“No peace in Nigeria Until Christians and Muslims accept that they worship the same One God No acceptance of the same One God Without understanding and respect for the different approaches to the One God No understanding and respect, without some knowledge of each other’s faith and tradition” (Fearon, 2012).

Boko Haram in the northern parts of Nigeria has always been understood as a mockery of the Yoruba word for “book” which is “buku”. According to some lecturers from the BUK, Daga book ne aka samu ya zama boko, Yorubawa sune suke cewa bukku, su kuma al’ummar Hausawa da book ta zo musu suba su san wani karatu ba, sai na addini, a saboda haka sai suka kwaikwayi abin da Yarbawa suke cewa bukku maimakon suce bukku sai suke cewa boko (Bala Volvo yakasai,Wai Shin, Boko Haramun Ne? not dated p. 8).  The point being made here is that this name is not new to Nigerians from the northern parts of the country; we are aware that there has always been derogatory remarks against western form of education by a good number of Muslim clerics on one hand and its promotion by a good number of our traditional rulers who always make sure that children get sent to school. The Boko Haram ideology was recently challenged by an artiste who traced the emergence of Europe’s cultural and political revolutions to the great contributions of the Arab world. Under the influence of Muslim Philosophers such as Averoes, scholars like Albert the Great ( 1200-1280) and Thomas Aquinas ( 1225-1274) discovered the Aristotelian system of thought. There is no way we can talk about the recovery of Philosophy, Medicine and all the Sciences without recourse to the great contribution of the Muslim world in the 13th century. In the light of this rich contribution of Islam to knowledge, a CD entitled, Boko Ba Haram Bane ( western Education is not Forbidden) was released and widely circulated in the northern parts of Nigeria. This quiet resistance is the Boko Haram we have always known in the north of Nigeria.

What is in a name? If that is what we understand to be Boko Haram, why has this group changed or has this group changed at all? We will always have Boko Haram and in the interest of Nigeria surviving and the northern parts making progress, it is the humble position of this author that we must see the challenge in this new phenomenon and seek ways and means of joining hands together and save the country.

The challenge of Boko Haram is enshrined in the name this group has given to itself. The Western world and a section of the Nigerian press have succeeded in removing our focus from the two main objectives of this new group which does not call itself Boko Haram. There is something missing in the way this new group is being handled and as a result, statements by some religious leaders are only inflaming and dividing the country along religious lines which is unfortunate. The group calls itself Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad (Group/community committed to propagating the Prophet’s teaching and jihad). From the self-descriptive name of the group, we can identify two key concepts that indicate its ultimate goal: dawah and jihad. Nigerian Muslims and Christians need to know that from its activities, this community has declared its stand; it is an Islamicist group which is not the same as Islam as known to majority of the Muslim Ummah. What is the difference?

Origin of the Word Islamism

According to mozaffari (2007:17) it is almost certain that the etiquette of ‘Islamism’ was used for the first time by French writers at the end of seventeenth century.  Le Petit Robert gives 1697 as the first reference to the word. The Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire is one of the first writers to use the term: ‘this religion is called ‘Islamism’. These scholars used the term ‘Islamism’ only in the sense of ‘Islam’ without any specific political or ideological connotation. By ‘Islamism’ all of them meant “Islam’ and ‘Islamism’, as interchangeable terms.  Prior to the Islamist revolution of Iran in 1978-1979, the terms ‘Islamism’ and ‘Islamists’ are also practically absent from the vocabulary of newspaper reporters.The change in the vocabulary happened with the outbreak of the Islamic revolution under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini, who preached a political Islam and established the first ‘Islamist government’ in the twentieth century.  This religious revolution made it imperative to find a new vocabulary in order to outline the specificity of this new phenomenon. This event gave rise to new frequently used terms: ‘Islamic fundamentalism’, ‘radical Islam’, ‘Islamic revival’, and ‘political Islam’.  These terms which became titles of numerous books and multiple articles, were clear and ambivalent at the same time.  They indicated that this kind of ‘Islam’ is quite different from other versions of ‘Islam’. What precisely does this new form of ‘Islam’ contain? The ambiguity remains almost complete.  Surely, it has become evident that this particular form of Islam was (more) political, often violent and severely critical towards the West, and last but not least, determined in its hostility towards established regimes in the Muslim world.

