By Abubakar Imam
“If you don’t want to be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, it is either you write something worth reading or you do things worth writing about”. –Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Just last Wednesday (April 29, 2020); a section of the concerned members of the global community marked the World Dance Day. The day was set aside by the International Theatre Institute (ITI); an affiliate of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), to commemorate the life and times of a French scholar of Dance-Jean Georges Noverre (1727-1810) who was said to have created dance ballet! I began to wonder that if a “mere dancer” who my people would dismissed as an “Alagbe” could have a whole day set aside for the celebration of his achievements on annual basis why not do the same for the truly great men among us?
But we wouldn’t. We are not in an organised polity or intellectually- stimulating culture where patriotism and services are more profoundly rewarding and rewarded. Hence, today, (Sunday May 3,2020), may or would go unnoticed and unmarked like every other day if we don’t know or bother to know what it represents in our collective history.
Today, Sunday, May 3, ought to have been declared as a special memorial. It should have been a day or date specifically set aside to celebrate the life, times and accomplishments of one of the Ilorin Emirate’s highly-distinguished sons, Shaykh Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilory. This is because the great man passed on exactly twenty-eight years ago!
The declaration or celebration wouldn’t have been for the illustrious scholar alone; rather it would have been an opportunity to remind ourselves and particularly the younger ones what he stood for!!
Today should be exceptionally special; because the date of his death falls on the very day of the week the intellectual giant fell to the cold hands of death in a London Hospital as it will happen to all mortals.
Before I proceed, it is important to emphasise the fact as it has became very clear in the biographies of great men and women that it is not death that matters. It is not even the number of years spent on the surface of the earth that is important. What is most significant is the quality and magnitude of impact an individual is able to exert while alive, which determines his position in history. An individual may be seen as an hero or regarded as a villain depending on the quality of his contributions. If all those factors are put together, I want to believe that the subject of this piece would continue to be rated among the most illustrious indigenes of Ilorin Emirate of all times.
I don’t think anyone has identified himself with Ilorin Emirate in his writings more than Shaykh Adam did in a single life-time! Despite being a global citizen and a world-class scholar, he was always concerned about the progress and development of his beloved Ilorin Emirate. An assessment of his public speeches, which I was first exposed to in 1981 as a primary school pupil on holiday to Agege, Lagos State, courtesy of my late maternal grandfather,added credence to this assertion in my view.
While the above is largely incontrovertible, what is particularly more striking about this iconic figure was that he was neither given birth to nor substantially raised in Ilorin!!! Notwitstanding; he loved the city so well that he discussed and propagated its greatness and wrote extensively on it more than any other person in my own estimation!
I think such tendencies as those posted by the subject of this piece accounted for the mystery of Ilorin. Many of its greatest “workers” were neither born nor raised at Ilorin. They were not “home-boys”. They were those who were born and trained outside Ilorin and who eventually ended-up as being among the enduring flag-bearers of Ilorin greatness in their different callings. Take a look at the career of the following personalities: Alhaji Abdulganiyu Folorunsho AbdulRazaq, OFR, SAN(b.1927); Justice Muhammad Mustapha Akanbi,CFR,(1932-2018); Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki (1933-2012); Alhaji L. A. K. Jimoh (b.1940), and Prof. Shehu Ahmad Jimoh, OON (1944-2014), to mention a few. Apart from their commonality in greatness, they were all born and raised outside the shores of Ilorin but later grew-up to contribute their utmost to the development of Ilorin.
Shaykh Adam Abdullah Al-Ilory was a phenomenon. He was a renowned teacher! He was an inconsolable reformer! He was a prolific author! He was an assertive preacher! He was a relentless reseacher! He was an outstanding orator. He was also a conscientious social critic and a revolutionary .He ended-up as someone who will go down in history as one of the foremost indigenes of Ilorin Emirate of all times.
The Shaykh, otherwise known as Baba La Agege, a Member of the popular Araoyo-Agbogunmati family of Omoda, Ilorin, was born at his maternal home-town,Wasa,a province in the Western part of the present-day Republic of Benin in 1917. Shaykh Adam was trained by several scholars including his father, Shaykh AbdulBaki Abdullahi. It was under the watchful eyes of his old man that he studied the Holy Quran and rudimentary Arabic.
