(This article reflects the research and viewpoints of the author, and not necessarily that of New Texas).
Submitted by Stephen Ogheneruro Okpadah
The artist had been defined and appropriated in various contexts by scholars in the Humanities, Cultural studies and the Social sciences. He has often been described as “a teacher, a prophet, a seer and a sage” (Sofola 2). In fact, “he is an arbiter in a political crisis, the voice of the people in the wilderness, the gifted, and an angry reactor to life around him. “The artist is a special being” (Yerima 42). His relevance in the society is premised on his capacity to contribute to societal reconstruction and nation building. Thus, the Homers, the Bethoveens, the John Miltons, the Shakespeares, and the Leonardo Da Vincis are worthy of study because of their outstanding contribution to humanity with their works of art. The name of the above Greek Classical, English and Italian Renaissance, the Romantic and Modern artists continue to reverberate and echo in postmodern scholarship because of the relevance of their works to the situations in present day society.
Postmodern Nigerian artists have joined the clarion call to critique the foibles, ills and excesses of socio-cultural and moral misfits as well as corrupt polithiefians in the society. Amongst these artists are the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Edris AbdulKareem, Niyi Osundare and Ogaga Ifowodo, and Chimmamanda Adichie and Helon Habila. In the dramatic enterprise are the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Ola Rotimi, Olu Obafemi and the prolific Ahmed Yerima. As a dramatist, Yerima’s plays are a mirror of the Global, African and Nigerian realities. His foray into the ritualistic, the feministic, the political, the economic and the socio-cultural attest to the relevance of his art in and to a country such as Nigeria that has been bedeviled with what Ziauddin Sardar terms “postnormal realities” (1).
Beyond the socio-cultural oeuvre, of Ahmed Yerima’s drama is the religious preoccupation in most of his works. While this religious tendencies encompass his valourisation of the Obatala and Ogun motifs (in Iyase, Orisa Ibeji and Igatibi), the Christian toga (in Tuti, The Bishop and the Soul and Thank You Lord), he has articulated clearly, his position on the need to stick to the Islamic creed, the imperative of obeying the rules and regulations given by prophet Muhammad (SAW), as well as to live for the all Knowing, all Powerful, all Gracious and Almighty Allah. It is against this backdrop that this paper argues that Yerima’s extensive treatment of the Islamic coda in his plays, places him in the pedestal of an Alim-Muslim teacher. While historicising the transitory phases of the Ulama in Nigeria, the paper also examines Yerima’s Attahiru as a play text that places him in the circle of the Ulama.
Ulama (Singular-Alim): A Religious Concept and Context
For key Enlightenment thinkers, such as Voltaire, de Montesquieu, Volney and Pascal, Europe occupied a special place: it was to be the destiny of humanity, construed as Western man…They rationalised the medieval images, anxieties and fear of Islam and its Prophet–so evident in the sections devoted the Muhammad in Pascal’s Pensees – and presented it as evidence for the innate inferiority of Islam. They deliberately suppressed the Muslim contribution to science and learning and severed all intellectual links between Islam and Europe. Their Eurocentricism thus further locked Islam into an exclusive confrontation with the West, which continues to this day (Sardar 4)
The above quotation by the British-Paskistani Muslim scholar reflects a critical thinker who uses his knowledge in the service of Islam. Every religion is defined by set of rules and norms that binds its adherents. In other words, Laws, codes and directives are not only the foundation of religion, they also set the pace for the religious. If there are no rules, there will be no religion. Hinduism and Buddha in India and China, Taoism, Zoroasterism, Shintoism, African animist religions, the first two Abrahamic religions-Judaism and Christianity among others, are differentiated with various dos and don’ts. The case is not different with Islam (also an Abrahamic religion). The term Islam is derived from the Arabic word, Salam which means peace. It is therefore not new to hear a Muslim refer to the religion as one of peace. The term also “means submission-to the commands and will of Allah” (Doi 7). This absolute submission to the will of Allah is premised upon code(s) that are stipulated in the Quran, the Hadith, the Ijma and the Qiyas.
