February 11, (THEWILL) – Though not popular and flamboyant as their Christian counterparts, some Islamic clerics in Nigeria can be as mean and manipulative as GOs, pastors, leaders of Pentecostal denominations. There have been cases of paedophiles luring and abusing minors in Islamic schools, disturbing incidents of selling potions, perfumes for personal success in business or some such request by Muslim faithful. THEWILL considers incidents of Imams taking advantage of their Muslim brothers and sisters. Michael Jimoh reports…
One of Mohammed Dewu’s life ambition was to learn the Quran by rote from cover to cover, to know it off the cuff like the venerable Mullahs of Qum. He always envied younger students in Arabic school who could recite portions of the holy book straight from the heart. Try as much as he could, he never managed to. Dewu was prone to forgetting passages of the holy book he’d read only hours before with a tendency to nodding off in the process.
Like the tireless workhorse Boxer in Orwell’s Animal Farm, Dewu’s retentive memory isn’t much to speak of. Able to recite 1,2,3,4 to 5, Boxer soon forgot it all after advancing from 6 to 10. Dewu had the same dilemma with Orwell’s workaholic, unintelligent beast. So, what to do to retain and recall seamlessly what he’d read days, weeks or even months before?
Dewu went on his knees to an Islamic scholar for assistance. No problem, the Imam told him. In sha Allah, he would do something to redress Dewu’s regretful situation. Part of the solution, Mallam Abdulrashid Imam assured him, would be to invoke a jinn to “impart knowledge” of the Quran direct into Dewu’s head. But it would cost the seeker of knowledge a certain amount of money. No problem, Dewu himself responded. He was willing to pay.
And so began a series of payments for bottles and bottles of perfume (read eturare, sasarobia) which Abdulrashid Imam concocted for his client. But first, the matter of jinn had to be settled. Common in Arabian tales as spirits which can be summoned to perform certain tasks beyond human comprehension, Dewu had to pay for that. He did. Next were the bottles of perfume he had to purchase: two of them cost Dewu N70, 000 each; a special one went for N160, 000 while yet another to treat his mother’s arthritic leg was sold for N550, 000. Totaling 60 bottles in all, the Islamic cleric assured the supplicant, the perfumes will activate verses from the Quran that will be “implanted into his brain by spiritual means.”
With his claws deep into the seeker of knowledge, Abdulrashid Imam upped his game just like any discerning pastor or shaman will: for the prayers to work effectively, Dewu was to provide buckets of honey, two mobile phones with SIM cards that will “enable him to transfer the Quranic verses to his brain at a cost of N900, 000.”
In addition was $24, 000 to neutralise forces trying to scuttle an appointment the government had already earmarked for Dewu. In all, the man paid a total of N3m apart from the $24, 000. By the time he realised it was a first class scam by the Muslim teacher, it was too late. He’d been shafted so completely by Abdulrashid Imam that Dewu had no option but report to the EFCC sometime in December 2019, which Wilson Uwujaren as spokesperson at the time, confirmed. The offending Islamic cleric was arrested after Dewu’s petition.
A year before on 22 December 2018, another Islamic cleric Abdulsalam Salaudeen was nabbed for a completely different criminal offence. The accuser was Ikeja Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Court on behalf of a minor, a case they brought before Justice Abiola Soladoye of a Lagos court in June 2019. Alfa Salaudeen was the resident Imam of Olorunbabe Mosque located on 15, Palace Road Igando, Lagos. In that capacity with his cane handy, Salaudeen schooled his pupils with a severe hand, taught them the way of the scripture. Among his wards were a few teenagers, some preteens and a handful of minors as young as seven, six and five.
A respected Islamic teacher and already 43 then, Alfa Salaudeen had a predilection for fondling the backsides of some of his students and even going further. It is possible one or two victims complained to their parents about the instructor’s odd behaviour but it was difficult to prove because there was no evidence whatsoever. Unable to confront him one-on-one, they let technology resolve the problem. Unknown to the resident Islamic cleric, a secret camera was mounted within the premises of Olurunbabe Mosque. Needless to say that the man was caught in the act defiling a five-year-old under his care.
On 25 March 2021, Sahara Reporters published the sad tale of a Nigerian Islamic cleric Ishmaila Salam in faraway Ghana jailed 10 years for defiling a 12-year-old. According to the online publication, Salam was unusually intimately close to the girl in question for which her mother has had cause to warn off Ishmaila. It didn’t stop the cleric and student from having sex in the mosque, Masjid Ali Dawwod Zahriya in Kwahyia in Eastern Ghana starting from 2020 and usually after her studies. The girl’s father Kwame Abu took the Nigerian to court before Justice Effia Addison for defiling her daughter. Ishmaila was sentenced to 10 years in jail with hard labour.
