Some of the most brutal, insane, and unjust systems of ethics and jurisprudence can be found in the fundamentalist or selective literalist interpretations of the religious, often as commanded and perceived by men, if you haven’t noticed, or in the pseudoscientific justifications for supernaturalistic perspectives on the world deemed holy and grounded in purported transcendent texts and a supposedly Divine Holy Father in the Highest. A conceived Heavenly Father with a thin skin who hates while desiring retribution on Earth, including capital punishment for insults to the transcendent(ly fragile) ego. Freud, Hume, Hobbes, and Durkheim seem substantially correct over and over again in the historical record right into the present on the religious conceptualizations of a divine figure projected outward, abstracted as a précis of the worst facets of manly identity, as when men held/hold the majority power in societies and the God becomes a Father, a Lord, or a King, or even Lord of Lords, King of Kings, or Heavenly Father – in short, a man, and a rather ordinary one in spite of the grandiose titles – with the typical foibles and follies of men including pride, anger, vanity, and a desire for physical violence as a form of purification through retribution for the perceived insult. Thus, one can extrapolate the humourless, thin-skinned, and vengeful hypothetical Theity as one reflecting the individual and collective psychologies of some groups of men who deem themselves the bearers of the truth of some religions. A recent case arose once more in the modern record, as happened with a small group of self-identified Muslims who, presumably, claim to stand representative of all Muslims for all time, all interpretations, everywhere and always. Muslim friends and colleagues, and former Muslim friends and colleagues, would, probably, disown said individuals as non-representative of ordinary believers, in general, with only some exceptions, but the trend would probably be clear. So, why stand so tall on a charge so big with consequences so infinitely great to an individual humanist with evidence so small?
Mubarak Bala is the President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria who uses the freedom of expression to its full provided constitutionally within Nigeria and internationally within the global system of rights and law via the United Nations. Individuals who utilize these rights deserve to express themselves without fear or terror of reprisal because of the impacts on individual readers or listeners. Recently, he was charged and hauled off to jail by two Kaduna police officers. He was arrested on the afternoon of 28 April 2020 in Kaduna, Northern Nigeria, by two police officers who did not wear uniforms at the time while engaging in the arrest at the residence of Bala. All of this reeks of unethical and unprofessional law enforcement conduct, as a start to this absurdist comedy of errors against Bala. Currently, he is detained at Gbabasawa police station in Kaduna. Some local sources speculate the police detainment comes from a charge of blasphemy against him. The main claim stated “provocative and annoying” statements publicly on social media by Bala towards Muslims, specifically. If this is the case, and if some Islamic ethics incorporates the Golden Rule, then the Golden Rule can be applied here. Muhammad Sani Tahir on Facebook stated, “People like Mubarak Bala aren’t supposed to be on Social media, he has no regard for any Religion and the exalted beings we hold so dear in our minds.” This sounds provocative and annoying to some non-religious people, potentially. Shall we lay a criminal complaint? Halima Sa’adiya Umar started a Change.Org campaign stating:
Mubarak is blaspheming against the religion of Islam. He should practice his atheism and let Muslims be! “For you is your religion and for me is my religion”
His utterances are capable of causing unrest which could cause religious and social upheaval in the country.
Facebook is meant to promote & encourage relationships, allowing his kind to be on the platform is catastrophic. Freedom of expression is not synonymous to hate speech that can cause mayhem in Nigeria.
A petition with a goal of 25,000 online people and, at the time of publication of this article almost 17,000 signatures in its first 12 hours. This seems provocative and annoying. Once more, shall we make a charge? Unrest and upheaval based on words denigrates one’s own sect of one community, so as to reduce their humanity; in that, Umar asserts this claim with the implicatory obligation to point out the obvious and embarrassing logical consequence of the statements about “utterances” ‘causing’ irrational actions by her particular Muslim community (not all Nigerian Muslims, which one would gather from reading this blanket statement). The implied statement is followers of Islam within the circle for Umar cannot handle themselves; with some opinions or expressed ideas counter to the assertions of the faith, they can’t help themselves in enacting “unrest” and “religious and social upheaval in the country.” How offensive to the dignity and humanity of some followers of Islam, individual Muslims, my personal belief is individual Nigerian Muslims are every bit as capable of critical inquiry and have the capacity for rational thought and reaction to freely expressed opinions and ideas as much as anyone else of any other ethnicity, nationality, or religion. I find the implication of the statements by Umar about followers of Islam beyond provocative and annoying: dehumanizing. Shall we make a criminal complaint here too?
