The National Amir of the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Muhammad Jameel Muhammad, in this interview speaks about his experience as the leader of Muslim students in Nigeria, MSSN positions on law school hijab saga, politics and other issues affecting Nigeria and Muslims.
The issue of denial of fundamental human rights as regards religion seems to be a perpetual debate in Nigeria. What does this portend for the country and how do you suggest the problem is solved?
Denial of fundamental right in whatever form has the potential of provoking a negative response in the form of defiance of rules. When it has to do with religion, it tends to become a basis for absolute revolt. I, therefore, see no reason why any authorities concerned would continue unnecessary argument when the constitution that binds us together as a nation is so unambiguous on freedom of worship and association.
Could you reiterate the stand of the MSSN on Firdaus Amasa’s case, which is one in a long line of issues involving alleged discrimination against female Muslims on the use of hijab?
Our stand on her case is very clear. The use of hijab is ordained on every mature Muslim female as stated in Qur’an (33:59) and many other verses of the holy book. Section 38(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended as well as Article 18 of the 1984 Universal Declaration of Human Rights also guarantee her and any other person the same freedom. It is, therefore, a matter of right and not privilege. We have since written a protest letter to the President, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives demanding that she be called to bar with immediate effect as any other law or provision that contravenes the constitution is to the extent of its contravention null and void. We, therefore, await their action or else we will seek alternative resolution, which might be better imagined than seen.
What has been your experience since you got to the helm?
My experience for the past two and a half years as the National Amir (President) of the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria has been very challenging. But glory is to Allah for the maximum cooperation I am enjoying from all the stakeholders of the society. It has been very smooth though not easy.
Some public commentators have attributed the perennial problems in Nigeria to a failure of leadership? Do you share this view? How can the country move forward?
Yes, I share the view but with a proviso. Leaders are but leading followers and from the followers do leaders emerge. It is, therefore, a two-way traffic. In essence, it is a failure of both leadership and followership. To move forward, we need a change of attitude such that the followers will produce responsible and responsive leaders who will have the interest of the country and its citizens at heart.
Does Islam encourage politics? What is your opinion on the debate that religiously conscious individuals need to join politics?
Politics is about leadership and governance. Islam is a complete way of life. It makes politicking compulsory amidst people. For instance, the Prophet forbade three persons moving together except they appoint a leader among themselves.
Those who are truly religiously conscious are those who are supposed to lead. It is, to me, a wasted effort debating whether they should join politics. The fact is that you have no business in politics if you are not religiously conscious.
Another general election is drawing near, what should Nigerians, especially unemployed youths, do to take their destiny in their hands and change their situation?
Just as I said earlier, leaders are produced by the followers. Let Nigerians, especially youths, resolve to create the needed change in the country’s political space by electing only those who have been proven to be trustworthy in their previous dealings and send packing those who have serially failed the country, regardless of their political affiliation, ethnicity or religion.
What do you make of the Donald Trump-led United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital?
At the inception of his leadership, I granted interview to the African Independent Television (AIT) where I said we are always ready to be with anyone whose concern is to right wrongs but will never be with one who is out to cause havoc on the tender peace we enjoy. Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is, to say the least, satanic. We join those who condemn the act and even voted against it at the United Nations Assembly to call on Trump and his allies to rescind their position in order to engender peace in the Middle East and the world at large.
Would you say the MSSN is accomplishing its mission and living up to the vision of its founding fathers?
I would proudly say the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria is accomplishing its mission as it has remained the point of convergence for all Muslims in this country. It is also on the path of actualising the vision of its founding fathers as it has remained the voice for the voiceless, the hope for the seeming hopeless and the champion of the cause of the oppressed. These were the reasons for the formation of this great society.
With the alarming rate of moral decadence in the society, could it be safely concluded that religious education is fast losing its usefulness?
Not at all, it only goes to show how we have relegated religious education to the background and shows its [religious education’s] potency. Our morals were high and decadence was on the low side when religious education was accorded priority. We, therefore, call for the re-institutionalisation of religious education.
What, in your view, has been responsible for the survival of the association since 1954?
The Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria has survived all these years and will, in shaa Allah, continue to survive because its founding fathers were guided by Allah to have the basis for all its activities in the Qur’an and Sunnah, which are the basic sources of unity for Muslims.
What is the relationship between the association and other Islamic groups?
Our relationship with other religious and non-religious organisations has been very cordial and fruitful.
What is the wisdom behind the annual IVC programme of the MSSN, the 2017 edition of which you just rounded off?
The vision behind the Islamic Vacation Course (IVC) of the MSSN is to train our members in order to boost their morality, knowledge and to inculcate in them the spirit of Islamic brotherhood and good neighbourliness with fellow beings. It is also aimed at giving skills to our members. The 2017 edition was not an exception in our bid to actualise the vision behind the IVC. This edition was a success, Alhamdulillah.
NB: This interview was first published in Tribune Newspaper.