Friday, February 15, 2008

FACES OF ISLAM

It was in the month of October 2003, that Abdullahi Ismail, of ANA Niger and then National Assistant Secretary called me and informs me that Mr. Nduka Otiono (ANA National Secretary) has asked him to inform me that I am slated to give reading at the Goethe Institut Lagos. The Goethe Institut will be celebrating a photo exhibition tagged Faces of Islam. The exhibition is on Ethiopian Muslims; they therefore in collaboration with ANA decided to match it with a reading by northern Nigerian authors (presumably because many are Muslims). I was glad to hear about it, but I began to ask myself what am I going to read that will match the occasion? What other details are there. I called Mr. Nduka ha gave me some briefs and said when we meet at the then forthcoming convention of ANA holding at Makurdi he would give more details. I waited until we met at Makurdi, unfortunately, it was an election convention, we are all too busy to talk, and I however saw the news on ANA Review. After the convention, I got my date. Mrs Rachel Attah of Kogi ANA will be attending also to read from her works.

On Saturday morning, November 8, 2003, my younger brother Usman took me to the airport. There I had two options, there were two flights to Lagos each costing Eleven Thousand Naira only, one IRS taking off at 10:00 am, the other Bellview, at 11:00 am. I had travelled with IRS in the past so I opted for Bellview. I went there and paid and waited. While IRS passengers were boarding, I felt like I should have joined that flight. But I have no business in Lagos before 5:00 so I remained till our time. When our plight landed we board and took off.

On the air, I was busy doing my favourite thing, watching the land from the air. It is always an excellent and exiting view how hour houses are well laid, how our farmlands are properly demarcated, the water bodies, the hills and so on. As our altitude increases we pass through the clouds and we move above them. I remembered my Climatology course realising that we have just passed through the troposphere and up to stratosphere where it is safer for flights. I can see the clouds spread as a land with some undulating surface. Far away I can see some hills or mountains of clouds.

We arrived Lagos on time. I was holding only my bag and have not to wit to collect it. When I can out of the arrival hall, Tijjani Abubakar who was my student and supervisee at Bayero was there waiting for me. I was so glad t see him because the problem with Lagos is not arriving, but getting to where you want to be. He was with his cousin Baba who drove us to Goethe Institut at Victoria Island where I was booked to read. There was traffic hold on as usual, but we made it around 2:30 pm, I text Nduka Otiono, ANA national secretary that I have arrived. He replied informing that he was in Ibadan to take Mrs Rachel Attah. That we should meet at 4:00 pm. When I arrived there at the Goethe Institute, at the gate, I saw a banner with Mrs Attah’s name and mine and I said to Tijjani jokingly ‘so I am this important’. There are pamphlets at the reception reading thus:

Goethe-Institut Lagos would like to invite you to a special event in collaboration with the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Exhibition and Readings. On the Road-Faces of Islam-A Photo Exhibition
Readings by Rachael Attah from Kogi State and Yusuf Adamu from Kano State.

None of the officials are there because the activity begins at 4:00pm, so we went to Dolphin Estate (Tijjani’s residence) I prayed and took a bath, rested foe a while. We left Dolphin estate some twenty minutes to four and arrived just on time and as Nduka was arriving, what a coincidence. We greeted and moved to the reception. The director Mr Michael Muller-Verweyen, and Mr Sunday were there to welcome us. Mr Nduka arrived with Mrs Attah and other ANA members from Lagos. We made copies of our submissions and distribute to the participants. We were fully introduced by Mr. Nduka and the director of Goethe Institut gave a background of the exhibition.

Mrs Attah was the first to read her short story. It was as if we arranged that she would be reading prose and I poetry. Her story was a folkloric one about one young man called Aduga who happens to be a son of a woman not so favoured by her husband. He has to pass through many huddles to succeed in the end. One of the huddles was when his father gave him a cock and his brothers hens and ask all to bring eggs after sometime. Aduga was clever enough to realise that the hens could not have made eggs without his cock and therefore used that opportunity by asking his brothers to give him an egg each so that he can allow his cock to meet with their hens, they have no options by to oblige. It was an interesting story that clearly shows her culture, issues of polygamy, favoured and unfavoured wives ad so on and so forth.

