Boko Haramis! Who Are They?

By Aslam Abdullah, TMO Editor-in-Chief


Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau speaks at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram. The leader of the Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram has offered to release more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by his fighters last month in exchange for prisoners, according to a video seen on YouTube. About 100 girls wearing full veils and praying are shown in an undisclosed location in the 17-minute video in which Shekau speaks

Boko Haram has created a human disaster by abducting over 200 girls with the intention to sell them as slaves. It is a group that claims to be Islamic, yet in the eyes of most Muslims it has nothing to do with Islam. It claims to be a saved sect blessed by God and it believes in the supremacy of the Sharia under the domination of men only authority. Who are Boko Haramis? What are their ideas? Have a look at this article.

In the Northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri, one year after the September 2001 al-Qaeda attack in the US, Mohammad Yusuf, who was part of a group known as Shabaab since 1995 with Mallam Lawal as its leader formed what in local Hausa language now is known Boko Haram, the Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad  or Jamāʻat Ahl as-Sunnah lid-daÊ»wa wal-Jihād. Yusuf was later killed in a fight with the Nigerian army. Boko supporters say he was captured alive and tortured to death.

Since its establishment, the group has claimed responsibility for killing over 10,000 people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It now has three splinter groups now active in Borno, Adamawa, Kaduna, Bauchi, Yobe, and Kano.

The ideas of the leadership are influenced by a deceased Nigerian preacher Mohammed Marwa (died 1980), best known by his nickname Maitatsine, a Hausa word meaning “the one who damns” and refers to his curse-laden public speeches against the Nigerian state.

Maitatsine  was originally from Mawra in northeastern Nigeria, once part of Cameroon. He moved to Kano, Nigeria in about 1945, where he became known for his controversial teachings on the Qur’an. He claimed to be a prophet, and a mujaddid in the image of Sheikh Usman dan Fodio.  He rejected the ahadith and the sunnah and regarded the reading of any other book but the Quran as kufr. He rejected Prophet Muhammad (s) and projected himself as a prophet. He spoke again the use of modern electronic gadgets as well as means of transportation such as bicycle etc.

Boko Haramis want to establish a “Sharia” state in Nigeria. It wants to eliminate the influence of the Western world in the country and the region. The group does not interact with other Muslims in general and are ready to kill anyone who is opposed to them.  The group believes it is a saved sect. As a privileged group it is prohibited to study western education. It is against the establishment of schools–especially girls’ schools. Even though the group is opposed to Saudi Arabia for its westernization, it accepts the edicts of scholars such as Ibn Taymiyyah to promote their use of violence.

Little is known about the group’s finances. Who gives them resources to buy arms and ammunition? Who supports them financially? Why are able to use modern electronic gadgets to communicate with different groups in the world? What is the literature they circulate among them and who prints them?

What is clear is that their understanding of Islam is built on two notions: self-proclaimed religious superiority and male chauvinism. Since they believe they are already saved, they can do whatever they want without being questioned by Allah (swt). They believe non-Muslims have no rights and deserve to be killed for preaching their faith. They believe modernization is in fact westernization–and both are bad for Muslims. They want to live in a world where they as men can dictate their terms upon all others and where women and children serve as their slaves. They describe all other Muslim sects as either kafir or murtad (apostates) whose murder is part of their religious duty. They believe in slavery, subjugation of woman, destruction of place of worship belonging to non-Muslims as well as other Muslims. In their view extra women can be obtained through armed jihad against deviant Muslim groups. They believe in marrying their daughters at an early age. They quote the verses of the Quran and ahadith to justify their position on slavery, status of women, rejection of modern education and the use of violence.

Obviously, their understanding of Islam is based on an ideology that has tribal as well as juristic roots. It relies on an understanding of the Quran that calls for perpetual armed struggle against those who think differently from the group claiming to be a saved sect.

Even though the groups does not admit to be ignorant of the message and meanings of the Quran, its ideas are not different than what was practiced in Arabia in pre-Islamic times. The group has revived all pre-Islamic ideas while using an Islamic terminology.

Boko Haram are not the only Muslim group in the world that can be identified for having such ideas. There are many who view the Quran and Sunnah as a license to promote violence and terror to achieve their goals. How to convince such people that Islam does not promote violence and terror is where the real challenge lies for Muslims.  The existence of such groups demonstrates the failure of our intellectuals to meet their challenge; however our efforts must continue at all levels, political , military, social–and theological.


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