Prof. Afiz Oladosu


On April 15, 2021, Professor Afis Ayinde Oladosu delivered his inaugural lecture titled “On Arab-Islamism, Arabism and Contrapuntal Criticism.” I was privileged to attend the lecture (on Zoom) and have access to a copy. I interviewed Professor Oladosu afterward, making it possible to produce a two-part essay.

Prof. Afis Oladosu

Generally, there are fundamental issues about religious topics that account for Yoruba liberality. As Professor Oladosu views it, the Yoruba have a pluralistic conception of God and understand that they are cronies irrespective of their different religions. Yoruba are a people of “diffused monotheism;” something outsiders usually conflate with polytheism because of the seeming relationship between the two if observed closely in the race. It is difficult to find a Yoruba person who has no symbolic or spiritual filiation to the Supreme God, whom they call Olodumare, even if they do not profess their commitment in words or actions. Many of them revere God in their designated enclosures as in worship centers, or they generally adore Him through their lifestyle. This is despite the fact that they collectively recognize various means of doing this.

A Yoruba person who is a disciple of Ogun, for example, would identify Olodumare as the only compelling force of the universe, the same way that Osun followers or worshippers would find solace in the Supreme God, even though they worship God from the perspective of water or something related. All these individuals, regardless of their different methods and systems of reaching the Supreme Being, live harmoniously. This is the psycho-religious background of the Yoruba people who grew up at least 30 years ago and before, far into antiquity. Indirectly, the unification of the Yoruba’s religious focus tells a story of religious tolerance among them, and this allows them to bond together, share their thoughts, and expand their horizon as a people and as a cultural identity.

Therefore, Yoruba people are unique because they provide the necessary atmosphere suitable for enhancing social advancement. They also build a formidable relationship required for the actualization of a set agenda for a people. In response to a question about how Islam was among the Yoruba people in his childhood and the things that strengthened his faith, Professor Oladosu’s expressions validated the above conclusion. To the extent that this behavior constitutes a framework for the accommodation of religious beliefs that are either alien to the people or that are attracted through bonding with other people’s culture and philosophy.

To clarify this, some conclusions should be drawn based on the experience of the Yoruba people when religions other than their indigenous ones infiltrated their social environment. The Yoruba cultural community became a site of religious identities, plural in their orientation.First was Islam and then followed by Christianity. The two religions added to the indigenous one, making three, became neighbors to the latter, then the latter had to demonstrate its usual sense of tolerance for which it had been known for years.

Indigenous religion, Islam, and Christianity constituted the spiritual trinity that became the foundation of the colonial and postcolonial Yoruba people and generally shaped their understanding of life. For someone like Professor Oladosu, who was birthed by devout Muslims, became exceedingly important to develop in the young Afis strong ideas and philosophies of Islam that would shape and determine his human development. He was raised in an environment plural in its religious ideology, and this not only enabled him to understand that human life and conditions are diverse, and maybe complex too, but also that he was to navigate his existence in this contextually complex environment from where he must make personal marks as an individual. Unarguably, Islam made him strong and ready for life challenges because the conditions of worship that he experienced under the tutelage of his society educated him about the nature of life.

Human nature is understandably complex, and interestingly, they find their humanness in that same complexity. A single individual, for example, is a pastiche of contrasting ideas and ideals, nuanced in their way and plural in their orientation. Individuals are so powerful that they can generate a set of values, contrasting and complementing simultaneously, without having any possible limitation to signal a finite reach. People who, at one minute, are thinking of abusing a sworn political despot would comfortably mask their intentions when they have the opportunity to meet their oppressors and would regale them in every beautiful name to egg them on. Contextually, it becomes very difficult to understand what this type of people has in mind, thus confirming the complexity of humans. However, it is comical again that this is just a single realization of what makes the body of humans in the world. At the intersection between individuals comes a level of clash that happens because they have contradicting ideas. Humans, except they consciously agree, would always find reasons for the collision of interest. This is inevitable because they have been naturally programmed to produce limitless ideas, thoughts, and opinions, all of which could have an instantaneous manifestation in their social engagements.

The point is that Islam, or whatever religious ideology there is, does not particularly encourage hate, and neither does it glorify the act of violence. However, humans would always find an inner conviction to justify their nefarious ideas. They associate with the external reasons that there are bad eggs in all religions. One beautiful way to understand this is that despite the many individuals who foment fracas or mastermind disruptions, there is a whole world of others who are peaceful, tolerant, and accommodating of new ideas and people, regardless of how contrasting these ideas are to theirs. Therefore, the ideology in itself is powerless in making humans act in whatever capacity they have done.
Humans, not ideology, find strength and convictions from their inner conditions and seek ideas that would validate all the issues they have chosen to give prominence. Accommodating individuals do so not because they do not have the propensity to be hostile, but because, among other things, they have consciously repressed all the attributes of hostility brewing internally in them and chosen to allow peace to have its way. In other words, any Yoruba who is found irredeemably hostile to other religious philosophies does find justification from their inner complexity already and, therefore, seeks aspects of the religion that address the issue of tolerance and accommodation to validate their contentious idiosyncrasies.

