by Ibraheem A. Waziri
I am a student of social trends. I am passionate about social actions and their implications. They may be political, cultural or religious! So naturally I am also interested about methodologies particularly in actions that will resolve conflicts, increase accommodation and extend the boundaries of tolerance. I do this with human beings as very central and most important and valuable ingredients. Institutions are there because there are people. Practices are there because there are people. Be them (the practices) are bestial or virtuous. This is why I say the most important human achievement is participating in the process of procreation by having children. Then, contributing, to the process of making this world a better and safer place for human beings, by ways one can.
We are in Nigeria. The social space is governed by two things as the nature of the debate suggests. There is democracy. There is Islam. These two, all say, serve humankind in the best way ever. All the intellectual endeavors of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi were in effort to reconcile the democratic space and the Islamic/ cultural space of Northern Nigerians. I too desperately want that. In fact I thought we have succeeded until this debate about Buhari’s handshake with the female folks came up.
Some respected brothers, Pius Adesanmi , Zainab Usman and many others think that Buhari is not a Muslims’ President and so must not abide by the wishes of some Muslims who believe it is forbidden in Islam to shake hands with women in public (Hausa culture forbids this even if she is your wife, daughter or mother, so far it is in a public glare). The argument here seems to be that since it is a strict Muslim requirement of social conduct according to some understanding, then Buhari has to be less Muslim to become a Nigeria’s president! For Pius, anything other than this may mean Buhari is making efforts at Islamizing Nigeria. Handshake with female folks is the symbol of secular Nigeria that must not be compromised. Buhari must handshake women in public or it is assumed he is being a fundamentalist Muslim.
For other Muslim brothers, especially Adam Baba Yamani and some who placed phone calls to me, the argument seems to be like if Buhari will handshake women in public, he actually has compromised his Islam and only for the pleasures of non-Muslims for the purpose of being seen not an Islamic fundamentalist. Some brother suggested that this will mean a minus for Islam and Hausa culture. It will hurt Muslims who may want not to shake hands with women in public. It may expose them to victimization by bosses who may think they are extremists. He believes in the power of the symbolism of handshake with female folks as it affects culture and perception of religion.
Now this is my humble take:
Democracy does not assume that leaders or other representatives of people should not have personal social preferences. In fact it affirms that they must, and as they project it publicly the world must learn to accommodate them with those preferences. This is democracy. It is why people like Silvio Berlusconi of Italy will be given a pass in a democracy to showcase his sexual preferences despite him being a minority along with other few, in that preference and in his national political space. That, they say, has nothing to do with the delivery of those things he had taken a vow to deliver as a leader in a democratic setting. This is why I think for a democratic leader to choose not to have a handshake with female folks in public, whether he is a Muslim or not, is not a problem to democracy, its principles and values. It is not a problem to Nigeria. It does not suggest that a Muslim who wants to be an active player in the Nigeria’s political space has to be less Muslim. Democracy has more than enough room to accommodate such practices and no matter the sources of the inspiration of the practices. It will help us more if we don’t use this argument for the reinforcement of the perception that there is a gap between Islam and democracy. There may be other arguments for that but not this.
For the second group, if handshake with female folks is forbidden in Islam (as I can see there are scholarly opinions that suggest otherwise barring conditions) as much as Hausa culture, the question is, does that mean the motive of the handshake was to please non-Muslims?
1. In Islam ascribing motives to the action of others without certainty is a sin in itself.
Did the handshake mean Buhari has compromised his Islam?
2. No. If this is a sin, he has only sinned like all of us are used to sinning, day and night. In fact by fair standards majority of us are more sinning then he is. Also even though a Muslim is mandated to correct the wrongs of other Muslims, there are methodologies. Moral flag bearers in Islam are mandated not to mention the name of persons in relation to a sin they want to chastise the persons and the public about. Especially when those sins are sins that are only against God committed by the persons involved. Because you may be publicly associating, chastising the persons for the sin that they may already have sorted themselves out with God about it and without your knowledge. So you may end up tarnishing the image of the persons in public, itself, another sin by all Islamic authorities. This also means even if the object of your target has committed the sin in public. You either meet them in private or come public and express the prohibitions of the sins loudly without necessarily mentioning names. This is the way of the Qur’an, the Hadith and the pious predecessors!
Did the action hurt Islamic, Muslim image or will prevent Muslims who choose to act to the contrary from accessing opportunities, or expose them to physical harm and victimization?
3. No. It did not and will not. It is God in the Qur’an that supplied us with this guarantee: “O you who have believed, upon you is [responsibility for] yourselves. Those who have gone astray will not harm you when you have been guided. To Allah is your return all together; then He will inform you [each] of what you used to do.” – Quran 5: 105
As Nigeria continues to experiment with democracy, certainly there will be more and more social characters, with diverse social preferences and values that will occupy the democratic space. For us to prove we are real democrats we just have to learn to tolerate and accommodate them all. These characters may be Muslims or non-Muslims with strong personal convictions on their personal choices but have strong communal value base that will deliver the high items in the list of fruits of democracy. Buhari was a dictator that some thought had no place in our democracy. But he convinced us by other hard-earned reputations that he could do it well. We saw reason and we gave him a chance and a space. Also in the space are religious people like Tunde Bakare and Osinbanjo who convinced us with other side of their lives that they could do it and we gave them a chance. Someday you will have a Muslim Sheik with some not so agreeable personal choices who will convince us that he can deliver at the center with some other demonstrated values. We will certainly give him a chance!
For Muslims, just know your limits with your Muslim brothers. Understand your responsibilities for others and do not in your overzealousness earn more credits of sins than the Muslim brothers you want to chastise. The worst Muslim leaders in history, worse than Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, IBB, Abdussalami, Abacha, Tinubu, Abiola or whoever you want to add to the list of your worst, were leaders who fought a Jihad and established a Caliphate. As I don’t want to be caught attacking people or tarnishing their image, I will not mention names, but whoever is familiar with Islamic history far and recent will remember some of these names that meant a nightmare to other Muslims and to the entire world. The beauty of it is God kept His promise for none of them or others was able to hurt the Islam you were born into less than fifty years ago and which started over millennia ago. Surprisingly, it didn’t wait for you to protect it from being destroyed. Your actions and inactions now can do little in improving its image or otherwise. You are only on your own, “…upon you is [responsibility for] yourselves…”
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