The clear conceptualization of this new phenomenon came after the tragic events of 9/11 – this increased the use of the word ‘Islamism’ among politicians and journalists worldwide. Scholars have also progressively focused their attention on the ideological contests of Islamism. ‘Islamism’ is no longer the simple Islam but rather a new and independent concept.  This change is observable in scholars’ works, and particularly so in books and articles posterior to 9/11.  For example, two eminent French Islamologists, Olivier Roy and Giles Kepel, previously used both ‘political Islam’ and ‘fundamentalist Islam’ extensively whereas they now tend to use ‘Islamism’ more and more often.  For Olivier ‘Islamism’ denominated the new form of activist Islam (Roy, O. Globalised Islam: The search for a New Ummah. London, 2002).

How Islamists interpret Islam

Islamists argue that their set of selected elements is, in reality, the ‘true’ Islam-and, secondly, they are convinced that this ‘true’ Islam’ is holistic and embraces all aspects of Muslims’ life in eternity.  The holism is based on the absolute indivisibility of the trinity: Din (Religion), Dunya (way of life), and Daula (Government).  This indivisibility is supposed to be permanent and eternal.  Its ultimate goal boils down to the fulfillment of this mentioned triad on a global scale.

The Ideology of Islamists

A sticker from Jamat-e-Islami with the following quote from Hasan al-Banna sums up what the ideology of Islamists is:

Allah is Our Lord.

Mohammed is Our Leader,

The Koran is Our Constitution,

Jihad is our way

Martyrdom is our Desire (Husain,2007:52).

Islamism therefore differs on this point from other totalitarian ideologies as it takes its legitimacy from a double source: ideology and religion.  Owing to its double character, actions undertaken by Islamists are seen by them as religious duties.  Where a Nazi feels responsible to his Fuhrer, an Islamist is responsible to his leader and before Allah. Islamism is also a regressive ideology which is oriented towards the past.  Its ideal is the Madinan model under Prophet Muhammad as well as the Caliphate of the first four Caliphs (Khulafa al-Rashidun). In this respect, Sayyid Qutb is explicit when he declares: “If Islam is again to play the role of the leader of mankind, then it is necessary that the Muslim Community be restored to its original form.”  To Islamists, the existing world order is both wrong and repressive.  It is wrong because the existing world does not correspond to Islamic principles.  Islam is a political power no longer as predominant as it used to be in the past.  The world is also considered repressive because non-Muslims occupy what the Islamists consider to be Muslim territory (e.g. Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya) or because Muslims live under severe repression from their own (anti-Islamic) governments.

In order to get rid of these conditions of repression and wrong-doing, the Islamists mainly propose two other ‘ideal reference points’.  The first is the ‘Madina Model’, e.g. society as it was shaped by Muhammad himself.  The second is the classical era of the Caliphate.  The Caliphate is one of the longest political institutions in history. Its lifespan extended from the year 632 right after the death of Muhammad the prophet, until its abolition by Mustafa Kemal in the year 1924.  During this very long period of time, the Caliphate experiences were of course not all of the same nature, and not all the experiences were triumphant. However, according to the general position of Shi’a the Imamate and not the Caliphate, is the rightful and legitimate institution. In spite of this position, Shi’a Islamists like Ayatollah Khomeini, without hiding their preference for the Imamate, have moved slowly but consistently towards a more consensual attitude.  Together with the Sunni Islamists, they share pride in, but also nostalgia for the disappeared past.  Therefore, it is fair to say that the restoration of the Caliphate today represents a general claim of all Islamists, independently of their sectarian membership (Mozaffari, 2007:23). To the Islamists therefore, the restoration of the Caliphate is the first step towards the ‘Islamisation’ of the world.

