Therefore, the atmosphere in Malam’s presence was not that of yes-akramukallah (may Allah honour you), since you said so, it must be correct; with heads lowered in submission to his pronouncements. Rather, the student in Malam’s classes was emboldened to appreciate the tutor as a mortal whose words could be accepted or rejected in proportion to their alignment with the text. Only the words of the Messenger of Allah, Sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam, Malam taught us, could be accepted without question.
The above example of tutelary descent was decisive but at the same time courteous. However, some of the followers of Malam have exceeded the bounds of courtesy and mildness in their disagreements with the Sheikh. Malam Sidi Attahiru was my pet aversion whenever he came to Kaduna to present opposing views to those of Malam on certain issues, like that of qabdu and sadlu. His harshness and lack of deference to Malam during such intercourse marred what would have otherwise been a healthy scholastic exposition of differences in understanding the text.
I had a lot of respect for late Sheikh Ismaila Idris but he was also not devoid of his own lighter form of irreverence to Malam during internal squabbles among followers. This was apparent when Sheikh Zarbaan’s team came from Saudi Arabia and met with the Jos and Kaduna leadership of the Izala group. This initial disagreement was the harbinger of the severe strife that led to two opposing factions of Izala. The venue was Malam’s living room; the medium of communication was Arabic. Proceedings on that day revealed that Sheikh Ismaila Idris, in spite of his impertinence, was intellectually superior to his Kaduna counterpart, Sheikh Yusuf Sambo Rigachikun. Sheikh Sambo showed more respect to Malam in his presentations but he was less proficient; his Arabic failed him. Qur’an on Cassette, a Kaduna based company dedicated to recording Malam’s classes and Tafseer on tapes, has preserved what happened in this meeting for posterity. Readers who speak Arabic can have their copies of the tapes and judge for themselves.
At the end of this reconciliatory meeting between the Jos and Kaduna brand of Izala, Sheikh Zarbaan delivered his verdict. He said, ‘Mushkilatukum fee shai’ainith nain – hubbul maal, wa hubbur riyaasah!’ (Your problem lies in two things – craving for wealth, and the desire to lead).
As the court pleases, Hadaratal Qaadee, (Your Lordship!).
Late Sheikh Ismaila Idris might have qualified for candidacy in ‘desire to lead’ in Sheikh Zarbaan’s judgement; interestingly, however, Sheikh Ismaila Idris did not display insatiable craving for the fleeting glitter of wealth and the life of this world. There were occasions when Sheikh Ismaila Idris would come to Abuja and refuse the hospitality of men of means and government; he would rather stay in a mosque for the period and return to Jos finishing what he came for. This was more in line with the kind of life lived by Malam.
‘Craving for wealth and desire to lead’ might be the rightful desert for the leadership of the Kaduna version of Izala. I may write in days to come something concerning how this ‘craving for wealth’ has led some of them to become easy tools at the hands of government around 2000 through 2007 to discredit and cause problems in the implementation of Shariah during this democratic dispensation. The government at that time was able to fight Shari’ah through people who should have been its advocates. Of course, this was not confined to the leadership of Kaduna-Izala; the strategy employed at that time covered leadership of any group who debased their souls and disgraced their calling for a trifling sum. Those who made the payment, and to whom, know exactly what I am talking about. I hope I will not write that piece.
I do not pledge allegiance to any of the Izala groups – Jos or Kaduna. I am a Muslim who is humbled by his own sins and shortcomings, but I, at the same time, hold firmly to the Qur’an and Sunnah of Muhammad, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam, according to the instructions I received directly from Sheikh Abubakar Mahmud Gumi during his lifetime! If the leadership of these two groups had held to what Malam taught and lived, they would not have been susceptible to ‘hubbul maal, wa hubbur riyaasah!’ Malam did not go from one government house to another importuning governors or presidents. He lived a fugal life. Whenever money came running towards him, Malam swerved away from it and had it distributed to those present; just like the pious predecessors before him!