The interpretation of these laws is made possible by Muslim teachers known as the Ulama. Rahman Doi articulates that “in order to give clear guidance according to the teachings of the Quran and Hadith, the Ulema i.e. the learned and the divine, engaged themselves from the early days of Islam to study and write about their religion” (8). The Ulamas are those who know. They are interpreters of the law. The Ulama are group of Alim-one with knowledge who disseminates the creed of Islam to the jahil-ignorant person. The Ulama are saddled “with that responsibility by the Quran, where Muslims were directed in the absence of the Prophet to direct their questions to the Ulama. In the beginning they were identified as the custodians of faith and piety with the task of removing any doubt from the minds of followers” (Bunza 49).
Holistically, the role of the Ulama encompasses the spiritual, the social and even the political. Their influence on the thought pattern of the people cannot be overemphasised. In Egypt for instance, all governments had to align with these influential Ulama to enable their (the government) accepted by the populace. This implies that in modern Egypt, Alim such as “Muhammad Abduh, Rashid Rida, Kishk, Mahallawe, Yusuf Qaradawi, Hassan Albanna, Sayyid Qutb, Muhammad Mitwalli Sha’arawi, and the Azhar Shaikhs contributed to shaping public opinion on spiritual as well as mundane issues.” (Bunza 2). In Iran, the Ulama also wielded and still wield much political weight. Imam Khomeini articulates that:
The role of such politically influential scholars, such as Ayatullah Khomeini, Taleqani, Shariati, Murtada Muttahari, Shaikh Naimi, Fadlullah and a host of others in shaping the political landscape of modern Iran has been conspicuous. Not only did these scholars bring the Ulama into affairs of government but they also contributed significantly to contemporary discourse on political theory, political philosophy and public administration Khomeini (55).
The Iranian Ulama believe that after the Prophets and the Imams in the Muslim hierarchy, comes the Ulama. We must remember that Iranian is a Shiite dominated Muslim country. Hence, the Shiites with the help of the Ulama were able to dominate the political landscape of Iran. The Ulama are the “legal and religious scholars of Islam. The historic interpreters of Islam, but has also rendered conventional definitions of the Ulama-such as those with knowledge, the men of religion, or the religious scholars” (Rahemtulla 4). The role of the Ulama is conglomerate. In the Global scene according to Lutfi Afaf, “by the 1700s, the Ulama played a diverse number of prominent roles within Islamic societies, including those of judges, advisors, teachers, diplomats, negotiators, and bankers” (Afaf 16). Ulama could be interpreted in diverse perspectives. This stem from the fact that their role(s) vary from one Islamic culture to another. In Saudi Arabia, the Ulama are part of the government. They are a machinery that function as advisors to the government. “While they have staunchly defended the interests of the bazaari merchant class, with whom they have intermarried extensively” (Rahemtullah 7), “by the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Egyptian Ulama had made a formidable presence in occupations related to writing, constituting the backbone of the state administration” (Afaf 67). From the foregoing, it is explicit that the function of Ulama is relative. In this North African country, the “Ulama held credibility among broad segments of the population, and it was not uncommon for the Ulama to act as a channel of expression for popular grievances”15
In Nigeria, the Ulama came to the fore with the introduction of Islam. Usman Shehu Dan Fodio’s victory over the Hausa kings in the battle that raged from 1804-1808, was largely facilitated by “the network of Ulama who represented the Shehu and his call to all the crannies and corners of Hausaland. They were termed the flag bearers of the Jihad movement. Each of these flag bearers was the most renowned scholar and Alim in his region” (Bunza 1). Suffice to state that Dan Fodio is undoubtedly the first renowned Alim in Nigeria. He is instrumental to appointing the flag bearers through whom Islam was fully propagated in the North. Some of those given the flag by the Shehu include:
