the first in literacy in the history of Nigeria have not been the first in digitization. Northerners as the first in written literature have not been the first in computerization”, said the Professor
“It is true that even in written literature it was not a Northerner who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. But it is doubtful that the jurors in Sweden for the Nobel Prize bothered to read any literature in Hausa, Kiswahili, Zulu, Igbo or even Soyinka's own Yoruba language”
“This is not a reflection on Soyinka. It is a reflection of the dominance of European languages in our African lives. We are prisoners of Euro-linguistic paradigms”, said Mazrui, who was greeted with astounding ovation, but also brought forward the rivalry between Mazrui and Soyinka, after the latter has allegedly accused Ali Mazrui of being a ‘fundamentalist’. 
The presentation raised a lot of eyebrows especially since Northern Nigerian was struggling with the loss of political power. Some newspapers even wrote editorials criticizing Professor Mazrui for being a stooge in the hands of northern establishment.

After the lecture a reception was organized in the evening at the faculty of Law for the Professor, but it was an opportunity for many to listen once more to this great son of Africa.   It was during this session that Professor Abubakar Rasheed and the late Professor Alkali Abba asked Ali Mazrui an interesting question about ‘cloning’ from an Islamic perspective, and in his characteristic humility, Professor Mazrui suggested that, since Professor Sani Zahraddeen was around, and as a Professor of Islamic Studies, he was more qualified to answer that question.

I have heard so many good stories about Ali Mazrui from Dr Abubakar Alhassan, whom I also believe is in the best position to narrate them, but one thing is clear, Africa has lost a son, the intellectual community have lost a scholar, and to the politicians an adviser willing to say it as it is. 
As stated by Darryl C Thomas in the 1998 collection of essays entitled “the Global African: A Portrait of Ali Mazrui” edited by Omari H Kokole, “Mazrui has continued with the tradition established by other African scholars and activists, focusing on the triple heritage, reaffirming African, Western and Islamic traditions in the African and African diaspora experiences” (p. 79). 

Mazrui has written significantly in different areas, but the triple heritage thesis might be the contribution he will be most remembered for. Our sincere condolences to his family, friends, colleagues, students and other well-wishers. May Allah forgive his shortcomings and grant him Jannatul Firdaus, Amin.


Wednesday, 7 May 2014

(101): WhatsApp: It’s time for pre-marriage training

Between 2007 and 2008 I had the privilege of managing an Islamic center in Sheffield. It was an experience I would always cherish because it brought me closer to the community. The Muslim community in Sheffield is one of the best I have ever interacted with. 

That experience taught me what it means to work for a community, and understand that for a society to succeed, people have to come together, identify their problems and work towards finding a lasting solution to them. Sheffield is a friendly city, some people call it the village city, and the Muslim community comprises of different nationalities; Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis, Caribbean’s as well as the English.

One of the key problems we found at the time was the high rate of divorce among the community. Though the issue of divorce is common even among the host community, but certainly everyone should be concerned about the rate of divorce in any society because of its implication on the wider environment.  Delinquency, prostitution, depression, poverty are some of the common results of family breakdown. A child requires the two parents to taste the delicacy of parenthood.

So what was the way out? of course the cases that come on daily basis require urgent solutions, from reconciliation to marriage counselling etc. but the Center decided that the best way to confront this social problem was by arresting it from the root-cause, by ensuring that young people have enough training on issues related to marriage before  tying the knot.

So a date was set for the training during a bank holiday (the name of public holidays in the UK), when most kids were at home. Gladly the parents cooperated by bringing their children, and even those who are married registered for the training. The workshop included a talk by a Muslim scholar who discussed the concept of marriage in Islam, the roles and responsibilities of the husband and the wife, and how Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) managed his household.

Other working sessions during the workshop include personality traits by asking the participants to identify the best traits for a potential wife or husband, how to communicate those traits to the potential spouse etc. Other issues include managing disputes, family upkeep especially for those with little resources, and strategies to ensure that couples remain happy especially after the honey moon period is over. In fact there was a session by a good friend who has been married for 20 years sharing his experience with the participants on how the journey lasted without a major marital crack. 

Even in Nigeria, some communities are making efforts like this, though it may not solve the problem of divorce completely, but at least it will contribute in making the youth understand such important responsibility, and perhaps work hard to ensure that marriages survive.

