Barr. Idris Alao is the Chief Operating Officer, Al Idrisi Hub for Studies and Translations. In this interview with Mouthpiece NGR, he shares his thoughts on some issues in the Da’wah terrain of Yorubaland, such as disowning of Ustadh Kutubi, Jalabi practice, opinions of elder Yoruba clerics (awon agbalagba), among others.
Can you please introduce yourself sir?
My name is Idris Alao. I’m a lawyer, an educationist and translator. If you call me a legal translator or legal academic, you will not be far from the truth. Presently, I am the Head of QEC Consulting Practice and Chief Operating Officer, Al Idrisi Hub for Studies and Translations. Also, I am the principal partner of Wakeel Solicitors, here in Ilorin.
What’s the full meaning of QEC?
QEC is Qualité Edu Consult, an educational consulting outfit initiated to ensure balanced Muslim education. The idea of a balanced education stems from the belief that there is an imperative need for Muslims of this era to balance between three distinct types of education; Islamic, convention and indigenous education. It is also a reference to ideological balance in Islamic orientation, which is neither extreme or lax.
As a graduate of Markaz Arabic Training Centre, Agege, what can you say about the recent Da’wah issues in Yorubaland?
You probably thought I attended Markaz Arabic Training Centre, Agege, for my Arabic-Islamic education. I am not a graduate of Markaz. I had my secondary Arabic-Islamic education from Daru Da’wah Wal Irshad, Isolo, Lagos. It was established by Shaykh Mustapha Zuglool (May Allah have mercy on him), who graduated from Markaz, joined the teaching staff at Markaz and later rose through the rank to become principal at the institution. So, you will be right to describe Shaykh Zuglool as a graduate of Markaz. Let me make an analogy here to illustrate the point better. I’m a graduate of Unilorin and Unilorin was at inception an affiliate college to the University of Ibadan. Will it be right for me to claim being a graduate of UI? The answer is naturally in the negative. But Unilorin and UI shared similar academic traditions, especially in the first two decades of the former’s establishment. That exactly is the case here when we talk about Darud Da’wah and Markaz as notable but distinct Arabic institutions. But you will be correct to call me a Markaziy, Adabiy or Onilawani, in addition to my epithet as a Dariy. You may be wondering how come. Yes, I revere the intellectual legacies of Shaykh Adam Al Iloriy who I grew up to know, firstly through my parents and later through my teachers at the elementary Arabic school – majority of whom studied and earned their I’daadiyyah and Thanawiyyah Arabic-Islamic certificates at Markaz. I also benefitted in no small measure from the intellectual legacy of Shaykh Muhammad Kamaldeen Al Adabiy (May Allah have mercy on him). I have a number of mentors among his products who regard me, unofficially, as one of them. There are some Onilawani scholars, particularly from among the Makondoro, whom I have learnt and benefitted from. A friend once told me jokingly that I am a “Markaadaby” in his attempt to reflect the combined qualities of a Markaziy and an Adabiy in me. It should however be pointed out that issue of institutional affiliations among products of Madaaris (i.e private modern Arabic school) ought to be for cosmetic purpose. The most important thing is being Muslims and having the attributes that are expected of a Muslim such as adhering to the guidance brought by our dear Prophet, Muhammad (SAW). Back to your question, there are many recent Da’wah issues and I really do not know which of them in particular you are referring to.
Okay sir. I will take it one after the other. It is no longer news that Ustadh Kutubi has been disowned from Darul Falah and he is no longer a bonafide product of the institution. What’s your take on this?
