Sheikh (Alhaji) Zikrullah Kunle Hassan is the current Chairman/CEO,
National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Abuja haven held several positions within the Islamic body in Nigeria. In an exclusive interview with Capitalwatch Media, Sheikh Hassan unveils the Islamic perspective of peace and peaceful co-existence across religions towards promoting inter-religious tolerance in Nigeria.
As an Islamic cleric and an administrator who has held several positions among the Muslim Ummah in Nigeria, tell us your position on the virtue of peace and religious tolerance?
Ans: Islam is peace, and it teaches peace, which is why Muslims are commanded to meet with people with greeting of peace and smiles instead to frown their faces at all times. Whenever there is peace there is progress. Islam made the very mode of greeting based on spreading peace, just as it even has its name (Islam) derived from (Slim) which means peace.
The Prophet s.a.w. in his Hadith emphasizes: “Should I tell you something that could make you love one another! Be spreading “Salaam” among yourselves.
What is the stand of Islam relating with non-Muslims as ascribed in the Holy Qur’an?
Ans: Peace and religious tolerance are major Islamic teachings. The Prophet taught and showed us a lot of examples on peaceful coexistence being essential, especially in a multi religious environment.
Islam is in the forefront when it comes to the issues of peace and religious tolerance.
We must remember how the Prophet s.a.w within the premises of his Masjid used to welcome followers of other religions and cordially interacts with them in discussions, answering their questions patiently without forcing anyone to accept the religion.
Inter-religious intolerance is common in Nigeria, what do you think is responsible?
Ans: Misguided people hiding under politics, ignorance of followers whether religious or political loyalists, poverty and for devilish financial benefits. Religious intolerance is common in Nigeria due to political reasons in the sense that some politicians who do not have any good to offer to the community play the religious card to get followership.
They ride on people’s religious sentiments to make them hate other contestants that do not share the same faith with them thereby causing disharmony. People are being manipulated out of ignorance to believe that only politicians who are the same religion with you will protect your interest.
Besides, some religious clerics deliberately bank on their followers’ blind loyalty to teach them the wrong notion of coexistence with humanity. They manipulate their followers to detest people of other faith due to some financial aids they receive from sympathizers and so on as a result of religious uprisings.
Poverty is a societal ill that is like fertilizer to many vices. It yields unwarranted hatred, frustration, manipulative tendencies which some of our politicians deliberately use in inciting one religion’s adherents against the other for their selfish reasons. This is one of the reasons why Islam condemns indolence completely and encourages communal lifestyle through zakat, charity activities, visiting and helping the needy, the wayfarer, the student, orphans, etc.
This is to give them a sense of belonging and to keep the community engaged with a feeling of social cohesion.
In Nigeria, politicians in most cases use our religious diversity to achieve their goals. What is your advice to such people and Nigerians who happen to be victims?
Ans: What some politicians do not understand is that because they can get their way through inciting religious sentiments, it is a pyrrhic victory that will not last long. It will breed long lasting chaos, restlessness and agitation due to the explosive nature of hatred. However, if they commit themselves to positive development of the country through initiatives that will bring about infrastructural development and so on, we stand to gain collectively.
My advice to them is to note that what goes around comes around. If they feel safe using our religious diversity to cause problem in the society today, they may not be safe for long, by the time what they sow start rearing bitter fruit; they will be here to eat it as well. We will all be consumed by the hatred they breed.
And by the time the people realize they were used for selfish reasons; the politicians will no longer be safe as well. Most of the cases of insecurity being witnessed in the country today are fallouts of some of these religious tensions and lack of proper religious education. We either swim together in harmony and progress as a nation or sink together in chaos. If one cannot leave his home and feel safe, that is chaotic enough.
There is an assertion that politics has done more bad than good in keeping us divided by religion. What is your take on this?
Ans: Not really. It is not politics that is to blame for our religious intolerance because politics is not practiced in Nigeria alone. Why is it working in other countries? Blame our people for their selfishness, greediness, counterintelligence and vision less leaders.
We support non-innovative people and push them forth as leaders that take cover under religion but are as ignorant of religious tenets as their gullible followers. They are people bereft of ideas in improving our common good that will make us rise as a nation instead, they revert to divide and rule while they steal our common wealth.
So, it is more of mind-set than politics. Even if you take politics away today, so long these people with this type of mind-set remain, it will be the same game, and they will spring up their religious charade under another guise.
Do you see Nigeria in the nearest future absolutely free from religious conflicts?
Ans: Yes, I am optimistic that one day, we will grow out of this mentality. Even now, religious strives are reducing because more and more people are beginning to see through the smokescreen. People are beginning to realize that they are being used and if the good ones in the society continue to enlighten the larger populace, one day the number of those who will say no to religious politics and intolerance will far outweigh those on the other side.
That will be the dawn of a new dispensation when political office holders will have to ride on their credentials to lead our people.
Hopefully, if the government’s poverty alleviation policies like agricultural diversification holds ground, fewer people will be willing to be used as a tools by politicians to cause religious tensions. Because by then, more people will have viable businesses to protect and attend to, who will they manipulate for their selfish reasons?
Once the right policies are enacted, and saboteurs are apprehended, more people will throw away religious sentiments and return to the true teachings of their faith, which is peaceful co-existence. Because by then, they will not want their gains to perish in religious crisis.
It will take patience and perseverance but as I stated earlier, the good people in the society will have to continue enlightening the public on the dangers of blind religious/political solidarity, the dangers of fake news being put out sometimes to whip up religious aggression. We must assist the government in discouraging hate speech and by being our own community police by reporting persons inciting violence in our society.
What advices to you have for the government and Nigerians on the need to foster peace inter-religious harmony?
Ans: Government should continue creating enabling environment for legitimate wealth acquisition. Government should engage the relevant agencies created to shape societal re-orientation in spreading the message of religious harmony. It should engage and support NGO’s genuinely promoting peaceful co-existence.
Besides, security agencies should do more in identifying saboteurs and dealing with them accordingly for all to see. Re-orientation should start from our school curricula but the surest way to succeed is through poverty eradication and enlightenment.
As for Nigerians, they will definitely fall in line when they begin to feel a sense of self-worth, something to protect and to live for. By the time the wicked religious preachers are apprehended and saboteurs are handled appropriately, people will be guided to the true religious tenets as it used to be before advent of religious manipulative preachers.
In summary, what do you have to tell Nigerians about the activities and successes of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) under your leadership?
Ans: NAHCON is mandated to supervise Hajj activities from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia. The Commission is strivings towards financial autonomy to reduce the burden of governance to the federal government. In the last Hajj, offshore operations were run 100% by from NAHCON’s proceeds and we continue to explore more revenue generating options.
Again although we took over barely over 10 months ago, and under difficult situation of COVID-19, we were still able to achieve modest success in the field of:
1. Hajj Savings scheme
2. Hajj fare reduction though this was not effective due to COVID-19.
3. Digital Transformation of Hajj Operations under way.
4. Hajj Training Institute has been initiated.
5. Assessment of Hajj Development Levy Projects and contract.
6. Hope to commence Hajj Route Project in the next Hajj.
7. Staff training, etc.
NAHCON’s major focus and energy is to do whatever is necessary to make Hajj and Umrah exercise as easy, affordable and comfortable for Nigerian pilgrims from the moment of registration in Nigeria and in Saudi Arabia for rituals.