Why 'Islamic scholars' are always in the news for the wrong reasons

An Islamic scholar in the eyes of Nigerian media is a man of many colours. This is because the media has not got semantic filters to separate criminals from clerics.

Nigerian Islamic Scholars and Clerics.

It is more newsworthy if the man is a religious figure because the society expects him to live by the wisdom of the scriptures and not by new orders or street wisdom.

This is why we find it amusing or shameful when a religious figure's behavior goes out of the scripture. Depending on our perception of the behavior, the media and the society might get more endeared to him or persecute him.

Ironically, the societal expectation for being religious is higher than what the people expect from elected politicians. The Nigerian society on moral ground expects religious fellows to be trustworthy but does not expect politicians to be honest because they are politicians.

After all, politics is a dirty game and a politician is expected to be dirty.

It is against this background that the media seems to sex up stories involving religious figures. While this remains the media practice, the portrayal of religious figures in Islam has been hugely misrepresented.

An Islamic scholar in the eyes of Nigerian media is a man of many colours. This is because the media has not got semantic filters to separate those Muslims caught in the web of scandals and genuine scholars who shed sweat and served scholars to become scholars.

Just like every pastor is described as  a Man of God in the news even when he is seen dining with the devil, every Alfa found in the news is an Islamic cleric or scholar in the Nigerian news media even when the culprit is not one.

Part of the media's role is to educate the society and this piece' aim is to educate the media to understand what it means to describe a man as a cleric or scholar in relation to Islam.

In March 2017, an unidentified Alfa was reported to have bought a 3-year-old boy for N500. It was reported that the Alfa gave the money to a 15-year-old boy to help him get a toddler. In the news, Nigerian News Agency described the Alfa as a Muslim Cleric.

In the same month, precisely March 20, one Alfa Kazeem Alimson was arrested for stoning a 3-year-old boy to death. And the head line says: Islamic cleric arrested for stoning 3-yr-old boy to death.

Again, recently, the remains of Oluwafemi Shonibare,  a final year student of UNIOSUN, who was declared missing on Monday, June 26 were discovered near the house of three Alfas, Sakariyau Abdulrofiu 19, Ibrahim Ayuba, 24, and Yusuf Aliu 18.

The Police apprehended the criminals and they confessed how they butchered the body of their victim for money rituals.

In crime stories like these and many others, the Nigerian media has always described the criminals as Islamic scholars or Islamic clerics simply because the criminals are known as alfas in their communities.

Now, let's face it. The word Alfa does not stand as a spiritual or leadership title in Islam. Its meaning is very far from religious title. Alfa in Arabic language means one thousand. It is not even a homonymous word. The one and only meaning for Alfa in its original language is 1000.

However, in an attempt to justify the meaning of Alfa in Nigeria, the Yoruba Muslims interpret Alfa as someone who has the cognitive and spiritual capacity to teach and train 1000 students.

This interpretation was borne more out of exaggeration than application of meaning. Still, not all that go about claiming to be Alfas have the strength to teach 1000 students at a time.

Speaking fluent Arabic is not even a criterion for becoming a scholar in Islam but in the Nigerian media, every ritualist people known as Alfa is an Islamic scholar or cleric, whereas these criminals might not be able to read the Holy Qur'an fluently let alone understand its meaning.

No Islamic scholar or cleric engages in money rituals. These criminals are best described as babalawo or ritualists. Portraying them as Islamic scholars or cleric is like awarding PhD to everyone who can read and write.

It takes too many steps to become a scholar in Islam. In fact, it takes up to 12 years of uninterrupted education in the studies of the Qur'an, Ahadeeth of the prophet, Ijma (Consensus of Scholars) and Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) to become a respected scholar.

These are the four pillars upon which Islamic knowledge and studies are based. And one would not acquire these knowledge except he learns it from great scholar. Therefore, an Islamic scholar is one who learns from another scholar for a number of years.

This is what it takes to be a cleric or scholar in Islam. This is what the media does not know about religious leadership in Islam. And this is the main reason the media sees every criminal who bears a muslim name and known as Alfa in his community as Islamic scholar or cleric.

Islamic scholars don't deal with body parts either for rituals or for any reasons the criminal give. These men are criminal and the laws should take its course whenever they are arrested.

We have scholars and clerics but our scholars are not the ones the media and the police parade. Those men are ritualists, period!

So, dear Newspaper, Radio, TV  and the Internet, when you are  reporting a crime, please check the background of the criminal because not all Alfas understand Islam. Thank you!

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