Ilorin Isese Festival Fracas and Inter-Religious Peace Building

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1964

By Abubakar Musa

Southwestern Nigeria and indeed the Yoruba-speaking states Kwara state inclusive are highly respected for their religious tolerance, peaceful coexistence among different religions, and their high tendency to accommodate people of faiths, no faith, and different faiths harmoniously.

But strangely, I feel deeply unsettled and worried about what is happening in Ilorin the capital of Kwara state in the name of religion. There is an intense tenacity for religions to make an authentic and genuine effort to remove misunderstandings between them. It all started in recent months when a traditional worshipper of Obatala-god based in Ilorin, the Priestess, Yeye Ajesikemi Olokun Oolara Olatunju proposed to celebrate Isese day in Ilorin, Kwara state capital. This idea was met with stiff restrictions, objections, and opposition from the Muslims in Ilorin. Stating and maintaining that Ilorin is an Islamic city founded on the precept of Islam and as such Isese Day festival wouldn’t be allowed to hold in the city. The Ilorin Muslims opposition to the Isese Day celebration has since then turned to religious fracas and tension within the state and beyond.

Hence, the International Council for Ifa Religion on Tuesday 15th August, 2023 announced its decision to suspend the planned Isese festival in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital. When talking about justice in inter and intra-religious dealing the Noble Qur’an says, “Stand out firmly for justice”(Qur’an 5:8). Islam is a beautiful religion that encourages its adherents to always harken to peace and justice at all times with all people.

The current trend in the zealousness of different adherents of religions in southwestern Nigeria appears paradoxical. In one breath it may seem as if a group is concerned with reformation of the society while in another breath some groups tend to promote intolerance and rigidity. The open insults some claimants to puritans Muslims hurl at the adherents of other sects even in Islam and other religious body takes us back into the dark ages where dogmatism and rigidity were the order

When such a rigid, narrow-minded, and non-tolerant view is expressed in provocative language as generally is by religious zealots, the result is a predictable, violent riot. The ridiculously embarrassing religious skirmish unfolding in the Ilorin Isese debacle is testimony to the ugly fact of the religious crisis playing out in Kwara state. But Allah the Almighty has commanded Muslims in the Qur’an to fair treatment of non-Muslims when it was said “Treat non-Muslims in a kind and fair manner” (Qur’an 60:8).

On the moral, respectful, and accommodating side, religion is on the retreat; religious crime is rampant; truth is disappearing fast; equity and the deliverance of justice are on the verge of extinction; social responsibilities to society are being ignored; and a selfish religious individualism is gaining strength in its stead even in such states of the country as would otherwise claim to be relatively peaceful religious wise.

Over 14 centuries ago in the Arabian peninsula, the Holy Prophet (sa) was persecuted, believing Muslims were treated with cruelty, some were murdered, and others were hurled abuses like prayers and Stones like velvet. The Prophet’s house was stoned from surrounding houses. Garbage and decayed animals were thrown into his kitchen. These cruelties were perpetrated against the weak and innocent people because of their faith.

Fast-forward to about 1450 years later, the Muslims are the ones persecuting minority sister’s religions in Muslim-dominated areas and Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Nigeria to mention but a few. Sadly today, it’s unfortunate that some Muslims have even gone further to persecute followers of Muslims for their beliefs. The ugly religious crisis between Ilorin Muslims and the Isese worshipers- Yoruba traditional religion is an eye sore to the ugly trends of religious persecution, intolerance, and deprivation in Nigeria. To neutral, uninformed, and semi-informed fellows about Islam, what’s playing out in Ilorin between these individuals from either side of the divide might be confused for a representation of Islam considering the population of Muslims in the ancient city, Ilorin.