The Shaykh, who was named after his father’s maternal grandfather, Shaykh Adam Alanamu, was no doubt of Oyo ancestry,an history he was very proud of.The progenitor of his family was said to have accompanied the Founder of modern Oyo, Alaafin Atiba, to Ilorin for political, diplomatic,religious and intellectual reasons. While his principal left for Ago-Oja, which he renamed Oyo and thereafter enthroned as Alaafin , the progenitor of this exceptional intellectual giant chose to remain in Ilorin. He settled at Omoda where he joined efforts with others to build the Omoda Mosque in the heart of the ancient Omoda Market.The mosque is said to be among the oldest in the Okemale axis of Ilorin.
Shaykh Adam spent the first few years of his life in the place of his birth until his parents relocated to Ilorin in 1929. Thus, he was brought to Ilorin when he was about 13 years of age during which he gained more exposure to Islamic learning as obtainable in Ilorin of those days.
As a young and restless boy, he was influenced by the career of many scholars in the city of Ilorin including its first and only Amirul Waizin(Oba Oniwasi), Shaykh Muhammadu Salisu Kokewukobere (d.1935), who was the oldest and the most influential preacher in Ilorin of that epoch;its most revolutionary visiting scholar, Shaykh Waziri Bida,who was on political exile and educational mission in Ilorin;and its first Grand Mufti, Shaykh Muhammad Kamalud-Deen Al-Adabiyy(1905-2005),who was the youngest,the rave of the moment and the man he would later adopt his earlier description by Shaykh Muhammadu ibn Ibrahim Dindey as Ujubatuz-Zaman(Wonder of our time) in one of his works. Shaykh Adam as a teenager and as not unexpected of someone pursuing a great future mingled,interacted and developed friendship with his contemporaries across Ilorin including a few of the students of Shaykh Kamalud-deen, most especially Shaykh Khidir Salaudeen Apaokagi Al-Adabiyy (1917-2013) and Shaykh AbdulRahman Salaudeen Al-Adabiyy (1924-1987), both of who reached the peak of their careers as the penultimate Grand Mufti and the immediate past Imam Imale of Ilorin, respectively. The latter was to later assist Shaykh Adam in the establishment of Markaz after the former politely turned down the offer in order for him to focus his attention on the establishment of his own Mahad Adabiyya Arabic School, Owo, Ondo State.
The relocation of Shaykh Adam’s father to Ibadan around 1933 afforded this unforgettable hero the opportunity of receiving advanced training in Arabic and Islamic education from Shaykh Saliu Esiniobiwa (d.1985), a fellow indigene of Ilorin, who was based at the largest indigenous city in Africa- Ibadan. He left Ibadan for Lagos in 1939 where he was initially accommodated at the famous Kadara Mosque owned and managed by a fellow Ilorin compatriot, Shaykh Abubakar Sidiq Sabani(d.1986), otherwise called Imam Sidiku Kadara, at Ebute-Metta, Lagos. On settling down in Lagos, he received more tuition from Shaykh Umar Agbaji, who later died as the Imam of Agbaji Quarter Mosque in 1974. He subsequently enrolled himself as a pupil of Shaykh Adam Namaji, an indigene of Kano who was based in Lagos.
Aside his regular training under the watchful eyes of his name-sake teacher from whom he cultivated painstaking research and authorship,particularly on historical exploration, he took advantage of the presence of some Syrians who were based in the erstwhile capital city of Nigeria to receive more tuition in Arabic and Islamic studies through intellectually- stimulating discourse. As a mark of his desire and desperation for knowledge, despite the lack of financial backing, he had to reproduce by hand, the entire content of an Arabic language dictionary, which he burrowed from an Arab who was residing in Lagos.
Shaykh Adam, having accumulated impressive knowledge,which was imbued with personal confidence and convincing himself that he was better by far in learning, left Nigeria for the Arab Republic of Egypt just to submit himself for the evaluation of the authorities of the Islam’s oldest University,Al-Azhar University in Cairo in the early 1940s. His performance at the University was said to be so fascinating that he was awarded relevant certification of the University, having been found worthy in learning and character.
On his return to Nigeria and Lagos, specifically, Shaykh Adam joined the services of the Ansarudeen Society of Nigeria as an Arabic teacher. His satisfactory performances on his duties as a teacher at the Ansarudeen Primary School, Alakoro, Lagos, not only accounted for his subsequent appointment as the Head of all Arabic teachers in the employ of the Society but also the status of a non-rent paying tenant at the home of Alfa Musa Okunnu, one of the leaders of the Society and father to General Gowon’s Minister of Works and Housing,Alhaji Lateef Femi Okunnu, SAN, OFR(b.1932).His enviable position in the Ansarudeen Society of Nigeria afforded him the privilege of being the Head of the Panel recruiting Arabic teachers for the Society through which he assisted many of his Ilorin compatriots including Shaykh Sa’ad Adebayo Kuranga(now in his 90s), the current Imam of Alege Mosque,into the services of the Society.
