Since last week’s killing of Deborah Yakubu for insults hurled at the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (SAW), there have been different kinds of emotions, engagements on various platforms, threats, counter threats and lots of finger-pointing, mostly in the wrong direction.
I have not seen the video of Deborah’s lynching. I have not brought myself to watch it. I am frankly tired of seeing videos of gruesome deaths in Nigeria—from road accidents to terror killings in the north and south, to mob actions on suspected criminals, innocent people or sometimes, on people like Deborah. But I have heard the audio of what she said that provoked the mob.
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As a Muslim, I confess I was jarred by her words. They were unguarded, callous and incendiary. But did it warrant her killing? With a mob, anything warrants a killing, as demonstrated by the case of 37-year-old Sunday-David Umoh in Lagos, lynched over a N100 dispute last week, or the Aluu Four, who was lynched for asking someone to pay back the money he owed them.
It is shocking that Nigerians still resort to lynching as a way to settle disputes or exact their idea of justice. Resorting to such barbarous self-help is indicative of the continued failure of law and order as well as the justice system.
The incident in Sokoto should never have happened. It is wrong, cruel and barbaric and does not represent the ideals of Islam and most especially the ideals of the person in whose name this act was done—Muhammad (SAW).
Islamic scholars, laymen and street thugs have had their say on it. I have seen some scholars trying to justify it. Others have condemned it, bringing both scholarly and rational arguments to their verdict. Most scholars agree there is a death penalty for blasphemy in Islam. The argument is over how this penalty should be carried out and by whom. While the mob in Sokoto decided it was their right to execute the sentence, without trial, others argue it is the duty of a court of law to try the accused and pronounce the verdict, and there are provisions for this in both the common and shariah law.
The endorsement of the mob action by a handful of scholars is a dangerous interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence and one with the potential to create havoc and anarchy, something Islam is keen to avoid. These scholars should know that a mob is not anybody’s beast. It has a mindless mind of its own and has the abilities to shape-shift, from a mob of peaceful protesters to religious enthusiasts or angry okada men to a swarm of looters and murderers that can soon turn even on those who think they hold the leash in a matter of minutes. The fact that some people in this mob have even threatened the Sultan of Sokoto, not only with insults but with threats to kill him for condemning Deborah’s murder should serve as a warning. If a revered Muslim figure as the Sultan is considered fair game to these mobs, what guarantees the flame stockers and snake charmers their safety.
I have often disagreed with Sheikh Ahmad Gumi’s defence of criminal herdsmen abducting Nigerians, killing and maiming them but on the issue of Deborah’s lynching, especially regarding the Islamic ruling, I find his position one of the most informed and rationale. In a 30-minute response to the question, he discussed the ruling, its application and the fact that no mob is entitled or empowered by Shariah to execute any person. He also addressed the position of other scholars with contrary views. It echoes the teaching of other scholars like the late Sheikh Jaafar Adam and even Sheikh Sani Yahaya Jingir in his Friday sermon after the incident. In their varied arguments, drawn from Islamic jurisprudence and social structure, they are all categorical in condemning mob actions with regard to blasphemy.
Yes, Deborah had a right to free speech. Rights are however guaranteed relative to other peoples. Her comments were disrespectful of a deeply revered figure and by extension the billions of people who revere him. But she is also guaranteed a right to life, and by Islamic and common law, no individual or group that is not authorised or recognised by law has the right to take that right from her.
What happened in Sokoto is the action of a mob and should be treated socially and legally as such. While Deborah’s killing was gruesome, shocking and condemnable, reactions have been predictable, frustrating and God knows downright boring. The same pattern repeats itself over and over again.
The penchant for people to use mob actions to put every Muslim on trial is disingenuous. If Boko Haram kills northerners, there is often silence. If a southerner is involved, every Muslim is expected to denounce the killing and apologise for it. If bandits kill villagers in Zamfara or Gusau, there is silence. If southerners or Christians are involved, every Muslim northerner is expected to answer for this crime. Since Sokoto, we have had a social media mob trawling Facebook and Twitter looking for quarrels to pick, demanding that every Muslim takes responsibility, condemn the murderers, apologise for her death and perhaps denounce their faith. Even after that, it is not enough. They make blanket entitled posts like: “I am watching all my Muslim friends who are not saying anything about this.”
If you expect your social media friends to go to Sokoto and arrest the mob and hand them over to you, guess what, they can’t. They are not the police.
In a post, someone shared his opinion about the mob killing and another Facebook user commented that she is shocked all Muslims are silent in the comment section. The irony is that I have never seen these persons for instance come out to condemn the crimes, murders and massacres that IPOB is committing in the South East, where one of them at least hails from. These are people who have been silent about the crimes in their backyard, yet feel entitled to hold everyone else accountable for crimes committed by their co-religionists. It is simple. If you have never spoken out and condemned IPOB or other ethnic militia and people have not put you on a social media trial to condemn these groups by virtue of your geographical proximity, ethnic or faith affiliation to these groups, then you have no right to demand the same of others. Your poppycock entitlement serves no real objective.
If you are not a supporter of the local terror in your region, then you are afraid to speak because of the repercussions. Well, guess what, the same applies here. The mob that killed Deborah could turn against anybody, heck they even turned on the Sultan.
Will your condemnation of the “silence of your Muslim friends” give Deborah justice? We are all wasting energy on petty social media squabbles that will not change the system. So what then will? What will ensure that a similar thing does not happen in the future?
How about instead of “Looking at your Muslim friends” and expending misdirected angst, we all look at those who actually have the power to act: the authorities responsible for safeguarding the lives of ALL Nigerians and ensuring that justice is done when there is a breach. How much pressure have Nigerians put on the police to find the mob, arrest them and bring them to trial? How much effort have you put on your political representative to put pressure on the government in Abuja to take decisive actions that should guarantee justice and ensure something similar doesn’t happen? How much effort has the media put on the police to diligently investigate the crime?
Mob actions, in Lagos, Sokoto or Aluu, happened because people do not fear the consequences. This is why the government must make an example of these recent incidents, deliver justice and demonstrate categorically, by words and actions, that such barbarism will no longer be tolerated.
As a people, instead of turning one another, what we can do is teach one another the value of situational awareness, the sanctity of human life and respect and tolerance for each other’s faiths or whatever value one holds sacred.
Sallu ala nabiyil kareem!