Had it not been for Muslim translators in the 8th century, the works of Greek philosophers like Socrates and Aristotle would have been lost forever. This pursuit of knowledge that was so vital in 8th century is something that has always been inherent to the Muslim faith. Case in point: the Arabic root-word for knowledge is the most common word found in the Quran, second only to the word for God.
Yet, one group, Boko Haram, a Nigerian militant group, would like us to believe otherwise. Boko Haram was first thrust into media attention by the recent violence that has rocked northern Nigeria. It presents itself as a group opposing western education because of its corrupting influence on society. Although the group brandishes a religious overtone, media reporting of the group as “Islamic” should be dropped because not only does the groups animosity to education wholly contradict Islam’s teachings and historical legacy, but because the majority of Muslims in Muslims in Nigeria and elsewhere do not sanction the group.”
Furthermore, the group’s beliefs lie in the attempts of its founder Muhammad Yusuf to misinterpret Islam as tool to garner popular support for his political aims. Unfortunately, in a country where 92% of the population lives on less than $2 a day, it’s not hard to believe that anyone claiming to have the power to improve people’s lives can gain a following.
The seeds of Boko Haram’s appeal are sown in a Nigerian political scene that is rife with corruption and unfair distribution of wealth. A sham election in 2007 put in power a corrupt elite class and ensured that Nigeria’s $70 billion in oil wealth never see the Nigerian public. The disparity between the rich and poor fuels attempts to correct this imbalance. Elaborating on this point, Darren Kew, a scholar of dispute resolution at the University of Massachusetts, says “the real driver to this conflict is the failure of the recent governments in Nigeria to deliver broad based equitable developments, particularly in Northern Nigeria.”
Regrettably, Boko Haram has risen as a fanatical response to this corruption. In fact, many of the group’s practices seem to contradict its own basic ideology. Muhammad Yusuf himself, who was killed by Nigerian police, was independently wealthy, and he, along with many other leaders of Boko Haram, make use of “western” inventions such as cell phones and computers. Musa Aliyu of the Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace Studies explains that some of the people who are fighting alongside this man are themselves university attendees.
Without a doubt, the label “Islamic” gives Boko Haram and other groups of its ilk (such as Al-Qaeda) undue credence and the false legitimacy of being religiously sanctioned. Boko Haram needs to be recognized in its context as a radical political group that unfairly uses Islam to further a misguided political agenda.
Mohammad Abdeljalil is a communications intern at CAIR Chicago. He is a student at the University of Chicago majoring in Political Science and Public Policy. Mohammad is from Chicago although he has also lived abroad. His interests include wrestling, international relations, political philosophy, and civilization studies.
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