AS FALLING living standards unleash increasing ethnic and religious tensions in the run-up to next year's scheduled handover of power from the military to civilians, Nigeria will miss one of its most influential Islamic scholars, Sheikh Abubakar Mahmud Gumi.
As an outspoken Islamic fundamentalist, Sheikh Gumi criticised the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida often and severely for the many compromises needed to rule Africa's most populous nation, nearly evenly split between Muslims and Christians. Nigeria's Muslims, he once said, should never accept a non- Muslim ruler. But he also preached peaceful coexistence, and refused to condone the outbreaks of religious violence that have threatened Nigeria's existence as a nation since independence from Britain 32 years ago.
Gumi stood apart from younger firebrand Muslim preachers such as Ibrahim Zakzaky and Yakubu Yahaya, who refuse to recognise the state of Nigeria because its laws are not Islamic. The release of Mallam Yakubu from jail earlier this month, after serving 18 months for sparking a riot, prompted the authorities to put the northern city of Katsina on a state of alert.
Although Gumi rarely addressed a press conference, he was a favourite source for Western and Nigerian journalists wishing to gauge the political temperature of northern Nigeria. In recent years, that temperature has been particularly hot, as ethnic tensions and economic frustration have sparked religious unrest in several northern regions, such as Bauchi, Kaduna, Kano, and Katsina.
One of Gumi's principal adversaries was the Christian Association of Nigeria, an evangelical body that has been aggressively preaching the Gospel in traditional Muslim strongholds. It was an aborted Christian revival by the German fundamentalist Christian preacher the Rev Reinhard Bonnke that prompted some of Nigeria's worst religious rioting in the city of Kano last October, leaving hundreds dead.
Gumi completed his primary and secondary schooling in the northern state of Sokoto, where he was born 70 years ago. He studied at the Kano Law School in from 1943 to 1947 and did further studies in Sudan.
He mastered Arabic and was an interpreter and adviser to Sir Ahmadu Bello, then the premier of northern Nigeria, and the Sardauna of Sokoto, site of the Islamic Caliphate. Gumi served as an external affairs office in Lagos before becoming Deputy Grand Khadi of Northern Nigeria, a position of spiritual leadership, in 1960. Two years later, he was elevated to Grand Khadi. He was a member of the Judicial Advisory Council to the Supreme Military Council, the military government that ruled from 1966 to 1975.
He received Nigeria's highest award, the Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic. But it was for his translation of the Koran into Hausa, the language of millions of northern Nigerians and others throughout West Africa, that Gumi was awarded in Saudi Arabia the King Faisal International Award, reputedly Islam's highest service honour.Reuse content