How they plan to achieve their goal

The Islamists’ spectrum of means to reach the above mentioned goal is quite wide, expanding from propagation, peaceful indoctrination and political struggle to violent methods such as assassination, hostage taking, terrorist and suicide actions, and even massacre of civil populations.  On violence, it seems right to say that the use of violence by Islamists remains non concomitant.  It is possible that simultaneously, some Islamists use extremely violent methods in one part of the world while other Islamists use non-violent methods in another part.  This variation in patterns of action is determined by different factors, though I would not hesitate to say that the quietist attitude of some Islamists is an exception.  In general, the use of violence is integral to the strategy of the Islamists for achieving their ends.  Among the various violent methods, terror is proven to be the preferred one, and is indeed frequently used by their groups (mozaffari,2007: 24).

But are all Islamists committed to using violence to achieve their goals?  Is there a difference between Sunni and Shi’a concepts of Islamism? Some Political analysts have identified three streams within Islamism ( Crisis Group: 2005:3).

1. Political:  There is the Islamic political movements (al-harakat al-islamiyya al-siyassiyya), exemplified by the society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt with its offshoots in Algeria, Kuwait, Jordan, Palestine, Sudan and Syria.  There are also locally rooted movements as the Justice and Development Party in Turkey and the Party for Justice and Development in Morocco – whose purpose is to attain political power at the national level.  All these political movements now accept the nation-state, operate within its constitutional framework, and eschew violence (except under conditions of foreign occupation). The characteristic actor in this stream is the party-political militant who makes an issue of Muslim misgovernment and social injustice and gives priority to political reform to be achieved by political action (advocating new policies, contesting elections, etc).

2 Missionary: The Islamic mission of conversion (al-da’wa) which exists in two main variants exemplified by the highly structured Tablighi movement on the one hand and the highly diffuse salafiyya on the other.  In both cases political power is not an objective; the over-riding purpose is the preservation of the Muslim identity and the Islamic faith and moral order against the forces of unbelief, and the characteristic actors are missionaries (du’ah) and the Ulama. To achieve their main goal, they make an issue of the corruption of Islamic values (al-qiyam al-Islammiyya) and the weakening of faith (al-Iman) and give priority to a form of moral and spiritual rearmament that Champions individual virtue as the condition of good government as well as of collective salvation.

3 Jihadi:  The Islamic armed struggle (al-jihad), internal (combating nominally Muslim regimes considered impious); irredentist (fighting to redeem land ruled by non-Muslims or under occupation); and global (combating the West).  The characteristic actor is, of course, the fighter (al-mujahid). Jihadi Islamists make an issue of the oppressive weight of non-Muslim political and military power in the Islamic world and give priority to armed resistance.

Though there are numerous currents of Islamism as demonstrated above, one common objective strings them together and that is that they found their activism on traditions and teachings of Islam as contained in the Qur’an and authoritative commentaries.

As Nigerians seek for ways  to respond to ideological Islam (alias ‘Boko Haram’), it is essential to note that the key difference between Islam and Christianity, apart from the theological conflict between Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus and in the Trinity and Islam’s rigorous monotheism, is that Islam is a religion that contains and transmits a framework of law held to be of divine origin and binding on all believers, in a way that – the Ten Commandments and the like not withstanding – has no counterpart in Christianity.(Crisis Group, 2005:note 2).  Non-Muslims must always remember that Islam is not so much a religion of peace as a religion of law.  Unlike Christianity, there is no universal agreed definition of Islam.  For practical purposes, what matters is what Muslims believe their religion to be, and this varies with circumstances and has changed over time. The view of Nazih Ayubi that denies the significance of the legal prescriptions contained in scripture, is very much a minority view(N. Ayubi; Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World. Lon. NY.1991:210-213) Furthermore, unlike in the Christian faith, Islam postulates and transmits a corpus of legal prescriptions as well as moral injunctions and is, therefore, “The blueprint of a social order” (Gellner, E. Muslim Society. 1981:1).

