Muslims were very backward in Western Education before Ahmadiyya came to Nigeria in 1913. This was because Western Education at that time was in the hands of the Christian Missionaries. Under 10% of the children that went to the schools in the Southern parts of Nigeria were Muslims. These Christian schools were supported with Government aids. Muslim parents were averse to sending their children to schools because of the fear that the children would be converted into Christianity. Indeed, Muslim children had to accept Christianity or adopt Christian names before they could gain admission into Christian schools. Secondly; Muslim parents were comparatively poorer than their Christian counterpart and therefore could not maintain their children in the western oriented schools. They preferred their children to work and earn some income for the family to going school.
In Arabic and Islamic Education in Southern Nigeria , their knowledge could not stand the test of time, though they had strong faith, knew and observed the rules of Islamic injunctions, in the way they understood. They made enormous sacrifices to raise the standard of Arabic and orthodox Islamic knowledge.
In 1896, the Government of the Colony of Lagos established a school freely for the Muslims to attract children to schools because majority of the Muslim parents felt reluctant to send their children to Christian schools.
The first school ever established by a Muslim community in Nigeria was Taalim-ul-Islam Muslim School established at Elegbeta in Lagos Island in 1922 by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at. From then on, Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at made every effort to encourage the Muslims to pursue Western Education. It would be of interest to assert that the first Nigerian Muslim Lawyers4 and Doctors5 were foremost members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at. Due to the efforts of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Nigerian Muslims with Western Education were proud to maintain that they were Muslims, while previously Nigerian Muslims with Western Education were ashamed to identify themselves as Muslims before their Christian counterparts. Some even adopted Christian names6 alongside their Muslim names while others christianised7 their Muslim names.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat was a member of Council of Muslim Schools Proprietors. On 25th July, 2002, the sum of One million Naira had been contributed towards the establishment of Muslim International School , Iwo, Osun State, in conjuction with other notable Islamic organisations.
In the Northern part of Nigeria, the Muslim were advanced in Arabic Language and orthodox Islamic Education. They applied Islamic rules to their day-to-day life. Sharia Courts were well established to administer Islamic Laws and highly learned Qadis manned the Courts. They had Arabic Higher Institutions of learning. The learned used Arabic language in communications and in keeping their records. They also used Arabic characters in writing in their local languages. Owing to the fear that their children might be converted to Christianity they were also averse to Western Education.
For that reason and the fact that the Northern part of Nigeria was predominantly Muslim, they lagged far behind the South in Western Education and Western Civilization.
4 The first Muslim Lawyers were Alhaji Muhammad Lawal, Basil Augusto and Alhaji Jibril Martin, both of them were Ahmadi Muslims and later left the fold.
5 The First Muslim Doctor was Doctor Abdul Hamid Saka Tinubu born Ahmadi. Then followed by Doctor Abubakar Ibiyinka Olorunnimbe, a non-Ahmadi Muslim.Another early Ahmadi Muslim Doctor was Doctor Folorunsho Salawu.
6 e.g. Kessington Momoh.
Muslims generally were poorer and much less formally educated than the Christians, having much greater percentage of illiterates among them more especially in the 20‘s to the 60’s. Muslims especially in the southern part that had been most penetrated by Western education occupied a much lower status than the Christians generally. Their inferior social status was due to their relative economic disadvantage and relative lack of participation in government administration. This was due partly to their lack of Western Education that could endow them with economically rewarding industrial skills and ability to communicate effectively and confidently in English the Language of the colonialists. It was also due to the fact that the colonialists were Christians whose culture could not be assimilated by Muslims. There was thus much closer economic, social, cultural and spiritual affinity between the Christians and the colonialists who controlled the economy and the government. This naturally gave the Christians a much higher status. In the appointment of indigenes to political offices and to government civil service, as well as in the employment by private-sector companies and institutions, the Christians had the upper hand. This in turn gave them further economic and political empowerment.
Muslims on the other hand, having little or no formal (Western) education were mostly given the lower grades of jobs such as messengers, drivers, cleaners, gardeners and night guards. Illiteracy, poverty and low social status seemed to be the characteristics of Muslims so much so that the few educated ones among them were ashamed to identify themselves as Muslims in the society. They were thus easily converted to Christianity or made to abandon Islam and then behave as Christians.
