Still On Buhari’s Handshakes By Pius Adesanmi

imageDear brother Ibrahim, I am giving you this response out of respect and because I see possibilities of mutual illumination between proponents of the superiority of Islamic tenets over a secular constitution in a democracy and those who insist that the constitution, no matter how flawed, is the superior document in a democracy.
As you know, this is beyond Nigeria. This has always been a major point of contention between global Islam and global modernity. In this philosophical and ideological argument, there are scholars who have made the point that insofar as certain interpreters of Islam insist that no other document is valid in a democracy outside of the sacred text of Islam, Islam is not compatible with democracy.
The existence of modern democracies in the Islamic world – from Indonesia to Turkey – points to the falsity of such a position. But those modern Islamic democracies also give the lie to the fundamentalist permutations of certain Muslims in Nigeria. I’ve been to Indonesia and Turkey and have always wondered if some Nigerian Muslims are more Muslim than people I have encountered in these two democracies. I shook hands with a lot of female conference participants. Nobody harassed me. Maybe the rules have changed in Turkey since 2002?
It should be clear where I stand here. I am a student of Christian fundamentalism. I have been studying, writing about, and campaigning against Christian fundamentalism of the prosperity Pentecostal ilk for a very long time. I have only just co-organized a major conference on it. Interest in Christian fundamentalism means, for me, a corresponding interest in Islamic fundamentalism and all the contemporary global terrorist extremes it feeds.
In essence, I am aware of your submissions on the superiority of faith and its tenets to a Muslim in all contexts. Awareness of it does not mean that I accept the inferiority of the constitution to any other mode of investment in project nationhood insofar as we define that project as a modern secular democracy. Until we all mutually redefine Nigeria as anything but a secular democracy, I am afraid, our Muslim brothers and sisters will have to live with and abide by this reality.
Anybody not prepared to submit to the civic tenets of and fundamentals of life in a secular democracy should have advised Buhari to run for the office of the Chief Imam of the Central Mosque in Daura or the Grand Khadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal in Katsina. Those who have now suddenly discovered that he is a Muslim and “want to discuss him as a Muslim” should have kicked against his running for president in a modern secular democracy. And by the way, nobody is saying that Muslims cannot discuss Buhari as a Muslim. We did not say that Christians could not discuss Goodluck Jonathan as a Christian. We said they could not Christianize secular acts – and this includes the president’s physical interactions with the electorate. I’am afraid this applies to Buhari.
Even as they threatened to open the gates of hell on us, we spent the last five years fighting bitterly against the Christianization of the personhood of Goodluck Jonathan by Christian fundamentalists; we fought against the Christianization of the secular space of the Nigerian Presidency by Goodluck Jonathan and his accomplices; we fought against the Christianization of the secular personhood of Goodluck Jonathan as president. We railed against his appearances on Christian pulpits and all symbolic gestures of Christian corrosion of a secular presidency under him.
Many of you who have now suddenly remembered that Buhari is a Muslim joined us loudly in the fight against Jonathan’s Christian excesses. You hailed and supported us and remembered that Nigeria is a secular democracy. Where has all your support for the secular gone now that the Presidency is no longer on a Christian footing?
Ande my brother, I do not need any explanations to the public that I had a moment of human failure in my post over this Buhari matter. You and I must respectfully disagree on this matter my brother. I am insisting on every point I made in that post. You are right: I am fallible. I make mistakes all the time. I make the wrong calls all the time. But not this time my brother. Not this time. Anybody insisting that the secular act that Buhari is performing by shaking hands with Nigerians of every gender at events is a problem meets my definition of fundamentalism. And I insist that such predispositions make ready candidates for recruitment by ISIS and co.
The constitution guarantees the right of Buhari to practice his religion freely but the constitution is also clear that he is not an Islamic president presiding over an Islamic state. He incarnates everything that the said constitution defines as the spirit of a secular state.
Let me repeat this warning: those who fought Jonathan’s Christian fundamentalist violations of the secular essence of the Nigerian state and have now suddenly remembered that Buhari is a Moslem that can “be discussed as Moslem” are setting Buhari’s Presidency up for failure from the very beginning – if he listens to them.
This is a hard-won victory in which Nigerians of every identity hue invest a lot of hope: rebirth, renewal, etc. Those who have now made it clear that their mission is to Islamize the Buhari presidency should expect a fight from the rest of us. There is too much at stake for Nigeria for any vested interest – be it secular or religious – to be allowed to hijack this new beginning. We shall fight this incipient fundamentalism to a standstill. We fought it under Jonathan and have no intention of submitting to it under Buhari.
Nigeria is by and large a successful experiment in the cohabitation of Islam and modern secular democracy. We have sharia in the constitution. Some states declared sharia secession under Obasanjo and the Nigerian state has somehow managed to expand the definition of the secular to accommodate that reality. Now, some are saying that the secular symbolism of the presidency and the body of the President must also be surrendered to religion. The only way I know that this can happen is to have secession so that you can have an Islamic Republic like Iran or, depending on the scale of radicalism, like ISIS in Syria.
I must remind you, Ande, that Boko Haram is a form of secession. They want a separate state because they cannot live with and in modern democratic secularity. What is the difference between the position of Boko Haram and those now prematurely fatwa-ing Buhari’s secular obligations?
Well, this is a democracy. I respect your right to say it but you must respect my right to see it as a dangerous fundamentalism that must be resisted.
You are all welcome to continue this early push to Islamize the Buhari Presidency.
Those of us who will resist it are primed for the battle ahead.
It is my hope that President Buhari will remember that he is a Muslim who is free to practice his religion but not free to become an Islamic President by throwing visible secular acts overboard.
Some of us are now watching very carefully. The fundamentalists have awakened our vigilance.
It is my hope that he will not listen to this incipient fundamentalism now praying for the forgiveness of his secular sins and transgressions.

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