The best of princes is he who visits scholars.”
– Jalal al-Din Rumi, 13th century Persian Sufi poet
When I received the invitation to this meeting I experienced some emotional and spiritual trepidation. For it was the first time in my life that I became aware of a status which I have presumably attained in life but which I have conveniently been ignorant of. I immediately remembered that all important meeting and interface between Prophet Musa and Allah on that rigid timeless zone in Asia where divinity and mortality interconnects. When Prophet Musa came to the ‘presence’ of Allah, he was ushered into the catholic open space in which the elites club of Prophets was gathered. But it was equally the first time Prophet Musa was going to learn about the ignorance which nests in knowledge; that our knowledge of everything we purport to know is only a page in the book of ignorance which we carry all around the world. Allah asks him:
وما تلك بيمينك يا موسى….
The ordinary staff in the hands of Prophet Musa became a snake; pens invested with His power can become lethal weapon; children can become enemies. But immediately he became an elite in the reckoning of the Almighty, Prophet Musa became an enemy of the elite in the court of pharaoh. Allah refers to them as the “malaun”; a crowd, a horde, a legion. Thus our gathering here today as the so-called Muslim elites, reminds us the other elites; the political elites, the Christian elites etc. Each one of us represents a calling, a field, a profession; to every profession its own elite. We posture as if we know. We sometimes forget that knowledge is the same thing as wisdom. We often forget that ignorance has its own uses; it is a precondition for knowledge and discernment.
We are the elites, the aristocrats of this city, simply because we stood while others were sitting; we were outstanding while others were standing. We are the elites by virtue of the deepness of our minds and the thickness of our thoughts. We are the elites largely because we all passed through gated walls and were told we were the leaders to tomorrow not thinkers of tomorrow; we are the bearers of power not its critics.
We are the elites not like the elites in Makkah before Islam. The elites in Makkah used to send their children to the village; we sent our children away from this village, to the other village, the other cities. Like the elites in Makkah, we desire for our children those goody-goodies of life such as we never had while we were like them. Nobody wants their children to cry, to suffer. Like the Makkan elites, we want our children to be the aficionados of their chosen careers and professions. We are the elites because we all received an elite education; the last thing an elite education would teach its products is their mis-education.
But when we say we are Muslim elites, is it the same thing as being elite Muslims? When we say we are Yoruba Muslims, is it the same thing as saying we are Muslim Yorubas? These questions are urgent because our reference to Muslim elites call attention to something in us which stands us out from where we were and the group to which we belong. I argue therefore that Muslim elites could then be professionals who are Muslims and have excelled in their callings. It refers to a station of the other station; it refers to a station in which we are presently located on our journey to the destination. I say this because the phrase Muslim elites talks about the reification of our social status not of our religious status. It talks of what is done not what needs to be done. It reminds me of the problem not the solution.
In other words, when we refer to Muslim elites, it is to the emergence of a group from within the class of the oppressed, the down trodden. Thus the fragment “Muslim elite” refers to a problem not the solution. It refers to Muslims who have done hijrah from Beere and Oja-Oba and are now located in GRA and Oluyole Estates. Talk of the problem not the solution. The fragments Muslim elites call attention to those who have departed Isale Foko and to those Muslims who, ironically too, have been left behind. The fragment, Muslim elite would refer to Muslims who think for themselves not for the Ummah; Muslim elites who think of the I not the We.
Would I be wrong to surmise that reference to Muslim elites is to a group of men and women whose number and multitude has been of little service and advantage to Islam. It is to Muslims who know one another simply by not one knowing another. Muslim elites are those who constantly prove that Islam is reasoning without brain; Christianity is a religion of brain without reasoning; the first is that of faith without men; the latter is that of men without faith.
Thus, if it is true that our meeting today is about exploring solutions to urgent problems of these times, such should begin with questioning the assumption that there is something ‘Muslimic’ in our elitist status. Such should include asking ourselves whether indeed we are not the signified in the signifiers which we encounter in the following verse:
قالت الأعراب آمنا…
يأيها الذين أمنوا امنوا
Perhaps one way to begin to turn the problem on its head in order to chance upon the solution confronting us is to see ourselves as the problem. We are the problems in more ways than the following:
1. Self-hate. No Muslim hates the other Muslim like the Muslim’s hatred of his/her brother. Hardly do we forgive; hardly do we forget.