However, the turning point in the career of this illustrious son of Ilorin Emirate was his establishment of the Arabic and Islamic Training Centre, otherwise called Markaz , at Abeokuta in 1952. The Centre, which is evidently regarded as the singular most influential private Arabic and Islamic training institution in South-Western Nigeria,if not in the entire Modern Nigeria, was later moved to Agege, Lagos, where it blossomed beyond the imagination of the founder and those who knew its foundation.
Right from the lifetime of the founder and since his demise, the Centre remains a pride to the Ilorin Emirate as one of its great institutional exports in Education, and in Arabic and Islamic studies to be specific. This description is premised on the excellent organisation of the school and re-assuring impressive magnitude and exciting calibre of its alumni who are making waves in various sectors and capacities within and outside Nigeria. The school and its offshoot,which scattered within and outside Nigeria, had produced thousands of well-trained scholars of Arabic and Islamic studies who are serving as teachers of the twin-subjects in almost all the institutions of higher learning in Nigeria.Many of the products of the institution are also leading clerics,outstanding Jurists,remarkable Journalists, distinguished technocrats and accomplished community leaders.Many have also found themselves in other associated fields with impressive records of accomplishments over the years. His renowned institution and those of his compatriot,Shaykh Kamalud-Deen Al-Adabiyy are said to be accounting for more than sixty percent of modern scholars of Arabic and Islamic studies who are teaching the two subjects in Nigerian Universities and Colleges of Education.
Shaykh Adam was not just involved in teaching and learning, he was also a role-model and an Imam who led Weekly Jumaat and the two annual Eid prayers during which he often delivered thought-provoking sermons.He had the record of pioneering the translation of the Weekly Friday sermons into Yoruba language , which is now in practice in all Yoruba-speaking Muslim communities.He was also a frontliner in the “politics” of Islam. He was a Member of the Advisory Council on Religious Affairs established by the Premier of the defunct Northern Region and Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello (1910-1966).He also served on the Abubakar Mahmud Gumi,CFR,(1922-1992) led Committee,who was the then Grand Khadi of Northern Nigeria,on the need to form an umbrella body for Muslim unity in Nigeria in the early 1960s.The efforts and reports of the Committee not only partly led to the establishment of the Jamatul Nasril Islam(JNI) but ultimately the formation of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs(NSCIA). He was also the founding father of the League of Imams and Alfas of Yorubaland. He served the body as its Secretary-General competently from its establishment in 1962 till his death 30 years after.
As part of his contributions towards ensuring better understanding of Islam, Shaykh Adam served as the Secretary of the Committee sponsored by the World Muslim League, which accomplished the translation of the Holy Quran from Arabic into Yoruba Language. The Chairman of the Committee was his “senior brother”, Shaykh Kamalud-deen Al-Adabiyy.
With more than 77 serious and remarkable publications to his credit, Shaykh Adam also had the record of being the author of the greatest number of books in Arabic language in Nigeria since the demise of the pioneering trio of Sokoto Jihad, namely Shaykh Usman Dan Fodio, the learned founder of Sokoto caliphate; Shaykh Muhammad Bello, the erudite first Sultan of Sokoto and Shaykh Abdullahi Fodio,the intellectually-vibrant founder of Gwandu Emirate. Most of his books, which are on various fields of studies, are still relevant today as they have continued to enjoy copious citations, consultations and references from scholars and researchers from within and outside Nigeria. Many of those who obtained Doctorate Degrees in Arabic and Islamic studies wrote their theses on the various works of that illustrious scholar.
Apart from his profound erudition, many do not know that Shaykh Adam was a man of high spiritualism. It is often said that most of his “public predictions” turned-out to be accurate. His postulation that a certain veteran politician from the south-western part of Nigeria who died 33 years ago, despite his possession of several leadership qualities, would never serve as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria came to past during his life time. He was also said to have accurately “prophesised” that a retired War-Lord of Ilorin Emirate origin, who thought he had no business in government again after his retirement and subsequent settlement in Ilorin, would be re-invited to serve at the highest level of government in Nigeria. The prophecy was made at a funeral ceremony in Ilorin in 1985. The prediction came to past in 1998. Shaykh Adam was also reported to have opined that the number of Jumaat Mosques across Ilorin would one day go beyond the imagination of anyone. That was at the time one of his ex-pupils, Shaykh Yahaya Murtala of Oke-Agodi(1931-1995) in the Pakata Area of Ilorin, was struggling to establish his Jumaat Mosque in the mid 1980s. The eventual success of Shaykh Adam’s late crowd-pulling ex-pupil led to the “deregulation” of places of Jumaat worship within the city of Ilorin,a situation that was hitherto unthinkable. Today, such places of worship are in their hundreds!
