As mystery creates fear and anxiety, so is the rising influence of an Islamic sect, Jama’atul Ta’awunil Muslimeen, creating alarm in Osun State, particularly in the minds of residents of Iwo, headquarters of the organisation.
Drawing from the experience of Nigerians who are still grappling with the atrocities of Boko Haram, the people are worried by the way Ta’awunil is propagating in their midst without check by the authorities.
The organisation has existed for about 22 years, having started in 1994 in Iwo. But its recent rapid expansion to other states is raising concerns. The organisation now has 56 branches across the country and a membership of about 7000.
There is a growing fear in observers of the group that it contains a magma that may soon erupt to wreak another round of sectarian havoc on Nigeria.
Iwo, a sprawling town with a large Muslim population, has many mosques and Islamic centres befitting its status as one of the earliest towns in the South-west to embrace the religion. But there are also many churches and Christian centres in the town, including Bowen University of the Nigerian Baptist Convention.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that in spite of this mix, the people have enjoyed relative religious harmony.
For Alhaji Abdulrahseed, a resident of Iwo, this harmony must not be toyed with through an unnecessary stress on religious fault lines. Although he could not pinpoint any obnoxious doctrine that contradicts Islamic principles, he is afraid that the staunch anti-Christian and anti-Western posture of the Ta’awunil sect could produce a conflagration in the near future if not checked.
A member of the sect, who would not want to be named, said other Muslims are afraid because of the high level of organisation and articulation of programmes of the sect.
“Ta’awunil is so departmentalised and organised. We have departments for every focus of the movement,” he said.
“We have departments for education, orphanage and charity, the media, security, economic development and other areas. This is the reason why some Muslims are afraid because it is more than just the usual praying five times a day and going to the mosque.”
The brotherhood found a haven in an area known to the people of Iwo as Sharia Road. Many members of the sect own houses and lands in the area. Most of Ta’awunil centres are located there. They run an Islamic nursery and primary school as well as a secondary school. They also own a well-built structure for orphanage which they run as part of their charity work. Its Islamic College of Education has just taken off and has commenced admission for students.
The sect operates an online radio and television station, and seeks through its political department to influence government policies and the emergence of political leaders during elections. It has a human rights committee specifically charged with the responsibility of defending the rights of Muslims where they are perceived to be violated.
Sources told PREMIUM TIMES that the organisation has bought much of the lands in the community and was assisting its members to purchase lands and build houses around the Ta’awunil centres.
According to concerned residents, non-members living around the place are no longer comfortable and have been relocating to other places, further creating room for the sect to dominate the area.
One of the residents who spoke to Premium Times on condition of anonymity, because he lives close to the group and fears reprisal, said he was sure the group was up to something untoward because of the kind of training being received by its paramilitary arm.
“The group is training its security force and when you watch them, they are trained in combats and martial arts,” he said.
“And during the time of politics, these security men are used by politicians, and that is really dangerous.”
He also alleged that the trainer, popularly called “Coach” was brought from Libya to train the members in martial arts and other combat techniques.
A PREMIUM TIMES correspondent observed that members of the security arm of the organisation were kitted in a uniform – black shirts over green khaki trousers with fitting black boots and black beret.
At the time our correspondent visited the location last week, the organisation was holding its 18th annual conference, which was well attended by members from across South-west states. The security men were also found keeping watch at the residence of the National President of Ta’awunil, the schools, the orphanage and the places where they held their programmes. It was gathered that the men also watched over members during their prayers at the mosque.
All the female members attending the conference were completely veiled so one could barely see their faces and their feet. Most of the males who interacted with our correspondent had long beards.
The national president of the group, Daood Molasan, known as the Ameer, is revered among the adherents as one who leads by example and walks in the footsteps of the prophets and the Quran.
He is believed to have a strong hold on his followers, who would do whatever he bids them under any circumstance. His lifestyle, according to his followers, is worthy of emulation, as he chose to be humble. Although he owns an SUV and lives in a sprawling accommodation in the area, the Ameer often prefers to ride on a motor bike in company with his guards who are also mounted on bikes.
An adherent described the act as humble and exemplary, saying it was one of the reasons he is so loved by members of the group.
In spite of the apprehensions of some residents, the group is influential and closely connected with those in authority. PREMIUM TIMES gathered that the group enjoys the support of the Osum State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola, and the Oluwo of Iwo, Oba Abdulrasheed Adekanbi.