Well, let me start by saying since I am not a product of Darul Falah, I do not know the institution’s policy on disowning students or graduates. But I can speak about this judging from surrounding circumstances. The truth that we must not shy away from is that we are presently facing ideological crisis in Yorubaland, courtesy of envy-laced and heart-rending sermons, zero-content and reproach-based admonitions. No thanks to some clerics, be they on the Salafi or Sufi divides. And you can see how this ideological crisis is drifting us towards the ignoble path. Proprietors or directors of our Madaaris can choose to disown their students or graduates for whatever reason that tickles their fancy. See, you can be disowned for not saying “Radiyallahu ta’ala anhu” for your late Shaykh or “Adamallahu hayatahu” for your living Ustadh, or your Alfa may threaten he would withdraw your divine blessings otherwise called “alubarika”. Hmm, bad but funny things are happening. But if a person insults the honorable companions and call them unprintable names, people gather to celebrate and rally round him in show of solidarity. Solidarity on what?! Certainly, on destroying Islam. I remember a poetic line we learnt at Daru Da’wah, which says (reciting the Arabic poem); “Wanaskutu ‘an harbi Sahabati falladhi # Jara baynahum kanajtihadan mujarrada” (We remain silent about dissensions between the companions of the prophet # as they were merely humble efforts in the way of Allah). We must learn to know our limit. Who are we in comparison to the honourable companions? What knowledge did we possess that is deceiving us? We are even going too far to compare ourselves with the companions. Can you compare a PhD holder or Professor of this era to the scholarly efforts of renowned scholars of Islam, the likes of Imams al Bukhariy, Muslim, Abu Hanifah, Maliki, Shafii, Ahmad Ibn Hanbal and so on. Can you also compare a Professor or even a PhD holder to a secondary school holder? This is purely an education matter and mind you, I had my first degree in Islamic studies education at the Lagos State University. So, I speak here in the capacity of an educationist. No right thinking person will rate a secondary school holder over and above a PhD holder in any system of education worldwide. So regardless of who is saying what or what quantum of knowledge he possessed, we must be careful and run away from earning the curse of Allah. I do not think justice was done in the way Ustadh Kutubi was disowned.
What do you think is the implication of this disowning for Ustadh Kutubi?
I have not met Ustadh Kutubi. I also do not know what this means for him, as I do not know his mind. Not even the devil knoweth the intention of man. However, I can tell you this as a matter of information within my reach. I know that Thanawiyyah certificate is still not officially recognized in Nigeria. You need to obtain NBAIS or SSCE or NECO certificate to proceed to Nigerian universities. Even to study in Arab world, you can make use of your WAEC certificate. A lot is changing in the world we live in. People now study Arabic and become scholars without attending all these traditional Arabic institutions. Except if Ustadh Kutubi intends to teach in Darul Falah, his disowning could only bear marginal implication for his Da’wah and scholarly life. If anything, it only reinforces what we learnt about basic principles of Da’wah, one of which is excercising patience over annoyance or hurt done to us while calling to the way of Allah. At a time when various Madaaris in Southwest should be injecting some innovations in their academic programme like NBAIS exams, Islamic entreprenuership programmes, career talk and preparation among other initiatives that could help their students prepare for higher education and future, what we are seeing is incidence of disowning.
What is your view about Jalabi practice?
It is better to approach the answer to this question from a professional angle. I am a Muslim entreprenuer and I have read about Islamic entrepreneurship in the Muslim world. I can confirm to you that there is no such job or profession known as Jalabi in Islamic literature.
It is a practice peculiar to Islamic clerics of Yorubaland. One may excuse the babas and agbalagbas of the past eras for having taken to Jalabi, considering the prevailing situation at the time. Some scholars have advanced some genuine excuses for them. It is our prayer that Allah forgive their shortcomings and admit them to Jannah. Aameen. However, if many of them were to be alive today, they will be sad that the jalabi practice has become a complete evil way. It now destroys people’s hereafter, from this earthly life. Jalabi is dangerous, infact Jalabi kills. They best thing to do is to kill Jalabi. Ask those jalabi practitioners if they will want their children to take after them in jalabi. Majority of them will dodge your question. Many unimaginable things are happening in jalabi practice; from rituals of different kinds, to sand browsing, sorcercy and magic, illicit affairs with women, charms and armlets, alcohol consumption, lies, etc. From another perspective, I don’t think it is honourable for a person to rely on another for his daily provision, by expecting to feed himself and his family based on daily spiritual consultancy rates. Somebody said Yorubas should rewrite their history. Another person said there is nothing wrong with the statement of a person who said; “He who does not use human part for rituals, cannot be successful in this world”. Considering the many revelations out there on the evil of Jalabi, one would have expected that our clerics will swing into action to condemn the evils of Jalabi headlong, as against preoccupying ourselves with the re-writing of Yoruba history. Since Shaykh Adam (May Allah have mercy on him) criticized many myths about Yoruba history, what has Yoruba historians done? So, let’s focus on basic religious issues that affect the lives of millions of Muslims and Jalabi is one of them.
