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Need to revisit the influence of traditional rulers in the appointment of Imam in Yorubaland

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By Qasim Odedeji

There is a Yoruba adage: ‘aye là ba’fa, ayé làbá imole, lọsan gangan n’igbagbọ wọlé dé ‘. This adage confirms the existence of Islam in Yorùbá land long time ago before the coming of European colonial masters who brought Christianity to Nigeria.

It is not unusual that almost in all the major towns in Yorùbá land, central mosques exist side by side with the palaces.

History has it that the earliest Muslims in many of Yorùbá towns and cities were either invited by the traditional rulers who were Muslims or they were accepted and given spaces closed to the palaces to build their mosques in order to live close to the Obas. This, because of the respect the traditional rulers had for such Alfas and the spiritual powers they believed they were possessed of. Such Alfas eventually served as spiritual guides and advisors for the Obas.

Some of such traditional rulers who accepted Islam later became the vanguards of Islamic propagation in their domains. Examples of such traditional rulers who became promoters of Islam in their domains are Oba Memudu Lagunju who ruled as Timi of Ede and Oba Momodu Lamuye who ruled as Oluwo. The two of them implemented Sharia law in their towns; Ede and Iwo and as well established Shari’a court for that purpose.

It was this synergies between the Yoruba Obas in Yoruba towns and mutual respect between them that culminated into the influence the Yoruba traditional rulers have had in who become the Chief Imams of the cities and towns.

Despite this fact, the respect between the Obas and Imams was mutual. The earlier Yorùbá traditional rulers held the Chief Imams in high esteem and hence, the popular statement, ‘alfa ni Bàbá Ọba’ i.e, Islamic Clerics are the fathers of Kings. The Imams in those days were highly respected by all and sundry. There was no incidence of an Oba purporting to dethrone an Imam for whatever reason whatsoever.

It is therefore a great absurdity when today the incidence of Obas imposition of anybody, qualified or not qualified as well as attempts to dethrone Imams on the excuse that he who hires can fire has become so rampant.

The absurd practice on appointment of Chief Imams have become so far and embarrassing that if the office of Imam and Oba is vacant, filling of the vacant position of the Chief Imam has to wait until the Oba is appointed no matter how long. An example of this is the office of the Chief Imam of Oyo that has remained vacant due to the vacancy in the office of Alaafin of Oyo.

Some years back, the Timi of Ede, Oba Munirudeen Adesola Lawal, Laminisa 1 took some steps to suspend the Chief Imam of Ede for a reason that is only political until the intervention of well meaning individuals and groups in and outside of Ede. This kind of action is embarrassing not only to the office of the Chief Imam but the entire Muslims.

It then becomes more embarrassing when such Oba is a Christian like the current issue between the Soun of Ogbomoso, a Christian pastor and Chief Imam of Ogbomosoland, Sheikh Taliat Yunus where the former purportedly issued a query to the latter for daring to make a pilgrimage to hajj which is a fundamental aspect of Islam without his permission. Perhaps, one day, Oba ghandi will want the Chief Imam to seek for his permission before performing salat.

It needs to be stated without doubt that the position of an Imam is a purely Islamic position guided by the Shari’a. It is not a chieftaincy matter guided by Chiefs law of States. Therefore, the appointment and discipline of Imams, if necessary, should be in accordance with the Shari’a.

While it may not be out of place to involve the traditional rulers in the ceremony that follows the appointment of Imams in Yorubaland, the appointment needs to be strictly done by the Muslim Community of the town through a shurah committee.

Finally, Yoruba Obas should accord the Chief Imams their well-deserved respect, honour and dignity as it used to be between the Obas and Imams of the olden days.

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