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Mosque Demolition Deepens Nigeria Divide

Published: 01/03/2012 05:19:49 PM GMT
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ABUJA - The demolition of a school mosque in Nigeria's Christian-majority south is inviting a storm of condemnations from Muslim leaders, amid warnings that the destruction deepens Muslim-Christian divide in Western African c (more)

ABUJA - The demolition of a school mosque in Nigeria's Christian-majority south is inviting a storm of condemnations from Muslim leaders, amid warnings that the destruction deepens Muslim-Christian divide in Western African country.

“For us, what has happened in the school has helped to expose the double standard of those who are quick to accuse Muslims of fundamentalism and extremism,” Mallam Abdullah Shuaib, coordinator of the Conference of Islamic Organization (CIO), told

“This demolition of the mosque is an open invitation to mutual hatred which we frown at.”Nigeria Muslims Reject Boko Haram: Poll

Authorities of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology in the oil-rich Rivers State last month demolished the only mosque built by students in the institution.

The same school houses at least six churches, some of them constructed after the failed bid of Muslim students to secure land to build their own mosque.

Two Muslim students who captured the mosque demolition on their mobile cameras were also arrested.

The CIO called on the state government to intervene before the situation degenerates into “unmanageable conflict that the country can ill-afford at this time.”

“A situation whereby Muslims are openly being discriminated against is totally unacceptable and unfavorable to public peace,” said Abdullah.

“We are by this means - through this international medium - appealing to the school authorities to reconsider their stand which is against the spirit of brotherliness, tolerance and mutual respect for one another.”

Sulaimon Abdul-Awwal, Vice-President of the Muslim Students' Society of Nigeria (MSSN), said the mosque was built after 11 years of struggle to accommodate religious needs of the Muslim students.

“For the past eleven years, the Muslim community has been writing frequently to the school authority to have a permanent site for worship (mosque) but their efforts were fruitless,” he told

“No audience was given except on two separate occasions where threat letters were sent for the suspension of executive members of the society.”

Abdul-Awwal recalled what he called a history of suffering of Muslim students in the school.

He cited the 2005 demolition of a tent erected by Muslim students to serve as a mosque.

“(Our struggle) to secure a site for the mosque has a long history: the Muslim student body on several occasions appealed to the state governor, the Sultan of Sokoto and other prominent societal figures to prevail on the school authority to accede to our request for the allocation of a parcel of land on which to build a mosque and to refrain from demolishing the temporary one.

“For the avoidance of doubts, we have not asked the management to build a mosque for us; that has never been our demand. All we have sought is the appropriation of a piece of land to us so that we the students can erect a mosque. Unfortunately, these requests did not get us the desired goal.”

Anti-Muslim Bigotry

The Muslim Public Affairs Center said that the mosque demolition represented the peak of anti-Muslim bigotry and religious repression in Nigeria.

“The brazen violation of the religious rights and freedom of the Muslim students is indeed gigantic and the heinous pulling down of the mosque is not an isolated case,” MPAC Coordinator Disu Kamor told

“It has been preceded by a plethora of discriminatory show of prejudice and repulsive intolerance for the Muslim students all of which combine to make an era of ‘neo-servitude' spanning through 12 long and dark years.”

Imam Abdurrahman Ahmad of the Ansar-Ud-Deen Islamic Society of Nigeria lauded the civilized behavior of Muslim students toward the mosque destruction.

“By consistently writing the authorities and voicing their frustration in a civil manner the Muslim students have proven that we are a civilized people - far from being violent.”

Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) said the school's action amounted to violent discrimination against Muslims at a time school authorities have granted permissions to Christian students to build churches in the school.

“Even before the demolition, the makeshift structure was grossly cramped - just 50 by 20 feet serving at least 250 Muslims students,” said MURIC Director Prof. Lakin Akintola.

“And while the persistent requests of the Muslim students kept hitting the wall and sometimes earning them the management's ire, six imposing churches - some of them built after the unmet demands of the Muslim students - stood on the university soil.

“This is the sad story of the students. It has been agonizing and traumatizing. But, as usual, this horrible thing has not received the media publicity it merits.”

Akintola opines that the mosque destruction underscores the rising wave of Islamophobia in Southern Nigeria.

“We have been complaining of undue anti-Muslim sentiments and even government policies targeted at Muslims, and our fear is that unless these issues are addressed Muslims will have to stand up and fight for their right,” he said.

“In a region (Southern Nigeria) where Muslims cannot be said to be in the minority, is it not strange that our kids are denied the study of Islamic subject in school through creation of artificial scarcity of teachers for the subject?

“In South-West where Muslims are in clear majority, our daughters are harassed for wearing hijab at school. That itself is a violation of their Allah-given fundamental human rights.

“We are denied the practice of Islamic banking, yet we are forced to operate interest-based banking. When we called for Islamic banking, we were called several names. All of these point to outright disrespect for our rights of religion as guaranteed under the Constitution of the country.”

Nigeria, one of the world's most religiously committed nations, is divided between a Muslim north and a Christian south.

Muslims and Christians, who constitute 55 and 40 percent of Nigeria's 140 million population respectively, have lived in peace for the most part.But ethnic and religious tensions have bubbled for years, fuelled by decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands with migrants and settlers from the Hausa-speaking Muslim north.

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