Moyijo to Kebbi Kingdom, Shaikh Abu Hamid, Zamfara, Mallam Umar Dallaji, Katsina, Malam Ishaq to Daura, Mallam Musa, Zaria (Zazzau), Mallam Sulaimanto Kano, Malam Ibrahim Zaki to Katagun, Shaikh Bi Abdur and his brother Dagimsato (the State of Hadejia), Malam Lerlima to Marmar (Borno), Malam Muhammad Manga, Misau, Malam Muhammad Wabi,Jama’are, BubaYero to Gombe, Malam Yaqub, Bauchi, Modibbo, (meaning learned in Fulfulde) Adama, Adamawa, and Shaikh Muhammad al-Hajj al-Ameen to Bagirmi, Malam Dendo, Nupeland, and Shaikh Alimi, Ilorin (Last 90)
With the kings in their areas ousted, the flag bearers were conferred with the title, Emir, while the term Sultan and Caliph was used interchangeably for whoever ascended the throne in Sokoto, where Dan Fodio presided over. Colonial intrusion dislocated the Ulama, as the British policies favoured Western education over Islamic traditions. A paradigm of what Ziauddin Sardar calls “western supremacy and demonisation of Islam and Muslims” (Sardar 32). With the return to democracy in 1999, some governors in Northern Nigerian tried to resuscitate the Ulama tradition. Between 1999 and 2002, eleven Nigerian governors declared Islamic Sharia in Nigeria-albeit in their states. To fully achieve their aim and objectives:
The Council of Ulama were established and played the role of an advisory body to government on a range of issues including security and co-existence. There are also the Directorate of Religious Affairs, the Ministry for Religious Affairs, or the Special Adviser on Religious Matters to which staff are drawn largely from the learned scholars/Ulama who have the intellectual and scholarly capability to advise and guide appropriately (Bunza 3).
The implementation of Sharia in Nigeria had been successful with the role of Ulama in its promotion. “Ulama are a minority not only in the Sharia agencies, but ironically also in the Councils of Ulama! Their specialist knowledge have been adequately used. Ulama have drifted towards other functions, such as preaching, public enlightenment, as well as alternative dispute resolution” (Umar 87). Dr. Atiku Balarabe, a Tijjani Sheikh, Professor Sani Zaharadden, Sheikh Muhammad Wakkala, an Islamic scholar trained in the Sudan, the Izala Sheikh Muhammad Tukur Jangebe, Sheikh Umar Ibrahim Kabo, an Azhar trained cleric, and Sheikh Ibrahim Daurawa among others have played roles of Alim in various Ulama groups since the 4th republic in Nigeria. The role of the Ulama in Nigeria has become more political than religious. Because of their popularity among the masses, they tilt their opinion in favour of certain political candidates.
Scholars like Shekh Jaafar Adam and Sheihk Rijiyar Lemo presented a series of lectures to thousands of audiences on the qualities to look for in a candidate during the elections.41 That was clearly seen during the 2011 elections where Ulama took the campaign north and south throughout the country to ensure Muslims were able to exercise their civic rights (Saheed 87).
The Ulama encourage Muslims not to vote for non-Muslim candidates. But what is the place of Ulama in the face of postmodernism? In his assessment of the Ulama in contemporary Nigeria and other cultures, Muktar Bunza submits that “the influence of Ulama, as well as the power of their voices in shaping and re-shaping the direction and reaction of Muslim societies has not faded in spite of political, economic and technological transformations”22. We disagree with Bunza’s position that the Ulama tradition is not fast being obliterated in spite of contemporary culture. We must understand that postmodernism which is characterised with technological advancement, networking spaces and media convergence, has really created a paradigm shift in the way people see the world. Assess to scholarly materials that was a rarity has been democratised. For instance, a Muslim can easily get an interpretation and/or clarification of religious issues on the internet and other virtual spaces; thus, reducing the influence of the Alim who had a great influence over the Muslim adherents.
The face of massive and unrelenting changes in the modern world, the traditionally educated Muslim religious scholars, the ‘ulama (singular: ‘alim), have become utterly redundant, a mere relic of the past, as it were, and therefore of little interest to anyone seriously interested in understanding contemporary Muslim societies (Bunza 32).
