Northern Elders

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By Ibraheem Sulaiman

And remember David and Solomon, when both gave judgment concerning the field into which some people’s sheep had strayed and grazed by night. We were witness to their judgment. We gave Solomon insight into the case. Yet we gave sound judgment and knowledge to both of them.’  [Quran 21:78]

‘Then there are those that insisted that as the Arab Revolution knocked over long established regimes and created movements for democracy, so those societies’ religiosity would take second place to the new politics. It hasn’t happened, as the strong showing of the Muslim Brotherhood indicates. Religion is fundamental to those societies and if anything, in the foreseeable future, will become more so.’ [Tony Blair, Former Prime Minister, Britain]

The passage of the Quran quoted above refers to an event which occurred between an illustrious father, Dawood, and an illustrious son, Suleiman. For a general understanding of the passage, we quote the learned Sayyid Qutb.  He writes: ‘The story of the field over which David and Solomon gave judgment is detailed in some reports as stating that two men came to David. One of them had a field, or a vineyard according to some reports, while the other had a flock of sheep. The field’s owner said: ‘This man’s sheep traversed my field at night, leaving it devastated.’ David ruled that the owner of the field should take the sheep in compensation for his wasted crops. The sheep’s owner then passed by Solomon and told him of David’s judgment. Solomon went to his father and said: “Prophet of God, you should have judged differently.” David asked: “How should I judge?” Solomon replied: “Give the sheep to the field’s owner to benefit by them and give the field to the sheep’s owner to tend until it is returned to its original state. Then each man returns to the other his property. Thus, the field’s owner will get his field and the sheep’s owner his sheep.” David confirmed that that was the right judgment, and he ordered it to be carried out. Both David and Solomon judged according to their own discretion, but God was observing their judgment. He inspired Solomon to give the verdict that was fairer. David’s judgment aimed to compensate the field’s owner for the damage done to him, which establishes justice. But Solomon’s judgment added to justice a constructive dimension. Thus, justice became a motive to initiate constructive effort.’

The passage emphatically enunciates a principle. The youth is the fount of inspired wisdom, and of fresh and robust insight for a society that desires to make progress. Where there exists a severance of the old from the young in any given society, then that society is destined for an incontrovertible failure. Islam insists that wisdom must be embraced irrespective of its source. After all, some of the most momentous and definitive changes in human history have been those engineered by young people. Jesus Christ was a prime mover of human destiny: he accomplished his world shaking career in just three years, and lived for only thirty three years. Alexander the Great, is another, albeit mundane, example. He nearly conquered the whole world, and according to Prof. Paul Cartlledge, [BBC] he ‘is probably the most famous of the few individuals in human history whose bright light has shot across the firmament to mark the end of an era and the beginning of another.’ Alexander the Great died at the age of thirty three. Our own Murtala Muhammad, the man who, according to Isichei, ‘captured the latent idealism of Nigerians,’ needed only six months to give Nigeria a new life; he died at the age of thirty eight.

This, in short, is the message for Northern Elders. Northern Nigeria is one of the few societies in the world which appears to believe that wisdom is concentrated only in age. As a result of this assumption, the region is also one of the few societies in the world where no long term planning takes place, where even no short term planning is ever made, and everything is ad hoc and opportunistic. Yet in a natural human society young people form the majority, and collectively they produce the predominant majority of new ideas, they imbibe and seek the realization of the idealism and vision of the society, they are the future. So you cannot move forward into the future as an elder in isolation, without going along with those for whom the future is made. Northern Elders’ behavior, always in self defeating denial, belies that reality. In the build up to the last election, several groups of elders emerged. As it turned out, many of them, populated as they were by ad hoc leaders, by permanent, maximum sycophants, by ‘sub humans’ as Adamu Ciroma called them, by those who would invoke the name of God in vain were, in truth, mercenaries employed to surrender the future of their people for a fee.

If the elders would have the good sense   and the humility to seek the views of their children, grand children and great grand children about many of the issues concerning Nigeria, they might find out that the future is truly the future, the future is not the past, it is different in every essential detail from the present which the elders seek to perpetuate. For example, if they were to ask a grandchild of theirs, say, a ten year old ‘northerner’ about how to resolve the issue of oil in Nigeria, perhaps his answer might be as follows. ‘God in his infinite wisdom has bestowed the bounty of oil on the people in the South South and a few other places. It is theirs, so let them have it. Let them enjoy it. God has never shut out any people from His benevolence. He has bestowed on us the land, millions upon millions of square miles of land of different hues and colors. It is ours, and we determine its usage, we determine who lives on it, we determine who cultivates it, we determine who populates it. We own its soil, its rivers, its lakes, its dams. We own its infinite bounties, above and below, forever. We live on it, we live by it, we thrive on it and we die in it. This land is ours, the eternal, inalienable gift of God.’ Such perhaps is the perspective of the future, which the elders cannot grasp today and cannot comprehend but which is sure to come. Perhaps all the argument about whether Nigeria should remain one or not, might not appeal to those born into the future. It might sound absolutely irrelevant, archaic and even silly.

Moreover the elders languish in a perspective of a Northern Nigeria devoid of Islam. In a recent meeting for example, they brought together an impressive array of Northern personalities, made up mainly of politicians, soldiers, business men, professionals and sundry other interests. Of course the youth of the North were not there. The women of the North were not there. The Ulama were not there. Most important of all – and that is the crux of the matter – Islam was not there. So the elders are making the gravest mistake by thinking that in any discourse about the North you can ignore Islam, you can avoid Islam or pretend Islam does not exist and does not matter. Yet the force that has thrust Islam to the fore in different parts of the world might be the same force that would be at play here in Nigeria. Islam is defining the destiny of Muslims, and in the process it is at the same time shaping the very character of the whole world. Young Muslim men and women will most likely turn wholly and sincerely to Islam in their quest to take control of their own destiny. This might seem the natural and inescapable route for them. That the elders should miss this point is quite amazing. It means the elders are at odds with the future.

Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Britain, has made a point worthy of consideration. ‘But the basic point about the world is this: On every side, in every quarter, wherever we look and analyze, religion is a powerful, motivating, determining force shaping the world around us. It is this belief in a higher purpose, God’s purpose for us and this yearning for spiritual as well as material fulfillment that draws people to profess their faith so strongly; and in an era of globalization particularly in the aftermath of the financial crisis, makes them assert the civilizing force of faith in the modern world. Humanity without Faith would be deeply impoverished, even if we materially advanced,’ he observes in a speech in Milan on November 10, 2011. ‘So the time has come to put away the delusions: that faith is diminishing; that religion is not really what it’s about; that a debate about politics can be seriously conducted in the 21st Century without debating religion. And debating religion not as social science, foreign affairs or even psychology, but as religion.’

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