I was motivated to write this piece after listening to a message that has gone viral on the social networking application, WhatsApp. Of course the content was meant to entertain as with many messages like that on WhatsApp, but it also reveals the psyche among our youths.

The message was from a school teacher who just finished her lesson, and asked the pupils to listen to her prayers and respond with Amin. The teacher wanted a good husband, religious, handsome, rich, whose mother is dead, who will sponsor her for Hajj and Umra regularly, support her to travel abroad, love her excessively, someone who is patient like a donkey, reserved, and one she will control with ease. Bachelors, I hope you are listening!

The teacher did not stop there, she is seeking refuge from marrying a poor person (talaka) who would make her travel by foot, or live in a mud-house, and whose relatives wouldn't bother her etc. the prayer was full of dreams that can only be found in a dream.  Yes it was entertaining, but beyond the surface of the entertainment is a coded message on the mentality of our youth.  Both boys and the girls are only thinking of the greener side of life as I explained in previous series on Kayan daki and Marital Stability in Hausaland.

No wonder marriages crash because neither of the parties can manage the expectation of the other party. It is time for Islamic organisations, especially in Northern Nigeria to take this issue seriously by preparing the youth for this important responsibility before it is too late. No matter how little, such pre-marital training could contribute in reducing the number of zaurawa (divorcees) in our society.



Tuesday, 29 April 2014

(100): Understanding the dream of your kids

This column will celebrate its 100th edition with one of the friends of this blog, parents and the youth.  It is common in our part of the world to simply send kids to school, and in this age parents are very good in spending their resources on the education of their children.

But what many parents are not good at is helping those children to have a dream, and work towards achieving that dream. Instead, the parents decide that every brilliant child in the family must be a medical doctor, not a bad choice, though, but what criteria has the father or mother used to decide that medicine is the best course for the child.

I was once told an interesting story about someone seeking admission for his daughter. You know the Nigerian way, getting admission into higher institutions of learning sometimes requires a ‘long leg’, and so if your leg is short, you have to find an influential person to make it long enough to secure the admission. This gentleman contacted a fellow teacher to assist him; so he came with the qualifications of his daughter. After studying the results carefully, the teacher told the man that based on the result he sees, it is better for the lady to study something in the social sciences. The gentleman was quite, and then replied “amma Hajiya ta ce medicine ta ke so ta karanta” (but my wife wanted her to study medicine).

An area that requires significant attention is for parents to carefully understand their children and know their dream.   That way they can help them to achieve their goals in life. This is something that needs to be done early rather than waiting until the kid finishes secondary school and starts seeking admission to university, or for the parents to simply decide that he must study engineering when his potentials are those of a lawyer who could work his way to become a Senior Advocate.

It is also important for parents to understand the most important dream of their children and help them develop a passion that will actualize such a dream. Where there are pitfalls in the dream, parents can easily guide their children into making the right decision.

I have no doubt in my mind that parents select such disciplines like medicine, engineering,  and law because they want the best for their children. When the kids fail to get into these programmes, perhaps attention is given to economics, accounting or business administration. With the exception of few, you rarely see parents encouraging their kids to study education or even journalism. But there are some critical questions you need to ask yourself as you work towards helping your kids to achieve their dream.

First is weighing the risk between imposing a discipline which they don’t like and then ending up with  a career that will never be described as a success, or making them lose the study entirely; there are many examples to prove that.

Secondly, as a parents, which option is the best between studying a course that your child hates, and graduating with a pass degree, compared to supporting him to study a course of his dream and graduating with first class or an upper second class honours?

So what do you need to do now? The answer is simple. Engage your children in a discussion right now and begin to understand their dream and career choices. Provide them with as much information as you can and develop their interest. Purchase books that align with their dreams and encourage them to study those books as part of their private study. Tell them stories about people who have followed the same process and how they succeeded, the challenges they faced, and  how they overcame such challenges. In fact in such discussion encourage your kids to tell you how they intend to follow such career and take it to a greater height.

As you prepare to start guiding your kids to achieve their dreams, be ready for some shocks as they can come up with a crazy idea.  How about if he tells you that he wants to become Wayne Rooney or Lionel Messi since football pays a lot and brings fame. Handle it with care and show him the comparative advantage of skill acquisition and contributing to society by leaving a legacy that makes impact beyond entertainment.