The above is not a digression but part of the reminiscence on Malam’s life, if not for anything but to show this assortment of adherents, some emulating and others demurring, at the tail end of an era in which a scholar performed the task of a mujaddid. Malam wanted people to be free from the shackles of serving fellow humans who lord it over their students, playing god, devouring their substance with vanity. He desired that students should use what he taught as a guide to their lives. He never coerced or dictated what you must do; he told you what he believed was right in accordance with the Laws of Allah. Let him who wants to act in line with this and do his bit, and let him who likes to evade doing the right thing do otherwise.
I was in Katsina for some business and Sheikh Yakubu Musa gave me a document to bring to Malam for his perusal and correction wherever necessary. I did not read the document but Sheikh Yakubu informed me that it had to do with a grant that Riyaadul Qur’an, his school wanted to access in Saudi Arabia. Malam asked me when I would return to Katsina so that he might finish his part and give back the document to me. I told him. He finished before the time, and said, ‘kace su duba nahwu.’ (When you submit the document to them, tell them to examine the Arabic grammar aspect). What they expected was for Malam to use a red pen and dissect the contents of the document. No, Malam would not do even that. Let them rather have his subtle rejection of the standard of nahwu used so they may correct it themselves. When I took the document back to Sheikh Yakubu and related what Malam said concerning nahwu, he laughed and said, ‘Malam kenan!’ (That is Malam for you).
Malam it was who would come to our daily session in his living room suffering from an ailment without informing anybody or excusing himself on that ground. That sickness ailing him at the time might be a headache or severe fever. On one occasion, he was so feverish that his eyes reddened and his fingers could hardly hold the book he was reading to us. It was then that our senior colleagues intervened and pleaded with him to suspend the lessons for that day.
When, in our studies, in Malam’s living room, of Saheeh Al-Bukhaari, he expounded the hadeeths on images as related by ‘Aishah, may Allah be pleased; that the Prophet, sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam tore the curtain of her room because it was adorned with images; that veneration of images leads to idolatry; and that votaries and makers of images will be consigned to Allah’s severest punishment on the Day of Resurrection. After Malam’s exposition of the lessons contained in these prophetic traditions, some of the students, that moment in time, without his assent, started bringing down all pictures hung on the wall – memorabilia depicting the life of Malam in his interactions over the years with an assortment of dignitaries within Nigeria and beyond.
For the period that the plucking of the pictures lasted, Malam’s demeanour did not betray any sign of distress; he did not inhibit the actors in any way. He only raised his head ever so calmly and said: ‘Ku bar hoton Abiola. Zai zo jibi. Idan nayi mishi bayani sai ku cire.’ (Please leave Chief M.K.O Abiola’s picture. He’ll be here in two days. Let me first inform him of the development before you bring his picture down.)
Repeat: “I want to see another scholar in this country who would encourage and accept this attitude in their students!”
In his last illness, which necessitated taking him to London for treatment, he came out for the general session between Maghrib and Ishaa prayer. I saw him limping to the mosque with a staff in his right hand. Alhaji Adoka was sitting with me in the mosque, and I said, ‘Jikin Malam yaji zafi haka, mai yasa bazai huta ba, kuma gashi gobe zai wuce asibity?’ (With Malam’s current condition, he should have rested at least for today since he will be travelling tomorrow).
Alhaji Adoka said, ‘Bazai yarda ba; Malam so yake yamutu akan wannan aikin.’ (Malam would be opposed to him having rest due to illness. His desire is to die conveying Allah’s message to the people).
Oh Allah, please grant Malam what you grant the humblest of the inheritors of the prophets (ASW). Please put him in the highest company in Jannatul Firdaws. O Allah, right our affairs after him and do not let us come to ruin in this world and the next.
O Allah, give to those who plot the reward of plotters; expose their plots and protect the innocent from them. Ameen
First published: September 2013 (edited)