It is also a befitting honour to Ilorin Emirate that most of the recorded lectures of this distinguished patriot are relevant today as they were, when they were first delivered.They are still attracting market and listeners like hot-cake due to the high level of scholarship deployed into their preparation and presentation.No wonder, all the radio and television stations in the Yoruba-speaking parts of Nigeria are still being patronised by the growing admirers of the Shaykh who are sponsoring the airing of his recorded lectures, particularly during the annual Ramadan fast.
Regarded as a walking encyclopedia of the history of Ilorin Emirate and its illustrious forebears,Shaykh Adam honoured several invitations to deliver lectures at Ilorin many of which often recorded unprecedented crowd of people who were sure of learning new facts.He was,in fact, the Guest Speaker at the launching and foundation laying ceremony of the then Community Secondary School, Ballah.He was at the event at the instance of the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union in 1979,an organisation he had a lot of respect for and which he directed all his ex-pupils from Ilorin Emirate to join in order to contribute their quotas to the building of his ancestral community.
Shaykh Adam’s efforts did not go unrewarded. He was the first Nigerian who bagged the Egyptian Gold Medal for his contributions to the growth of knowledge and human civilisation. The award was conferred on him by the then President of Arab Republic of Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak in 1989. He had earlier won an award from the Republic of Maurutania in the 1970s. Aside the renaming of a prominent street after him in the indigenous segment of the city of Ilorin upon his death in 1992; a gate to the newly reconstructed Ilorin Central Jumaat Mosque is also renamed after him in appreciation of his services to Islam as well as the development of his community and humanity at large. He was also conferred with a posthumous award during the golden jubilee celebration of the creation of Kwara State in 2017, among several others. But the greatest rewards to him,in my conviction,are the continuous flourish of his style of presentation among modern scholars,the continuous use of the Markazi melodious voice of reciting the Holy Quran, which he pioneered,and most especially the survival of Markaz itself, the institution he devoted his entire life and resources to; and most especially under the watch of one of his children, Shaykh Habibulahi Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilory, OON(b.1958).
No wonder, many of those who loved to hate the people of Ilorin, for God knows reason(s) see Shaykh Adam as an exceptional citizen of the Emirate; who unlike we, his compatriots, should be venerated. I cannot forget Journalist Kunle Fagbemi, who in the rested NEW AGE newspaper, while carpeting Ilorin Emirate for what it stood for during the controversy generated by the cancellation of the approval earlier given for an open-air programme for a visiting German Christian evangelist, Reverend Bonke(I hope I got the name right) , at the Ilorin Township Stadium Complex in 2004, singled-out the subject of this piece for commendation as been urbane, more cosmopolitan and universal in reasoning and approach, compared with the rest of his Ilorin compatriots! I also remember a classmate of mine at the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, who is now a Chief Lecturer at an institution of higher learning in the Kwara South Senatorial District, who while discussing Ilorin saw no reason(s) why he would not say to my face that he only respected two indigenes of the Emirate one of whom was Shaykh Adam. I had thought he would follow-up the Shaykh’s name with mine only for him to mention one of the most distinguished admirers of the Shaykh,the late Major-General Babatunde Idiagbon(1943-1999),as the other person!
I think the people of Nigeria and Ilorin Emirate in particular need to consider for emulation the essence of Shaykh Adam’s last Ramadan Tafsir and several other aspects of his glowing personality. He devoted his farewell Tafsir to the need to promote unity,cooperation love and solidarity not only amongst Muslims but also among mankind who are created from the same soul by the same being and for the same purpose and on the same planet.
Shaykh Adam was not only patriotic and knowledgeable, he was also exemplary. He was bold, courageous, unpretentious and non-materialistic.He was,however, a very rigid,highly-opinionated and uncompromising personality who would be remembered for always saying whatever he believed was the truth to and before anyone not minding any other factor.
Yes, no one would live forever. But it is important that, for as long as we live, we should always be conscious of what history, the unbiased Judge of mankind would say about us. We should work hard and ensure that we do not die without leaving lasting legacies in the sand of time as Shaykh Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilory colourfully did.That is important for us to secure a good space in the minds of the present and future generations of our various communities.
May Allah forgive the soul of this great son of Ilorin and those of other illustrious servants of Islam who worked for the progress of the faith and the development of the Ilorin Emirate community.
Imam is National Publicity Secretary, Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union.
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