And finally if you have a friend who has achieved the dream of your child, visit him frequently and encourage the two parties to engage each other in meaningful conversation, so that your child can learn more from first-hand experience. The thinking and the dream of our children should not be left to be decided by the streets especially in this age when misguided elements can snatch the thinking of your child. What do you think?



Tuesday, 22 April 2014

(99): Revisiting our values

Today’s tsaraba will start with an apology for the unannounced absence of this contribution which is about to make its 100th anniversary since it started as a series two years ago. Gladly the celebration does not require a budget, nor a grand occasion to be marked by speeches from special guests. In fact the 100th anniversary will save you the burden of travelling to my home state of Kano, let alone commit a political blunder that will require the political Juggernauts in the city to come and sweep it away.

In the course of the absence of this column, I met two brilliant individuals, one of them a retired senior administrator in one of the leading universities in Nigeria, and the other an active academic who still gives his contribution for the betterment of our society. By coincidence both individuals are linguists with firm commitment to their culture.

Our discussion about the Hausa language in particular focused on the effect of using foreign curriculum from nursery to secondary schools, and the impact of that on our youths. Yes, it is a fashion today to take your kids to schools where Hausa is not taught as a language, and these days it is common to hear that “kasan ban yi Hausa a makaranta ba”, (I never studied Hausa language at school).

I told my guest about a story that happened around 2003. I was writing a research paper on the Hausa home video industry, in the course of that I interviewed one of the leading actors in the industry, and he told me that one of his fans called him from Abuja and told him that she had the word Zaure in one of the home videos he has featured, and she asked him for the meaning?

As we continued with our conversation, one of my guests said, that is even better, perhaps you never had the expression “tuwon rice”. Mhm.  I never heard about it. The only time I remember we tried to use non-Hausa terms to explain traditional food was about two years ago when we held a fundraising dinner in Newcastle, UK to do some charity work in Nigeria by supporting orphans and conduct some healthcare projects.

My friend and brother Dr Mukhtar Ahmad brilliantly translated a lot of the names of Hausa food into English for the benefit of the non-Hausa speaking contributors. Yes, I still smile when I remember such terms like “mash rice” for Tuwon shinkafa, and “beans cake” for Kosai, as well as ‘pumpkin sauce’ for miyar taushe.  But you see, he was able to do that because he understands the Hausa language very well, and so that understanding was used to benefit the people back home.

Gladly the guests enjoyed the food fair. It was a pleasure to see a mixture of the English, Pakistanis, Indians, Arabs and other groups enjoying African local dishes, not just for the sake of eating, but to support a human cause.

Language is an asset we should never play with as much as we can. Even those who live in foreign countries try their best to ensure that their kids speak their mother tongue. Those who allowed that opportunity to slip away ended up regretting it, for their children are normally caught in the crisis of identity.

Indeed we live in times when understanding a foreign language is an asset, and we should encourage people to learn as many languages as possible, but that shouldn’t be at the detriment of our native tongue. Language is not as innocent as we might assume. It is important for our school administrators to understand this, particularly private schools promoting foreign curriculum at the expense of carefully developed content that takes care of our languages and value system.

The Chinese, the Indians, the Malaysians, and other countries that are making progress did not do so in a vacuum. They always maintain their culture and language, and even work hard to export it. Today, Indian and Chinese restaurants have become global brands. I wonder whether our kids who struggle to understand Zaure, will be competent enough in our local languages to be good ambassadors for our people in the future.



Tuesday, 1 April 2014

(98): The limit of favouritism

One of my favourite teachers at the Kano State College of Arts and Sciences, popularly called CAS was Malam Ahmad Gambo. Those days were beautiful because the Kano State government at the time had succeeded in bringing the best of the best to teach at the College. In the Arts and Social Sciences you had such brilliant minds like Dr Said Dukawa, Malam Zakariya M Zakari, Dr Ado Mukhtar Bichi etc.

Despite the hectic nature of the IJMB programme, you never want to miss your lectures. For certainly apart from the lesson you take from these lecturers, you also learn one or two things about life.

