Nigerian Muslims and the sweetness of difficulty, By Muhammad Jameel Yusha

Five years ago an elderly brother, Hajj Omar, originally from Somalia,  invited me to his house in Sheffield. After enjoying the Somali dishes, one of them actually an equivalent of what the Hausa people call “dafa duka” or jollof rice, he handed me a gift. And believe me the Somali Jollof rice is superb, apart from the exceptional spices it contains, it is cooked with large portions of lamb to the delight of every guest unless he is a vegetarian. So understand that Somalia is not just about Al-Shabab as the media would like us to believe. Before you accuse me of making “santi”, (another Hausa word that describes the comments that normally follows from eating a nice food), I am actually fasting while writing this short piece.

The gift that Hajj Omar gave me was a book called “La Tahzan” in Arabic, translated in English as Don’t be Sad,  written by Sheikh Aaidh ibn Abdullah Al-Qarni. Don’t be Sad is an important treasure that should be on the bookshelf of every person who cares to be content and live a peaceful life, in fact as the Sheikh mentioned in the preface of the book, it was not meant for Muslim readers only, but for everybody, and I can guarantee that whoever reads it, irrespective of faith, will definitely enjoy the admonishment it contains.

One of the most captivating part of the book is a sub-section entitled “convert a lemon into a sweet drink”. In this section Sheikh Aaidh stated that “an intelligent and skilful person transforms losses into profits; whereas, the unskilled person aggravates his own predicament, often making two disasters out of one”.

If I were to summarise the content of that book in few sentences I will mention that no matter the state of difficulty, whatever the level of hopelessness, no matter the level of hardship or how far the solution might appear to be, you can always get something of benefit out of a bad situation.

When you critically look at the situation of Nigerian Muslims today there are those who have lost hope completely, and there are those who remain hopeful and working to bring about change. For too long, Muslims in Nigeria have been deceived by the fact that there were Muslims at the helm of affairs even though they did very little to address the concerns of not only the Muslims but the entire citizenry. The lost of political power created a huge vacuum and made some to become spectators and others to follow the existing tide. But there are still those who are working hard to produce Moses in the house of Pharaoh.

Two factors here are important; the outcome of the 2011 elections and the current state of insecurity in the country have created some form of consciousness that was hitherto unheard of. They created a desire for people to be responsible for themselves and guide their people using the limited resources available. The effort made by some individuals within Nigeria to collect donations and distribute relief materials to the victims of disasters, both natural and man made as we have seen in Plateau State (with the military ultimatum against a section of the population, and the flood that follows) is encouraging. The spirit of brotherhood and compassion exhibited is very sweet even though it was created by a difficult circumstance. And part of this difficult circumstance was created by our own hands.

As suggested by a friend who sent an email in response to my article last week, if the Muslims had done their home work properly, perhaps we might not have the large population of Christians in northern Nigeria as we do today. And the fact that we do does not provide an excuse for either section of the religious divide to take the law into its own hands.

From the spirit shown by people, there is hope for a light at the end of the tunnel. Those who started this charitable work should not stop there. It should carry on, for I couldn’t see a better chance of salvaging our people than through community spirit. The people who collected the donations and those who contributed may not be rich, but the outcome of their work is what provides a foundation for a successful society. Muslims, especially from northern Nigeria can learn a lesson from Muslims in southern Nigeria. They have faced so much difficulty to the extent that at a point they cannot name their children with names that are clearly identified as Islamic. They faced forceful conversion and discrimination in work place. Yet they endured and developed a community spirit. They established schools and worked hard to send their kids to study away from Nigeria. Gradually they are growing and becoming powerful forces that are intellectually and economically cogent to withstand any challenge that comes their way.

Sheikh Aaidh Al-Qarni reminded us in Don’t be Sad that “if you are afflicted with a misfortune, look at the bright side. If someone were to hand you a glass full of squeezed lemons, add to it a handful of sugar. And if someone gives you a snake as a gift, keep its precious skin and leave the rest”.

 *Dr. Yusha’u (, a former staff of the BBC, teaches journalism at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle, England. He is a weekly columnist for PREMIUM TIMES 

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