“Provocative and annoying” as the main statements here because several lawyers petitioned the Kano state with the explicit charge for the prosecution of Bala for the perceived insult of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad. One should note, Muhammad is dead; thus, why not have Prophet Muhammad make his own case and attend a day in court for himself rather than purported representatives on Earth now – only some of whom making the claim at the moment? Duly noting, of course, only the living can feel the insult, which means a small grouping of self-identified Muslims in Nigeria under the auspices of the likes of the lawyers from S.S. Umar & Co. (Barristers, Solicitors and Property Consultants at No. 328, Opp. Alhamsad Towers, Zoo Road, Kano), Halima Sa’adiya Umar (uncertain as to any relation to the former), and Muhammad Sani Tahir, who make far more provocative and annoying utterances; all the while ignoring the real social “unrest” and “religious and social upheaval” seen in those making a mockery of well-meaning Muslims throughout Nigeria in the cases of Boko Haram with thousands killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. The charge of insulting a dead man is spurious, inasmuch as one can claim to represent the knowledge of the insult of Nelson Mandela, Jesus Christ, Edward Teller, Kwame Nkrumah, Joseph Stalin, or Albert Einstein. As Dr. Leo Igwe reported in Humanist Voices, Canadian Atheist, and NewsGhana as, more or less, facsimiles:
S. S. Umar signed the petition. And this is how one Yusuf Jnr (@MrZage) commented on the petition on his tweeter account: “Some group of lawyers finally write a petition against that animal Mubarak Bala”. He described Mubarak as ‘an animal’…
… All of us at the Humanist Association of Nigeria are deeply worried by the arrest and detention of our president, Mubarak Bala. Mubarak Bala will likely be handed over to the Kano state police command, that will prosecute him for blasphemy, a crime that caries a death sentence under sharia law. We urge the Inspector General of Police, the governor of Kaduna, Mallam Elrufai to ensure his immediate release.
Once more, “Animal,” does this seem “provocative and annoying” to anyone else? Similar reportage came from – so far – Barry Duke of The Freethinker, Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist, The Will Nigeria, Sahara Reporters, Center for Inquiry (issued a statement), the International Association of Atheists, West Africa Reporters, Politics Nigeria, Roasted Amala, and InfoDigest. S.S. Umar & Co. charged Bala with “publically insulting Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on his Facebook page contrary to Section 210 of the Penal Code of Kano State ad Section 26(1)(c) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibitions, Prevention, Etc.) Act of 2015.”
Cybercrimes (Prohibitions, Prevention, Etc.) Act of 2015 Section 26(1)(c) states:
26. (1) Any person who with intent –
(c) insults publicly through a computer system or network–
(i) persons for the reason that they belong to a group distinguished by race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, as well as religion, if used as a pretext for any of these factors; or
(ii) a group of persons which is distinguished by any of these characteristics;
Section 210 of the (Shari’a) Penal Code of Kano State states:
Whoever by any means publicly insults or seeks to incite contempt of any religion in such a manner as to be likely to lead to a breach of the peace, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or with both.
They invoked Section 4 of the Police Act 1967, which states:
4. General duties of the police The police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and shall perform such military duties within or outside Nigeria as may be required of them by, or under the authority of this or any other Act. [1979 No. 23.]
With the charge on April 27 2020 by Umar S.S. & Co., they proclaim to know this individual, Bala, committed crimes and made a charge of the public complaining of possible state complicity in the ‘crime’ by Bala based on the Facebook posts; while, at the same time, the public claimed, based on the filed complaint of S.S. Umar & Co., if the insults were directed at a politician rather then Islamic Prophet Muhammad, then the state and the police would act differently. Couple things, Muhammad is dead; politicians are alive. Also, the state did act and within 24 hours with the finding of Bala, unprofessionally (out of uniform) gathering Bala, and then jailing him. Thus, it’s precisely the opposite; it would appear the state acted in complicity with the demands of the religious. In a time when blasphemy laws continue to disappear around the world, for the largest and most populated African state, it is a singular crime to single out the non-religious with a law premised on the existence of a Theity capable of insult, especially when many members of Nigerian society do not believe in it. Section 210 of the Penal Code on secular consistency grounds should not exist at all. It should not exist in a pluralistic, secular, and democratic state. Even more so, a representative of the God who is dead and cannot speak for their self requiring flawed human beings to represent someone who the believers in the faith consider a highly morally advanced if not perfect former member of the human species. Who says they’ve got the picture right? Who says that they can speak for all Muslims and for the correct reading of Islam – let alone the final Prophet, the inerrant holy text called the Quran, or Allah Himself? Is this not, in and of itself, a blasphemous act – to put oneself in a place so as to claim to speak for Allah and all of his people?
