Alhaji (Barr.) AbdulAzeez Alatoye is the Amir (President) Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, Nigeria. Olatoye who is the founder and Senior Partner of Ascension Consulting Services, an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK); in this interview says working hard for economic benefits is not worldly, rather non-application of the resources to the service of Allah and humanity renders the whole activities worldly. The Ahmadiyya leader who is also a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN); Fellow, Nigeria Institute of Management says provision of education, food and health for all remained the policy thrust of the group.
Where was Ahmadiyya before your emergence as the Amir, leader of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, Nigeria and where do you desire it to be in the next five years?
Ahmadiyya is a faith based organisation that has recorded successes at all areas. In the next few years, seven areas of development are uppermost in my mind. The first is the spiritual development of our people. This will make us to be closer to Allah, and this will engender acceptance of prayers.
The second is our moral values. We need to continue to inculcate in them sound morally values. Morality is a very vital aspect of our lives especially from Islamic perspective. Obedience to the Khalifa is very important. Our success is not going to come by following our own personal inclinations, but if we obey the Huzur in totality, I believe we are going to succeed. The fourth issue is respect. The Prophet said: Every religion has its own traits; the trait of Islam is respect. In a very broad term, respect for Allah will lead to obedience to the injunctions of the Quran and respect for Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) will lead to obeying the Sunnah. Respect for the founder of Ahmadiyya will make you to follow the path of the Khalifa. Again, respect for the rights of others, respect for women, children and their rights. This will guarantee peace in every house and by extension, in the country. We cannot only be talking about it, we need to demonstrate it.
We will also increase the competence of our people. We see people being paid for what they are not competent to do, and when you look for special skills, you don’t find them. We want to focus on their choice of carrier and see how we can improve their competences. Why are Nigerians doing very well, abroad, why can’t they do very well at home? That has to do with discipline and the right attitude to work.
Trustworthiness is another major area. In Quran, Suratul Qasas, Chapter 28 verse 27 when Hazrat Musa assisted the daughter of Hazrat Shuaib; and when they returned home, they told Hazrat Shuaib that they wanted Hazrat Musa to be hired, describing him as being competent and trustworthy. These are the two attributes required of the Muslim whether working in government or private enterprise. The major challenge we have in this country is integrity and transparency. We will continue to teach it and we know it is going to benefit this country.
Lastly is the prayer. The essence of our creation is prayers. Allah said in the Quran, that Man and the Jins are not created other than to worship Him, and in worshiping Allah, you have to communicate with Him regularly. The discipline in prayer is quite broad. Prayers always lead us to timeliness and discipline. These are what we want to inculcate in our people. I don’t want to call it 7-point agenda, but all other issues rest on these seven points I mentioned. They are there before, of course nothing is new, it is the implementation that may be new. How do we achieve that? It is by increasing their level of understanding about Godliness. This is what we want to do in the next three years, I know you asked for five years, but Ahmadiyya has three years circle of Imarah, after three years, whoever comes in will see what has been done in that direction.
How do you intend to extend the Love for all and hatred for none´ to the northern part of the country especially where we have issues of banditry; communal crises and other challenges that are weighing down the spread and practice of Islam?
It is an offshoot of the first one. If somebody obeys Allah and the Prophet, he will find love practicable for him. You don’t do anything to hurt fellow human being if you believe he is also created like you by God. If you know that fellow human beings irrespective of the tribe and religious background belong to Allah, you will not do anything to harm them. In Ahmadiyya, it is “Love for all and hatred for none.” It does not matter where you come from. It does not matter whether you are black or white, because you did not create yourself as Hausa, Yoruba or Ibo. I find it crazy when people say one tribe or one race is better than the other. No. Allah created everybody. It must be love for all as we don’t have control over the creation of any human being. So, we must love ourselves and we cannot do that except we are Godly. We are going to focus on letting people realise we all belong to God. Again, religion is a personal thing. God knows who will find abode in paradise and those who will end up in hell depending on your behaviour and nobody can assume the position of God as the Judge.
