Sheikh Abdul-Azeez Onike is the Chief Missioner of Nasru-llahi-l-Fatih Society, popularly known as NASFAT, one of Nigeria’s leading faith-based organisations with a strong membership strength running into three millions of Muslims worldwide. In this interview with Muslim News publisher, Rasheed Abubakar, the erudite Islamic scholar bares his mind on the events that led to the formation of the society 25 years ago; its laudable programmes, challenges, including collaboration with other Islamic and non-Islamic organisations. More importantly, he told this newspaper why NASMALT, a non-alcoholic drink once produced by the society, failed and efforts to bring it back to the Nigerian market. Excerpts…
MN: How does it feel celebrating the 25th anniversary?
Sheikh Onike: Alhamdulilah, it has been good so far. If we look back, we have no other thing to do than thank Almighty Allah. The society that started in the rooms of some of us, about 10 families, is now present in over 350 locations all over the world with membership strength of more than a million persons. Which of the favours of Allah are we going to deny?
Anybody who can think deeply will know that we have every cause to roll out the drums. That’s what we have been doing since the first day of March; and we would have continued till the 25th of March but we had to stop on March 18 due to the corona virus pandemic). We have been in existence for the last 25 years. We have achieved a lot. We thank Almighty Allah for this favour.
MN: Can you briefly tell us about how the society started?
Sheikh Onike: Some Muslim professionals felt the need for Muslim elites to know more about their religion. Majority of the early members cut across different professions, such as banking, finance, legal, health, etc. They felt that there was a gap between Islamic scholars and muslim professionals.
These professionals were looking for avenues, where they could sit down with scholars, exchange opinions, have their misconceptions about Islam cleared, and have their knowledge about Islam improved. That was what gave birth to Nasrullahi-l-Fatih Society which is today known as NASFAT. Most of the founding fathers are still living till this day, many thanks to Allah.
MN: What has NASFAT achieved in the last 25 years?
Sheikh Onike: Alhamdulilah, there are many of those; who joined Nasrullahi-l-Fatih at infancy who could not read the Qur’an but can now read fluently and understand it; who could not discuss Islam confidently; who could not deliver lectures, but can now deliver lectures at large gatherings. A lot of our members have developed confidence in discussing Islam. A lot of members have become Da’wah-minded, looking for platforms and people to discuss Islam with. In fact, when you see them speaking, you would think they were products of popular Arabic and Islamic schools, but they were trained and groomed at NASFAT. That’s one of the gains of belonging to our organisation.
Other things we have achieved in recent times are making people understand the Qur’an, without the constraints of time and financial resources. We have established what is called NASFAT Online Qur’anic Learning Institute where people would have access to Qur’anic teachers at their own time, pace and country with limited financial implications. It comes with ‘Money Back Guarantee’ meaning, If you cannot read the Qur’an in three months, we are returning your money to you.
We also intend to set up a Tahfeez school very soon. The mark we are going to make in that area is going to be unprecedented. Usually, madrasahs would do Waleematul Qur’an for 10 to 20 people. But in our own case, we are looking at between 300 to 500 persons in two years. We want to make it less time-consuming. People will spend two years to memorize the Qur’an. We have resources and facilities across the world that we can leverage to achieve this. Most of our branches have schools which will be handy by the time we start the initiative.
MN: NASFAT as a Da’wah organisation
Sheik Onike: NASFAT started as a spiritual organisation. Our flagship programmes now are Assalatu and Da’wah. I don’t know of any society which is organising more Da’wah training than Nasrullahi-l-Fatih. Few days ago, we held one of such Da’wah programmes in Lagos. About 89 people attended. We held a similar programme for our Ameerahs in Southwest. We camped them in Ota, Ogun state, and exposed them to some Islamic concepts that will assist them in Islamic propagation.
The current NEC of the Society has developed a policy thrust which is called HELD – Health, Education, Livelihood, Da’wah. All these indices are being addressed aggressively. In the area of da’wah, I told you about the Quranic Institute and Tahfiz school we are starting, Arabic school we are going to improve upon, and continuous training the trainers course in Islam, Da’wah and Dialogue. We have been doing this for the last 15 years in collaboration with Islamic Educational Trust and Da’wah Institute of Nigeria where we expose Muslim brothers and sisters to some of the misconceptions held about Islam, and clear them. People know us as a spiritual and da’wah organisation which we don’t owe anybody any apology for. We are a strong member of Da’wah Coordination Council of Nigeria. Any society in Nigeria which claims to be involved in da’wah will belong to that council.
MN: Other programmes aside Da’wah?
Sheik Onike: I told you about H-E-L-D earlier. The ‘D’ is for Da’wah, while the remaining stands for Health, Education, Livelihood. Some of our branches in and outside Nigeria have functional private hospitals/clinics and we are now encouraging more of our branches to turn their Sunday clinics to permanent health centres. NASFAT has enough mosques already, now is the time for us to start building multi-purpose centres at all branches which will have facilities for health centres/clinics, schools and offices in addition to mosques. Most of our branches have embraced this new thinking.