Colonial influence of Britain over the Muslim region of Nigeria no doubt, is instrumental to the decline in the Ulama praxis. With the defeat of Ilorin and Bida in 1897 as well as Sokoto and Kano in 1903, the power and function of the Ulama was totally watered down. In recent times, numerous attempts have been made to resuscitate and promote the Ulama tradition. For instance, from 9th-11th September 2005, a forum was convened in Mecca to analyse the message of the Amman. Amongst Ulama and thinkers present at that forum were: Shaykh Yusuf bin Mahdi (Algeria), Dr. Farid Yaqub Yusuf Mubarak Al-Miftah (Bahrain), Prof. Shamshir Ali (Bangladesh), H.E. Professor Enes Karic (Herzegovina), Dr. Abu Bakr Dakuri (Burkina Faso), H.E. Prof. Dr. Shaykh Ali Jumu’a (Egypt), Dr. Ahmad Limu (Nigeria) (The Amman Message 2018), among others (Ulama 9))
Muslim Universities such as Al Hikmah University, Ilorin, Nigeria, Crescent University in Ogun state and others were being established to instill in their students, the morals of Islam. With the upsurge in global processes, popular culture and popularity of the dramatic arts, playwrights, novelists, poets and filmmakers have joined the clarion call for the proselytisation. Using Aminu Siara’s film, Ashabul Khafi as a paradigm, Stephen Okpadah articulates in his paper, Islam and Kannywood: The Cinema of Allah, that “the typical Hausa filmmaker or filmmaker of Hausa film does not only portray the Hausa culture, but he also preaches the gospel of Islam” (Okpadah 6). In his play The Living Dead, Austin Anigala preaches the essence of putting ones trust in God, through his only begotten son Jesus Christ. In most of Wole Soyinka’s plays, while he promotes the pantheon of gods in Yoruba land, he places Ogun as the epicentre of all these gods.
One Nigerian playwright who has successfully placed his art in the service of religion is Ahmed Yerima. The treatment of religious issues in his plays stem from his belief in the divine and the Almighty. This is well located in plays such as Akuabata, The Bishop and the Soul and Thank You Lord, The Liman, Tuti, Orisa Ibeji, Igatibi among others. Of outmost preoccupation in his dramaturgy, is his valourisation of Islam in some of his plays and his display of the Alim, in the popularisation of Islam with some of his works. It is against this backdrop that the subsequent section of this paper argues that Yerima’s extensive treatment of the Islamic coda in his plays, places him in the pedestal of an Alim-Muslim teacher. It also examines Yerima’s Attahiru as a play text that places him in the circle of the Ulama.
Alim-Yerima and the Islamic Coda in the Art of Ahmed Yerima
Yerima’s plays, Attahiru attest to our submission that he is an Alim-a Muslim cleric. As an Alim, he is a custodian of Islam. The Ulama tradition is fully replete in his play. Attahiru begins with a lone voice calling people to answer prayers. The voice calls thus:
Allahu Akbar, Allah is the greatest
Allahu Akbar Allah is the greatest
Allahu Akbar, Allah is the greatest
Allahu Akbar Allah is the greatest
Ash hadu an la ilaha illal lah, Praise is only for Allah
Ash hadu an la ilaha illal lah, I testify that there is no god except Allah.
Ash hadu an-na Muhanmadar rasulul lah, I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.
Ash hadu an-na Muhanmadar rasulul lah, I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah
Hayya’ alas salah, Come to prayer
Hayya’ alas salah, Come to prayer
Hayya’ alal falah, Come to success
Hayya’ alal falah, Come to success
Allahu-Akbar, Allah is the greatest
Allahu Akbar, Allah is the greatest
La ilaha illal lah There is no god except Allah (Yerima 1)
The above opening glee of the play reveals the preoccupation and the locale of the play. It also brings to the fore the Islamic coda. Suffice to state that the precolonial and colonial Nigerian theatre traditions were characterised with songs being sung as opening glee. These songs and dances played entertainment and ritual functions. Paradigmatically, the Alarinjo travelling theatre had the “Ijuba as the opening glee. At which point the troupe acknowledges the audience and assures them of a good play” (Julius-Adeoye 89). In the same vein, “a performance usually started with the ritualistic ijuba or a sort of opening glee that also recited the oriki of the troupe” (Adelugba 138). Hubert Ogunde’s theatre also imported this performance aesthetics into his dramatic enterprise. In Attahiru, the opening glee is accompanied with lighting which reveals the entrance gates of a mosque. A mosque is a building set aside for prayer and other Islamic functions. Abbas, a blind beggar informs Ahmed, a seller of date palm and Yakubu, a seller of Islamic books that Lugga (Luggard) wants to come to Sokoto. This piece of information dislocates the two men. This dislocation stem from the suspicion that Luggard’s encroachment to Sokoto would be a setback to Islam. Ahmed’s exclamation that Luggard is hungry for Muslim blood, and by Allah, he shall be shamed in Sokoto, tells the reader/audience that any attempt by a non-Muslim believer to infiltrate the creed of Islam must be refuted.
