The Kano Hisbah was in the media few days ago vis-à-vis a young boy who vowed not to pray again in a viral video. By this he meant the Muslims five daily prayers. It is a common knowledge that these prayers—spread over day and the night—are compulsory upon every sane Muslim. It implies that any Muslim who does not offer them is spiritually insane—and probably pathologically insane.
So it is in order to refer to any professed Muslim as insane if they do not offer their Salat (prayers) or offer them intermittently. For one cannot claim to be a Muslim without regularly offering the daily prayers. It is like the illogicality of one who claims to be a pilot but has never boarded or seen an aircraft.
But how would someone publicly vow that he will never pray again in a state like Kano? You know what I mean! This was the young boy’s mechanical reaction to what Hisbah did to him which he thought was a sort of maltreatment. I have sympathy for the young boy; and I will explain. Though we learnt he has actually started praying after efforts were made to make him reason.
For readers who might not know what Hisbah is and what it stands for, it is necessary we acquaint ourselves. They perform some social services like resolving disputes, controlling traffic, helping the needy, match-making for single men and women, controlling the use of illegal drugs among others. They also perform religious functions like inviting people to Islam and teaching about Islam. All these are noble functions which are commendable.
Yet there is this other controversial function of Hisbah which many are not comfortable with or for which Hisbah is hated by those who are not conversant with the commendable functions highlighted above. This is the disciplinary function which are sometimes coercive. Hisbah in its role as religion or morality police has, times without number, enforced what could be called public morality on people in its spheres of influence. It is this coercive disciplinary function that earns Hisbah negative connotation.
This young boy who vowed not to pray is a good case in point. He was said to have had his hair forcibly scrapped off and was given thirty strokes of cane by Hisbah. What was his offence? His offence was his hair was either unkempt or a part of the head was shaved and the other part unshaved. If it was the latter, it is called Qaza’ in Islamic term. It is either disliked or prohibited. This depends on the reason for doing so. If it is done to imitate evil people, it is haram (prohibited). But if it is done just out of fashion, then it is makruh (disliked). This is based on the instruction of the Prophet (SAW) who saw a boy, part of whose hair had been shaved and other part unshaved. He instructed them (the people): “Shave it all or leave it all” (Ahmad).
It is based on this instruction by the Prophet that Muslims are not allowed to have all these hair styles that are in vogue. One may wonder and ask why hair style becomes so important in Islam. The rationale behind it is justice. Justice is required even on what we might consider too trivial; not to talk of things that are important. Shaving a part and leaving a part of the head seems to be injustice to the head. So it is either it is shaved entirely or allowed to grow entirely.
Thus, a Muslim could allow his hair to grow like that of Shehu Sani or the renowned Prof. Soyinka. Though the former is a former senator and the latter a globally renowned Prof, they have what it takes to maintain their hair. Really, a person who keeps long hair and cannot maintain it would appear unkempt, messy, ruggedly shaggy or even demonic. At any rate, the punishment is too harsh for the young boy and Islam does not sanction such. In other words, the treatment meted out to this young boy is un-Islamic and cannot be supported by the Shariah.
This is not the Prophet’s way of correcting people’s mistakes. As it is evident, the coerciveness of Hisbah against this boy is counterproductive. He swore not to pray until his hair grows to its initial length. This gra gra approach to correcting people is not the best. It is true that there are competent ‘ulama (clerics) that guide the affairs of Hisbah with clear vision and focus, unfortunately the overzealousness and/or hyper religiosity of some of its officials could be damaging.
If Hisbah had diverted its strengths and energies to punishing almaajirai who go house to house to beg for food, that would have been better and in tandem with the Shariah. In Islam, it is haram (unlawful) to beg—especially when begging becomes a habit and a way of life (culture). I was elated during the COVID 19 lockdown when almaajirai were evacuated from various states to their states of origin.
Though some rightly argued that it was an infringement upon their right of residence as Nigerian citizens, nevertheless, it would have been an opportunity to put an end to the ugly and condemnable practice. I was optimistic during the COVID 19’s banishment that the identity of these almaajirai would be destroyed—once and for all—for a new identity reconstruction that squares with Islam itself and fits in with modernity. My optimism was dashed!
Doesn’t Hisbah think that these young boys (or their parents) deserve severe punishment for making begging a way of life? The Prophet strongly condemned begging. He said: “A person keeps on begging until he comes on the Day of Resurrection with a face without any bit of flesh” (Agreed Upon). He also said: “By whom my soul is in His Hand! It is better for one of you to collect firewood and carry it on his back (to sell it in town) than to ask someone for something.” (Bukhari).
Plus, these almaajirai look so nauseatingly dirty that one imagines if reciting the Qur’an—the Holy Book—in their stinking attires is not a desecration of the Qur’an itself. The Qur’an instructs cloth purification (Q74: 4) but they act otherwise. Hisbah should look into this. What about their irritating habit of standing upon people while meals are served in restaurants for left over? They race over left over food the way dogs would when bones are hurled at them. Though they are not dogs, but we need to tell ourselves this bitter truth in the crudest manner, perhaps we would change our ways.
Whenever I see these almaajirai in their tattered cloths I feel ashamed of myself as a Muslim. Is this the Islam we like to invite people to accept? However, knowing fully well that what I have said about the almaajirai is not what Islam teaches; it is a culture that people misconceive and mistake for Islam. In fact, Islam teaches the contrary. I console and strengthen myself with this fact. If anyone argues that not all almaajirai beg for food and look tattered in attires soaked in dirt; my response is: those are the few exceptions. And an exception to the fact that I have painted above is a confirmation of the fact. It is not its repudiation.
This is a call on Hisbah to operate gently and reasonably within the Islamic framework. Its commendable acts are well acknowledged. It should look into the area of disproportionate punishments for which it has been criticized. It should also beam its searchlight on this issue of almaajirai. May Allah accept our righteous deeds.