Nigeria OP-ED 

Mubarak Bala: Why They Hate Him

Opinion Writer Leo Igwe

For allegedly making posts and comments on his Facebook page which some Muslims interpreted as insults on the prophet of Islam, police in Nigeria arrested Mubarak Bala. They have detained and held him incommunicado for almost three weeks. The Islamic establishment has refused to speak out against this illegality and infringement on his fundamental human rights. In fact, some Muslims have threatened to kill Mr. Bala if he was not adequately punished by the ‘state’.

It is important to ask, why do they hate Mubarak Bala? Why is there so much dislike for a little known individual who made innocuous posts on his Facebook page? By ‘they’ here I mean those who wrote the petition against Mr. Bala including all muslims who are directly or indirectly calling for him to be dealt with? Why has Mr. Bala become such as bête noire, someone that is so despised in the local Muslim community? Here are the reasons. But before explaining them, I would like to provide some background to my relationship with Mr. Bala.

I never knew Mubarak Bala before 2014. I never heard about the name. We connected through some strange circumstance. In 2014, I was studying for my doctorate in Germany. One day I got a message that an ex Muslim had been taken to a mental hospital. I was both worried and confused. All the ex-muslims that I knew then were in the closet. I was asked to join efforts to release him from the hospital. Bala’s family took him to this health facility after he went open and public with his disbelief and criticism of Islamic religion. The family thought he was out of his mind. For days, I struggled to understand what was going on. Religion, especially Islam is a charged issue in Northern Nigeria. I wondered how I could effectively intervene in this case while living thousands of miles away.

I was under immense local and international pressure to rally support because time was of essence. Bala was being treated for mental illness that he did not have. Those who contacted me were in Lagos which was very far from Kano where Mubarak Bala was. They also relied on information from third parties. I managed to call the psychiatric hospital in Kano. And they confirmed that Mubarak was a patient and had been admitted to the facility. But they refused to provide details of his case. After some back and forth calls and emails, I managed to piece together what could be going on and joined the campaign. I issued a statement calling for Mr. Bala’s release. We hired a lawyer to help with his case. Incidentally, as we were trying to figure out how to get him out from the hospital, the staff embarked on industrial action and Mr. Bala left the hospital. He became a free man. Since then, Mr. Bala has been very outspoken in his criticism of Islamic extremism. He has been the face of atheism and freethought in Northern Nigeria. His experience has inspired many atheists and ex-Muslims in northern Nigeria to go open and public with their views and positions. Bala has become synonymous with apostasy and blasphemy in the Islamic Northern Nigeria.

So they hate Mr. Bala because he renounced Islam. They believe that Islam is a perfect religion that people can embrace but not abandon. Bala was born into a Muslim family and they had expected him to remain a Muslim for the rest of his life. However, Bala disappointed them. He did not live up to their expectations. He left Islam. Bala did not even convert to Christianity, which would have been bad enough but not as bad. He became an atheist, a ‘bloody infidel’.

Mr. Bala betrayed them. And they are angry and furious with him. Now they are trying to punish him for the betrayal. Apostasy is a crime under sharia law and in Islam. As an apostate, Mubarak Bala is, for them, a criminal who deserves to be punished as required by Islamic law. Bala should be forced to recant and return to the Islamic fold or be removed from the Islamic community via imprisonment or execution. This has not happened. Mr. Bala has not received any punishment, or better an adequate penalty (I was told that his family had disowned him). To them, Mr. Bala has not been given a penalty that is severe enough to make him regret leaving Islam.

Instead, Bala has made it seem acceptable to leave Islam. He has been living his normal life and freely going about his everyday business. And this has not gone down well with them. Mr. Bala has made it look as if one can abandon Islam and still live happily and freely, not hiding or living in fear for one’s life in Islamic Northern Nigeria. In fact, Mr. Bala has gone to the extent of openly declaring to contest for a political office in Kano.

Now if they had some residual love for Mubarak Bala given his family and ethnic ties to the region, that affection has disappeared. Mr. Bala has caused them to hate him more by openly criticizing Islam. As an apostate, they expected Bala to keep quiet and not to say anything about Islam and the prophet. By renouncing Islam, Bala had lost the authority to speak freely about the religion. For them, only Muslims can talk about Islam. It is only believers or those who have something apologetic, complementary, and supportive to say about Islam and the prophet that can talk or openly comment on this perfect religion and its perfect messenger.

For them, critical views about Islam and the prophet are not allowed even if these viewpoints are true and based on facts. Critical views about Islam and the prophet are blasphemes. And blasphemy is a crime, another crime that is punishable by death under sharia law. Blasphemy law is a weapon to silence and eliminate critics of Islam and perpetuate the teachings of this religion whether they are true or false. It is a mechanism to stop people from making unauthorized comments about Islam. Blasphemy law is what the Islamic establishment use to police and censor what people say and express about Islam and the prophet.

So they hate Mr. Bala because he criticizes Islam and freely speaks about the prophet of Islam. He is a progressive mind and a champion of islamic reformation and social change. Mr. Bala draws attention to aspects of Islam and the prophet’s life which are often hidden and forbidden. He points out those teachings of Islam and the prophet which he finds mistaken and incompatible with human rights, science, and critical thinking. He calls attention to those Islamic practices that he finds morally repugnant and objectionable. They hate Mr. Bala because he is not afraid to speak his mind. Simply put, they hate Bala because he is an apostate and a ‘blasphemer’.

In addition, they hate Mubarak Bala because he has emboldened many atheists in muslim dominated communities in Northern Nigeria. Many atheists in Northern Nigeria are leaving their closet and becoming assertive of their views and identities. Bala has inspired many young people in Northern Nigeria to begin to freely express their disbelief in Islam. They dislike him because he has become a formidable moral and intellectual force behind the growing wave of atheism in Islamic Northern Nigeria.

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