By Na-Allah Mohammed Zagga

Northern Nigeria is paying the price of allowing itself to become the hotbed of religious extremism. Any crank can arouse his followers to anger and make them commit atrocities because he is good at inspiring them into a wrong direction. Religion in the hands of a violent extremist is like a gun in the hands of a homicidal lunatic. No crisis in our recent memory has guzzled our national resources and caused massive fatalities like the Boko Haram terrorism.

Unchecked religious extremism produces monsters like Boko Haram terrorists who kill innocent people irrationally. Poisonous ideas cause harm insidiously. When the mind is overheated with hate, man is capable of any hideous barbarity. When extremism overtakes believers, the religion leaves them and then they veer off into barbarous criminality and insanity.

For years, religious extremism has crept into our university campuses and caused one crisis after another. We ignored the potential dangers of extremism because we thought the propagation of harmful ideas was in line with free speech. Unfortunately, little did we pay attention to the future danger it could pose to our well being and national security.
Foreign religious extremists found ready sympathisers in Nigeria.

Preachers who preached with violent rhetoric and openly encouraged violent hate and intolerance were tolerated. Violent radicalism was confused for the love of Islam. And those who opposed them were regarded as “compromised” Muslims.

For years, Mohammed Yusuf had espoused and promoted the Taliban version of violent religious ideology. He became an instant star in the Northeast; worse still, his followers loved him more than they loved their own parents.

Parents are supposed to be the primary level of influence on their children, but the extremists openly discouraged children from listening to their parents. The children condemn their parents as infidels and follow their extremist leaders as their sources of inspiration.

The late Jafar Adam did everything to wean off Yusuf from the wrong path, but he was defiant and stubbornly resistant to reason. His ego won’t let him admit he was wrong and was not ready to see the danger his teachings could pose to the Muslim society. Jafar Adam was brutally murdered in the Mosque while leading a prayer in the morning. And many people suspected Boko Haram in the death of Adam.

Rational voices like Sheikh Adam and Dr. Pantami that opposed Yusuf’s teachings were ignored. Despite Adam’s and Pantami’s interventions, Yusuf didn’t face desertion from members. Extremist leaders thrive because their followers are naive. It takes naivety to follow anybody uncritically, even to your own detriment. Extremists recruit a human army of automatons who can’t think for themselves. That’s why they can readily recruit illiterate devotees. The typical extremist thinks he is fighting the so-called enemies of Islam. But the reality today is that violent extremism has caused more enormous harm to Islam than anything else. Extremism breeds excesses. I agree with those who argue that only Muslim societies can defeat terrorism. You can render extremists irrelevant if you stop glorifying and following them. With no one to recruit, a violent preacher will automatically become irrelevant in his own society. Violent extremism has resulted in a situation where the religion is hijacked by criminals, psychopaths, drug addicts and rapists like Boko Haram.

Na-Allah Mohammed Zagga writes from Abuja .

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