We seek to understand the connection between Yoruba people’s generosity and tolerance to religious plurality in the past and their changing perspectives to religion in contemporary time, so we asked Professor Olodosu to shed significant light on this. To be candid, it is very difficult not to find a religious community that does not provide grounds for its believers on how to protect their identity and guard their existence because, without such fundamental principles to allow the people to continue with their beliefs, the religion could die prematurely. However, regardless of how innocent they are, these aspects are not meant to be exploited negatively as many individuals are doing in contemporary times. At least, it was the religious tolerance of the Yoruba world that allowed others to expand and increase their chance to live.

Even when one cannot deny that the nature of the human society in the current time allows for them to contest power for the enhancement of their protection and freedom, we cannot, however, undermine the place of diplomacy in doing this because its absence can be detrimental to public safety. Disaffections would automatically vanish when individuals try to suppress their inner grievances, allowing them to find religious reasons for continuing their hate and hostile attitude against others.
When historically considered, one would realize that Africans naturally are deeply religious people. Their deep-seated religious status is underscored by their association with spirituality in everything in which they are involved. In the history of the Africans, we find out that the ancestors are evoked at every gathering of social significance–naming ceremony, graduation, the purchase of new items, completion of a project such as a house, among others. They do this a lot because they believe that the unseen forces in their midst are not something that can be disputed. They accept the intermingling of spirits with them as a fact rather than a mere fabrication. This idea is ingrained in their psyche, and it is not an overstatement to conclude that they have successfully transferred this cultural knowledge from one generation to the next.

In light of contemporary trends, the current generation of Yoruba, even when they accept external faiths of any coloration, have tried essentially to continue with this social behavior for ages. It does not matter whether a Yoruba or an African is a Christian or Muslim; they continue to showcase their innate religious filiation. This is not a danger because people are free to practice whatever religion they choose; however, it becomes a problem when different religious identities begin to struggle for power and attention. Once religious beliefs have permeated the bloodstream of the people, including but not limited to their politics, social relationship, and even institutions, a threatening danger stands uprightly against them and their progress. The fact that each of these religions, especially those added to the traditional religions (Christianity and Islam), constantly compete for the promulgation of their religion by proselytization lays the foundation for potential problems.
Religious politics now pervade everywhere, including on our campuses.

These religious identities have established themselves in every known institution in the African community to fight for relevance, and they have lost their immunity to this challenge. Therefore, what started as a minor event inevitably transformed into an uncontrollable monster seen on Nigerian campuses today. Education, the primary focus of all the knowledge production centers, has been short-circuited and replaced with an advanced religious contest for political dominance. We see this in the appointment of VCs, in the allocation of contracts to people, in the selection of Deans, and even more insidiously, in the election of student union leaders. It does not appear that this holds a positive potential because contention would always breed controversies.

To ensure that the continuous conflicts arising from this arrangement are stemmed, many people have proposed that government considers allocating funds to religious institutions or identities available on these campuses. And to be candid, this debate continues in social discourses, even among scholars. However, this does not seem to be a possible solution to the scourge of religious contradictions that have infiltrated our schools. Instead of giving relief to religious controversy as found in these schools, it becomes a potential danger to the future of the country, as it becomes increasingly difficult to regulate organizations that see government interventionary expeditions as political empowerment. Once religious institutions consider the good hand of the government as empowerment, it encourages them to do more and with greater zeal. Islam, and I suppose every other religion, preaches the facilitation of the citizens’ welfare and comfort, as it proposes that these things are primary to the sustenance of credible social architecture. Uncomfortable citizens would either find frustration in the act of worship or would do so with no sense of value, to the extent that some people propose that government should allocate resources to religion instead of to development.

Consequently, the concentration of public resources on religion would be a contravention of the Islamic ideals and, therefore, negate the wishes of the Supreme Being. To take Nigeria’s case as an example, resources are scarce, and in relation to the country’s population, the available resources cannot comfortably cater for all citizens if the government wants to be fair in the allocation of democratic dividends. Therefore, converting these meager resources to religious issues is akin to preferring the visitation of agony on the innocent ones who might not have fallen on the wings of those religions with a popular mandate. Apart from this standing at variance with what Allah wants, it also betrays all fraction of our collective humanitarian values. God does not wish for the increment of human woes because we want to promote religious identity; instead, such engagement attracts divine wrath.