Suggestions on Responses to Islamism represented by ‘Boko Haram’ in Nigeria

In search of responses the National Orientation Agency(NOA) must put up programmes to educate Nigerians so as to avoid the mistake of the West in equating “Ideological Islam” with “Islamic fundamentalism”, radicalism” and “extremism”.  The Federal government and all its intelligence gathering operatives must do an honest and objective analysis of each of the three identified streams above and work with groups that are engaged and willing to construct alliances and win over public opinion obliging it to adapt to contemporary realities and innovate within the medium of the Islamic tradition. Do Political Islamists still call for “The Islamic State” today? This is a question the ‘Boko Haram’ and those financing their activities need to answer honestly.

According to Middle East/ North Africa Report (No 37, 2 March 2005 p.6), Islamic movements no longer operate with a definite and demanding conception of “the Islamic state” to be counterposed to existing states in the Muslim world and promoted at their own expense.  Islamist political movements have come round to acknowledging that scripture (the Qur’an, the Sunna and the hadith) contains no clear definition of the “Islamic state” and that this can, accordingly, take different forms.  At the same time, recognition of the limitations of scripture in this respect had led these movements to drop the simplistic slogans such as Islam huwa al hall.  (Islam is the solution) and (al-Qur’an dusturna) (the Qur’an is our Constitution) which they previously favoured, and to dissociate themselves from the backward-looking conceptions of fundamentalist Islamic movements inclined to invoke the original Islamic community of first century A.H. /Seventh century C.E Arabia as the political model to emulate.

Today these movements, having abandoned the (dawla Islamiyya) emphasize other themes, most notably the demand for justice (al-adala) and freedom (al-hurriyya), these movements believe that the key to their realization is the consecration by the State of Islamic law, the Shari’ah. This call has been qualified by two key elements;

a). Political Islamists now recognize the need for Muslims to “live in harmony with their time rather than try to recreate the original Islamic community of seventh century Madina. This has led to the need for ijtihad, the intellectual effort of interpretation, in order to establish precisely how the principles embodied in the Shari’ah may best be translated into actual legislation in contemporary Muslim countries.

b). In addition to ijtihad, they recognize the need for deliberation, and deliberative instances representative of the community, parliaments, in the process of law-making.

The outcome of these developments is that Islamist political streams are moving away from theocratic conceptions of the Muslim polity, in which sovereignty (al-hakimiyya) is conceived as belonging to God alone (al-hakimiyya li-llah), to more or less democratic conceptions which recognize that sovereignty belongs to the people (Crisis Group report, July 2004:july p. 30)

In light of these international developments, it does make sense to encourage the federal government to seek genuine dialogue with those behind the ideology of ‘Boko Haram’. In this process, opportunities would be created to expose the members to other movements around the world like theirs. By so doing, the members of ‘Boko Haram’ would be given an opportunity to learn how other Islamicist  groups like theirs in the other parts of the world are moving to a more modern interpretation of the Islamic faith to democratic settings in the various parts of the world.

What to do about Ideological Islam.

From the analysis above, it would not be out of place to say that Islamism or ideological Islam runs against the interests of our corporate existence as a nation and the democratic world. As Nigerians; Muslims and Christians alike, there is a need to get engaged with one another. Whatever ideological responses we adopt, it is necessary to bear in mind that first and foremost, we are of one nation, we own this country together and we have a joint responsibility to keep it safe for our generation and the next. Secondly, Nigerians must come to terms with the reality that neither of these two communities can drive the other out of the country; Nigeria will always be a country of both Christians and Muslims for as long as it takes the Lord to keep us together. For these reasons, there is a need to have very clear ideological standards in the formulation of the Christian response to Islamic ideology in Nigeria. Here are some proposals we hope will lead us to some clear thinking and joint actions for the salvation of Nigeria:

