Today marks a hundred days since the police in Nigeria disappeared Mubarak Bala, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria. The police apprehended Bala following a petition that his comments on Facebook insulted the prophet of Islam. Before his ‘abduction’, Bala's exercise of his freedoms had not gone down well with many Muslims in Northern Nigeria. A free Mubarak Bala elicited anger; hatred and hostility especially from Muslims socialized to value their faith more than a free human being.

Bala came out as an ex Muslim in a dramatic way in 2014. His renunciation of Islam attracted international attention because Bala's family consigned him to a mental hospital. The family members thought that he must be out of his senses to renounce Islam and to openly and publicly do so. Bala was born into a Muslim family and was expected to remain a Muslim for the rest of his life. But he chose to exercise his freedom. He left Islam. To many Muslims in the region, his renunciation of Islam was Haram, a forbidden act. It was a dishonour to the family, and a crime punishable by death under sharia law. Bala's leaving Islam has been seen as a betrayal or a disappointment to the family of a prominent Islamic scholar.

By sheer luck and coincidence, the information reached humanists within the country that Bala was in a psychiatric hospital in Kano. Humanists rallied support for him, and eventually, Bala became a free man. But his travails never ended. His freedom was short-lived because a free apostate has no place in a sharia implementing or Muslim dominated society. Mainstream Islam in Northern Nigeria is hard-wired against tolerance, and freedom for apostates.

Muslims in the region are socialized to detest those who leave Islam and to deny them the freedoms that Muslims enjoy- freedom of life, association, expression, religion, or belief. Overt hostility towards apostates apply in areas where Muslims are in the majority or in places where they control politics such as Kano, Katsina, Jigawa, Yobe, and Gombe.

Leo Igwe

Now in parts of the country where Muslims are in the minority, they use human rights mechanisms to argue for their rights to practice and preach their religion. Meanwhile, in places where they are in the majority, they impose sharia and use Islamic law to justify oppression, persecution, and discrimination against minorities. They use the blasphemy law to restrict and deny others their freedom of expression and to justify judicial as well as extrajudicial murder of non-Muslims.

Bala continued to receive death threats from Muslims for making posts on Facebook and promoting atheism. So his arrest in April was the culmination of several threats from Islamic clerics and antagonism from ordinary Muslims who have been wanting to disappear, neutralize and gag him. To give this mischief some semblance of legality, some lawyers representing the Islamist base in Kano petitioned the police. Now, a hundred days after he was arrested, Bala has not been formally charged to court. He has not been given access to a lawyer. There is no independent proof of life. The Islamic establishment has kept mute; no Islamic cleric or leader has spoken out against the illegal detention and disappearance of Mubarak Bala. Shortly after his arrest, a Muslim cleric spoke threatening Amnesty International and all those calling for the release of Mr Bala.

The Islamist government in Kano has been complicit in the continued detention without trial of Mubarak Bala. The governor of Kano, who readily responds and reacts to any real or imagined threat or discrimination against Muslims in other parts of the country, has been apathetic. He has been looking the other way while Mubarak Bala languishes in jail. But look, the disappearance of Mr Bala has put Islam in Nigeria to an unprecedented test. It is not this Nigerian humanist that is on trial. It is not humanism that is being tested because humanists have always stood for the rights of minorities and the humanity of blasphemers even when they are Muslims. Humanists have strived to be true to their ideals including the realization of a society where individuals are not discriminated against based on religious or non-religious beliefs. It is Islam that is on trial. It is the claim by Muslims that Islam is a peaceful religion that is undergoing a critical test in Kano. It is the Muslim narrative that there is no compulsion in religion that is being put to scrutiny in the arrest and disappearance of Mubarak Bala. Simply put, the disappearance of Mr Bala has forced a trial. The trial of Islam.


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