After she finished her short story I was asked to read my collection. Among my collections. Earlier I thought of what kind of selections I am going to make at the occasion, which seem to reflect Islam. As a Muslim I know I must have written some poems that may be seen as ‘Islamic’ but I also know in Islam, life itself is all Islamic in as much as poets will see life as poetry. In any case, I have no doubt that my poems will always manifest my Islamic faith, so I made a careful selection that I feel may be relevant and may summarise my poetic works in some sense. When I told Nduka and the director about my deliberate selection, they seemed impressed. The poems are categorised as, Religious, Social, Political, Place, Historical and Personal. However among the poems I was to read was Global Village, for this poem it was a homecoming because it was published in a German English High School text title Across Cultures (2002) published by Cornelsen, Berlin. The poem was published on pages 156-157 in the part three section of the book, which was discussing Globalisation. It may interest readers to reproduce how the poem was presented and the questions raised, at least it would show us how poems are appreciated in another part of the world.





Global Village
Yusuf M Adamu
In this poem Yusuf M Adamu offers his view of the impact of globalisation.
* Before reading, write down what you think the poem might be about based on
- the title (What is a ‘village’? How does the adjective ‘global’ go with it?);
- your knowledge of the topic;
- the poet’s name (Where do you think he comes from?).
* Discuss your notes in class, then save them for your analysis and final evaluation of the poem.

Global village

though we are all human
we are made to be different
by forces beyond our clout

yet they want remake us
in a new image of their choice
in a village too big to be safe

the world they now call
a single village in the globe
with a big brother to match

as long as we are second class
within that large village fashioned
we should not be subjected to
someone’s standards
someone’s culture
someone’s technology
someone’s understanding
someone’s world view
someone’s theories and concepts

they try hard in harder ways
to make us part of that village
but we know we are different
and shall strive to leave outside
that fashioned unsafe village

Read the poem and jot down your first impression of what it is about.
Now look at the style and form of the poem and describe them as precisely as possible. Compare notes with a partner and discuss to what extent your information is of significance for the poem’s central message. Keep your notes and ideas ready for further reference.
with a partner or in groups of three, go through the poem and make notes on the following:
-Who is the speaker? Who might he be speaking to?
-Who/and what is he speaking about? (What key words are there to indicate this?)
-what is the speaker’s attitude towards ‘global village’? (how does his attitude come out in the poem?)
-What development do you see from the first to the last stanza? Look for clues such as similar words and phrases, and echoes within the poem.
-Which aspects of the poem’s form are connected with the overall message (look again at your notes from task2)
Decide as a group what the message of the poem is and write down your conclusions. Compare your conclusions with those of the other groups and discuss in class the overall message and your differing interpretations of it.

I gave most of the participants a photocopy of this and the selections below.

Religious poems

The selection below are considered and presented as ‘purely religious’ poems.

prayer time

when i feel uneasy
worried and confused
inattentive to other things
prayer time has elapsed
i am busy doing something else
the moment i pray
happiness abound in my heart
serenity engulfs my frame
i can do other things now
nothing hinders my way
from then on

faith

smoothness of affairs
freedom from wants and worries
promises of the day break
gives us a peace of mind
but
the conviction
that God exists
gives us permanent peace

9/10/1999



extremes

two extremes in the terrain of
human behaviour lie oblique
on one extreme the beast
on another stupidity
in between lies reasoning

October 11 1999

living in peace

you live in peace
when you are peaceful with yourself

you will live in peace
when your intentions are good

you will live in peace
when you always think good about others

you will live in peace
when everyone his rights you give

you will live in peace
when every trust in your hands is safe

you will live in peace
when other peoples’ business you did not interfere

you will live in peace
when your activities do not harm others

you would indeed live in peace
when you do your job properly

you would certainly live in peace
when you forgive mistakes

you will always be in peace
when you trust in God







Political poems


Saints

A tradition it is becoming
When power is snatched from your hands
When your influence is gone
When you no longer have a say
When you are no longer acting on stage
You are accused of all wrong doings
‘past administration’ you are labelled
Any little mistake is yours

