Without doubt, the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Alhaji Abubakar Sa’ad III remains the undisputable leader of the Nigerian Muslim community. However, the Chief Imam of Lagos stands out as the fountainhead of the spiritual leadership of all Lagos Muslims.
Lagos State is indeed a beehive of Islamic activism in Nigeria. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, there are close to 2, 000 registered Islamic organisations and mosques in Lagos.
Historically, Islam was brought to Lagos by the Malian traders and for the first time, the crescent of Islam was publicly raised at the Lagos Central Mosque in 1775, when the first call to prayer was made at Iga Idunganran, the official residence of the Oba of Lagos. It took the natives and the Ibigas (members of the palace household) who embraced Islam another 66 years before they were able to say their first Jumah (Friday) prayer publicly in 1841.
Alfa Salu became the first Chief Imam to lead the early Lagos Muslims and his leadership lasted for six years (1841-1853). Until recently when the Salu Onirakunmi family was reincorporated, the eight (8) Chief Imams from the two nominating houses (the Ibrahim and Nolla houses) have occupied the glorious office for more than two centuries (between 1841 and 2017).
Last weekend, another glorious son of the Nolla family, Sheikh (Engr.) Sulaimon Oluwatoyin Abu-Nolla was presented with the Staff of Office as the 10th Chief Imam of Lagos.
The colourful ceremony held at the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS), Lagos, and had in attendance Chief Imams, Muslim scholars, Islamic organisations, traditional leaders, government officials and the creme de la creme of the Muslim community across the world.
Sheikh Sulaimon from the Nolla and Odunsi-Eshinlokun Royal Families of Lagos had earlier been turbaned in December 2017, succeeding the 9th Chief Imam of Lagos, Sheikh Garuba Akinola, who passed on at the age of 75 in September 2017, after leading the Lagos Muslim community for close to two decades (1999-2017).
“I warmly and sincerely welcome you all to this unique occasion that signifies a new dawn for the Muslims and non-Muslims of Lagos”, said the Baba Adinni of Lagos, Sheikh Abdul-Hafeez Abou (OFR), who revealed that the presentation of Staff of Office to the Lagos Central Mosque Imams started in 1905.
The 95 year old Sheikh Abou, who doubles as the Executive Chairman of the Lagos Central Mosque, said the journey to date has been challenging, yet exciting, due to the joy that is usually derived from serving Allah and humanity.
In his welcome address, Sheikh Abou said the role of the Chief Imam of Lagos requires the cooperation of all leaders of Muslim organisations, community central mosques, distinguished Imams from different Central Mosques, leaders of Muslim associations, women groups, professionals and youths, to interact and solve problems of common interest and concern for meaningful coexistence.
The Chief Imam’s Quest For Knowledge
The new Chief Imam, Sheikh Sulaimon is a man of history, as he is the youngest and the first graduate to lead the Muslim majority of Lagos, a state of over 21 million people.
Born on September 15, 1975 in Surulere, the young Oluwatoyin, who would one day become the spiritual leader of the Lagos Muslim community, had started developing himself for the future leadership role right from when he was at Yewande Memorial Nursery and Primary School, from where he proceeded to Randle Avenue Primary School for his First School Leaving Certificate in 1985.
When he was at St Joseph Secondary School, Surulere, Lagos for his secondary education, the young Sulaimon was the best student in Arabic. Interestingly, he had a Distinction in Islamic Studies, despite being a Science student.
Up to the time he gained admission into the University of Technology, Bauchi and later transferred to the University of Ilorin where he bagged his Bachelor Degree in Engineering (Electrical) in 2000, Sheikh Sulaimon never quit learning.
“Most of the time when I returned from school, I would go to my Alfa to continue my knowledge in Arabic and Islamic Studies. When I finished from the University, I enrolled at the Darul-Dawah-Wal-Irshad, Isolo to continue my education in Arabic and Islamic Studies.
“I got my Idadiyah certificate (equivalent to primary school certificate) in 2003, three years after I finished from the University of Ilorin. I proceeded with Thannawiyyah (secondary school certificate) which I completed in 2006, after which I performed Hajj the same year”, the Chief Imam told Muslim News in an exclusive interview at his Lagos Central Mosque office, days before he was presented with the Staff of Office.
Sheikh Sulaimon’s passion for knowledge (both Islamic and mundane) was informed by his deep understanding of Prophet Muhammad (SAW)’s famous statement: “Seek knowledge from cradle to grave”. The new Chief Imam added that he would continue to learn and seek knowledge of the Deen, for him to become an Islamic authority and guide the Muslims based on knowledge.
Before His Emergence
Until his appointment as the Chief Imam of Lagos, Sheikh Sulaimon was a Principal Electrical Engineer (Grade Level 12 Officer) in the Lagos State Civil Service, and was one of the brains behind the success of Governor Ambode’s “Light Up Lagos” project.
He is also a registered member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, and was admitted as a full member of the highly acclaimed and respected Council of Nigerian Registered Engineers (COREN) in 2018.