Towards the end of the IJMB programme, many of the students were worried about getting admission into university, not because they will fail in the exam, but simply for the fear of what in Nigeria is called ‘long leg’. As students expressed those fears, Malam Ahmad, in his philosophical way said something that has remained with me till this day. All you need to do is to make sure you get the best result in the final exam, he told us. Should your application be thrown into the dustbin, if the result is good enough, the paper will shout from the dustbin to remind the admission officer that you have forgotten a qualified candidate, and so he must find a place for you. He added.

In essence what Malam Ahmad was teaching us was that we should remain confident and understand that favouritism has a limit. Many of the students listened. To date I couldn’t remember one student who had 10 points and above in the final IJMB who couldn’t secure admission into the university, of course some got it much harder than others, but at the end, those who passed the exam well proved that their results cannot be dumped in the dustbin.  

For those who may not be aware, the IJMB is a post-secondary school programme conducted by the Institute of Education at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Students normally take a combination of courses that will lead them into a degree programme. For instance if you want to study medicine, your combination will be chemistry, physics and biology. If you get good result you can be admitted into the second year in the university. It is equivalent to what is called high school or college depending on the system.

About three years ago, I attended a rigorous job interview. Instead of the traditional single interview panel that you find in many organisations, in this occasion you attend four different panels. In the first panel, you develop a module, from teaching to assessment and present it to the entire staff of the department. You then move to another panel to discuss your research. In fact even students have to evaluate your ability, so you attend a student panel and teach them for half an hour, and then finally, you attend the main interview. Each member of these panels will give you a score and the total result as well as your performance in the final interview decides whether you get the job or not.

The professor chairing the interview sessions, a brilliant and jovial person noticed that many of the candidates were worried, and he said something interesting which has remained with me to date, “each and every one of you is qualified to get this job, that is why you have been shortlisted”, and suddenly all the faces started smiling. He then continued, “So you are not competing with the person next to you” he added, “you are simply competing against yourself, all you need is to prove that you are the best candidate for the job.”

Why am I narrating these boring stories to you? The answer is simple, I am worried about the self-defeatist attitude which I noticed in some of our youth. They believe ‘long leg’ is everything? I disagree. Yes ‘long leg’ is a reality, perhaps those unlucky youths who lost their lives or got injured in the Nigerian immigration interview were there because they don’t have a ‘long leg’. But understand that favourtisim has a limit, if you do your homework, one day your chance will come. I conclude with one of my favourite quotes attributed to Dale Carnegie, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy”.



Monday, 24 March 2014

(97): The beauty of failure and the tragedy of defeat

Today’s piece will focus on the youth once again. People have different experiences and face different challenges in life. But the issue is how the individual works to overcome such challenges. There is every tendency especially among the youth to make the greatest mistake of their life because they cannot appreciate the beauty of failure. One can even take the risk of making a swift statement, that for every child who grows, his parents succeed in making him a real human being by strengthening and correcting his or her failures, from sitting, crawling, walking, running etc. It is the support provided that makes one to realize his full potentials. Yet this basic facet of life is missing in our youth.

Since the youth are crazy about sports these days, especially football, let me borrow some lessons from there in order to make my point. Although I am not a Manchester United fan, but few will argue against the idea that the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson was one of the most successful not only in the English Premier League, but in the history of football. In his recent autobiography published in 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson had a lot of interesting stories on how to recover from the brink of failure and  emerge as a winner.

The example he gave was one which illustrates that failure itself is not a bad thing, but your attitude towards your understanding of the failure, and planning to respond to it is where the problem lies.  All those tactics he employs such as looking at his watch in extra-time, also called Fergie-time, were strategies to scare the opponent and  snatch an unlikely victory from the brink of defeat.

Mr Ferguson was playing a game against Liverpool at the peak of their success in the 1980s, and as he stated in his own words, “the Souness–Dalglish Liverpool teams were the benchmark for English football in the 1980s, when I made my first foray into management south of the border. Those Liverpool sides were formidable. I had suffered against them with Aberdeen and brought those memories with me to Manchester. In one European tie we had lost 1–0 at Pittodrie, played really well for the first 20 minutes at Anfield, but still ended up 2–0 down at half-time. I did my usual thing in the dressing room and, as the players were leaving, one, Drew Jarvie, said, ‘Come on, lads, two quick goals and we’re back in it.’”