To answer your question, we intend to spread this message to the north especially where there are crises. Violence has nothing to do with Islam. Just as His Holiness, Khalifat-ul-Masih Hazrat Masroor Ahmad has been going round to preach and spread the message of love and peace; we will do the same here. But there justice is the foundation of love and peace; we will draw the attention of the government to it. Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) said Justice and Peace are twins, where you find one, you will find the other. Even the constitution says the security of lives and people is necessary for peace to reign. So, government must be concerned about this and the welfare of people. We will continue to preach the message of love, peace and justice. We should know that it is not easy to achieve peace without love so we have to love and that is very key in our Jamaat.
For the purpose of emphasis, the act of violence in the north is not about Islam, it has to do with economic struggle. Some people in the North-East want to carve out a territory to control. If you have a territory, you have economic independence. They want to be collecting taxes and administering the funds. Basically, their intention is to seize land, seize power and control the economy. Even globally, that is the direction of those fighting here and there.
The health service sector of the Ahmadiyya has gained a lot of commendation; how can this be sustained and expanded to where there are special needs for to help humanity?
We had hospitals in all the regions but some of them became ineffective more because of the environmental challenges. Again, we will break the jinx.
In the case of Ahmadiyya hospital in Owerri, South East, there was no cooperation. In the Northern part of the country, Kano hospital is still there, we have one in Bukuru; at one time, it was leading in the country. It was shut down on the instruction of our fourth Khalifah as a result of violence in the area. One person was killed during a violence that erupted and unfortunately, the hospital was also a target.. Huzur was very touched and this led to the shutting down of the hospital. We had two hospitals in Ijebu-Ode, one is still running, the other one was shutdown as a result of similar crisis situation. A doctor was killed in the mid-night during a crisis and other doctors had to leave. The Auchi one will be resuscitated again. Mainly, it was because of environmental issues and we are taking the bull by the horn again to bring them back. We are looking at places like Ibadan, Sokoto and Bauchi, and other geo-political regions with a view to having one functional in each region. Medical facility is not a religion thing. The policy of Ahmadiyya is Education for all, food for all and health for all. Setting up those hospitals in the first place was not for economic purpose, we are not in it for profit, it is about the health of people. There are recommendations to His Holiness that have been approved for us to increase those hospitals. We have a clinic in Okoko, Oyo north now. It is a village, a very remote area where there is no phone and communication network. A senior doctor just returned from that clinic now. The wellbeing and health of people irrespective of religion and background is important to us.
Looking at it from the perspective of revenue generation and sustainability, and your idea of making it free, couldn’t it be the reason the hospital crashed?
No. The Jamaat are ready to support when they are having financial challenges. I agree with you to the extent that the hospitals should be self sustaining, but not when there are physical attacks. The attack and killing of an expatriate doctor in Ijebu-ode, was frightening. May be they thought he had some foreign currencies on him but it was wrong. You are coming to help people and they attacked you at night. It is wrong. Our expatriate doctors have dedicated their lives for service of humanity and whatever you pay them, they will accept. It is difficult to get Nigerians to replace them. Don’t also forget that this is service to humanity. These are the challenges. These hospitals are not for Muslims alone, all religion adherents come there. It is not about religion, Muslims and Christians work there, it is about health for all. We have a concept, Humanity First; that is the concept of life. So, I don’t see the reason somebody will attack those facilities. We will let people know that the hospitals are not only for Muslims, they are not also for Ahmadis only, so, people should not be angry that Ahmadiyya built it. Most of the people that get free treatment are not Ahmadis. It is all about the survival of humanity irrespective of sects and background. The opponents of Ahmadiyya receive free treatment there. If these hospitals are not attacked, they will be there and the Jamaat will continue to fund them and sustain them.
Allah has blessed the ummah so much that it is believed the Muslims have no reason to be poor. What do you think Nigerian Muslims are not doing rightly?
There are in my own view four things we are not doing rightly irrespective of sects. The first thing is the correct understanding of life and Islam. A Muslim must not be lazy. From childhood, we need to teach our children to be intelligently hard working. Some Muslims are not lazy but they are not intelligently hard-working. I put all these under correct understanding of life itself. Once this is missing, there is going to be a very huge challenge. We know everything is an act of God, but you have choices. God has given us choices in Suratul Balad. If you choose something and the consequence comes, you don’t blame God for it. So, our understanding of this in my own view is inadequate.