In terms of ‘Livelihood’, we had an entrepreneurship seminar for members in March with 45 persons attending in person and over 2,400 persons who joined online via Facebook live streaming. The seminar is one of our initiatives to ensure that we make our members to be financially empowered. We also have an agreement with SMEDAN – Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria – for the training of 300 youth members and receive SMEDAN certificate which can be useful as they pursue some of the government support and funding schemes.
Talking about ‘Education’, we encourage all our branches to have at least a primary school; all our zones to have at least one secondary school. We have about 23 zones of Nasrullahi-l-Fatih. Alhamdulilah, I have visited all the 23 zones.
At the headquarters of Nasrullahi-l-Fatih, our mission is to have a University and that has been realized about 13 years ago. We are the first Islamic organisation to have a University in Nigeria; and the visibility that Fountain University has gotten in recent times is unparalleled, courtesy of the current management of the school. These are some of the things we have done in the area of education.
In terms of Qur’anic education, we organise Qur’anic training in all our branches, and we do weekly ones too. Like this place for instance (Alausa Secretariat mosque, Lagos), people gather here in the evening of Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays to learn how to read and understand Qur’an. I have talked about this earlier.
MN: Challenges facing NASFAT at 25?
Sheik Onike: The challenges we have been facing are not peculiar to Nasrullahi-l-Fatih. When you have a group that is evolving, growing, and operating in an environment that is not Islamically oriented, there is bound to be challenges. If we were to be in a country like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, there would be government funding. We have only been sustaining ourselves through the Fisebilillah (donations) we are getting from members. Apart from that, in the last 4, 5 years or so, the internal cohesion we have been getting in Nasrullahi-l-Fatih is enviable. No internal wrangling. There is unity and understanding. we speak in one voice. This cannot be bought with money.
MN: One of the investments of NASFAT is NASMALT drinks. What went wrong along the line?
Sheik Onike: Well, you can start a business, but if Allah wants it to survive, it will; and if not, it won’t. It is one of the trials of Allah, and our NASMALT drink business was impaired by the difficult business environment in Nigeria. We are trying to see how we can revive the brand, and record success, like we have succeeded in many others under like TAFSAN Tours and Travels and TAFSAN Investment Limited, the investment arm of our organisation.
There is nothing wrong in failing as it is part of the learning process. Thomas Edison, the person that invented the light bulb was said to have tried so many times before he got it right; about 10,000 times. He now said he didn’t fail but he just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. According to Winston Churchill, Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. We are not deterred. Inshallah, NASMALT is still coming back.
MN: Collaboration with other organisations?
Sheik Onike: Our hands are open to any organisation that wants to relate with us. I had graced public lectures organised by different organisations. Recently, I was a guest lecturer at the TMC Annual Lecture held in Lagos. At NASFAT, we relate with Islamic Education Trust (IET) and Da’wah Institute of Nigeria, NACOMYO, Lagos Muslim Community, MICA, MPAC, and many other organisations.
Our women were actively involved in the Hijab struggle. They were part of the organisations that participated in the annual World Hijab Day. Likewise, our National President was at the Guild of Muslim Professionals convention that took place in December.
NASFAT is also a member of MUSWEN, a member of the Da’wah Coordination Council of Nigeria DCCN and we are founding member of the recently formed Muslim Coalition Against COVID-19, which comprises 45 Islamic organisations.
Recently, we organised a Da’wah training programme for our women in Ibadan. It was the 10th edition where we gave out slots to some organisations, including Ansar-ud-Deen Society of Nigeria, who sent their representatives. We have also been relating with MICA for a long time. Most times, we give slots of participation to MICA, and they give to us as well. Our doors are open to every organisation that shares the mission of our organisation, which is, striving towards the development of an enlightened muslim society.
MN: Why collaboration?
Sheik Onike: The Muslim ummah is one. They may be having different programmes, but our objectives are the same. What are the objectives? To make people understand Islam better and propagate it in the right manner. Also, to improve the capacity of the Muslims; to clear misconceptions some people have about the Muslims; to ensure good inter-faith relations; to ensure peaceful co-existence. These are the basic objectives of any society, but they are approaching it in different ways. So, with collaboration, they say, two good heads are better than one.
MN: Can you tell us about yourself?
Sheikh Onike: Well, I am a man of various backgrounds. Apart from being an Islamic religion specialist, I bagged a First Class Bachelors of Arts Degree in Islamic Studies from the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), and Certificate in Islamic and Arabic Language from Al-Falah Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies, Ekperi, Edo State, Nigeria. I am also a full Technological Certificate holder from the renowned CGLI London, United Kingdom. Also, an Expert in Engineering Management and a Productivity & Improvement Specialist with a Masters Degree in Engineering Management from University of Benin, Nigeria. I have done courses in Personal Branding, Impression Management and various etiquettes organised by The Etiquette Place, Lagos, an affiliate of Protocol University, Boston, USA. I have a certificate in Global Diplomacy. I have a certificate in Islamic Banking and Finance. I have a certificate in Monitoring and Evaluation. I have a certificate in Islam, Da’wah and Dialogue. I am a certified Trainer with Deen IET. Follow the link HERE to read about his profile.
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