Losing a football match is not an easy thing for the club and the fans, but to lose a Derby with your arch rivals is even more difficult to take, even if they have a superior team. As such, instead of thinking that the game will be lost, some of the players saw such failure as a temporary thing, but what they were not willing to accept was a defeat. This is just one story, and whether you are an Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid or Barcelona supporter, you must have some interesting stories about a comeback match which will always provide a talking point between you and the opponents of your team.

Yet my question is, as a youth who witness such ‘miraculous’ comebacks by your team, simply because they refuse to accept defeat, what sort of comeback did you plan for yourself when you couldn't secure enough credits to get to university? or because of a single carry-over at school you almost take a decision to abandon your studies; or simply because the business venture you have started has not taken up as quickly as possible, you decided to abandon it and retire into joblessness! Do you watch a football match simply to shout it’s a goaaaaaaaaaaaal, or do you have a goal in life which you seek to achieve?

You see, those vicissitudes  of life are key ingredients of success that will be useful to you later in life, only if you appreciate that your failures early in life will help you to build a successful future later as you seek to achieve your goals.

In his classical work “The laws of success in sixteen lessons” or what is popularly called the sixteen laws of success, Napoleon Hill spent a great deal of time explaining how the failures of successful people helped them to succeed in life. According to him “profiting by failure will teach you how to make stepping stones out of all of your past and future mistakes and failures. It will teach you the difference between “failure" and "temporary defeat," a difference which is very great and very important. It will teach you how to profit by your own failures and by the failures of other people.”

In fact as he stated, “every failure is a blessing in disguise, providing it teaches some needed lesson one couldn't have learned without it. Most so called failures are only temporary defeats”.  I don’t know if you agree with him, but for me I certainly believe there is an element of truth in his thesis. In failure there is beauty, but the inability to rise from ones failures is what will lead to a tragic defeat.



Tuesday, 18 March 2014

(96): I have been to Africa

I followed with interest a recent story that started from Harvard University called I, too, I am Harvard. It is in response to the stereotyping and the challenges faced by black students or more generally, to use the controversial term ‘people of colour’. They were indirectly protesting against the treatment they receive from colleagues, friends, tutors etc for being black or non-white. Soon the campaign became viral and students from Oxford and Cambridge also joined the bandwagon to protest against the misrepresentation of blacks, particularly the thinking that you have to belong to a particular race in order to belong to these elite institutions.

But I am afraid, it is not just Harvard or Cambridge or Oxford where being an African or black comes with stereotyping, almost in all aspect of life being an African as an individual, or the continent itself are shrouded in misinformation, ignorance, mystery, stereotyping, and at worst belittling simply because of how people look.  I was once told by someone, “So black people do PhD”. Sometimes you laugh, other times you explain, and in some occasions you get angry. What is even more interesting is that the media sometimes reinforce such stereotypes.

But one of the things about this stereotyping that you find common is the thinking that Africa is a country, and so a lot of people come to you excited that they will be travelling to Africa. When you ask them where in Africa? They start murmuring and stammering to figure out what you mean. 

The first time I experienced this was in March 2004, about ten years ago. I was dressed in white Babbar Riga (a traditional attire common in sub-Saharan Africa). It was a brief visit to London at the time, and I was trying to get a bureau de change in Oxford Street, when I heard a voice across the road shouting “African brother, African brother”, The man crossed the road and came towards me. “I like your dress, please how do I get one. Can you give me your address in Africa so that I can send you the money”? My address in Africa?? I was confused, I told him that I am from Nigeria in West Africa. He doesn't have the time to listen to my lecture and so we said goodbye. Interestingly he is a fellow black guy, who told me that his ancestors were from Africa, and he has consumed the stereotype that Africa is a country.

Sometime in 2005, I was approached by the kids of one of my friends in Sheffield. A very nice family. The children were so happy to see me, and so was I. “We have been to Africa on holiday”, the young kids told me. “That was great”, I responded. “But where in Africa?” I asked. Instead of answering my question, they looked at their elder sister, with their father watching by the side, “which part of Africa have we been to?” after a little silence, she responded, “Gambia”.

