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Interviewed by Hugues L. T. Kamga & Gabrielle D. K. Ngaleu* — Keeping religious fundamentalism out of political governance is, to say the least, the bane of contemporary times. True, the Christian world has had to grapple with its own fair share of bigotry, but when the chips are down, the most part of unrests and the insistence of imposing theocracies as opposed to democracies on nations are being brewed by Islam fundamentalists. It is either the rest of mankind sees the world through Islamic lenses or they are wrong and then, nothing works.

Proof of this is the fact that in some Muslim traditions, females are, more or less, considered as lesser mortals, with no right to education and other basics of life. In the typical Muslim tradition, the average woman is sentenced to stay in purdah; remains for the best part of her life at the beck and call of the man.

This was recently manifested in Pakistan, where fundamentalists have engaged in slaughtering baby girls, if only to stop them acquiring any form of education, and hence, completely submitting themselves to the dictates of offensive zealotry. The deplorable case of the teenage girl Malala Yousafzai, who was shot at point blank range by the Taliban easily comes to mind.

Enter, the terrorist Boko Haram group in Nigeria that has been wreaking havoc here, by way of the random bombing of innocent human beings, especially Christians. Mali and other nations of the world have at one point or the other been taken hostage by Islamic fundamentalist parochial interests.

Cameroon so far, has been spared this blood-letting, as Christians and Muslims peacefully co-exist. At the beginning of this year’s Ramadan fast, The Post approached the Imam of Buea with a set of questions, among which was why Islam was more or less, transforming itself into a killing machine of sorts. Alhadji Mohammed Abubakar was forthright and frank when he fielded this question and many other burning issues. Read on:

What is the significance of the Ramadan?

The Ramadan is essentially a lunar month. Following the Islamic Calendar, it is the ninth month. It was in this month that the Lord God legislated that Muslims should fast. So, the fast falls in the Month of the Ramadan, and we fast for either 29 or 30 days .

The Prophet Mohammed had said in the Hadith that fasting is an obligation and one pillar out of the five pillars of Islam. Muslim scholars have all agreed that anybody who disputes this Law is no longer considered to be a practising Muslim. Prophet Mohammed used to observe it just like other Prophets of God. Islam is not a new religion -Islam has always been there, so, all the Prophets of God are submitted to the Will of God.

Moses was a Moslem, Jesus Christ the Son of God was a Moslem, but in different aspects .The Christians observe lent and that is an order from God which involves fasting. The Jews observe their own fasting as God decreed. It was legislated on the second year when the Prophet Mohammed migrated from Mecca to the city of Medina. Fasting is obligatory during the Month of Ramadan.

What are the other four pillars of Islam?

The first is: there is no God worthy of worship except the living God and the Prophet Mohammed is his Messenger. Second: You pray five times a day at the prescribed times. Third: you pay tax, the poor due called Zakat. Fourth: fast of Ramadan. Fifth: Pilgrimage to Mecca (for those who can afford it). Of these pillars, there are two that are meant for the rich; because you can only give out “Zakat”, the poor due, if you have the means. If you do not have the means, you fall under the category of persons who can benefit from Zakat. Pilgrimage to Mecca is also meant for the rich.

Is Zakat given only to Muslims or also to non- Muslims?

Zakat is a form of worship for the Muslim. It is meant for the poor and orphans. There also exists what is called: General Alms. Here, we attend to every member of the community, Muslim or not. There is no discrimination. Anyone who doesn’t observe any one of the five pillars of Islam is no more a practising Muslim.

Do women and children also fast?

Yes, they do. It is, however, important to note that there are persons who are supposed to fast and those who are not supposed to. Some fast throughout and break from the fast later; there are others who will not fast at all. The category of persons who are obliged to fast must be Muslim, sane, adult and be resident: that is, not on a journey during the period of the fast. Children are trained gradually .Theirs would not be as intense as for the adults.

They would fast for lesser hours, so that when they get acquainted to it and when they reach adulthood, they can start practising without difficulties. Pregnant women are exempted. Also, women who are menstruating are not allowed to fast. When menstruation stops, they take a bath known as: “the spiritual bath” which cleanses them.

Is fasting limited only to food, sex, alcohol, cigarettes?

No. Fasting is much more; a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that fasting means only abstaining from food, sex, alcohol without abstaining from other vices. It is hypocritical to fast halfway. You are either fasting or you are not. It is only God who knows whether you fasted or not.

Stealing, cheating and lying are all vices that one needs to abstain from during this period. Islam is an embodiment, a complete way of life. Fasting is a training through which your sins will be forgiven. At the end, you become as clean as a baby. If after Ramadan, you go back to the same vices, you have gone through the Ramadan but the Ramadan has not gone through you.

What is the praying schedule during the Ramadan?

We have five obligatory prayers a day. Here in Buea, we have the dawn prayer at 5.15am; the midday prayer at 1.00pm; afternoon prayer at 3.30pm and a sunset prayer at 6.00pm then the last at 7.30pm.Prayer is very important, more so during the Ramadan.

Prayers cannot be forsaken for any reason. During the Ramadan we have extra prayers called Taraweeh prayers. They are done during the late hours of the night; they are very lengthy, that is why the Prophet Mohammed said that he who observes the fasting will work with God and will see his past sins forgiven if he/she did it for the purpose of gaining God’s love.

