Boko Haram 'Islamic' only in name: Experts
Nigeria based militant group have attacked at least three churches in recent months, killing several people.

Officially known as "the Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad," Boko Haram claims to be fighting Islamic jihad by attacking security formations and burning places of worship – mostly churches – in Nigeria's north.

Its fighters have attacked at least three churches in recent months, killing several people.

Many Nigerians – Muslims and Christians – have picked holes in Boko Haram's claims of being Islamic.

"It's an Islamic name," Abdullahi Tohir, a public affairs commentator, told Anadolu Agency.

"Its dexterous use of the Arabic language in any video claiming responsibility for attacks and attacks on churches tend to give credence to claims that Boko Haram is an Islamic conspiracy," he noted.

"But confusion sets in when you consider the fact that this group operates in a Muslim majority area, kills people indiscriminately and has in fact launched daring attacks on monarchs who are symbols of Islam in the north," asserted Tohir.

He recalled the recent killing of a traditional Muslim emir by Boko Haram militants during an attempt to kidnap him.

"I have lost count of prominent Muslim scholars killed by the sect," said Tohir. "When you consider these, you are forgiven for thinking that more needs to be unraveled about this sect."

He believes that calling Boko Haram an "Islamic" sect is the biggest gift Nigerians have given to "this wicked organization."

"Because that way," he said, "Muslims are feeling stigmatized and unfairly profiled."

In May, attackers believed to be Boko Haram militants killed the emir of Gwoza, a border town about 135km from Maiduguri, provincial capital of Borno State, and injured two others in what was seen as an assassination attempt.

Last year, the group made a daring attempt on the life of Ado Bayero, the late emir of Kano.

A number of his guards were killed protecting the traditional ruler, who had been among Nigeria's most revered kings.

The Shehu of Borno, ruler of the traditional Borno Emirate, also escaped a Boko Haram attack in 2013.

A number of top Muslim scholars have been killed by the group, including Sheikh Ja'ffar Mahmoud Adam in 2012 and, more recently, Sheikh Muhammed Auwal, who was gunned down with his wife and two sons while returning from a lecture in northwestern Kaduna State.

There have also been numerous attacks on mosques in the northern region, including the 2013 bombing of a mosque in Konduga town in northeast Borno that killed over 50 worshippers.

And in April of this year, a bomb attack claimed 20 lives in a mosque in Yobe State.

Boko Haram, which means "Western education is forbidden" in Nigeria's local Hausa language, first emerged in the early 2000s preaching against government misrule and corruption.

The group later became violent, however, after the death of its leader in 2009 while in police custody.

In the five years since, the shadowy sect has been blamed for numerous attacks – on places of worship and government institutions – and thousands of deaths, mostly in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.

In recent weeks, the group has overrun several towns and cities in the three restive states.

Boko Haram's elusive leader, Abubakar Shekau, recently declared all territories under the group's control to be part of an "Islamic caliphate" in northern Nigeria.

-Denotation vs. connotation-

Olakunle Abimbola, a newspaper columnist and public intellectual, says that while Boko Haram may be called "Islamic" in terms of denotation, the group's activities run counter to the "compassion and good neighborliness" preached by all faiths.

"Denotatively, they are an Islamic sect because they call themselves Muslims and they claim that whatever they do arises from the Quran," he told AA.

Abimbola said the militants claimed an alternative paradigm for the state.

"They want an Islamic republic because the present structure, the present system and the present order seems to have failed the masses of their people," he asserted. "So in the realm of denotation, they are perfectly in order."

Boko Haram indeed fits this bill. Its kingpin, Abubakar Shekau, sports a turban in his videos, speaks a mixture of Arabic and the local Hausa and Kanuri dialects, and punctuates his speeches with manipulated interpretations of Quranic verse.

Video footage showing the group's fighters is replete with chants of "Allahu Akbar" ("God is the greatest") as they attack their targets.

"Now when you go to the realm of connotation, it is another ballgame," insists Abimbola.

"When you say you are fighting on behalf of God and you abduct schoolchildren, burn their school, destroy their dormitory, rape their mothers, kidnap and rape them and even threaten to sell them into slavery – I don't think that is Islamic," he added.

"So, on the basis of connotation, they are certainly in my opinion not an Islamic people," the columnist asserted.

-Not jihad-

Rather than call Boko Haram an "Islamic" jihad, many Muslim scholars have explained its violence in different terms, including as a product of bad long-term governance.

Abimbola said the group was only using Islam as an "emotional appeal" to win over ignorant and frustrated youth.

"They are just equal opportunity anarchists who really are embittered by the system and seized a platform [Islam] that is so emotive to deceive people to follow them," he told AA.

"If these people insist they are Muslims, then they are classic examples of very, very bad Muslims," said Abimbola.

"But that must never translate to blanket condemnation of Islam and Muslims, because people choose to be bad and hide under an umbrella in order to shield the world from seeing through their criminality," he insisted.

John Olukayode Korede, a university scholar, agrees.

"Ignorance and poverty have combined to make people vulnerable to anything," he told AA. "This in my opinion is the case here."

"How does killing people indiscriminately – without even knowing who your victims are – advance Islam, if that is what you are fighting for?" he asked.

For Abimbola, Boko Haram is simply the extreme manifestation of the failure of the Nigerian state.

"I think [Boko Haram] is more of an economic thing than a religious or political thing... I call it cumulative failure [by the state]," he told AA.

"Even though it is very emotional to look at Boko Haram in a certain way because of its activities, it is important to… look at those economic indices that drive the insurrection, those indices that made these murderers credible to the youth," the expert noted.

"Anybody who has been instructed to go and kill himself with a promise that his family will be taken care of must be from the wretched of the wretched of the earth," he said.

"This is because they have nothing to live for and so will be glad to take a lot of people along with them," he added.

"We need a society that is equitable and fair to wean people away from Boko Haram or any of these murderous ideologies," said Abimbola.

Muslim scholars have long wondered how a group that claims to fight for Islamic causes could so flagrantly violate all known rules war.

"The group has claimed two major atrocities that fell within the [Islamic] month of Rajab – a month in which fighting and violence are forbidden," Sheikh Abdulrazaq Ishola, an official at Nigeria's League of Imam and Alfas, told AA.

"I have lost count of such atrocities by Boko Haram against defenseless citizens," he said. "How is that Islamic?"

"The group is acting out a script clearly at variance with Islamic principles. You cannot disrespect the Quran, the primary source of Islamic law, and turn around and call yourself Muslim," said Ishola. "The world can read between the lines."

Boko Haram claimed an April 14 bombing at a motor park in capital Abuja in which more than 75 people were killed and hundreds injured.

It has also claimed responsibility for the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Borno's Chibok community.

"By Islamic rule, it is haram [forbidden] to kill or harm noncombatant women/girls," said Sheikh Ishola. "You are [also] barred from violating [other people's] worship places."

"But… Boko Haram is guilty of all these. How are they fighting for Islam then?" Ishola fumed.

Respected Muslim scholar Sheikh Habeebullah Adam el-Ilory has repeatedly dismissed Boko Haram as "anything but Islamic," questioning the group's motives for carrying out indiscriminate killings.

El-Ilory is director of the Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies in Lagos, southern Nigeria's largest Islamic center.

Last Modified: 2014-09-16 12:47:58
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