But don’t blame the local people for not understanding the African continent. Sometimes even the educated people, in fact some of whom supposed to educate us, you will be shocked by their perception of Africa. Here is the story I always laugh at when I remember. It was at the BBC World Service when the language services introduced Premier League commentary in local languages. And one of the best commentators, works for the Swahili Service. He has an excellent mastery of football commentary in Swahili, he has become a household name in his region. In fact you don’t have to understand Swahili to know which team is performing well, and when he says it’s a Goaaaaaaaal. Almost everyone in the African hub will stop his work or at least smile at the skills of our friend. Then one day, one of the journalists, in fact a senior one, asked whether our colleague could do the commentary for Hausa and other languages. If it were possible I would have been very happy, because that would have saved me from struggling to translate certain football terms in Hausa language. Luckily, we had my friend Aminu Abdulkadir who came up with such excellent terms like ‘bugun lauje” for Conner-kick etc.

But the one that remains fresh in my memory was in the autumn of 2012. I was teaching a course on the impact of propaganda and distortion in the media.  So I had pictures of two locations, Nairobi city in Kenya, and Harlem in New York. As an introduction to the topic I displayed the picture of Harlem and asked the students to identify the city. Unanimously all the students said it must be somewhere in Africa, simply because it looks like a deprived area populated by black people.

I then displayed the picture which provides an aerial view of Nairobi and asked them to identify the city. “This must be somewhere in Singapore” one of the students said. “It looks like somewhere in California”, said another. When I asked the students why they think Nairobi looks like California, and Harlem is somewhere in Africa. The answer was obvious, that’s how the media represents Africa. 

So if I were to advise the black students in Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge, I would have told them to take their peaceful campaign to the doors of the news media, for among other factors, their colleagues think they don’t belong to Harvard, Oxford or Cambridge because of what they see on their television screens.



Wednesday, 12 March 2014

(95) Appreciating our parents (II)

Appreciating parents is such a noble deed that brings a lot of benefit to an individual. These are the only people in the world who would wish your success overtakes theirs, they will be willing to sacrifice their life to see you grow. Just remember those days when you were a baby, when a little cry wakes your mother up all night. Just remember those times, when your parents stood by you when you can neither walk, speak or eat. Just remember those times, when they buy everything to make you happy as a baby, a toddler, a child, and should they have the means, they will continue to do so up to your adulthood. Why then treat them casually, when they are getting weaker because of age, why should you neglect investing in their happiness simply because you have come of age. Being a teenager, a young person is not a license to abandon the responsibility to parents.

As you strive towards fulfilling this noble goal, always understand that there is  a hierarchy even in the priority you give to the parents. The sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) are clear about this, because when he was asked about the person who has the best right, the prophet replied “your mother”, he was asked again, and he said “your mother”, when asked for the third time he said “your mother”, and on the last occasion, he said ‘your father”. This is quite important especially in this age, where some people erroneously ascribe maltreatment of women with Islam. Perhaps some of our attitudes towards women do not help, yet if we could imbibe this quality, the world would have been a better place.

In his classical work Minhaj Al Muslim, a book that focuses on manners and the character of a Muslim by Shaykh Abubakar Jabir Aljazairi, (may Allah prolong his life) who is still alive and has been teaching in the Prophet’s mosque in Madina for the past 50 years has succinctly compiled a number of narrations from the authentic Islamic sources about the role of parents in our lives as reported from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Interestingly the book has been translated into many languages.

In one of the ahadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him), and reported by Bukhari and Muslim, two of the leading compilers of hadith, the Prophet stated that “Allah has forbidden for you disobedience to mothers, withholding the right of others when one has the ability to fulfill them, and burying daughters alive. Allah also disliked for you irrelevant talk, persistent questioning and wasting of wealth.”

In fact one day the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said ‘alaa unabbi ukum bi akbaril kabaa-ir?” “Shall I not inform you of the greatest of the great sins?” the companions answered in the affirmative “certainly, O Allah’s messenger.” He said “al-ishraaku billahi, wa uququl walidayn”, “(they are) ascribing partners to Allah, and disobeying parents”, and then the prophet sat up and added, “And false testimony and false witness. Verily false testimony and false witness”.

As such it is not a small responsibility that perhaps some of us gave casual attention to. When ibn Mas’ud, a companion of the prophet asked him what is most beloved to Allah, he said “being dutiful to parents”.