For Professor Mahfouz Adedimeji an Islamic scholar and Vice Chancellor of Ahman Pategi University Pategi in Kwara state, people like Abdulrashid Imam, Abdusalam Salaudeen and Ishmaila Salam are not true Islamic clerics. They are impostors and, in his view, it is not entirely surprising that fake people are parading themselves as clerics of the Muslim faith.
“It is true but disheartening that fake leaders and pseudo-clerics are posing as scholars of Islam these days,” Adedimeji told Godfrey George of Punch recently. “Anyone with some cheap data on social media can claim what he is not and still gain the following of the confused or ignorant lot. It is one of the signs of the end time foretold by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The message of Islam is complete and whoever attempts to bring what doesn’t belong there into it will be rejected. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) warned that a time would come when nothing would remain of Islam except its name and nothing of the Qur’an except its text, meaning that people would only be paying lip service to Islam without truly understanding or practicing it. This explains why we can still find imposters here and there who tarnish the name of Islam and commit atrocities like duping and exploiting others.”
Exploiting others was clearly the case in December 2019 when police busted three Islamic schools in Kaduna and Katsina states “where men and boys were chained to walls, molested and beaten” in a report of abuse by Daniel Mumbere for Reuters. One of the buildings, a two-storey house, had a sign on it: “House of Imam Ahmad Bin Hanbal for the Application of Islamic Teachings.” While recitations of the Quran may have been part of the school’s curriculum, students were also subjected to serial abuse. They lived in unhygienic conditions, starved and exploited like galley slaves.
The Reuters report showed that parents and guardians of some of the students personally handed them over to the proprietors for proper education in the Quran. Some paid tuition. But once the proprietors take custody of the children, it becomes a different ball game entirely. For starters, parents are denied access and visiting rights to their children for three months and sometimes more thus effectively cutting them off from what the students are going through within the school compound. Those who talked about the harsh conditions in the school were promptly punished to deter others.
“If anyone tried to tell their family,” 14-year-old Umar told the Reuters reporter, “they would be hung up from a wall or put in chains.” Umar’s grandfather parceled him off to the Islamic centre for being a truant. Parents are not pleased either about the conditions under which their children live. “I deeply regret taking my child to the rehabilitation centre because I was ignorant of what was actually going on here,” lamented Alhaji Lawal Garka, a parent and native of Daura.
Because of the inhuman treatment meted to them by the proprietors, then President Muhammadu Buhari instructed the police to disband such schools in northern Nigeria. “The government cannot allow centres where people, male and female, are maltreated in the name of religion,” the presidential order declared at the time. Among the inmates/ students were mostly Nigerians, Nigeriens, Malians, Chadians and Burkinabes forming a great part of the Muslim belt of the West African sub region.
Two Islamic teachers Hassan Bilyaminu and Abdullahi Bilyaminu didn’t have such cast of international students under their care at Islamiyya School in Minna Niger state when allegations of abuse made the headlines in 2020. The pupils were all Nigerians, from ages twelve down to five, four, male and female. In the course of instructing the students, Hassan and Abdullahi took liberties with the minors. Based on allegations by Lawal Idris of Tudun Nasira in Maitumbi area of Minna, the two “lured four of the girls whose ages ranges between 6 and 11 years old pupils of your Islamiyya, into your house and used your finger to rub and inserted it into the minors’ vagina one after the other.”
Both admitted committing the crime during investigation. In sentencing them Chief Magistrate Hajiya Hauwa Baba Yusuf described their act as “grossly indecent and an assault that will leave a permanent and gruesome memory in the mind of these little girls. One wonders what people like the convicts derived from assaulting and defiling little girls. This has gone berserk, there must be more to this pandemic of sexual assault on little children. For the society to be able to curtail this ugly trend, the full wrath of the law must be brought on the convicts.”
The judge sentenced both to 15 years separately.
In condemning these acts by so-called Islamic clerics, Prof Adedimeji made it clear that “Islam denounces whatever is inconsistent with its pristine teachings as enshrined in the Qur’an and the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad…there is no controversy about what is right and wrong as the two primary sources of Islamic law lay the terms. No one can hide behind a finger to justify misdeeds because the evidence is clear.”