But strangely, I feel deeply unsettled and worried about what is happening in Ilorin the capital of Kwara state in the name of religion. There is an intense tenacity for religions to make an authentic and genuine effort to remove misunderstandings between them. It all started in recent months when a traditional worshipper of Obatala-god based in Ilorin, the Priestess, Yeye Ajesikemi Olokun Oolara Olatunju proposed to celebrate Isese day in Ilorin, Kwara state capital. This idea was met with stiff restrictions, objections, and opposition from the Muslims in Ilorin. Stating and maintaining that Ilorin is an Islamic city founded on the precept of Islam and as such Isese Day festival wouldn’t be allowed to hold in the city. The Ilorin Muslims opposition to the Isese Day celebration has since then turned to religious fracas and tension within the state and beyond.

Islam and Culture of Inter-Religious Tolerance and Respect

Alas! It should be noted that in Islam there is “No compulsion in religion” (Qur’an 2:256). The despicable acts of certain groups or individuals who use Islam’s name to justify violence and extremism have nothing to do with the true teachings of Islam. Islam’s teachings are of peace, love, reconciliation and brotherhood. The literal meaning of the Arabic word ‘Islam’ is ‘peace’. When the very name and foundation of a religion is peace, it is, therefore incompatible for that religion to promote or permit anything that undermines the peace and well-being of society. Rather, the teachings of such a religion must foster peace and spread love and compassion among humanity. Certainly, this is what we have learned from the Holy Qu’ran, which is our Holy Book and the most authentic source of Islamic law and teachings. From cover to cover, the Holy Qu’ran is a book of peace that enshrines universal human rights and values. Its teachings seek to unite mankind under the banner of humanity and guarantee the rights of every individual to live with freedom, equality, liberty, and justice.

I have listened to the disparaging outburst and watched the demeanor video of Taniolorun the Isese adherents and advocates of traditional religion against Islam. Where the Glorious Qur’an, the Holy prophet of Islam, Mecca, Muslim scholars, and Muslims as a whole were disparaged. Meanwhile, I have also followed closely how some Ilorin Muslims have intolerantly reacted with abusive and threatened responses to Taniolorun. I dare ask, where have these Muslims learned to insult and threaten people because they misunderstand the teachings of Islam? Taniolorun and his Isese worshipers in Ilorin have only displayed what they know or learned from their religious teachings which has led to the manner and choice of language used in their expression of disagreement with Muslims. These responses to foul language and blasphemous words of these people should not have been met with threats of death or equal abuses by some Ilorin Muslims in defense of the religion of peace Are Muslims permitted to choose a path different from the path laid down by Allah and His Prophet Muhammad? The answer is no. Islam advocates mutual respect for all religions, Hence the Qur’an says “Do not insult other’s deities” Qur’an” 6:108.

Islam’s teachings unite mankind and foster a spirit of mutual love and respect between all people, irrespective of racial, religious, or social backgrounds. It is a religion that breaks down barriers and encourages peaceful and tolerant dialogue. Thus, it is inconceivable for a true Muslim to persecute or oppose other religions or their followers. At no place, and at no time, has Islam ever promoted extremism or encouraged violence in any shape or form.

Salvation cannot be Monopolized

Again, looking at the Isese wranglings in Ilorin from the constitutional and legal perspective. Nigeria is said to be a state without choice of religion, some term it a secular nation with freedom of religion and worship. It therefore means that no state, local government, city, village, group, or individual has a monopoly over religion in Nigeria. (Qur’an Ch. 5: Al-Ma’idah: 70). In other words, every person has a right to profess any religion and has a right to associate with any religion without interference from another. Without any iota of doubt, Ilorin is a city largely dominated by Muslims and heavily founded by Muslims. But there’s no known law that confides on Ilorin the title of Islamic city nor is there any existing law that banned traditional worshipers or any other religions except Islam from practicing their faith in Ilorin in accordance with the dictates of the constitution. Then, if the Isese day celebration doesn’t pose any security threat to the city nor stop the Muslims from practicing their faith why must they ban them from peacefully celebrating their sacred day in Ilorin? (Qur’an 22: Al-Hajj: 68)

Mutual Love and Respect Over Force and Violence in Inter-Religious Peace Building