In the play, there are numerous prayers for departed souls. In Islam, there is a continuous prayer for the dead whenever their names are mentioned. In the first scene, Abbas mentions his regret of the death of Caliph Abdulrahman and he accompanies it with the prayer, Inna Lillahi wa ina illaihi rajiun (From Allah it come and to him it must return). In his speech on the exploits of the former Caliph, Madawaki extols the name of the late Caliph in prayer thus:
Madawaki: I even see the politics here before the coming of our new Caliph. Our former Caliph, may Allah forgive his sins, and bless his kind soul… (29)
Continuous prayer for the dead affects the dead positively in the hereafter. This belief contrasts the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. In Islam, while the living pray for a peaceful repose of the dead, Roman Catholics request the dead Saints such as Saint Stephen, Saint Augustine and Holy Mary to pray for them. Prayers have a particular space in the life of the Muslim. Whatever is being said and decision being taken is accompanied with a particular prayer or the other. The subjects, especially the Waziri, Madawaki, Galadima, pray for their leader, the Caliph at all times. In the second scene, Islamic prayers play a significant role in the coronation of Attahiru as the new Caliph. In his presentation of Caliph Attahiru to the public, Waziri says the Islamic prayers. In fact this ritual is also replicated by the Caliph in his first speech to the public thus: Caliph: My people, my brothers in Islam, I thank you…Allah chooses the Caliph…I am happy that I am the chose one. Allah be praised
All: Allahu Akbar (21).
Caliph Attahiru lays much emphasis on Muslim brotherhood. After resolving the dispute between Sarkin Zango and Sarkin Fatake, he tells them the reason Muslim brothers must find a common ground for peace . To him, a Muslim ought not to attack his fellow Muslim. If any man must be attacked, it must be the infidel, the Kafirs-one who is a non-adherent of Islam. One who does not believe in the Oneness of Allah. According to Ahmed Yerima in Historicism, Sultan Attahiru, the European Conquest and Dramaturgy, “the first heritage which I used to situate the play, is religious. This is because the essence of the Sokoto Caliphate is religious. The Caliphate was born on the premise of Islam”. A critical reading of this dramatic piece attests to the playwright’s statement.
Salat-saying ones prayers five times daily is one of the five pillars of Islam. The other pillars of Islam are giving Zakat, performing Hajj, Belief in the Oneness of Allah and Ramadan. The play lays emphasis on the imperative of Salat. At their departure (of Abbas, Yakubu and Ahmed) to their various destinations, Yakubu reminds Abbas of the day’s prayer. Abbas affirms that he will say his prayers at the palace. Abbas believes that by saying his prayers, Allah never forgets his own. A critical examination of the fifth scene reveals the essence of reading the Quran. Whenever there is no visitor in the palace, the Caliph is either praying or studying the Quran. As the Holy book of the Muslims, it contains the Islamic creed and coda. He is on the prayer mat reading the Quran when his son Mai Wurno enters the inner chambers of the palace. Adherents of Islam have a way of extending their greetings to one another. This is fully captured in the play. When Mai Wurno enters the inner chambers of the palace, he greets his father, the Caliph, Salama alaikum (Peace be unto this house) while the Caliph replies, Alaikassalam (Peace be unto you). This Islamic code also comes to play between the Caliph and Mallam.