Secondly, some Muslims also think that you are worldly when you pursue economic interest. No. It is a poor understanding. It only becomes worldly when you are not applying your earned resources to serve Allah or you are not serving Allah when you ought to be serving Him. We have a lot of people who were resourceful during the time of Prophet Muhammad. (s.a.w) Abdurrahman bn Awwf was one of them. Another good example was Abubakr As-Sideeq. They gave everything they had for Islam. About 50% of Muslims believe that if you are working hard then you are worldly. It is wrong. You even find out that some people believe in the Almajiri idea. I know all fingers are not equal, and I am not blaming people for it, but it is wrong to constrict the mind towards begging. The Prophet even said the hand that gives is always on top of those who collect and he prayed that his ummah be those who will be giving.
Competence is another factor. If you look at the level of skill acquisition, level of education, exposure and connection, that of the Muslims are lower. Yes, we have the numbers but the quality may not be adequate. We don’t even have to go outside the boundaries of Islam to achieve all these. Islam is very robust. If you go on hajj and you see how beautiful the Mosques in Makkah and Madinah are, talking about the aesthetic, the microphone, rug, and environment etc. There you worship Allah with comfort. Some people even think that when you worship on the bare floor and in uncomfortable environment, that is when you are serving Allah. You can serve Allah better when you work very hard.
Muslims should also be very honest. Not too many Muslims can be trusted with time, let alone money. This is one way we de-market ourselves. Like I said earlier, our brothers need to be competent and trustworthy.
Then there should be cooperation among the Muslims. Because of lack of trust, there is no cooperation. Some people asked me why can’t the Muslims come up with establishment of banks, and I said we read in the papers how the existing Islamic bank battle with one challenge or the other. For me it is all about cooperation. If we come together to do a thrift, raise money to do a project, the person will choose to be in charge of project will not declare the profit, he will then say: “This is the blessing of Allah” That is the reality. One of the things we are set to do is to continually tell people to have the right attitude. Without the right attitude to life, it is going to be difficult to get out of the woods.
What then is the role of leadership in all of these?
Everything revolves round the direction of the leadership. There is a proverb that ‘the fish dies from the head.’ Leadership is a great challenge in this country. A leader must be competent and trustworthy. The challenge today is that unless you have the two in a person, it is going to be difficult. I know that honesty may not be the issue with our leaders, but do they know the right thing to do. By that they do not mean harm, if you are not competent about something, you cannot do anything. People will tell you Nigeria was very good in the 60s, but it was all because there was competence and integrity. Both qualities must be present in a leader. Honesty or integrity alone is not sufficient to lead. If you don’t know how to carry people along on issues of security, economy and welfare, there is going to be problem. Irrespective of your level, a leader must be able to carry all sections of the people along. A leader who has blood running in his veins would not pull down a house without providing alternative for them. You are failing more by doing more damages.
How do you intend to use this forthcoming 2019 Jalsa to proffer a solution path to the socio-economic problems bedeviling the nation?
The theme for this year’s Jalsa is “Effective ways of calling people to Allah” All that I said earlier come under this. We are focusing on the peaceful teachings of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. To make it effective, we have invited international scholars and national speaker who were trained abroad. This year, we changed the model by bringing in international scholars and this is like a major re-engineering of the ways we do things. We will dwell on the importance of telling the truth and this will help us materially.
The Jalsa has three dimensions. The spiritual dimension which is the act of Godliness, religiousity and doing the right thing at the right time. The second is moral development where truthfulness, sincerity and the right attitude become the focus, so that when they go back and demonstrate it, it will help us in this country. It is a matter of principle and not theory in Ahmadiyya. People sometimes ask me, you are working on taxation for example, how do you do it without collecting or giving bribe, and I said to them, we don’t collect and we don’t give. If something is not Godly, then it is not right. We will only eat what is halal. Eating from what is stolen is un-Godly. That is the problem with Nigeria, anybody who lies whether on the platform of religion or government, is an un-Godly individual. The difference between the developed countries and Nigeria is truthfulness and falsehood. Falsehood abounds here and we reward it. There, if you buy a paracetamol for headache, it will go. But here, your headache will increase.
We have invited the President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, his Vice; some governors and their deputies. We have also invited some first class royal fathers across the regions and other dignitaries. Although the President has a tight schedule, but if he can make it, we will love it. The vice was with us last year and we hope he will find time to be here again. That is our own way of contributing to the development of Nigeria.