Taniolorun and many Isese worshipers might have abused and disrespected the Muslims and Islam with many offensive words and languages, and they might have employed some derogatory representation of some Islamic clerics in Ilorin and attacked the personality of many Muslims in Ilorin, yet could their uncouth onslaught against Islam take away the culture of mutual love and good neighborliness of the Muslims? Therefore, are we saying Islam is a peaceful religion that could only be said but couldn’t be practiced in Ilorin? Otherwise, why couldn’t Ilorin Muslims respond to Isese worshipers peacefully according to the teachings of their holy book? Similarly, in the Holy Qu’ran, Allah the Almighty has proclaimed the Founder of Islam, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa), as ‘a mercy for all mankind. Meanwhile, why aren’t Muslims in Illorin dealing with Isese worshippers with mercy, love, tolerance, and kindness as practiced by the Holy founder of Islam?

Qur’an teaches Muslims to “Repel evil by good” (Qur’an 41:34). But it’s s unfortunate that, what’s happening in Ilorin isn’t in accordance with Qur’an teachings that encourage Muslims to exchange evil with love and kindness.

It’s high time Muslims world over seriously and genuinely learned how to use peaceful methodologies to respond to profane allegations about Islam rather than the continuous use of violent tactics of an eye for an eye in religious matters (Qur’an 88:21-22). If someone, made a cartoon abusing the honor of sacred values in Islam, instead of destroying lives and properties to violently protest, or restoring to fighting and trading abusive words to show displeasure. Can’t we Muslims make the same cartoon using the same platform to peacefully correct the wrong? If someone writes to insult the honour of the Prophet of Islam or Allah or let’s say an insulting video was made about the Holy Qur’an or any Muslim sacrilege. Instead of resorting to chaos and violence, why not write in a peaceful and gentle way to correct the misconceptions in the minds of uninformed and misinformed people? Or are we saying that Muslims lack the right knowledge or wisdom to write a simple but peaceful rejoinder to correct wrongdoings in a gentle way?

Practice of Mercy and Brotherhood

The Prophet (sa) was raised in tribal Arabia where there was no notion of national unity. The prophet gave a call for unity and brotherhood of Islam; a brotherhood of people born together by nothing but they are consciousness of a common faith and a common moral outlook. In Islam, men are to be respected not because they are healthy or powerful or belong to a certain race cast or territory but because they are human beings.

The Holy Qur’an refers to the Prophet; “we have not sent thee (O Prophet) but as a mercy to the word “Qur’an 21:107). Therefore, the fundamental precept of legislation in the Prophet’s message is mercy which is the foundation of all progress. If mercy is removed from the heart of man, he’s destroyed; and if it is removed from a people they become a plague on Earth. This is the reason why the Holy Prophet has emphasized the importance of showing compassion towards all human beings.

Inter-Religious Tolerance An Example From The Life of Prophet Muhammad (sa)

Once, a delegation of Christians from the Arab city of Najran came to meet the Holy Prophet Muhammad (as) in Madinah. After some time, the Christians became restless and so the Holy Prophet (as) inquired if something was wrong. In response, the Christians informed him that it was time for their worship, but they did not have an appropriate place to perform their prayers or rituals. Upon this, the Prophet of Islam (as) invited the Christians to worship in his mosque in Madinah, according to their traditions and ways. Through this munificent and magnanimous gesture, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (as) set an everlasting example of tolerance, freedom of religion, and freedom of worship for all mankind.

For example, on one occasion, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (as) was sitting down but immediately stood up as a mark of respect when he observed a funeral procession pass by. Upon this, one of his companions mentioned that the deceased was a Jewish person and not a Muslim. Hearing this, the Prophet of Islam (as) asked, ‘Was he not a human?’