Yerima constructs Islam’s acknowledgement of Isah (Jesus) as a prophet of Allah. While the Bible-the Holy Book of the Christian teaches that Jesus is the Son of the Living God Jehovah, the Holy Quran explicates that Isah, as Jesus is called in Islam, was a prophet. Yakubu says: I hear he calls him Jesus, but all the story is the same as we have in the Al-Quran (18). Most of the teachings in the Old testament of the Holy Bible are also replete in the Holy Quran. Names such as Joseph are replicated in the Quaran as Yusuf, Abraham as Ibrahim, Noah as Noah, Isaac as Ishaq, Jacob as Yakub, and others. This bridges the nexus between the two world religions (Christianity and Islam). Alms giving is another coda being propagated in the play. Giving of alms to the needy is plays a major role in one’s desire to make heaven. Yerima creates the character of Abbas to relate the essence of giving to the poor. In fact in Islam, giving to Animals-especially birds propels the blessings of Allah upon the giver.
Yerima fully locates his play Attahiru in the landscape of the rejuvenation and promotion of Islam. The playwright’s portrays two socio-economic and political classes-the upper class and the lower class. Unlike other dramas, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are together in the struggle against the British hegemonic forces. The proletariat represented by Yakubu, Abbas and Ahmed are optimistic that producing a wise and brave Caliph would prevent the threat of Luggard. The conversations below captures this position: Yakubu: That is why we need a strong-willed man as Caliph. A man chosen by the light of Allah, who will carry the flag of Islam past the Whiteman’s threat. A man who will stand shoulder to shoulder and eyeball to eyeball with the white man (200) Yakubu: May Allah send a whirlwind to blind them (18)
In the play, Attahiru is seen as a defender of the faith, sharing with the overwhelming surge of his followers, the right to be seen as a religious martyr for Islam. The playwright uses history-Attahiru to propagate the Islamic coda and also brings to the fore the fact that man’s existence is for Allah. Whatever man does must be under the influence of the Almighty. The Pandora box of Jihad opens in the play. Yerima justifies the holy war if the need arises. From the time of the prophet Muhammad, through Dan Fodio, Muslims had retaliated whenever they are being pushed to the wall. Luggard pushes the Sokoto Caliphate to the wall in his attempt to subdue it. A Muslim’s place is secured in heaven when he dies fighting for Allah. One occurrence that unites the holy war of prophet Muhammad, the Jihad of Dan Fodio and the war between the Sokoto Caliphate and the British, is the Hijrah or the flight. We must remember that persecution engineered prophet Muhammad’s flight to Medinah, from where he organised a military force of eight hundred soldiers and returned to defeat the Kafirs. In the same vein, Dan Fodio goes on Hijrah-“from his town of Degel to the border town of Gudu in the Gobir Kingdom in February 1804”29. He later returns to defeat Sarkin Gobir Yunfa and his other Hausa kings at the battle of Tafkin Kwatto in June 1804.
Dan Magaji and Galadima advises the Caliph that they (all Sokoto) should excuse themselves from the presence of the enemies since it is accepted in Islam. They would then re-group and fight stronger and more focused. Caliph Attahiru also has the spirit of gallantry in him. This reflects in the warning he sends to Luggard: Caliph: To this effect, the Waziri must write to him this reply. Tell the infidel that we did not invite him to interfere with our problems. He has his religion and we have ours. (Rises. The whole court rises too). As my predecessor Caliph Abdul-Rahman had earlier said, the only relationship that can exist between a believer and an infidel is…war! (33).
Alim-Yerima teaches that the Muslim faithful must not be afraid. He must be ready to defend his faith at all times. With the selfless feat of the Ubandoma, Dan Magaji, Sarkin Kwanni, Dan Waziri, Dan Magaji, the Alkali and all other soldiers who fight on the side of Sokoto, the playwright relays the essence f being brave to defend one’s religion in the face of persecution. To be defeated by the British forces would amount to the defeat of Islam. A fight to refute Luggard is a fight for Islam. Whoever fights for Islam will not lose his reward in the hereafter. The above response leads to Luggard’s decision not to interfere with the Islamic religion. He realises that the adherents of Islam are a set of people that cannot be easily bent. Luggard attests to this in his statement that the Muslims are fanatics when it comes to jihads. He knows that jihad is a bloody war which never ends. Luggard’s is right on his position that jihads never end. Paradigmatically, we must remember the Boko-Haram sect in Nigeria, the Al Shabab terrorist group in Somalia, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the Middle East and Europe. Despite numerous methods that have been put in place in an attempt to curb their nefarious activities, they still persist.