Nonetheless, Bala has the right to express himself. S.S. Umar & Co., even admit to this right for Bala. Readers and listeners – who choose and chose to read and listen to him – do not have the right to be non-offended by him (and appear to know the track record of Bala and should expect to be offended based on the differences of opinion, which makes the whole situation all the more confusing and idiotic), or to threaten jail-time based on hurt sentiments, or, even further, demand the death penalty for said offenses deemed by the holy men who claim to know the emotions, heart, and mind of the God offended by such existences and statements of ex-Muslims and humanists as Mubarak Bala. When one claims the offense of a God, or Allah, or a purported messenger, one does not acquire the legal right to proclaim to speak on behalf of this Theity or behalf of all of the religious people and communities, and leaders, who identify under the same title because they were probably not as offended as you, even not offended at all.
If someone does not want to hear or read something, then you do not have to see or hear it. In fact, in an era of autonomy and free delivery of information via the Internet, the choice before every individual human being becomes to engage in something or not, barring cases of coercion or force. In these instances, given the fact of the freedom to choose not to listen to the freedom of expression used by Bala, it’s less as to what Bala stated and more, obviously, to the ‘crime’ of existing, on the first count as an ex-Muslim and a public humanist and non-believer, and for speaking openly about it, on the second count. That’s the real ‘crime’; that’s the real reason for continuing to read and listen to him because it’s a public monitoring of him to find points to score for the purposes of silencing or ending his actual existence, as one can gleam from the public threat of violence, reprisal, and numerous death threats over a significant period of time right into the present. That’s xenophobia. Taken together, it’s the fact of existing and articulating opinions at odds with some of the religious orthodoxy in the nation. Indeed, not the entire nation, as many Muslims do not care a smidgen for these things, Muslims aren’t a bloc and small collections of individuals making criminal charges cannot claim to represent all of Islam, all Muslims, or the sentiments of individuals who do not believe in Islam, or have left Islam, while understanding the prejudice and bigotry faced by many Muslims in the modern world; in fact, the last point makes the charge with the potential for the death penalty application more tragic, as it becomes one group feeling prejudice from others to some degree with issuance from some in its communities demanding the harshest form of punishment known: death. Who chose to make some followers of some bits of Islam the arbiters of life or death of someone? Of course, a self-selected group of the easily offended.
As someone without a formal religion, I worked for an Ismaili Muslim who ran the Almas Jiwani Foundation, formerly UN Women Canada, on the Board for three years, my stances were known and almost never an issue for Ms. Jiwani during most of the three years working for the organization, as we worked on a unified interest in women’s rights as part and parcel of human rights (not separate or distinct from one another, as the separation would imply something of a classification of the rights for women as not human rights and, thus, not incorporate women as human beings, as Margaret Atwood, importantly, reminds us). We’re talking extensive research, work with her, even writing draft speeches, including for one Miss Universe Canada before. Muslims and Islam cannot be perceived or conceived as a bloc akin to the numerous sects, sometimes warring, of Christianity cannot be perceived or conceived as a bloc in any reasonable manner, except on fundamentals. One cannot deny the Resurrection in Christianity, as there would be no redeeming of the sins of Mankind in their theologies; one cannot rewrite the Quran in Islam, as this is the literal language and Word of Allah. Other than those, we can have some wiggle room within Christianity with rewrites and with Islam in reinterpretations of the wording that cannot be changed, as in a poetic reorientation of the textual analysis, as has been and continues to be done throughout the world.
On the issue of rights and back to the libretto, Bala maintains the full right of state and international community to speak openly with personal views on a fundamental level. When we examine the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999), the stipulations become explicit, clear, and articulated in line with the use of the freedom to expression by Bala with Chapter IV Fundamental Rights 39. (1) Right to freedom of expression and the press stating, “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” One can see the echoes in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 19 stating, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Individuals in the international community retain the right to “freedom of opinion and expression… without interference to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” where Bala utilized blog posts and Facebook posts to engage in freely expressing personal ideas and opinions. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria continued in the same articulation of the right to impart opinions and ideas “without interference.” Hence, Bala utilized posts in online media for freely expressing personal opinions and ideas. Even ignorant ideas, which Bala’s aren’t, I once knew a sailor of a Chief Skugaid in Canadian society who believed in the (Immanuel Velikovsky) Velikovskyan discredited and embarrassingly ignorant cosmology; a nice, polite, and genteel person who happened to be wildly wrong with almost offensively, stunningly incorrect views of the world. I do not claim the right to lay a criminal charge over offense and then to have the possibility of the individual brought to death in some manner.
I hold the right to publicly disagree with the gentleman. Thus, a basis for civil discourse and the foundation for civil society grounds itself in this fundamental agreement of a civil discourse barring open threats to violence or livelihood, as has happened to Mubarak Bala with clear examples in the historical record in 2014 on the part of some of the fundamentalist religious community in Nigeria. Furthermore, other rights stand on the side of Bala in the international rights and national law stipulations of Nigeria society. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Chapter IV Fundamental Rights 38. (1) Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion states, “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 18 states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” In short, there’s no question on the freedom of belief and conscience, and religion and expression.