As a result, reorganizing the academy to accommodate what the believers of any religion wants, generally remains selfish and ideologically discordant. Going by that orientation shows susceptibility to parochial interests rather than to humanitarian fairness. For this reason, people have become oblivious to their doctrinal idiosyncrasies. There are many religions, and as time passes, these religions may gain political power, at which point they will attempt to strengthen their structure by enacting haphazard policies. Eventually, there would be a clash of ideas and interests, resulting in maximum contradictions and controversies. As an alternative, it is more important that our educational institutions understand the place of religion in the modern design of social structures. Religion has come to stay, and it is only commonsensical to construct laws and regulations to guard and direct its engagement so that the different identities do not conflict with one another. Scholars are so-called because they think and devise the best ways to address issues of international impact to ensure that humanity balances the knowledge of the past with the needs of the present. They, therefore, need to show their capability to find lasting solutions to the existing and potential dangers in the country.
Modernizing Islam takes a very sensitive dimension that requires a maximum level of discretion to address it satisfactorily. This is because it is enriched with complexities that would be discussed shortly. To some Muslim thinkers, there are two conceivable ways to modernization. The first being the human agency; and the second being the Divine. When the former is considered, it means that modernization actions are triggered by humans who collectively constitute the agencies of improvement and general advancement. Scientific discoveries, technological advancement, infrastructural might, among others, are candid, important experiences that markedly reiterate the significance of human agency in promoting collective development. For example, we drive cars, board airplanes, use phones, organize virtual meetings, and engage in all other digital cultures because some individuals used their human intellect to move us on collectively. All these are indicators of modernization, and more importantly, they show us that humans, in general, are cardinal to the project of advancement that we call modernization. To deny this is to deny the obvious.
Beyond the domain of inventing materials and equipment that would facilitate modernization is the place of the Divine in human engagements. Even if humans build all these notable machines, they would always need a corresponding philosophy to manage themselves in the environment. As such, we can build a robot that would swiftly perform some programmed tasks for us, but without the proper systems to help in the assurance of sustainable relationships, the ones who can afford the robotic engines would clash with those who cannot when negotiating their place in the space they collectively own.

As it is evident that social philosophy is needed to paddle the canoe of human society more calmly, some Muslims believe that the development of these social ideas is exclusive to the religion’s Supreme Being, Allah. Islam is ideologically normative and has a set of philosophies that are somewhat interconnected. Islam is a religious construct that has at least four interconnected geographies that are identified as ideology or faith (Aqidah), ritual practice (Ibaadah), interpersonal relationships (Muamalaat), and resurrection (Al-Qiyaamah). In some places, aspects of some of these things are considered frozen and cannot be influenced by the human agency.
It cannot be contended that Islam, no matter how ferocious is its proselytization, cannot be accepted by all humans on earth. People would always have reservations and their reasons for not accepting any religion. This means that Islam cannot have power at all levels. The religious pluralism in the country would not allow for the conflictual religious identities to have this opportunity. However, it is more important for Muslims who have accepted the religion that they strike a balance between the understanding of human agency in the modernization agenda and the Divine boundaries in improving their social conditions. How Muslims are meant to relate with others, being a very important issue, has been carefully discussed in their religious traditions, and some of the injunctions given cannot be casually changed. All the religiously highlighted ones above cannot be carelessly tampered with. For example, the performance of solat (prayers) is well documented in Islam, and there is no amount of modernization project that can change or challenge this arrangement. It is etched in the lives of Muslims, and they have decided to abide by these injunctions. Once the government ensures that the commonwealth associated with the people is appropriately distributed, everything would work fine for everyone.
As a concluding remark, nothing appears to give much satisfaction to humans than the understanding that they belong to the community of people who produce knowledge. Except one is an irredeemable anti-people, the idea of making an intellectual effort to rescue people from potential danger makes one fulfilled as it pumps some adrenaline into the body system to give a sense of fulfillment. A producer of knowledge is said to direct the activities of people and markedly encourages them about the paths they would take as humans.

Therefore, it is both desirable and profitable to continue in the trajectory of producing knowledge so that individuals from generation to generation would always benefit from past achievements.
In addition to this, not many things beat the idea of being in a position to speak truth to power. Before the people could gather enough strength to challenge the political class about their plights, they would have proven to be socially useful and eventful in their dealings. In essence, it becomes exceptionally important for people who are on this path to continue in that direction. Professor Oladosu, as an experienced scholar: it is not out of line to dream of bringing his expertise to administrative value. He has decided to pursue all these to be continually important to his society, bringing fulfillment to himself and the University of Ibadan.


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