Listed as one of the most influential 500 Muslims globally and a prominent member of the Fatwa Committee of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Imam Abdurrahman’s status is huge, national, transnational, and global. A teacher, activist, community leader, and commentator on key issues, he is held in the highest regard by millions of people.
Imam Ahmad has become a monument of history and an icon of identity. The former because of the story associated with him, particularly concerning the sociocultural setting from which he is raised; and the latter because he represents what Islam is and epitomizes what the religion stands for, especially in the evolution of things in the modern world. Because he was born in Ilorin, the capital of the present Kwara State in Nigeria, Imam Ahmad automatically serves as an arrowhead to interrogate history within the context of conquest and expansion. Islam preaches expansionism, not necessarily within the context of forceful overtaking of a people, but in the spirit of spreading the gospel of Prophet Mohammad, who was understood to be delivering the divine assignment of Allah, the Almighty. Allah mandated Prophet Muhammad to circulate the message of His existence, supremacy, and magnificence to people worldwide to the extent that everyone would understand His divine majesty status and not contend His divine munificence. This, therefore, serves as the reason for spreading Islam to different places across history, especially from about the 7th century AD. From the Middle East, the religion began to expand in different directions through the agency of its passionate evangelists.
At the penetration of the African continent, Ilorin is one of the West African cities that came under the Islamic influence gained through the perpetual persuasion of those spreading the faith. Indeed, because this city records a huge presence of Muslim scholars, it is considered a monument place of history. People convinced about the oneness of Allah, and the inviolability of His Prophet began to accommodate Islam and joined massively in propagating the religion. The result of this is that a surprising group of scholars emerged from this experience, and from there, they began to build a civilization with the knowledge of Islam they had gathered. The trend continued until Ilorin became known as religious geography that stands to protect the creed of the religion with all necessary confidence. Imam Ahmad was birthed and raised in this environment, and it, therefore, explains his life choices, philosophy, ideas, and perspective on human sociocultural development. Individuals raised in this environment with the Islamic creed are usually unfazed by the temptations and trials of the world. They would forge ahead in the proliferation of the religion, regardless of the sacrifices demanded.
Merely looking at Imam Ahmad, one cannot deny his close affinity to the religion as all of his engagements are strong reinforcements of his religious philosophies. He is calm, peaceful in dealing, considerate of people around him, and is loving too, to a fault. I have always been charmed by his presentations, driven by higher ideals (see, for example, “The Purpose of Life” in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpte4gZVSrE). A man of peace, he preaches respect for pluralism and diversity (Interreligious Cooperation, Religious Freedom, and Social Stability (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9f1sIvRB74). What he wants at the national level, he calls for at the domestic, even within family spaces: (“Choosing Fidelity Over Fitnah In Your Marriage” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIgHNfE01EM).
Imam Ahmad got his formative education under the tutelage of his mother, who was steadfast in promoting the Islamic culture that she inherited. During his upbringing, Islam was one of the most reliable sources of education for the people, especially in Nigeria. Islam gave people hope and sharpened their minds through the information shared with them. For example, literacy was handed to Imam Ahmad early, and it became a part of his generational culture in the long run. This shows how Islam itself constructed its identity. The belief that individuals are extremely important in the preservation of culture and knowledge abounds in the religion, and this was demonstrated in how his mother shouldered the responsibility of educating the young AbdurRahman. He would later complement this with the acquisition of the knowledge of the religion in Islamic schools.
As would be logically expected, Islamic institutions are specifically focused on imparting the Islamic culture and knowledge to the people so that they would be developed along the philosophical lines of the religion. The focus of the schools under which Imam Ahmad garnered Islamic knowledge was to teach students until they achieve proficiency in the Arabic language, both in writing and speech-making, after which they would specialize in some areas of which they can be known as experts. Imam Ahmad studied Fiqh, Hadith, Tawhid, Seerah, and the principles of Sharia in the Madrasah. These are Islamic knowledge and culture components that shape people’s character and mold them to benefit society.
The knowledge of Fiqh, for example, lays a strong foundation of Islamic jurisprudence in the individuals who have acquired the knowledge. This means that there is a high concentration on the issues of justice in Islam because, without justice, the spine of every human society and civilization is prone to some unforeseen breakdown. However, the concept of justice in Islam, attached to Sharia, must conform to the divine injunctions and instructions handed down by the Supreme Almighty. Islamic law is revealed in the Quran and, more importantly, epitomized in the doings of Prophet Muhammad.
