Muslim News Nigeria spoke exclusively with the Chairman, Muslim Council of Akwa Ibom state, Alhaji Musa Uyot-Amba who took us back memory lane to give a brief history of Islam in Akwa-Ibom State, saying that the religion of peace has come to stay in south south and south eastern Nigeria.
History of Islam in the state
Akwa Ibom is not originally a Muslim state. However, the history of Islam in the state spans several years back. It was the Hausas who were businessmen from Northern Nigeria that brought Islam to the state in the course of their trade and business activities. So, from there, the indigenes accepted Islam and started to practise it.
Also, some of our brothers accepted Islam outside Akwa Ibom, and on getting back home, they started practising it and sharing its message to others. That was how Islam came to Akwa Ibom, and a substantial number of people in the state are Muslims today. Though I, for one, did not witness when the Northern businessmen came with Islam, I learnt of it through some of my brothers when I got convinced and reverted.
Present state of Islam
Well, Islam has come to stay in Akwa Ibom. Not only the Northerners and other outsiders practise the religion, many of the indigenes have also embraced Islam. Personally, I accepted Islam in 1992, and since then I have been a practicing Muslim. My wife also accepted Islam through me when we got married in 1998. We gave birth to children, and we all practise the religion of Islam.
We observe Salat (prayer) five times daily, and also engage in other religious activities. Fellow Muslims also join us in observing all activities of the religion, and we also organize Da’awah (Islamic propagation) in order to spread the message of Islam, and allow more people embrace it. At present, in Akwa Ibom, we are members of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Jamatu Nasril Islam (JNI); we also associate with the Muslim Corpers Association of Nigeria (MCAN).
Actually, when we embraced the religion in the first place, there was a running battle between us and some of our brothers who felt we are bringing a strange religion to the community. However, at the moment, they now understand and cooperate with us, and we do not encounter any confrontation from them again. We sat them down then, and told them we were all created from Allah, and again there is freedom of worship. After a lot of disagreements, it was resolved.
I recall an incident when my brother, who was also a Muslim, died. At the time, we had no Muslim cemetery in the whole of Akwa-Ibom state. There was however a Muslim cemetery in Cross-River. So, we also had the option of taking the corpse to Cross River state for burial in the Muslim cemetery, but it was too far and costly.
There was a portion of land I inherited from my father. So, I decided to bury him there. We dug the grave, and did all the Islamic rites relating to burial. After the burial, some of my family members confronted me to perform the traditional rites associated to burial too. But I resisted and told them that as a Muslim I wouldn’t do that. The case was even taken to the court, and it dragged on for years. But, Alhamdulilah, the judge ruled in our favour. That was how our freedom began.
Since then, we have been practicing Islam without hitches or external aggression. We have a number of mosques here in my community for prayers. There is a mosque at my residence, though it is more or less like a makeshift mosque that has not been built completely. There is also a central mosque at Waterside in Ivaka where we observe Jumat services. There is also a mosque in the Navy Barracks donated by a Muslim naval officer. In Oron, there are mosques at the Custom Barracks, Maritime Academy and in Marina. So, you can use any of these mosques without disturbance.
Relationship with non-Muslims
Our relationship with non-Muslims has been good so far. We relate and interact very well with them. In fact, we engage them on religious issues where we win some hearts for Islam at the end of the day. There is a book we read and explain to them. They raise questions, argue and debate issues with us. We clarify everything to them using the book, and quoting some portions of the bible. From there, some of them embrace Islam after getting convinced that it is the true religion.
We also do many other things together, so far they do not go contrary to Islamic teachings. We relate very well and encourage other Muslims who are just coming into the community to relate with non-Muslims very well. So, there has been no issues so far; the relationship has been smooth. In the event that issues arise, we reach out to the Muslim leadership to resolve the issue amicably with those concerned.
Muslim bodies in the state
At the state level, we have Islamic bodies such as the NSCIA, JNI and MCAN. The Jamat Tabligh brothers also come on some occasions. We have Muslim leaders like the Seriki of Zawa, Alhaji Saduki Hassan; Alhaji Maruf Thanni, a Yoruba Muslim, and many other leaders. I am also a Muslim leader, the Chairman, Indigenous Muslims in Akwa Ibom state. I was given the title not quite long ago.
For NSCIA, Alhaji Saduki Hassan, Seriki of Zawa is the Vice President General; Alhaji Maruf Thanni is the Deputy Vice President General; while Jibril Akpan, an indigene is the Secretary. They are all our leaders, and are in charge of the affairs of Muslims in the state. They are under the national body of the NSCIA, and act according to its guidance.
The NSCIA as a Muslim body is also in charge of resolving issues between the Muslims and non-Muslims. They keep constant touch with the government and stakeholders to discuss issues affecting Muslims in the state. All the Muslims are under the umbrella of the NSCIA in the state.
Akwa Ibom, like I said, is not originally a Muslim state. People in the state practise Christianity and traditional religion. So, when Islam started, we were very few in number. But overtime, there has been a continuous increase in the population of Muslims in the community. It is getting better every day, and we are not relenting in our efforts of spreading the message of Islam to people in our community.
My advice to my fellow brothers in Akwa Ibom is that they should embrace Islam because it is the true religion. Also, whenever they embrace Islam, they should let the Muslim leadership know. They can get in touch with me too as the Chairman, Indigenous Muslims in the state so that I will keep the NSCIA posted on the development.
We will also expose them to different ongoing Islamic programmes in the state so as to learn more about the religion of Islam. Some of us who are well to do will also gift them with the Quran, rosary and other Islamic materials. We will show them the way to the mosque. We organize Dawah programmes regularly. If not for the restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, we were planning for a Dawah programme already.
Our Dawah programmes take place in the mosques and public spaces. We partner with MCAN and other Muslim organisations in organizing the dawah programmes. Sometimes, we spend a week doing the programme depending on the area. So, Muslims ask questions relating to Islam, and some people also accept Islam as a result of the Dawah. We also engage in practical demonstration of how to observe Salat for people who do not know how, in the course of the Dawah.
Our brothers from Jamat Tabligh also come down here to explain Islam to us for their *Ijtimah* , and we learn a lot from them. We also follow them to states like Kwara, Ogun, Oyo for the Ijtimah so that we can learn more and teach our people when we get home. We do house-to-house dawah, visit village heads and community leaders to discuss Islam. These are some of the ways by which we spread the message of Islam.