This reflected the love in his heart for all humanity. It also manifests how he guided his followers towards treating people of all religions and beliefs with compassion and being sensitive and respectful to their feelings and needs. Wherever and whenever a Muslim has conducted a terrorist attack or exhibited any type of radicalism or fanatical behavior, it is only because he or she has deviated entirely from Islam’s teachings. Such people, and such acts, serve only to defame and besmirch the pure name of Islam

On one occasion a Jew came to the Holy Prophet (sa) and complained that Abu Bakr (ra) had hurt his feelings by saying that God had exalted Muhammad (sa) above Moses(as). The Prophet (sa) summoned Abubakr and asked him what had transpired. Abubakr (ra) explained that the Jew had started by saying that he swore by Moses (as) whom God, he said, had exalted above the whole of mankind and that he Abubakr (ra) had thereupon retorted by swearing by Muhammad (as), whom God has exalted above Moses (as). The Prophet (sa) said: “You should not have said this as the feelings of other peoples should be respected. Nobody should exalt me above Moses (as). (Bukhari, kitabut-Tauhid). This did not mean that the Holy Prophet (sa) did not occupy a higher position than Moses (as) but that an affirmation like this addressed to a jew was likely to hurt his feelings and should have been avoided.

These were how the Prophet of Islam (as) manifested immense love and respect for all people. His pure and noble heart was filled with compassion and, at all times, he sought the betterment of mankind and strived to alleviate the suffering of others. He taught his followers to respect and value all humanity. It is instructive, therefore, that Muslims in Ilorin, Nigeria, and the world over not only preach the noble peaceful character of the founder of Islam but practice it to the letter for a harmonious living in a society with multiple religions.

Hence, the International Council for Ifa Religion on Tuesday 15th August, 2023 announced its decision to suspend the planned Isese festival in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital. When talking about justice in inter and intra-religious dealing the Noble Qur’an says, “Stand out firmly for justice”(Qur’an 5:8). Islam is a beautiful religion that encourages its adherents to always harken to peace and justice at all times with all people.

The current trend in the zealousness of different adherents of religions in southwestern Nigeria appears paradoxical. In one breath it may seem as if a group is concerned with reformation of the society while in another breath some groups tend to promote intolerance and rigidity. The open insults some claimants to puritans Muslims hurl at the adherents of other sects even in Islam and other religious body takes us back into the dark ages where dogmatism and rigidity were the order

When such a rigid, narrow-minded, and non-tolerant view is expressed in provocative language as generally is by religious zealots, the result is a predictable, violent riot. The ridiculously embarrassing religious skirmish unfolding in the Ilorin Isese debacle is testimony to the ugly fact of the religious crisis playing out in Kwara state. But Allah the Almighty has commanded Muslims in the Qur’an to fair treatment of non-Muslims when it was said “Treat non-Muslims in a kind and fair manner” (Qur’an 60:8).

On the moral, respectful, and accommodating side, religion is on the retreat; religious crime is rampant; truth is disappearing fast; equity and the deliverance of justice are on the verge of extinction; social responsibilities to society are being ignored; and a selfish religious individualism is gaining strength in its stead even in such states of the country as would otherwise claim to be relatively peaceful religious wise.

Over 14 centuries ago in the Arabian peninsula, the Holy Prophet (sa) was persecuted, believing Muslims were treated with cruelty, some were murdered, and others were hurled abuses like prayers and Stones like velvet. The Prophet’s house was stoned from surrounding houses. Garbage and decayed animals were thrown into his kitchen. These cruelties were perpetrated against the weak and innocent people because of their faith.

Fast-forward to about 1450 years later, the Muslims are the ones persecuting minority sister’s religions in Muslim-dominated areas and Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Nigeria to mention but a few. Sadly today, it’s unfortunate that some Muslims have even gone further to persecute followers of Muslims for their beliefs. The ugly religious crisis between Ilorin Muslims and the Isese worshipers- Yoruba traditional religion is an eye sore to the ugly trends of religious persecution, intolerance, and deprivation in Nigeria. To neutral, uninformed, and semi-informed fellows about Islam, what’s playing out in Ilorin between these individuals from either side of the divide might be confused for a representation of Islam considering the population of Muslims in the ancient city, Ilorin.