Pakistan Observer

A lesson from religious conflicts in Nigeria

Khairil AzharFor

Sunday, January 08, 2012 - Indonesians, the religious conflicts in Nigeria have made this African country more infamous, beside its achievements in world soccer over the last three decades.

Not only because many Indonesians supported them each time they played in the World Cup, but also because since the 1990s, dozens of their talented players have played in our soccer league. At the same time, at some Indonesian universities, we could see many Nigerian nationals study, especially in Islamic majors. During my university years in 1994-1999, some Nigerian youths studied at the State Institute of Islamic Studies Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta (now the State Islamic University [UIN] Jakarta) and lived among us.

What’s going on in Nigeria right now — the rise of terrorism and conflicts between Islamists and Christians — is a worthy lesson. “Why” many Nigerian Muslims have studied in Indonesia is related to “how” Nigeria educates their youths paradigmatically, and there are implications as well.In October 1960, when Nigeria gained its independence, the educational gap between the South and the North was yawning (Saka Raji Audu, 2009). While the North had no more than 2,000 people with school certificates and only several university graduates, the South already sent many of their youths to universities in Europe or America.As that phenomenon has continued up to the present day, there continues to be a real problem in terms of the educational paradigm at bottom.

The population in southern Nigeria, with their Christian population, has a Western orientation in educating their children.Consciously or not, they then encounter similarly-minded, industrial, Western civilization and its emerging economies and all their advancements. Education thus means more than just the scriptural religious knowledge taken from the Bible.On the other side, most of their Muslim compatriots in the North tend to still depend on traditional Islamic schools and traditional ways of life, namely living without any significant educational touches. They repeatedly assumed children needed to learn their scriptural religious teachings and live in the same way as their ancestors.

The consequence has been an “involution” in education in the North. Many parents are reluctant to send their children to modern schools since Western education is regarded as inappropriate for their children. If the parents are wealthy enough, or if there are scholarships available, they would rather send their children to universities in the Middle East or to other parts of Asia, such as Malaysia and Indonesia.They believe that the choice of sending them to Islamic countries is safer for their religious faith and moral lives.

In fact, many of the violent radicals, such as the suicide-bombers and terrorists, were graduates of schools and universities in the Middle East.The gap in education, to a significant extent, was then related to prosperity in the South and poverty in the North. With their steady, skilled population, the South built a very developed economy while the North was left far behind. This then became critical, latent potential for intermittent conflicts.Building new schools and providing as many teachers as possible were surely not panaceas, since they were just elements within a much greater task: to change the mindset of the people and their world view about many things. And it has been suggested that it should start from an emphasis on the importance of both Islamic and Western education.

Related to terrorism or pro-violent radicalism, while the Nigerian religious-fundamentalist groups, such as Boko Haram, have been intensifying their activities amid the educational and economic gaps, we can see another interesting fact.

A would-be bomber named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (Siasat, Dec. 28, 2009) came from a well-off family in northern Nigeria.

He was then known to have studied in Yemen where his involvement in terrorist activities began.More generally, the lead of the report read, “Middle East education favored by Nigeria’s wealthy families or for others crushing poverty are pulling young Nigerians towards radical Islam, security and rights experts said Sunday.”

The fact then fit what Claude Berrebi had concluded based on his research in Palestine in 2007, that, “Both higher education and standards of living appear to be positively associated with membership in terror organizations … and with becoming a suicide bomber…”.In short, we can say that what is learned and experienced, such as through indoctrination matters far more, regardless of the level of education in any particular case.
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