By Laurat Ogunjobi
It was impressive. Here was a small group of Nigerians in Spain organizing Islamic activities such as a weekly Madrasah (ile kewu) for the children, Islamic studies and weekly Zikr sessions. They rented a well situated space in the heart of Martorell, a little city that is not the cheapest, and in Spain, one of the countries hard hit by the economic meltdown that occurred in Europe around 2008. Not only does Spain have one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe, but it’s also not the dreamland of most of the West African community. With all of those challenges, the work of Allah still shines here.
While I was still in awe of the Islamic work being done
in this part of the world, I received a call informing me that they were
inviting a well renowned Sheikh of Nigeria to come and speak in May. This Sheikh was no stranger to me, and more
than likely no stranger to you either. I
use to listen to him often, especially when I first started getting serious
about being a Muslim less than five years ago.
I was astounded that he was coming.
The month of May finally came, and so did the Sheikh. It was true. He was finally here. Being a non native Yoruba speaker, and my shyness of crowds, I wasn’t amongst the ones that met him first and received prayer from him. Days went by, and I was nowhere to be seen at the Association activities planned for him and the members. His main lecture was a success, and I missed most of it. It wasn’t my fault. I was riding in a car with another family that were in no rush to attend the main lecture because they had spent so much time with the Sheikh the day before with other association members.
I caught the tail end of his message. As expected of a Sheikh, it was powerful. For those who were listening, the calling to true Islam was the tone of his speech. I left early. I had work to do and to meet my hubby when he got home from work.
But then, something different occurred the following day. New days bring new ideas and blessings. A new
thought came to mind that said Write! I
immediately called the Imam’s assistant and requested time to see the Sheikh. After a few phone tags occurred, permission
was granted. I was off to interview the
Sheikh the following day.
I arrived to his lodging location in the afternoon. He was having brunch with his wife at the table. The attendants seated me in the living room with a few of the other members of Asalatu Martorell. Although there was light chatting occurring in the room, the room still felt quiet and still. I patiently waited for the Sheikh to finish his meal when one of the members told him in Yoruba that I was the journalist waiting to speak with him. He welcomed me with an Islamic smile, and our conversation went something like this:
I: I see everyone is speaking Yoruba. I wish I could join, but my Yoruba is very poor. I am the daughter of a man from Egba and a woman from Liberia. They raised me outside of Africa, so I don’t really speak Yoruba.
S: Speak in any language you’re comfortable with. You may even speak the little Yoruba you know if you please.
I: (Laughing) I’m not sure that I can do that with the type of questions that I want to ask, but I’m going to start the interview now and make it natural, so feel free to answer in Arabic, Yoruba, English or any way you feel will perfectly bring out the points we will discuss today sir.
S: Ok, that’ll be fine.
From the Sheikh's initial responses, I felt free and relaxed to ask my questions. These are questions that had been pondering my mind for a while. After moving here two years ago, my Islamic activities drastically dropped. Unlike Chicago, the Islamic community here wasn’t openly vibrant and productive. Things were happening, but I wasn’t connected enough to find out. The prayers of my ponderings had been answered.
Q: Ok sir, as Nigerian Muslims in the Diaspora, what type of tips do you have for us in being Muslim and living in foreign non Islamic countries or cultures?
A: It’s important to respect the customs of the people in which you stay in their land. Sometimes you may even need to dress like the people of that society if it doesn’t go against your religion. As an example, wearing a suit is foreign to my culture and way of Islamic dressing, but if I had to wear it in a country that I’m living in for work purposes, I would wear it. It doesn’t stop me from being a Muslim. You can respect the laws, customs and land of others while still being a Muslim. Through your good behavior, and the respect that you give, you will attain respect, and possibly call people to Islam from those cultures.
Q: In discussing culture, many people seem to believe that Arab culture is the same as Islamic culture. Some Muslims, especially the uninformed ones or new converts seem to have these types of beliefs too.
A: There are many different cultures. Islam stands by itself, and doesn’t belong to any particular culture. Islam doesn’t belong to the Arabs. It belongs to us all. It started in their area, but it doesn’t belong to them alone. Islam and Arabic culture is not the same. People who believe that are misinformed and need to study and learn the religion.
Q: Which countries are you impressed with its Islamic involvements that you could advise us to observe and grow from.
A: America is impressive. Not too long ago, Islamic beliefs were unheard of in that country, but look at how it’s developing now. Look at Masjid Al Farouk in New York and the Islamic Universities that are coming out from there. I was there in 2003 or so for a program in New York and was impressed with some of the leaders that I met and the growth of Islam there.
Q: In dealing with religious differences, and even those of us that come from a family of mixed religious beliefs. We see this in our own culture as Yoruba people, and we see this in the world. How do we address the issues of religious conflicts, differences and fighting?
A: Every one of us came from a background of differences. We weren’t all practicing Muslim from the start of our forefathers. There are many things to say about this topic. Even in Saudi Arabia, before the reconstruction of the Kaaba by the Prophet (SAW), they were idol worshipping there. In this day and age, the issues of religious conflict are not about God. It’s about politics. Let no one deceive you that Boko Haram and other religious tension is about God. It’s not. After an investigation was done on some of the Boko Haram members, it was noticed that they were not all even Muslims. When examined closely, no one is truly fighting over religion. Examine closely and you will see most of the conflict going on in families, or even the world is not about religion, but about resources or politics. They kill people and say Allahu Akbar. There’s no real meaning to that. Examine closely.
Q: So in other words, religious division is not reality?
A: Yes, people are divided for other reasons. Not religion. At the end of the day, when a family, nation or people sit together to plan the future, religion and their various modes of and practices is not what they are focusing on.
Q: Masha'Allah, you touch an important point. So since you are our Sheikh, how can you advise us who are living overseas? What is your message for us all?
A: Be focused as a Muslim. This involves imaan. There’s no need to say because you are overseas, you don’t need to pray, or if you are finding things difficult in life or even good, there’s no need to hold on to your religion. Follow the laws of the land. Remember good character. Good character can call people into Islam. Remember your family’s name. Most importantly, Remember Allah. It’s Allah that you will give account to. It’s Allah that will guide you. Keep firm in your worship and focus on Allah.
For more information about Asalatu Martorell, or to get a copy of Sheikh Muyideen Bello's lecture given in Martorell Spain, you may contact Imam Alfa Abdul Rahman at +34 632 41 11 60 or visit the associations Facebook page here.
Laurat Ogunjobi is a Barcelona based writer and owner of Cush Consulting Group, a communications firm that focuses on educational, philanthropic and cultural projects.