There is noticeable intolerance and avoidable blood-letting in many parts of the world. Why is this ascribed mostly to followers of Islam?

Well, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that when killings occur, people always tend to think they are related to some Muslim Law. This is not true at all. People are suffering from social problems, political problems, which are not related to Islam. It happens to be across countries where Islam is the main way of life.

Islam is not by name, it is by practice. If you cannot practise what the Koran tells you, then, you are simply a nominal Muslim. If you go out to find what is happening in the Middle East today, it is for political reasons and social crises which they are unable to solve.

It so happens that in these countries they need to show their grievances. Where you have a leadership that cannot solve a problem of the masses, there is that obligation that it be put to order and putting things in order does not require mass killing. There are two ways to correct evil in the society as recommended by statute books.

The first is to use force, and by force we mean employing legality. These people are exaggerating because, before you go out and take life, there are criteria as instructed by God. It is a legal corps that has the authority to carry this out through the Penal Code. People cannot just be killed; they must be judged, if found guilty, then executed.

So what do you think of the havoc caused by Boko Haram in Nigeria and the acts of Bin Laden in the United States?

Boko Haram means: “The Whiteman’s ways are forbidden”. However, these same people use social media to promote their activities! It is all linked politically. The sad thing is that there are some people who do it ignorantly. As for Bin Laden and the twin towers… they had their scores to settle, the Americans can tell you better, they had a hidden agenda.

Bin Laden had worked for the USA. No right thinking Muslim will condone what these people are doing. In the Koran, God said that: “Anybody who takes one person’s life is guilty of killing the whole of humanity and anyone who saves a life has saved the whole of humanity.”

All those innocent people who died in the twin towers … it is painful. And as a result of that, the westerners went to solve a problem and rather embarked on fighting terrorism. Leaders themselves need to be educated on what the principles of Islam are. A good Muslim knows his limits.

Christians and Muslims cohabit near perfectly in Cameroon? What do you think about religious tolerance compared to other countries?

Relatively, I would like to tell you that Muslims who are in Cameroon have understood the value of peace. We need a peaceful place to worship. If you are restless, if you are not at peace, you cannot pray.

To engage in wars, violence and religious intolerance will make you restless. The secret in Cameroon is that the Christians and Muslims have understood their limits. You need to tell your worshippers the virtues that would help them, let them know the good side of Islam by proving it practically – not nominally. When I have a suitable gathering, I invite Christian leaders to attend and vice-versa.

This is the solidarity that we need. We have inter-marriages too that make us all one, big family. However, we also do not mistake tolerance for weakness because we all have ethical and acceptable behaviour in society. Islam is a perfect way of life if people could understand it .The Muslims themselves should prove it, let the virtues be seen in them. The Islamic law doesn’t agree with people preaching virtue while these same people practise vice.

This month is usually associated with a lot of sharing and benevolent activities, do you have any in store?

In the Central Mosque we have made arrangements to share food to the poor. This year, we are not going to have a collective break of fasting. In 2012, we received food from the kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the month, for the whole community. This year we did not receive any. This was in order to instil the spirit of self-subsistence and sharing with our communities.

This year we have introduced a system: one of the days among the first 10 days will be used to share to the poor of the community. We will come together and have some talks on family planning, family life, how the man and woman are supposed to cohabit and even on politics. We are the most democratic community: before the Imam takes any decision, he needs to consult members of the community if not he will be questioned.

Also, this year, we have what we call the “Pack Ramadan”-a special package constituted by the Cameroon Muslim Women, the Buea Muslim Women in association with the Mosquedal women of Buea Branch .The “Pack Ramadan” consists: three kilograms of rice, 400g of washing soap, 1.5 litres of vegetable oil, 1.5 litres of mineral water, date fruits and one kilogram of sugar and salt. These packs are to be shared with the community.

What is so special about dates during the Ramadan?

Prophet Mohammed recommended that the first thing we use to break the fasting is the date fruit. The date fruit has some virtues and blessings. If you do not have a date fruit to break your fast, you can take water. To break the fasting with dates, you need an odd number of the fruits: three, five or seven, for example.

If you eat seven of these fruits early in the morning and anyone tries to poison you, you will send the poison out. During the fasting we pray for the problems of the community, we advise the worshippers to stay away from the vices. It is in this month of Ramadan that the whole Koran was revealed, so, we read all the 60 chapters of the Holy book. We start from the first to the last and must finish it within 30 days.

What is the role of the Imam during the Ramadan and in his community as a whole?

The Imam is not a nominal title, it is a person bestowed by God to guide the other Muslims. He takes responsibility for the actions of the community, he takes care of the education of the people and he encourages the education of the females and advises children to choose specific fields of studies where the community is lacking in. The community also has to participate, it has to play its own role: to know and respect the Islamic laws.

What word of advice would you have for non-Moslems?

Christians during this period should try to know more about Islam from the right source, so that if he sees a Moslems going astray he or she can call him or her to the right path of Islam. Each member of any religion should know the ethics and laws of that religion and respect them. When there is peace, everything is fine.

(UB Journalism Students on Internship)
First published in The Post print edition no 01447

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