Those in power think they are better
In fact they want to be seen as saints
But saints are made by their actions
Saints never accuse others to hide their weaknesses
Saints are careful not to blow their trumpets

They are judged by prosperity
Never define their sainthood
Their good deeds tell who they are
Those that now call themselves saints
Will not remain as saints when they leave office
Nay they will also be like their predecessor,
sinners!

October 21 1999.

I don’t care
I value my way of life
It is the best life can give
I eat what I want
Wear what I chose
Go to where I wish
Sleep in a nice house
Do whatever I want
Without fear of anyone
For I’m secured

I am rich and beautiful
I am powerful and proud
Tall I stand among others
Why should I care about any one
So long my way of life is protected

I waste a lot no doubt
I consume too much I am sure
But that is because I’m powerful
That’s why others envy me always
That is why I’m the best

Why should I worry about others
It is not my business to care
The way of the rich is not the way of the poor
The lifestyle of the strong does not look the weak’s
Civilization is what I think it is
I should care only about me

Who cares if you are hungry
Or have no roof above your head
Who mind that you are diseased
Or insecure poverty-stricken
Why should I be concerned
If you are oppressed and cheated
I care only about myself
I always feel I’m more civilized
I am a human being but not like you

Shhhhh!
It is a matter of time
The day shall come when
Everyone must care
About every other one
By the dare need to be truly human

January 20, 2002
SOCIAL POEMS
The following poems were presented as poems of our social reality.

Gsm palaver

suddenly it rings
and away its holder
moves trying to catch
the incoming call; hello!, hello!

away by the side
to make conversation inaudible
yet very audible is all said
those left disturbed by loud voice

why move away
when all said is heard?
stay there and talk
let everyone hear!

Pakoto, 18/11/02




career beggars

old, frail, disadvantaged
some of them are
able-bodied and sound
most others are
“for Allah’s sake
for prophet’s sake”
they lobby for alms
as if Allah permitted them
ignorance- misled they think
the prophet also enjoys it
they made a career in begging
despite being fit
their minds are enslaved
by false-belief and ignorance
chained by laziness and broken heart
their minds may never be free
until the society decides to free them

professional beggars

leper
blind
paralysed
amputated
limping
rejected and dejected
their society certified
that they don’t fit in
they took to the streets
with blinded eyes
damaged fingers and toes
amputated fingers and legs
paralysed hands and legs
manifested in each disability
a distinct professionalism

fuel scarcity
long queues
hectic days
frustration
price hike
congestion
time waste
alfarma1
cuwa-cuwa2
fire out-breaks
smuggling
embarrassment
chaos
black market
surface tanks
jerrycans
task force
purchase card
police
military
press war
fuel scarcity
has arrived.

motor cyclist

acaba
okada
kabu-kabu
going
express1
describing the motorcyclist
who emerged
not by design
or scheme
but by necessity
to get employed
to send away idleness
to safeguard dignity
keep together body and soul
maintain family bonds
meet him in cities
meet him in suburbs
even in villages
he has a mental map
can locate whereever you suggest
streets and drives
nook, corners and roads
cannot be mistaken
always in a haste
reckless and speedy
`let’s make the balance,
before the day runs out’
1. acaba, okada, kabu-kabu, going and express refer to commercial motor cyclist.



Place poem

Sokoto

(for Salisu Yakasai)

protected by two arms
of rivers sakkwato and rima
forming base for
islamic reformers and saints
establishing a state
so just
an empire
so vast
a people
so honoured
sakkwato
the city of the shaihu.


Lagos

traffic jams
sky crappers
overhead bridges
area boys
bar beach
beggars
mobile preachers
affluence
destitution
this
is
lagos.