1. The Christian community in particular needs to understand what ideological Islam teaches and encourage non-Islamist Muslims to reject the ‘jihadist’ and ‘political’ streams in all their ramifications. Muslims have a responsibility to stand up and reclaim our faith. It is Muslims who are able to recognize Islamist extremists most easily (Ed Husain, The Islamist, Penguine Books. 2007:278). An example of this type of standard was the coming together of the Jama’tu Nasril Islam (JNI) in the early 1980s and the formation of the Council of Ulama in 1986 in Nigeria to counter the disunity caused by the Maitatsine followers who accused the traditional Islamic leaders of materialism and un-Islamic practices (Falola, Toyin.1998. Violence in Nigeria: The Crisis of Religion, Politics and Secular Ideologies. University of Rochester Press, NY). On a positive note, it would be in the interest of the Christian community to study the methods of the da’wa stream and intensify its own methods as a counter to the missionary method of the da’wa Islamists.

2. The desire of Islamists is to put in place an “Islamic State” where theologians and Imams will run government on their interpretation and implementation of Shari’ah. Christians are to team up and collaborate with other non –Islamist Muslims especially in the northern parts of the country where Muslims constitute a majority and work together against such Muslims. Rather than fight the Muslim Umma by advocating self-defence, Nigerian Christians would do better by joining hands with the tariqas who disagree with the ‘Boko Haram’ group. We have had a lot of clear statements by both Traditional and Religious leaders from the north condemning the activities of this group. It would be easier to defeat ‘Boko Haram’ if Christian leaders would stop playing to the gallery trust the statements by northern Muslim Traditional and Religious leaders and work together with an open mind.

3. Nigerian Christian leaders and members must not make the mistake of equating Islam with terrorism. Terrorism is an act and the ‘Jihadists’ use this method for a political change. Christians are therefore to collaborate with their fellow Nigerian non-Islamist Muslims who represent the progressive voice and jointly condemn terrorism as a tactic for political change. There are progressive Muslim scholars who are critical of the refusal of the elites to accept the right of the Muslim to ijtihad (rational analysis and interpretation of law) (Esposito 1998). It is my humble advice that Christian Theologians and scholars from other disciplines should work in tandem with such progressive non-Islamist Muslim elites.

4. In responding to Ideological Islam, Nigerians must advocate for individual freedom and liberty. In the same vein, they are to work with one another against Islamist laws concerning blasphemy and apostacy within and outside the Islamic community.

5. Other issues central to concerns of Islamism and therefore natural to appeal to religious imperative for solutions like: rising violent crimes, corruption in private and public spheres need to be taken up and the government compelled to act upon. The existing Shari’ah courts mete out justice more efficiently than the civil courts do on these matters (the Economist,Sept.7, 2002:4).This, also makes Islamic ideology very attractive to the youths who feel powerless in the face of the various political and legal arms of the government.

6. It is in the interest of all peace-loving Muslims and Christians in Nigeria to work together to ensure that peoples’ religious practice does not clash with the law of the country. In order to discourage the culture of impunity and the exploitation of religion, government must ensure that all found guilty of killing and destroying peoples’ property are punished according to the law of the country.

7. Finally and very importantly, it is necessary for all those promoting Islamism to note that just as the Muslim has it as a religious duty to propagate the Islamic faith, so does the Christian with the Great Commission. Nigeria is not an Islamic country neither is it a Christian country. The Boko Haram crisis is an opportunity for the government to make it clear to all that every Muslim and Christian has a right to propagate his or her faith within the parameters allowed by the Constitutio of the Federal republic of Nigeria. Whoever goes beyond the limits of the law of the country should be made to face the wrath of the law promptly. The challenge of Boko Haram therefore for this government is that our leaders have an opportunity to apply the constitutional powers they have for all Nigerians to practice their religious convictions without becoming a security risk to the coporate existence of the Federal republic of Nigeria.


An analysis of ‘Islamism’ and how it affects our corporate survival as a united country could be a positive step towards bringing about a general peace and peaceful co-existence between both the Christian and Muslim communities in the country. Without being perceived as naïve, it is the opinion of this writer that a contextualized study of Islamism which has been attempted in this paper could bring about a new understanding between Christians and Muslims in the country.

Josiah Idowu-Fearon (Ph.D) ABU, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Kaduna.