I am a Muslim first, before being a Human being – Ibraheem A. Waziri

March 1st 2014

This is my response to some who suggested that because I once said “I am Muslim first before being a human being”, then I am subtly endorsing the activities of Boko Haram and other terrorist groups that kill in the name of Islam. Their’s came in the wake of irrational claims from some quarters that even the former CBN Governor, Mal. Sanusi Lamido Sanisu can actually be a BokoHaramite. Thanks goodness some concerned brothers were quick to refute the claims and set the record straight, including a world class Professor and an Academic of repute, Malumfashi Ibrahim.Here is the detailed explanation regarding what I mean by my statements situated within the debate regarding the concept of  identity:

I think our claims are well fitted into the modern intellectual postulations in the popular discourses on identity. If you believe in the scientificity of such postulations you will see that Islam has answered its name to have taken care of everything and of and at all times.

The discourse of identity is seen to be of two major segments:

  1. Identity that is not value loaded.
  2. Identity that is value loaded.

In this we also have what is local and what is universal or what is African and what is global.

1.a. For the first case and the local definition if I say I am ethnically Kanuri, Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba or any other ethnic identity, I am simply saying I belong to a category of human species or race that are distinguished by phenotype, gene-type or any other physical attribute. In this type of identity there is no value in its content. It defines only one’s physicality, form and subgroup. Mal. Auwal Sani Anwar did a very robust analysis some time ago that shows race as having no any value content.

1.b. For the second case, local definition, if I say I am Hausa, Kanuri, Fulani or Yoruba or any other, culturally, I will be simply saying, that I am given to purpose of life and all social existence, Law and all other ordainment as prescribed by any of the individual culture I choose to align with.

Regardiing this,  those who have been following me will recall that I always say I am Kanuri ethnically but Hausa culturally. This is to mean, as far as the concept of a gentleman, a lady, a good partner in business or marriage etc are concerned,  I am proud of them when they are viewed locally from Hausa perspective not Arab, Chinese, Indian, British, Igbo or Yoruba perspectives. According to Sanusi Lamido Sanusi this being is more important than the ethnic affiliation. He says he subscribes to no identity that is devoid of moral content. So I am either. I am Hausa before being a Kanuri even though I am born Kanuri ethnically. Being Hausa defines more why I live!

2.a. For the first case and universal definition, if I say I am a human being, I only mean I belong to the class of creations known as humans. There is no value or moral content or requirement to that claim. Saying one is human is only saying one is different from an animal as a specie. So far and according to documented records by scholars of identity world over, there is nothing that shows being human is being something that is more than what is different from being a Jinn, an animal or any other.

2.b. For the second case universal definition, if I say I am a Muslim first before being a human being, I will be simply saying that I am given to the purpose of life and moral values as prescribed by Islam. Islam gives me purpose of existence than my being human. I would rather not be, than be without Islam. This is also the understanding of Islam and its contribution in the identity debate. God did not create humans and Jinns except to worship him (Qur’an paraphrased).

Wherever Muslims are, they are enjoined to see and view all others and their realities from this identity framework. They are to think the others have the same purpose here on earth and it is only that they have strayed. There is a complete code of conduct that shows how a morally upright Muslim should treat those of humanity that have gone astray. There are also other identity strokes from other worldviews that stipulate how others or all human beings should be seen. But ours is that of Islam!

In this I see that those who adamantly insist that they are human first before anything lack sufficient appreciation of the debates in the subject of identity and according to its established scholars, world over and throughout history. There is WHAT WE ARE and WHAT WE LIVE FOR. At the end it is most important for what we live for to define us than for what we are to define us. What we are is only human. Who we are which define us, our purpose and moral values, is Islam.

Recently Apple Inc had its advert and it used some lines from one of the most insightful contributions in the debate of identity in the modern sense and concerning our essence, why we live. They are lines from a movie by Robin Williams, The Dead Poet Society,  as they read thus:

‘We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love – these are what we stay alive for.

To quote from Whitman,

“O me, O life of the questions of these recurring. Of the endless trains of the faithless. Of cities filled with the foolish. What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer: that you are here. That life exists and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

What will your verse be?’

This summarizes another view of true identity from another culture, civilization or worldview. You can see though that Williams is including you and me in his supposition, just like a Muslim includes all in his definitions. Apple used the lines above in 2014 but I used then in 2005 when I was debating same subject with Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. Let me give you two quotes from the two of us then that should help properly situate what we are saying, matters, regarding identity:

“In that article, to go straight to the point, I had stated clearly what I believed was true Fulani identity and in doing that I relied on Sa’ad Abubakar’s work referred to above. I wrote: “Pulaku, as Sa’ad Abubakar tells us…is a code whose essential elements are as follow: Semtende (shyness), munyal (patience), hakkilo (care and forethought) , doutare (obedience), mangingo (respect for elders), Yerduye (trust), chusu (courage) and ainoldina (strict observance of religion). Strict observance of Pulaku is expected of every true Fulo and violations can earn sanctions like ostracism (hombondu) or a fine (nyamtol). Furthermore, the leader (Ardo) of any Fulbe clan is supposed to be an embodiment of Pulaku, its head (mando) and guardian. The first point to note here is that Pulaku is entirely based on values and conduct-nothing else. Being Fulani is not about belonging to an ethnic group or a language group or geographical area. It is a quality, earned by living in accordance with an established code, deviation from which leads to rejection and effective stripping of the right to one’s “Fulaniness” . This in turn has several implications….First, a people who define themselves by their values are not, by definition, tribalistic…. Second, the combination of the values enshrined in Pulaku produce the quintessential decent human being. Since the leader of Fulanis is the embodiment of Pulaku he invariably commands the total respect of all decent human beings….The Fulbe are taught that leadership is about service. Princes learn the Arabic phrase “sayyid al-qawm khaadimuhum” ( the leader of a people is their servant).” – Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (2005)

“If we examine carefully what Mallam Sanusi wrote as Fulani values we will see that those values are not only exclusive to Fulani, they are universal and are being claimed by Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and other faiths. If then we say they form identity or it is “Who” part, as Mallam want to assert, then truly we can conclude that there is nothing like identity in socio-political terms but values only. This explanation is however far-fetched when we consider the other side of the argument which differentiate individuals and politico-social groups at the level of paradigm and worldview. Different groups or people have different ways of reading the world; hence different ways of pursuing their identity in those shared “Who” universal values. For example, Muslims have Qur’an as their way of reading, interpreting and understanding events and circumstances in the material world, and they believe it to be the only way that will lead them to rhyming with those “Who” aspects of identity as defined by Sanusi. Other theistic religions have their “divinely” revealed scripts. And there is also the other way of the secularists, like Thomas Paine in his Age of Reason, who completely disregarded any revelation. He claimed the reading of the world should be taken from purely rationalistic point of view. Going by this understanding we can easily conclude that the question of identity is purely a question of worldview. So when we hear Yoruba asserting Yoruba identity or their supremacy as a “race”, we know then their thinking is only Yoruba genetically possess’ the best logical spectacle for reading the world. This is the logic that makes me see the issue of identity in political ethics to be exclusive to worldview and that of course is a matter of choice not by natural selection as members of some tribes may seek to impose.” – Ibraheem A. Waziri (2005)

NOTE: In all these I am not saying I am a very good Muslim who adheres to everything correctly according to its value definitions and requirements that I subscribe to. Rather I am saying it forms my worldview, my hope for me and all others who desire peace and consolation!