In the Northern part of Nigeria however, the situation was somewhat different. The Muslims formed the majority of the population. Christians and pagans were a very small minority. The royal families, the learned and the wealthy that enjoyed the highest status were Muslims. They wielded enormous political power and were greatly respected by the generality of the people. The few Christians and pagans occupied a lower status than the Muslim. Thus the Northern Muslim were proud and felt no sense of inferiority vis-à-vis the non-Muslims although the average Muslim were economically less placed than the average Christians. (Seeing the shaky and apologetic attitude of the Southern Muslims, the Northern Muslims had little respect for their Southern brothers).
The Muslims had greatly lost the spirit of Islam. They read the Holy Qur’an and other Islamic Books, but they did not understand the true meanings. Many of them believed that it was a taboo to translate the Holy Qur’an except during the month of Ramadhan when the Tafsir by Jalalain were read and translated. Many innovations had crept into Islam, some of them from Christian influence and others from the pagan influence. Though they believed in one Allah, yet their faith in Him was weak. They had more faith in amulets. In all their doings they wrote verses of the Holy Qur’an, tied to their necks and waists and hung in their shops etc. Many of the statements in the Holy Qur’an which possess deep spiritual connotations were taken to be literal.
Some of their beliefs were absurd. Most of the learned Ulemah created religious ceremonies to earn their livelihood. For example if someone dies, on the day of burial, on the third day, on the seventh day and on the fortieth day the relatives would cook a lot of food and distribute the food, money etc. to the Ulema believing that it would be a ransom for the dead. In one word the Ulema had commercialised religion. For example, they made it a profession to pray for people to solve their problems. They prepared charms and amulets at exorbitant prices and indulged in divination. They fought in the public over material benefits, and threatened one another with affliction and death through their so called spiritual powers.
In short their arguments were unreasonable that they could not withstand the Christians or pagans in any religious controversies. The state of the Muslims at that time was the practical fulfilment of the prophecy of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) when he said that “a time would come when nothing would remain of Islam except its name and nothing of the Holy Qur’an except its writing, their mosques will be full of worshippers but they would be devoid of guidance. Their learned ones would be the worst creatures under the canopy of heaven. They will stir up mischiefs, and the mischiefs would return to them.”
Many Muslims then did not treat their wives very kindly, they greatly neglected their maintenance and overburdened them with hardship and labour in the early 20’s up to late 50’s.
Muslims quite realised their position in the society and they knew that they occupied low status, but they usually satisfied themselves with the belief that the hereafter was for them, and that the unbelievers who enjoyed high and comfortable positions were enjoying their own paradise in this world and in the hereafter would suffer for their unbelief. However, they were anxiously expecting the appearance of Imam Mahdi who would come and fight the unbelievers with the sword and convert them to Islam or kill anyone who refused to be a Muslim. They believed that Imam Mahdi would raise their status above those of the unbelievers by making them rich by distributing wealth to them, putting them into the position of power and knowledge.
Furthermore, it was the believe of non Ahmadi Muslims that when Imam Mahdi comes , he would literally kill swines, break the cross, and kill the Dajjal( anti Christ).
In the Northern parts of the country, where the population was mainly Muslims, the rulers enjoyed high and honourable status, and were extremely respected by their subjects. They were highly educated in Arabic language and the Islamic reforms of Sheikh Uthman Dan Fodio (as) Knowledge. Nevertheless the generality of the Muslims were poor and the impact of the Jihad of Sheikh Uthman Dan Fodio was felt.
It must be pointed out here that the Fulani- Hausa of the North believed that with the beginning of the thirteenth Islamis Century , there were expectations of a Mujaddid(Reformer) and after him the Mahdi and the subsequent end of the world.( Infaq al- Mansuh, P.91). It was further believed that there were prophecies foretelling the advent of Sheikh. (IM pp.29, 30) and the Sheikh himself believed he was the last Mujaddid. Politically, Nigeria was under Colonial rule. Nigerians who participated in legislation were the few selected to the Legislative Council. Until 1940, when Alhaji Jibril Martin became a member, all the other members were Christians. Alhaji Jibril Martin who became the only Muslim member was an Ahmadi Muslim.
7 e.g. Jimmy from Jimoh; Wahabson from Wahab
This piece is taken from the website of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Nigeria.