In the same vein, Hadith became another important object of knowledge acquisition. Hadith, which technically means the records of the traditions or sayings of the prophets of Islam, constitutes another level of knowledge needed to be accomplished by Islamic scholars for them to be considered a justice of the religion. Many Muslims consider Prophet Muhammad as one of the most valuable men created by Allah, those very close to perfection. Many Muslims share this opinion, and this explains why they hold the Prophet in the highest esteem. The Prophet’s engagements are etched into the followers’ heads, and his words are given utmost regard. The reason for the deification of the prophet is because his life was a beautiful demonstration of excellence and, as such, could be used as a reliable source of moral behavior. Imam Ahmad underwent this knowledge and experience, which now form part of the basis for his values and engagements.
Tawhid is a religious concept that designates Allah’s oneness and the need for embracing this thinking for one’s religious behavior. A Muslim is naturally expected to believe only in Allah and not associate other things with him. Seerah metaphorically means the human journey, from conception to death.
As Ilorin is engrossed in the Islamic culture, the age-long controversy between Western epistemology and Islamic knowledge production has been integrated into the religious and cultural bloodstream of the people. It is, however, more pronounced by those who are facilitators of the religion. If one is an Islamic instructor, the tendency to be rigid with philosophical positions is reasonably high. Interestingly, Imam Ahmad was raised by Islamic scholars, which means that he could have heard, and perhaps not, the statement that Western sources of knowledge are not needed because of the common understanding that they stand at variance with many things that Islam stands for. To go to the Western school during his formative years was generally considered taboo by many Ilorin families. It was specifically more difficult for Islamic scholars to have their children sent to Western schools to acquire knowledge and information. The difficulty was pronounced to the extent that children across the two lines are deprived of the opportunity to know about the other side.
To be candid, there is something keenly interesting that the sociocultural setting of Imam Ahmad reveals to us. While it is undeniable that Ilorin, the social environment where he was raised, has a strong influence on Islamic culture, it cannot be denied that it is also a Yoruba society with a credible affiliation to their epistemological and ontological realities. Being exposed to these plural identities meant that the people within the space are a fusion of a multicultural and multi-religious philosophy because these various identities have a reasonable level of impact on them and their choices. This explains why Ahmad’s father, having laid a strong foundation of Islamic culture in him, decided to expose him to Western education. The decision was inspired by a person’s understanding that the most effective way to predict a child’s future is to invest in him/her a series of ideas derived through participation in multiple programs. While Islam provided the religious and moral architecture upon which the child can build their eventual life goals and philosophy, Ahmad’s father saw Western education as a way to receiving the opportunity to develop oneself with the knowledge required to maximize one’s potential. For this reason, the young Ahmad was sent to acquire Western education.
Being raised in a Yoruba environment naturally predisposes someone to the socio-cultural ideas of the people and, as we also learn unconsciously, people get attracted to systems and practices and act on them eventually. More importantly, the fact that he was introduced to Islamic knowledge also dictated, to a large extent, his religio-cultural behavior. Moreover, after adding Western education to his career, Imam Ahmad developed his brilliant ideas into something transmittable to measurable results by applying the acquired knowledge methodically. More than anything, Western education prepares a man to organize himself and his engagements in ways to access the skills of success. The idea of structuring knowledge comes to fruition when one has an assortment of it in a plural intellectual development. The combination of Islamic culture and Western education has helped to ensure this.
However, it is also complemented by acquiring practical knowledge, which helps promote one’s potential in a measurable way. The period under which Imam Ahmad was raised was when learning a trade was immensely beneficial to society. It critically frowned at that one would solely depend on the knowledge of Islam or Western education as the means to financial upgrade without learning a trade or a skill. This explains why Ahmad’s father was serious about him having numerous experiences as a child, and this would eventually become an advantage to him in his later life.
Imam Ahmad’s versatility cannot contend in practical terms. As a result of his solid educational background, he has reached far and wide, touching different countries and cultures and affecting numerous lives using his academic background as the anchor. He navigates these spaces talking about how it is important to engage in diverse cultural knowledge and understanding. This would transform people and help them develop others with whom they share similar social or economic networks.
Today, Imam Ahmad is one of the most influential Muslims in the world. He is a representative at different levels in both public institutions and private corporations. Generally, he is known for his outstanding contributions to humanity, which is why he continues to be relevant in different spheres.
Please join us for a conversation with the National Missioner of the Ansar-Ud-Deen Society of Nigeria, Imam Abdulrahman Ahmad on
Sunday, 2nd May 2021
5:00 PM GMT+1 (Nigeria Time)
11:00AM US CST (Austin Time)
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