The governor was billed to declare open its 18th annual conference on Sunday with a keynote address. The group also prides in its relationship with the Iwo monarch who often took out time to hold the Friday Jumat services with members at their mosque.
As the Ameer himself disclosed to PREMIUM TIMES, the group is involved in politics because it is interested in who fill positions of leadership in the state and the country.
He said politicians come to seek the group’s support, both Christians and Muslims alike, during campaigns, but the group would only support candidates who would remember the poor and deliver good governance to the people irrespective of religion.
Mr. Molasan denies any link with terrorism and terrorist groups, saying those who accused them of terrorism were ignorant.
“They are ignorant about our organisation. Since the beginning of the organisation, there is no form of attack from us against any Christian,” he said.
“Even, there are many Christians who are supporting us in our stand in the city. We are against Boko Haram. And we organise press conference on it. Not only press conference, but lectures for our brothers on it. We go on radio and television to explain Islam’s stand on terrorism and Boko Haram activities.
“We are calling on all Muslims to let them know that Boko Haram is not representing their interest. They are representing the interest of other people, not Muslims. Because in Islam, you are not allowed to kill others because they are infidels. If someone is a kafir, you will call him. If you kill him, what is the benefit?
“The Prophet did not kill to force people to Islam. The war fought by the Prophet was to defend Islam and not that he started it. They fought against him and he had to defend himself. In the Quran, Allah urged us to live with other kufar (non-Muslims), and not to criticise their worship.
“Those who say we are terrorists should name one example where Ta’awunil attacked any church or any person. So we are not a terrorist group.”
On the security outfit, Mr. Molasan explained that the sports and security section in the organisation were not trained to kill or attack people but to protect the congregation of Muslims during their activities, ensure smooth traffic flow on the roads and to help other people, either Muslims or non-Muslims.
“Our security men are well known in any city they are operating in. We are always working together with government,” he further explained.
“If Ta’awunil is a terrorist group, it will not sell its services to the people. The Police is well aware of the security of Ta’awunil. As Ta’awunil has security, other churches also have the same. We are not terrorists, and we will never be terrorists.
“There is no difference between our security and churches’ security and other security. If we are training them for anything, it is also what others are doing. They are like Sheriff guards, or Man O’ War. We are not operating illegally, we are operating in line with the country’s constitution.”
On the various programmes of the organisation, the Ameer, said Ta’awunil was established to correct and build the Muslim community, which he said has been backward in education, health and economic power.
He said these problems formed the major weaknesses of Muslims, which would be addressed by finding ways of ensuring improved welfare and resources to the people.
“Our major focus is to ensure that our community is strong in education, health, media and other areas of life, because we believe that Islam is a comprehensive religion. Islam is not against education, it is not against development,” he said.
According to Mr. Molasan, preachings alone could not convince the people of the organisation’s true intentions. Through its charity organisation and educational support to the poor, he said the group was able to tell the real story and intentions of Ta’awunil.
He stressed that Ta’awunil had made efforts to avoid any clashes with other religious organisations, saying, “We are preaching Islam, not terrorism. Our members understand this way. We don’t incite our members against other religions, like Christianity.”
“We are not Christians and we are not against Christians. We will not be Christians, but we are not against Christians. We can only try to call Christians to come to Islam, not to fight them. Islam is against compulsion of others to Islam,” he added.
On its doctrines, Mr. Molasan noted that it had no new teachings that are strange to the Quran. He said its practices are based on the Quran and the Sunna (sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad), and challenged those who have contrary views to make their questions known.
He further said the organisation is not a political party, but participates in politics as its constitutional right.
“We can assist anybody to become governor or chairman of local government if we believe he can do good when he gets to power. This is our constitutional right and it is right in Islam also. Islam does not forbid politics, Islam is politics, but it must be politics of truth, not corruption as we are seeing now,” he said.
“We are not a political party, but we will participate to elect a good candidate. If that candidate is a Christian and he will do well, we will support him. Nigeria is for both Christians and Muslims and it is a right granted by the constitution.”
When contacted, the Commissioner of Police in Osun State, Fimihan Adeoye, told PREMIUM TIMES that the police command had done its research on the group and has yet to find any threat to peace among them.
He said the group’s members are well known to the general public and there was no cause for alarm.
“As far as we are concerned, we think every member of the group is known,” he said.
“We don’t think it is a terrorist group and we are not aware of any of their activities that is a threat.
“That is our opinion for now.”