2. Identity conflict: The Yoruba-Muslim-elite versus Muslim-Yoruba-elite eg: I am first of all of an Ibadan indigene, then Muslim, then elite; who exactly are we? what is the most important identity factor in our reality? Is it Islam? Is it our tribal affliation? Is it our social and professional groups and groupings?
3. No agreeable vision for the Ummah. Since what we have is Muslim elites, not elite Muslims, and since the foolish guide to who an elite says the latter is he who thinks of himself not the society, it is and should not be surprising that there is little or no agenda or plan for the Ummah. Where is the Ummah today is like where the Ummah was yesterday. We are all passengers in the train of chance. In the absence of vision and its drivers, nations are destined for ruin and perdition.
4. Individuality versus Communality. The reason there is no united vision is that we are Muslim elites: Muslims thinking of individual selves. Individually we are good; individually we represent some of the best brains you can imagine for a nation. But collectively we are nothing; collectively we are non-existent. Nobody would appreciate the wizardry of Lionel Messi unless and until he is a member of a team. You can’t clap with one hand; when the eyes shed tears it needs a hand to wipe it off.
5. Crab mentality- the above is worsened by the crab mentality; pull him down syndrome. None of us is free from the venom of the Muslim Other. We are in our individual Makkahs. In Makkah, and among his kith and kin, the Prophet was seen as an outsider. Fame at home is not keeping with, so it appears, divine plans and machinations.
6. Craze to conform. If you want to know the Muslim elite attend a Nikah ceremony or a birthday ceremony – you would see the elite in the Muslim; you would meet with the Muslim of the elite; you would see how the Muslim mesh into the Unmuslim; how the barriers between Islam and the Other is occluded. Attend my nikah as a Muslim elite you would meet with the world; you would be reminded of the beauty in the world; you would see zukhruf, you would see vanity. You would see how deep the problem of the Muslim elite could be. The problem of ostentation; the problem of vain-gloriousness. You shall follow thesunnan (ways, practices, views of life) of those who came before you, so warned the Prophet, that if there should be those who would want enter the hole of a lizard among them, some among Muslims would equally want to do so.
7. Incontinence and lack of contentment: The craze to conform, to do it the way “they” do it- I once ask someone close to me: who are these ‘they’ that say I must do my, for example, nikah in certain ways?- often leads to the pursuit of the unlawful; the adoption of Hitleric method, or the Machiavellian spirit, of hardness of heart (Qaswatul Qalb). Hitler it was who said the sum total success of man shall always be determined by his originality plus his brutality. Machiavelli on the other hand achieved renown for his belief that the end justifies the means; you can burn down the city in order to become a prince in the village.
8. Loss of sincerity For whom is our existence? For whom should it be as a whole? (al-Iklas)…Surat 18: 111
If the above represents some of the problems confronting us as Muslim elites, it is arguable, as I suggested above, that we look at the problem as the solution. Allah says:
يأيّها الذّين ءامنوا عليكم أنفسكم لا يضرّكم من ضلّ إذا اهتديتم…
In seeing ourselves as the solutions, that would mean we should change the narrative. Changing the narrative would demand flipping our nomenclature upside down. Changing the narrative would mean status change. We need change of status. In other words, rather than being referred to as Muslim elites, it is my assumption that today’s gathering is meant to create a new order – the order of Elite Muslims. Unlike Muslim elites, elite Muslims would be الخواص من المسلمين
The above refers to elite Muslims. Elite Muslim shall we become:
a) once we begin to identify one another in one another
b) once we begin to leverage on individual potentials among us
c) once we bring the individual potentials into the service of the Ummah and Islam
I close as follows: Muslim elites abound in the town; they are there in governor’s lodges all around our cities; they are there in big corporate offices in our towns; they are making it big in businesses in and outside the country. But elite Muslims are rare. While Muslim elites sleep in the comforts of their luxurious homes, the elite Muslim sleep and live in people’s hearts….they are the rainbow in the cloud of the masses.
**Oladosu A. Afis is a Professor of Middle Eastern, North African and Cultural Studies, UI, Ibadan