(lagos, oct. 1998)


Historical poem

ancient revolutinary

(for akhenaten, c.1388-c. 1358 BC)

when the then civilised world
was engrossed in polytheism
every man, house, village, city
with its god
every aspect of life
with its god
Ptah, Anubis, Sekhmet, Osiris, Hathor
with Amun-Re, the major god

a child was born
he was deformed,
they said
he was weak,
they said
he was eccentric,
they said
but queen Tiy, his mother knew
his mind must be strong
his psyche great
for one day
he shall be pharaoh

and the day came
amenophis IV became akhenaten
he declared aten, his new god
the god of all egypt, syria and nubia
the boy king declared monotheism
aten was a sole god,
shall be worshipped alone

the boy king refused been called a god
prepared to be seen as a man
he knew, he was only that
he showed love to his family publicly
not as pharaoh should do
he revolutionised art
amarna art, they called it
to his name he added
`ankh em maat’1


the high priests of amun annoyed
sad and determined
to see the end of this new faith
is a must

akhenaten realised
left thebes
established akhetaton
a new abode for aten
propagated his new faith
built more and more temples

they called him a heretic
they called him all sorts of names
in c. 1358 BC
this revolutionary died
akhetaton was abandon
so also aten
thebes welcomed a rebirth
polytheism was strengthened again
but for akhenaten
the glory of monotheism
that appeared on the horizon
shall re-appear again
monotheism became the new faith
for the whole world.



Personal

The Mirror Never Lies

The mirror tells me that
My face is full of valleys and crannies
My chin as bare as the Sahara

As the Sun winked again and again
The moon smiles and grin
The seasons exchanged fortunes

The mirror told me something new
All the valleys and crannies gone
As if it has been different ever since
My chin has turned into a bush

The mirror showed me a total stranger
This morning!

She

She came into my life
After my mind had been conquered
She waited and observed
Patiently, waited and studied
Then she casts her web
Soon I came under her spell

I showered her with my love
I pampered her so much
Held her like an egg
Not even a crazy wind could touch her

Like an occupying force
She had been resisted
By the earlier conqueror
“It is a territory not to encroach”
So said the empress in situ

She carved niches after niches
But they could not expand
Despite my admiration and protection
Will she ever be satisfied?
Or will I ?
I wonder ..
I am confused…

Makurdi (2/11/03)



I read the poems one by one without explanation or any brief on why the poem was written. This is not to pre-empt what the participants would want to say, for I am sure there would be comments and observations and indeed critical criticism, particularly because it is a northern poet presenting in Lagos.
One poem attracted applause even before I finish reading the rounds; that was fuel scarcity. It is one of our social reality and no Nigerian, not even OBJ would disagree with the issues raised.

After I finished my readings, as usual I got applauses and I recognised their applauses by saying (as usual) thank you, thank you… Mr. Nduka came forward and try to say he is vindicated that our presentations are superb, discussable and of interest and relevance.

The time for questions and comments came. All questions were noted and we latter responded. A summary of the questions and comments made are reproduced below. One Mr. Chuks was the first to comment and his comment was that although he agrees with the substance of the poems I read, they are too prosaic and did not tally with the mainstream of Nigerian Poetry.

I responded by also asking (like typical Nigerians) what is Nigerian poetry like and latter explained why my poems are simple and ‘prosaic’ if he thinks they are so arguing that I think many people in Nigeria and elsewhere feel that what I am writing is poetry as my poems have been published in Nigeria by journals like Okike and a review of them in Glendora Literary supplements a part from many anthologies and newspapers. I however stressed that my poems are simple because it is a matter of style and I am writing for the common man, the man on the street. I am not writing for critics or fellow poets. I have the conviction that all should enjoy poetry; the only way that can be achieved is by writing in a simple and accessible language. Many participants seem to like my response and commented in favour of poetry for the common man. Victor Okhai in particular was strongly against obscure poetry and poems that are too loaded just to be seen as poems. Many other young poets supported my style after the reading.