And being dutiful to parents is a responsibility that should continue even after their lives, as confirmed by the Prophet (peace be upon him), where he stated that “from the most dutiful acts is that a man keeps contact with the beloved friends of his father after the father has passed away”.  For more on this see Minhaj Al Muslim:  A book of Manners, Character, Acts of Worship and other Deeds, (pp. 181-185).

Always remember that no one has invested in your life more than your parents, and one way of appreciating their effort is by being dutiful to them. Just imagine the joy you will create in them by being such a responsible person who lives up to expectation without a reminder from them.

As we work towards fulfilling this responsibility, especially in this age where the attention of the youth is carried away due to the influence technology, sports etc. parents should strive to help their children to understand such responsibility, after all, the parents will be the major beneficiaries when their kids become responsible to them. 

So do not just buy them smart phones, but also encourage them to read smart books that teach them the value of parents, because smart phones will one day expire or be overtaken by smarter technologies, but smart investment in the upbringing of  your child to understand the value of his parents shall live forever. I recommend the book loving Our Parents: Stories of Duties & Obligations by Abdulmalik Mujahid published by Darussalam for every parent, son and daughter, it is one of the smartest treasures you will give your children. You will find amazing stories about how the prayer of parents, changed the lives of their children. You will find interesting stories about how other people were dutiful to their parents, and so should you.


Tuesday, 4 March 2014

(94): Appreciating our parents (I)

About a month ago we travelled to the Haram (the Grand Mosque in Makkah) for the Friday prayers together with a longtime friend in the UK, who has just relocated to Saudi Arabia. It was a great opportunity to meet again. As we arrived in the mosque, and the call to prayer was made, and the Imam mounted on the pulpit, a powerful voice echoed through the microphone. Assalamu Alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu, the Islamic greeting, which Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) taught the Muslim faithful.

It was Shaykh Abdurrahman Sudais, the Chief Imam of the mosque, and a household name in the recitation of the Qur’an. I have listened to several sermons of Shaykh Abdurrahman Sudais, but in my humble estimation this is one of the best sermons the Imam has delivered. It was about parents. As many readers might be aware, the Shaykh lost his father few weeks ago, which perhaps might have contributed in the selection of this important topic.

The lesson of the sermon is universal, it is useful for all times, valuing and respecting the most important people in our lives, our parents. After listening to the Khutbah (sermon), my thought went back home. I thought of the youths in our society who consider their parents as a treasury to be milked, the teenager who lies to his parents in order to make money out of them, the boys and girls who think it’s the duty of the mother alone to cook, clean the house, look after the guests, respond to the needs of every member of the household when everyone else is busy watching television or playing games.

Indeed my thought crossed over to the modern day youth, whose life has consumed everything his parents have saved to see him get educated; yet on landing the best job, his or her parents become secondary. It is time to enjoy life, buy the best car in town, purchase the most expensive clothes so that he or she looks smart. Yet the very parents, who sacrificed their comfort to see you grow, to get you the best education, and even work hard to ensure that you get the right job are now placed in a secondary position among your top priorities.

There is no better way to explain the position of parents than the Qur’anic verse “And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], "uff," and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word.”[Quran 17: 23].

Of course, it is halal (permissible) for you to enjoy your life from the little you earn, but as Islam teaches us, life is not about you alone, it is about others as well, and toping the chart are your noble parents. Therefore, God in his infinite mercy ordained that, after worshipping Him, the next noble deed is called Ihsan to the parents. What does that mean? It basically means kindness, compassion, respect, love and everything that extends care and support to your parents. It means being selfless, sacrificing your comfort for them, working to alleviate their suffering, extending respect to those they care for. You should be so mindful of their feelings, that you must avoid anything that create discomfort in them, even if it’s a one letter word.

Unfortunately some youths in this age thought because their parents are rich, or in position of authority, they do not need this respect, rather their resources should be milked, and do not even care to work hard and make a living for themselves. It doesn’t matter, whether your parents are rich, or they are poor, looking after them is a responsibility you must fulfil.

This is what we have been taught by the noble Qur’an “And We have enjoined upon man [care] for his parents. His mother carried him, [increasing her] in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years. Be grateful to Me and to your parents; to Me is the [final] destination.”  [Quran 31:14].