What’s your advice for current students of Arabic and Islamic studies?
Jalabi kills, kill jalabi. My advice to all current students of Arabic and Islamic studies, particularly those in the Madaaris, is to desist from the evil called Jalabi practice. They should focus on how to pursue higher education or acquire skills to become entrepreneurs. I remember the golden advice of Shaykh Mustapha Zuglool to my graduating set some years back. He advised us never to rest on our laurels but we should rather strive to further our education. (Laughs!) I just remember something I saw on the social media, which made me laugh. It was about a popular cleric who was initiating graduating students of his institution into Jalabi on the very day of graduation. It was a very sad scene, I must say. Infact, it goes to show the terrrible diabolical things some ‘clerics’ involve themselves in. Although, some may argue it’s not easy to further their education without financial support. But I can assure you that with Allah, nothing is unachievable.
Finally, how best should we deal with the sayings of our babas or agbalagbas; can we compare their sayings to those of the companions?
The preoccupation of some clerics in Yorubaland is to intepret the Shariah in favour of the positions held by elder Yoruba clerics, popularly called ‘awon Agbalagba’ or ’awon baba’ in the Alfa parlance of Yorubaland. It is a form of Yorubization agenda of the Shariah. It is like a sister advocacy to Igboho agitation for a Yoruba nation. If truth be told, the former is even more dangerous as it is more-often-than-not garbed in Shariah outlook, thereby making such interpretations appear sacred in the minds of unsuspecting Muslims. Muslims ordinarily need not know the positions held by ‘awon agbalagba’ or ‘awon baba’. Such knowledge, though may bear some marginal importance, is not a prerequisite to being a Muslim. Conscious Muslims of Yorubaland are getting tired of the echoing and re-echoing of the views of these babas as though they are sacred. Please let me reiterate this again, none of our ‘babas’ or ‘agbalagbas’ can be compared to the honourable companions of the Prophet. You all know the popular clerics and Shaykhs of Yorubaland, all of them and their achievements put together cannot reach the mudd of just one companion, drawing on an analogy from an authentic Prophetic narration. It is only when these babas are saying what conforms with the Qu’ran and Sunnah that we have the obligation to obey them. Anything outside of that is unacceptable. Finally, we have seen cases where some clerics, especially among proprietors or directors of the Madaaris, attempt to force their ideology or that of their instutition on their students and graduates as if it is the true Islamic ideology. They want such ideology to replace the Qur’an and Sunnah. Each time you mention Allah says or the Prophet says, they are quick to remind you the sayings of Baba Lagbaja in Lagos, Shaykh Tamedo in Abeokuta, Shaykh Lakasegbe in Ibadan etc, We are quick to remind them all of the words of Allah in Surah al Imran: “It is not for a human, that Allah should give him the Scripture, wisdom and prophethood and then he would say to the people, “Be servants to me rather than Allah” but instead he would, “Be pious scholars of the Lord because of what you have taught of the Scripture and because of what you have studied.” Some clerics are by their actions telling people to be their servants, rather than enjoining them to be pious scholars. They want people to pay loyalty and allegiance to them, as agbalagbas or babas, and not to the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His prophet (SAW). This situation has now led to the reason many clerics now detest the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW). Just attempt to mention “Sunnah” or “ahlus Sunnah” and watch their remarks or reactions thereafter. We hope they will not be among those who disliked what Allah revealed, so He rendered worthless their deeds, as contained in Surah Muhammad. The Sunnah is part of what Allah revealed. The sayings of awon agbalagbas or awon babas are not part of what Allah revealed. It is about time we all retrace our steps and strive to be better Muslims.
Thank you for your time sir.
You are welcome.