Sheikh Hamza Lawal: The Controversial Linguist of All Times

Kaduna Governor Nasir El-Rufai in attendance


In December last year, I wrote an open letter to Sheikh Hamza Lawal – and between God and man, satire, mockery, ridicule or sarcasm was not in any way my motivation. That was why I initially tried all efforts humanly possible to communicate the letter to him in privacy. I decided to make it open after he had blocked all chances of private communication. As I desired, he finally got the letter and read its contents. I was happy, while commenting on the letter during Maulud a particular gathering he acknowledged that the personality behind it was to an extent fair, although he exhibited the habitual deviation by giving some flimsy excuses and lopsided interpretation of the text on its pages. Whatever his perception or conception was, it’s his own cup of tea. All I intended was to remind him of some necessary issues integral to moral maxims which he is probably familiar with better than I am. Thus, I expected a change at least in his approach towards moral issues and personal style, particularly in public speech. Alas! Nothing changed, but if any change happened, I can observe that he has changed for worse.

As a matter of fact, whenever I listen to Sheikh Hamza’s speeches, I often find myself in a state of bewilderment, perplexity, introspection and sometimes i appeared to exhibit something of interior monologue. More often than not, I ask myself the following questions: what kind of being Sheikh Hamza Lawal is? What impression is he trying to establish into the minds of his audience? Is he depicting himself as a super human or supernatural? Why doesn’t he accept or at least respect corrections? Why does he address his audience as if they had never got any experience about the happenings on the planet earth? Why does he present himself as an Island of knowledge? Who taught him that satire and mockery are among the qualities of a religious preacher, especially somebody like him who runs a registered religious enterprise? In which way is his personality unique? How did he acquire the best knowledge and human civilization of all earthlings? These, among myriad of other questions always occur in my mind.

While I was still trying to find answers to the above heart disturbing questions, on Sunday, the 14th May, 2017, I came across an audio which contained the same Sheikh Hamza Lawal’s comment on Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s interview which he had with Channel Television presenter, named Maupe Ogun. In reference to Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky during the interview, El-Rufai said, “I know the animal I am dealing with”.Though even the interviewer, Maupe Ogun herself, rejected the expression as pejorative but Sheikh Hamza Lawal used a religiously important occasion (Nisfu Sha’aban) to justify Governor El-Rufai’s slanderous expression. In order to impress on his audience his power of English expression as I had written in my open letter to him, he began his comment with an introductory mention of some linguistic elements, such as figures of speech, idiom, proverb and adage. I actually expected that he would make the linguistic exhibition more colourful by mentioning other devices like fable, parable, epigram, prolepsis, anaphora, idiophone, riddle etc. Also, I wished he had dived into stylistic devices and metrical components – iambic, dactyl, trochee, anapaest, spondee, pyrrhic etc. as all these would have made the public show fascinating and enticing.

Well, I have to put a period here for the epistemically needy and turn in jiffy to “I know the animal I am dealing with”. When I listened to the interview I heard him mention idiom; there is nothing like idiom in the expression. What Governor El-Rufai used in the above expression is a figure of speech, and in particular a metaphor, but devoid of good knowledge about what he did. His advocate, Sheikh Hamza Lawal too did not comprehend its contextual implication. Metaphor as a figure of speech is used to compare or liken two things by giving the quality of one to another. Metaphor has different connotations. It is used both positively and negatively. Consider following:

– Bawa is a lion. (Positive and panegyric)

Bawa is likened with a lion, an animal which has a desirable quality, bravery.

-Garba is a donkey (negative and pejorative)

Garba is likened with a donkey, an animal which lacks desirable quality

  • Habib is an angel (positive and panegyric)

Habib is likened with angel, a celestial being that possesses desirable qualities, beauty and obedience.

  • Zaid is an animal (negative and pejorative)

Zaid is likened with animal, a creature which is universally known to be opposite of man due to lack of unique qualities – intellect and language.

It is true that English people use this kind of expression in reference to human being but the questions are, how? Why? Where? And when? It is. important that Sheikh Hamza finds time to study pragmatics, a linguistic element that deals with the way in which context determines meaning of expression. Unlike semantics, that deals with conventional meanings in a particular language, pragmatics focuses on how the transmission of meaning depends on not only the structure (syntax and grammar) but also on the context of the utterance, the pre-existing knowledge, the pre-existing experience, the pre-existing interrelations about those involved, the inferred intent of speaker.

By the way, as educated as Governor El-Rufai and Sheikh Hamza Lawal are, I anticipated they are aware that a good public speaker is the one who always avoids ambiguity and controversial statements, since meaning heavily relies on the manner, place, time, and in fact, at times even biographical, political and social backgrounds of the speaker.

It is important to understand that language is inseparable from human culture. As far as I know English and American people use the controversial expression, “I know the animal I am dealing with” to make reference to human subject with whom they have dispute. Rarely do they use the expression in a formal or friendly atmosphere. It may be possible but only in casual and very informal situations. It is possibly used as slang by undisciplined group of young men.

Nonetheless, if both Sheikh Hamza Lawal and his role model, Governor Nasir El-Rufai belong to the above mentioned group, then I am left with no option but to rest my case here at this point in time, and all I have say finally is:

Peace and blessing of Allah be upon the rightly guided.

Nasir Hashim