Few years back, a friend told me a story about the reaction of his parents when he became a Muslim. They thought they have lost him. Yet after reading these verses, and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace), about the position of parents, he increased his phone calls to them, his visits increased, his support for their needs multiplied, not only did they accept his decision, indeed, they turned out to be proud of his new way of life.



Wednesday, 26 February 2014

(93): Tsaraba from an adventurous journalist (V)

Although the necklaces were beautiful, every shop owner wants you to buy from her.  But here is the challenge, I don’t know the actual price of the necklaces, I selected some, but we couldn't agree on the price, at one point they said 5000 CFA, then 3000 CFA, at the end, I purchased about three. The most important thing for me is the memory of the Island, and supporting the businesses there is a form of solidarity to the people who contribute daily on preserving this important historical edifice.

Traditional attires and necklaces in one of the shops in Goree Island  ©MJY

Goree Island looks like a small town at the moment, inside the Island there are several businesses and even some people reside there. Some facilities have been provided like schools, a police station etc., as we passed the house of no return, our next destination was a small shop selling various items including books. Whenever you travel never miss the opportunity to buy books written by the locals. This will give you the opportunity to understand how the local people view the historical events in their land rather than what an outsider writes about them.

As we spoke to the shop attendant she confirmed to us that they sell some books. She brought two copies of a book called Facts About Slavery by Guy Thilmans. It is an interesting treatise about slavery which looks at the history of European slavery, the capture of slaves, the different methods used in capturing the slaves whether through violent or peaceful means, the living condition of the slaves up to the period for the abolishment of slave trade.

“How much is this book?” I asked the shop attendant. “It is 7000 CFA”, as I prepared to pay, our tour guide, Elhadj Gaye insisted that I should not buy the book because it is too expensive. My friend, a banker from Lagos was also interested, yet Elhadj insisted that we should not buy it, he promised to take us to a bookshop at the end of the tour where we could get it at a cheaper price.

The book contains the history of slavery in Goree Island

Reluctantly, we left, but deep in my heart I was hoping I will not regret listening to Elhadj. Never underestimate the value of books, the information they contain is always more precious than their cost. Beyond that you wouldn’t know when you will desperately need them in the future.

We have less than fifteen minutes left to catch the ferry back to Dakar. Elhadj was getting faster, yet the tour was becoming more interesting. We passed through a hostel built for visitors who would like to spend some days in the Island. In fact I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that universities teaching African history especially in neighboring West African states should organize an excursion to Goree Island so that students could see the mark of the real horror Africans went through. As we moved further, there was a school in the heart of the Island. Elhadj stopped briefly, and said, “this is the school of the Island”, it was attended by several African leaders like Leopold Senghor of Senegal, Modibo Keita of Mali, and Felix Houphou√ęt-Boigny of Cote d’Ivoire. 

The school attended by various African heads of state in Goree Island ©MJY

As we prepared to finish the tour, Elhadj took us to a small house beneath one of the buildings in the Island; there was a local artist who mixes sand with glue to produce traditional painting. It was creative and beautiful. His little hideout was decorated with various paintings that showcase the artistic heritage of Africa.

traditional artist in the Island  ©MJY

As we finished with the artist, spending two or three minutes in each stop, we managed to visit the mosque in the Island, the memorial built specifically to remember the victims of slavery, the few areas inhabited by some people in the Island. In fact as we were about to cross over to move towards the ferry, we came across the Imam of the Mosque, we quickly posed for a picture, and said goodbye to him.

The Imam of the Mosque in Goree Island ©MJY

I reminded Elhadji Gaye about the bookshop, we ran quickly and got a copy of the book Facts about Slavery at the cost of 5000 CFA, and shortly afterwards we ran to the ferry.  As we boarded on the ferry, it was full of passengers from different parts of the world. But unlike the smiling faces on our way to the Island, people look sympathetic; they have just walked through the land where Africans experienced the worst form of terror from fellow human beings. Thank you Senegal for preserving this historical edifice, the Goree Island.

Goodbye Goree Island ©MJY

Please the correct name of our tour guide is Elhadj Gaye not Adboulaye Gaye as I said in previous editions of this series.  Abdoulaye Ndiaye is another tour guide we met in the ferry who has a professorial grasp of the history of slavery; he was a former officer of the Senegalese Army.