It is important to state that his work and professional activities did not affect his spirituality as a Muslim, as before now, he was the Assistant Chief Imam of Ike-Oluwa Mosque, Bank-Olemoh, Surulere, Lagos.
Some of his Ike-Oluwa Mosque congregants who spoke with our Correspondent described Sheikh Sulaimon as a reserved person, who hardly jokes but whenever he speaks, people love to listen to him.
Popularly known as Alfa Sulaimon, the new Chief Imam is a lover of the Sunnah (the Prophetic way of life), and his knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence is sound.
“During Ramadan, after every Tarawih prayer, he would stand up and read a portion of the Hadith, render it in English and Yoruba, and teach us the lessons there-in. We always enjoyed his lessons. He became more value-added after his university education, and he is very exposed.
“At times, he would share happenings around the world, Nigeria or Lagos with us, and tell us the lessons to gain from such. My personal interaction with him shows that he is accommodating and he is a problem solver”, one of his congregants said of the Chief Imam.
The position of Chief Imam of Lagos had always been rotated between two houses until recently when another house, the Salu Onirakunmi family was re-added, making them three. It is currently the turn of the Nolla family, where Sheikh Sulaimon hails from.
According to the Baba Adinni of Lagos, Sheikh Sulaimon was chosen among names forwarded by the Nolla family because of his knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence.
He said: “He was more or less the most outstanding among the others. He is the choice of the Muslim Ummah. So he is no doubt competent and fit for the position. Not only is he an Islamic scholar, he is also an engineer by profession”.
In his interview with Muslim News, Sheikh Sulaimon described his selection as a divine call from Almighty Allah, saying that many people wished and prayed for the post but Allah did not call them. “It is a divine call, not the feeling. If you have the feeling but you are not called, how would you make it?” he asked.
Leadership, according to him, is a huge responsibility and it is tasking, especially in this part of the world. “Leading the Muslim Ummah is not an easy task. Prophet Muhammad (saw) said: ‘Kullukum Raahi Wa Kullukum Mas’ulu an Rahiyatihi’, meaning: ‘Every one of you is a leader, and you shall be called to account for your leadership responsibility’. So, one needs to work very hard so as to be accountable before Allah on the Day of Judgement”, he said.
Agenda For The Muslims
Prominent on Sheikh Sulaimon’s agenda is to bring the Office of the Lagos Central Mosque to a global standard, for it to be respected by all Muslims as an institution.
This administration, according to the Chief Imam, has laudable plans for the Muslim Ummah.
“Apart from optimum welfarism, we shall also emphasise on training for the Muslim Ummah, so as to be able to develop and relate well with adherents of other religions. May Allah make it easy. The task is daunting, but we are planning. In Shaa Allah, we are up to the capacity and we would deliver”.
He added: “We need to work more on enlightenment and exhortations, to be able to move the Muslim Ummah forward in Lagos. That is what is key and that is what we are working on and that is what we need to emphasize on, especially training and exposure for our Imams”.
The Chief Imam of Lagos said other Imams need to be worked on in terms of knowledge and requisite exposure, to be able to deliver in their various mosques.
“We need to enlighten them about what it takes to be an Imam, which is what we are focusing more on for now. We want to lay more emphasis on training, conferences and the likes.”
Unity O The Muslim Ummah
For the first time in a long time, the new Chief Imam of Lagos worked in conjunction with the Sultan’s Moon Sighting Committee to ensure national uniformity during the commencement and termination of the 2018 Ramadan fast.
The Chief Imam, who is not at home with the dichotomy between the Northern and Southern Muslims, made the move in consonance with the divine imperative of unity for the Ummah, and the Islamic directives as regards moon sighting.
“The collaboration with the Northern Muslims goes beyond Ramadan. We are working together with Rabitah, the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs under the leadership of the Sultan, MUSWEN and all other Islamic bodies to bring about peace, love and unity among Nigerian Muslims. Already, we have a cordial relationship with them all. We just need to strengthen it.
“Emphasis must be placed on sustaining the cordial relationship within the Ummah in Nigeria, and that is what can bring progress. When we have unity of the Muslim Ummah, we would be able to deliver a lot. As they normally say -‘United we stand, divided we fall’. May Allah guide us right”, he said.
Advocate of Peaceful Coexistence
Imam Sulaimon is an advocate of peaceful coexistence among Nigerians, irrespective of religion or ethnicity. He believes that it is a sine qua non for a peaceful Nigeria. That is why he called on Nigerians to support the Buhari-led government and pray for a peaceful 2019 election.
He urged Nigerian Muslims to secure their Permanent Voter Cards (PVC) and participate in the electoral process, stressing that it is their civic duty.
“Equally, we need to know our rights as Muslims and as Nigerians. Mostly, we need to be patriotic about our nation. When you support your country, you are doing the right thing. We need to work hard and pray for our country. May Allah be with us all, Amin”, he concluded.
- Rasheed Abubakar
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