Article 45 of the Constitution, where S.S. Umar & Co. only make vague statements as to the invalidation of the right to freedoms of Bala because Article 45 is a huge statement and, states:
45. (1) Nothing in sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of this Constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society
(a) in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or
(b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom or other persons
(2) An act of the National Assembly shall not be invalidated by reason only that it provides for the taking, during periods of emergency, of measures that derogate from the provisions of section 33 or 35 of this Constitution; but no such measures shall be taken in pursuance of any such act during any period of emergency save to the extent that those measures are reasonably justifiable for the purpose of dealing with the situation that exists during that period of emergency:
Provided that nothing in this section shall authorise any derogation from the provisions of section 33 of this Constitution, except in respect of death resulting from acts of war or authorise any derogation from the provisions of section 36(8) of this Constitution.
(3) In this section, a ” period of emergency” means any period during which there is in force a Proclamation of a state of emergency declared by the President in exercise of the powers conferred on him under section 305 of this Constitution.
If you want to place a charge, especially when said charge may lead to the risk of someone’s life or make their life forfeit to the glee of enemies and onlookers, then, at least, make a careful analysis of the last straw in the charge. One may point to the S.S. Umar & Co. charge about xenophobia and racism. However, if one is a white Muslim rather than a black Muslim, or a European-Caucasian Muslim compared to an African Muslim, is the religion or the ethnicity the race here? It’s a confused argument and, therefore, illegitimate. Islam as a race is as much a legitimate idea as atheism is a race. On xenophobia, as charged, can one point to the numerous death threats, hurled insults, hatred, claims of violence, etc., at Bala as individuated xenophobia en masse? If one can claim it, then the charges should be placed in the exact opposite direction towards, in fact, a stronger case with a collective of the living rather than a single claim of one religious hierarch as a terrorist who is deceased.
So, what do we have here? Bala made a conscience and belief choice to become free from Islam and other religious indoctrination/impositions based on the freedom to have no belief and no religion and, thus, make a conscientious objection to partaking in the belief structure and practices of one religion and, in turn, all religions. Bala, in the world based on the United Nations, and in Nigeria based on its Constitution, maintains the right to freedom of belief away from religion, freedom from religion as one of non-religion, freedom of conscience so as to make a moral choice regarding the two aforementioned matters, and the freedom to expression of the opinions and ideas against the religions and beliefs without interference. The statement merely amalgamates and unites the rights into a singular statement in support of Bala rather than not. Bear in mind, the entirety of the presentation here amounts to standard rights and law stipulations for the individuals who happen to disagree with the wider strand of human societies while having the desire to live in democratic and free societies. With the individuals who speak out and express themselves openly and articulately, as Bala, the claim for the ability to jail without just warrant and have them, potentially, killed based on a purported blasphemy charge brings other factors of a society into question.
Note, Bala is the President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria with the power of words alone. In more clear-cut cases of doing bad public relations to the image of Islam, we can see Abu Mohammed Abubakar bin Mohammad al-Sheikawi, who is the leader of the Nigerian militant group proclaiming itself Islamic, Boko Haram, under al-Sheikawi’s leadership. Who is doing worse damage to the image of Islam and to the lives of non-Muslims and Muslims alike? Does the focus on Bala make for a perverse form of extreme hypocrisy? Of course, the fundamental basis of words as the problem rather than acts of murder, rape, and enslavement becomes the ethical difference making the moral actual. Boko Haram has killed tens of thousands and displaced more than 2,000,000 people; whereas, Bala made ironic or flat, frank statements of personal opinion about the religious ‘Prophet’ and the supposed holy origin of the text. All claims by individuals on social media have been dealt with in the above arguments, as simply inadequate, illogical, public incitement and declarations of violence, and open xenophobia against the non-religious, and spurious claims to religious legitimacy as if speaking for all Muslims or Islam as if a bloc interpretation or reading for all time, all places, and all peoples, including all Nigerian Muslims. Non-religious and religious alike should stand behind the legitimate claim to freedom of belief, freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and freedom of expression of Bala because, as the violation of the right of one person in one place is a violation of all peoples rights everywhere as, we do not know when one our other communities’ leaders or group of peoples may fall under similar undue pressure and illegitimate punishment and charges. Either we stand together; or, we abandon the principles upon which free, democratic, pluralistic, and prosperous societies are constructed, and, thus, collapse together. There’s a lot of talk about saving the world qua the world and for human beings as of late for good scientific and survival reasons; however, I argue the future remains built on principles and values, which express themselves in the societies constructed now and into the future, where the maintenance and survival of the natural world and humanity qua the natural world and humanity becomes of utmost importance, but only alongside principles and values expressed in the actualized lives of global citizenry and the international society that make a humanity worth surviving and an Earth worth saving.
Image Credit: Mubarak Bala.