Sarkin Kwanni warns the Caliph and his people against any Hijrah. He reminds the Caliph that he (the Caliph) is the defender of the flag and truth of Islam, hence, the defender must not cower. In all circumstances, even at the point of death, compromises must not be made to the detriment of the Islamic faith. The Caliph refuses to succumb to the threats of the British. He praises Allah that Luggard and his cohorts have decided to bring the war to Sokoto. He tells his people that like the Caliphs before him, he will lead the battle himself since he believes Allah will be with him. Abbas’ pleading with Ahmed to take him to the Caliph to fight for Allah further strengthens the position.
The playwright also reveals the essence of prophecies. When Mallam visits the Caliph, he tells that “it is said that after Sheik Usman Dan Fodio has started his work, and has started to spread the word of Islam conquering kingdoms, there was a prophecy that his caliphate shall exist for a hundred years” (42). Mai Wurno, the Caliph’s son doubts this prophecy until it materialises with the death of his father, his advisers, and the fall of Sokoto into the hands of the British.
The flag bearers (Ulama) in the battle between Dan Fodio and the Hausa kings are also represented in Attahiru. Some soldiers from Kano, others from Gombe, Kontagora and Nupe pledge their support for the Caliph, to fight and die for the cause of Islam in Burni. Their leader is handed a flag by Madawaki. At the defeat of Sokoto by the British, the remnants of Attahiru’s warriors still hold on to the flag-a symbol of the brotherhood of Islam. With the Caliph, the playwright creates an archetype of prophet Muhammad and Dan Fodio. A hero who is worthy of emulation. After the hijrah, he is motivated with support of soldiers from other part of Hausa Land. His speech to his supporters in the scene before the final battle also energises the warriors.
The atmosphere of the love and devotion for Islam comes to the fore at the end of the play. The playwright uses a captivating and emotional closing coda as he does in the opening glee. Yakubu narrates the ordeal of the final battle in which the Caliph dies. Even at the point of death, he does not discard his Islamic faith. Yakubu’s lines below depicts the heroic defeat of Sokoto:
Yakubu: …yet, the greatest moment was when the Caliph fell. As the bullet struck him, he raised up his sword and screamed Allahu-akbar! Allahu-akbar!...With the bullets he still cut down two more soldiers, then his Rawani loosened, and his cap fell… But the Caliph had fallen, and with his last breath, he screamed again…the Caliph had gone with the passing breeze. That was when the thunderous call came… (In one loud chant, all actors on the stage and off stage) All: Allahu-akbar! Allahu-akbar!
Being defeated does not water down their faith in Allah. Perhaps, it is Allah’s will that Luggard and his cohort should be victorious. In death, Caliph Attahiru and his brothers who die with him in the holy war triumph. They are bound to inherit the paradise for their relentless fight for Islam. This is a tale of the heroic deed of a people. However, the playwright focuses on the eponymous character, Caliph Attahiru. In his creative works-especially of the historical genre, he explores the defiant individual hero whose attempt to prevent his people, his culture or himself from dislocation, culminates into his tragic end. However, in downfall, he becomes a hero to his people. Characters such as Ovonranwen Nogbaisi, Iyase, Attahiru, Ameh Oboni and many others are paradigms of such. “The eclectic nature of Yerima’s thoughts and the aesthetics of his dramaturgy provide a platform for his multi-dimensional dramaturgic approach of a liberal/critical realist approach that engages in individual heroism” (Atanda 259).
Postmodernism, posthumanism and the rise in popular culture has broadened the scope of the Ulama. Hence, they are not only legislators and adjudicators of the Islamic process, the Ulama has also become an aggregate of people who propagate the creed of Islam via any medium. The arts is a paradigm of such medium. In other words, artists such as Yerima have been able to channel their creative oeuvre into the service of religion. Our findings reveal among others that the Ulama is an age long tradition. We also discovered that Islamic proselytisation is a major function of the Ulama, and that Yerima’s Attahiru is a discourse on the promotion of Islam, the paper concludes that other Nigerian artists should place their arts in the service of religion.
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