Olayiwola a.k.a Layi a literary columnist, now with Chevron raised the issue of influence, i.e. do religion influences poetry or is it the other way round, in other words he wanted to know whether Islam influences my writings. He latter raised the issue of Almajiri (the beggar) and asked about the cultural significance of the Almajiri and its social nuisances ad ask about the way out.

My response there was that as far as I am concerned, I am a practising Muslim and Islam as my religion actually influences my literary works, in fact it actually guides it. I informed the gathering that there is no way I can separate myself from Islam and that I cannot write anything that would go contrary to Islam. That means many deduced I am not a believer in the concept of Literature should be independent and Art is secular. The discussion even after the formal reading was interesting and rewarding.

On the issue of Almajirai, I told them about its cultural roots and my personal
opinion about it all, I use the three poems earlier presented (almajiri, career beggars and professional beggars) to buttress my points. At least many were able to differentiate between Almajiri (the Qur’anic school pupil) and alamajiri the beggar.

Austen Njoku (ANA National Treasurer) was more captivated by the first poem I read: Global Village. He commented at length about globalisation and its benefits citing examples of myself as a beneficiary of globalisation (otherwise how can I be published and taught in German secondary school?) in the end he asked this important question “Who are the we in the poem?”

I believed that globalisation has benefits, that is, if we view it from the point of view of communication, shrinking the world and making information accessible and cyber communications easier. It is now easy for me in Kano Nigeria to communicate with someone in Iceland or in Mangolia.

However, globalisation is not just about communication, it is about exploitation and domination. The Encarta Encylopaedia defines it as “integration and democratization of the world’s culture, economy, and infrastructure through transnational investment, rapid proliferation of communication and information technologies, and the impacts of free-market forces on local, regional and national economies”. This definition is loaded and meaningful. Globalisation is about ‘one state’ remember George Orwell’s 1984? I explained these to the audience and to their dismay I said, the we means Third World. This was an issue well discussed and everybody now get better information about the notion or concept of globilisation.

Victor Okhai, commented in my defence at two angles, first on globalisation citing the issue of Cowboy diplomacy and asking who determines what is right. On the other hand he argued that simple poems are the best form of poetry, as long as its goal is to communicate. Layi also argued that poetry must be allowed to flow without much complication. Readers enjoy poetry only when they understand what it is saying.

Flora of Comets said the poems are very simply (not simplistic) and raised an observation about American poetry. Here, I agreed with her the my poems are naturally simple for reasons earlier given. I also inform her that while in the United States as a Fulbright Fellow at the School of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham, I attended poetry sessions and have published in their journals. If our poems are said to be prosaic, the poems I listen to or read in the US may be seen as simply PROSE not even prosaic poems.

This is a summary of the discussions and in the end the irector Goethe Institut and Mr Nduka Otiono thank us and the participants and we went out to drink. There also, a new phase of the discussion starts. I was pasting and there was only Coke and water for me and Tijjani, but there is plenty of beer, the Lagos guys are doing what they know best.

The Director, I found to be a gentle and intellectually sound and seem to be well mannered and cultured. I remember when one of the participants suggests that the photo exhibition should have been that of Nigerian Muslims (northerners of course), the Director’s response impressed me, he argued that exhibiting Ethiopian Muslims and superimposing Nigerian Muslim poetry made the magic. It means that Islam is the same everywhere and that Islamic culture is transnational and across man-made and natural boundaries.

I have to thanks everyone exchange addresses and emails and take my leave. In the afternoon, I left for Kano. I met my younger brother Usman waiting for me at the airport. The Goethe Institiut experience is one experience I will cherish for a long, long time to come. Many thanks to ANA (especially Mr. Nduka) and the Goethe Institut (especially Mr Michael Muller-Verweyen).

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Kano, Kano, Nigeria
Dr. Yusuf M. Adamu is a Professor of Medical Geography at the Bayero University Kano. He is a bilingual novelist, a poet, and writes for children. He is interested in photography and run a photo blog (www.hausa.aminus3.com) All the blogs he run are largely for his hobbies and not his academic interests. Hope you enjoy the blogs.