Two days after the Eid-al-Adha festival, the ancient city of Ilorin, the Kwara State capital witnessed a historic event – the conferment of various titles on a group of personalities by the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Dr Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari.
The spectacular event took place at a mini Durbar organised at the palace of the Emir where various cultural heritage and other activities were on display by the natives, Muslim News gathered.
Of all the nine titles awarded, however, the one that has continued to elicit mixed reactions among the Ilorin indigenes, residents and the Muslim Community in general is that of the Grand Mufti conferred on Sheikh Sulaiman Faruq Onikijipa.
While a section of Muslims comprising his teeming supporters have hailed the appointment, others have posited that the popular Islamic preacher ‘is not fit’ for the eminent position.
Muslim News findings showed that by the appointment, Sheikh Onikijipa becomes the fourth Grand Mufti of the ancestral City of Alimi, a title which was first held by late Sheikh Muhammad Kamaludeen el-Adabiy. He was followed by Sheikh Khidir Apaokagi. The third Grand Mufti was Sheikh Soffiyyullah, the first son of Sheikh Kamaludeen, who died in 2014 at the age of 88.
Those in favour of the appointment are of the view that Sheikh Onikijipa has paid his dues and he is eminently qualified for the position, considering his knowledge, exposure, wealth of experience and the political influence he commands.
Among those who support Onikijipa’s appointment is a social media user who identified himself as Al-Mudeer Ar-Rashādy Oladele. He stated that “The position of a Grand Mufti is not an ‘Ileya giveaway’. It’s given to someone with sufficient versatility, adequate agility, physical capability, spiritual ability and unruffled personality like Sheikh Sulaiman Faruq Onikijipa. The turban fits him; let him wear it”.
On the other hand, apparently displeased with the appointment, a commentator, Mallam Sobur Hammed maintained that Sheikh Onikijipa is not fit to be named as the Grand Mufti.
“So there’s no other upright scholar in Ilorin who’s fit enough for the post? Where are the likes of Dr. Alaro? With (all) due respect, Faruq Onikijipa is not fit to be named as the Grand Mufti in all ramifications,” he noted.
Some other persons have, however, called for calm and sufficient understanding, saying the title is mere ceremonial and traditional rather than religious. They maintained that the event neither merited the noise it generated nor the attention it attracted since the office of the Grant Mufti of Ilorin commands no real influence on the religious practices of the Muslim faithful.
Who is a Mufti?
This development has nevertheless thrown up a big question from an average Muslim who keeps asking: ‘Who exactly is a Mufti?’. This is also as the question of whether the title is either religious or traditional takes the front burner of public discourse.
As Nigeria’s most authoritative Islamic newspaper, Muslim News attempts to clear the air on the issue in the analysis below. At the end, we leave the readers, based on our exposition, to decide on who truly fits the position of a Mufti.
Definition of a Mufti
A Mufti is an islamic jurist who passes fatwa, otherwise known as a formal legal or juristic opinion on different issues in accordance with the Shari’ah (Islamic law). Fatwa is based on ijtihaad, which means reviewing contemporary issues that haven’t been ruled upon conclusively previously. Simply put, Ijtihaad are just relating to issues about which the past scholars haven’t given definite juristic opinions. Or it is an old issue that has taken a new form in a new environment that requires re-evaluation and a new verdict.
For example, the Sahabah practised what we call al-adhl (withdrawal method) because in those days there were no condoms and this was about the only means of contraception that was available. But today, there are so many means by which people use contraception, particularly for what is called birth control, child spacing and/or family planning.
Such an issue remains a contemporary one but with a firm understanding of juristic principles rooted in the primary sources of law. Expectedly, a scholar who is equipped with the knowledge of the past also needs to understand the contemporary manifestations on the issue before giving a ruling on its permissibility or otherwise.
Fatwa today could be given based on the complexity of the issue by an individual scholar or a group of scholars who would have involved experts on the subject matter, review it based on the juristic principles and then come up with a ruling. That’s why there is Fiqh Council of Rabita in Makkah. Likewise, there is the Fiqh Council of North America and the Fiqh Council of Europe.
These are Councils of Muftis and their Chairman is the Grand Mufti, who is the ‘primus inter pares’, the first among equals, recognised by his colleagues as a lead person who has the requisite qualification, either formal or informal as the case may be; but often formal qualification. By formal qualification, we mean that he must have gone through a course of study in higher institutions or must have obtained ijaaza overtime.
Mufti for instance in Saudi Arabia comes from among the senior scholars, in the council of senior scholars. The Grand Mufti is usually the most learned, at least by consensus. Among the most learned, also have older people with more experience and are isolated from politics, perhaps until recently. This arrangement or something close is expected in the choice of the Mufti Ilorin.
Learning is part of the requirement, but not the only requirement. A Mufti must be qualified by learning, character, acquisition, association, and circumstances to be able to give fatwa. He must be God-fearing, have patience, with exposure and wide range of experience especially about the contemporary world, and must be frugal — someone whose lifestyle fits the balance, not necessarily someone who involves in so many things or who is very controversial.
The controversy aspect depends on who is involved. People who have a liberal aqeedah (sound understanding) do not recognise controversy and of course would defer in some issues, especially controversial ones. That doesn’t make him or others to be controversial all the time because it is not a good quality of a mufti.
According to other research, from the point of view of knowledge, someone who raises unnecessary controversies all the time such that if he issues a fatwa or supervises a body that issues fatwa, the fatwa will not be acceptable. Every fatwa is local, time-bound, place-bound, circumstance-bound and partial. For instance, a fatwa issued in Kano may not necessarily be applicable in Lagos wholesomely; just as the fatwa from Saudi Arabia may not necessarily be applicable or be applied in the United Kingdom.
Consequently, some observers are of the opinion that the Ilorin Emirate has made a step, which should get better with positive engagement. This position is strengthened by the fact that it is always essential and better to put matters of religion in the hands of scholars, as this brings out unity of thought and provides guidance for the general Muslim populace.
As a matter of urgency, the current Mufti of Ilorin should set up a Fiqh Council of Kwara with leading professors and experienced scholars that cut across varying fields of endeavours. These set of eminent scholars will as a matter of necessity set high criteria that will necessarily meet the standards of the Qur’an and Sunnah and by extension, the principles and rules of the Shari’ah (Islamic law).
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