We’re out to establish standard Muslim cemetery system in the South West —Foundation
Al Ummah Cemetery and Islamic Inheritance Affairs Foundation is a body registered to administer the burial and inheritance affairs of Muslims in South West Nigeria. In this interview by SAHEED SALAWU, Mallam Muhyideen Adesina Akande, the coordinator of the group, sheds light on the burial system in Islam and the need for a centralised administration of Muslim cemeteries. Excerpts:
What is your foundation all about?
Al Ummah Cemetery and Islamic Affairs Foundation is the brainchild of some Muslims who have seen the need to put a stop to the incessant problems that arise during burial preparations for deceased Muslims, especially in the south-western part of the country. We see to all issues relating to burial of Muslims in accordance with the Qur’an and the Sunnah and in line with the laws of our nation, Nigeria, especially in the area of establishing and maintaining standard cemeteries for Muslim communities in the affected areas. The foundation was established in 2016 and was registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission in 2017.
What are the objectives of this foundation? What gaps have this foundation come to fill in the Muslim world? Is it just another Muslim association?
It is not an association per se, but a composition of people who have the same vision to achieve a certain goal or correct an anomaly in our society. Normally, when people of same ideas come together, it becomes easier to meet aspirations than going alone to pursue such objectives. The name of the foundation, thus, derives from the common goal that has brought us together. We are not affiliated to any organisation or sect or any tribe in particular. Al Ummah literally means the Muslims, indicating that the goal of the foundation is ordinarily for all Muslims. That is why we have partnered who is who in the Muslim world as far as our immediate environment is concerned. In this light, the Chief Imam of Ibadanland and other Imams, as well as the chairman of the Oyo State Muslim community have been very supportive of the project and are eager to see its full implementation.
We have come together to institute a critical aspect of our religion, that is, the establishment of cemeteries in accordance with the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad, where dead Muslims are to be buried. Invariably, our vision is to abolish the age-long practice of burying Muslims in houses, compounds and other places that are different from the cemetery because it is alien to the culture of Islam. This will be achieved through provision of standard and affordable cemeteries, generation of funds for the maintenance of such cemeteries and enlightening Muslim communities about the principle of inheritance of deceased Muslims under Islamic laws.
The practice of burying dead Muslims just anywhere available, unfortunately, has become a cultural and societal norm in spite of evils associated with it and the many benefits inherent in using the cemetery. Our predecessors in the religion have actually laid the foundation by establishing a few cemeteries in our communities. The aim of our foundation is to build on such effort by institutionalising the practice in our communities, in line with the standard and mode envisioned by Islam, raise the consciousness of the average Muslim to the necessity of the cemetery and effectively put a halt to practices that go contrary to this aspect of our religion. In doing so, the foundation is taking into consideration, modern trends, effects of globalisation and other factors that would make the practice easily accepted.
The emphasis is that the teachings of Islam do not support burying the dead in residential environments. Happenings around us have since corroborated this stand of our religion as many graves have turned latrines, incinerators or become nuisance for later generations. Why not return, once and for all, to what our religion enjoins on us by burying our dead in cemeteries?
You mentioned that some Muslims in the past have made efforts in this line. What factors do you think hindered their success?
First is the preference for societal norm over religious obligation. Historically, and for various reasons, Yorubas would bury their dead in their rooms or in front of their houses. Unfortunately, many Muslims in Yorubaland embraced the practice in their environment over the dictates of their religion. Secondly, the spread of knowledge was slower and restricted. The level of literacy was so little that majority of Muslims did not know the stand of their religion on burying the dead. In such cases, the societal norm became handy, thereby constituting block for the very few toeing the line of Islam in such matter.
Doesn’t your foundation consider it wiser and easier to start by raising the standard of the few available ones instead of going ahead to build new cemeteries?
Actually, our aim was to kick-start our activities from the few existing cemeteries by bringing them to standard in line with current global practices. Thus, discussions were held with the founders and administrators of these cemeteries on the need for partnership. They, however, did not share our view in this regard, and we were forced to take other options. We are convinced that when standard cemeteries come into place, everyone would be motivated to take appropriate action. Our desire is not just to put in place cemeteries, but to ultimately eradicate the practice of burying dead Muslims at home because this is against the dictates of our religion.
Who are the trustees of the foundation?
Our trustees are renowned Muslims in the persons of Professor Dawud Noibi, the Executive Secretary wof the Muslim Ummah of South West Nigeria (MUSWEN); Alhaji Kunle Sanni, the chairman, Muslim Community of Oyo State; Prof Abdul Ganiy Raji of the University of Ibadan Muslim Community; Alhaji Abdul Waheed Amoo, the chairman of Apete Awotan Muslim Community and others. They have all shown tremendous support for the foundation so far.
Apart from the Corporate Affairs Commission, which other government agencies and bodies have you visited to ensure the authenticity of this foundation?
In this line, we have so far involved and obtained certificates and clearances from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) and others whose involvement and approval are required under the Nigerian laws. We are working hard to get all the necessary legal, social and health clearances to facilitate a smooth operation.
What is the level of this project now? When will the first standard cemetery be ready? And how do you finance your operations?
The project site has been graded and facilities are being put in place in line with the available funds. Presently, standard security measures are being put in place. There is still a long way to go even though the facilities are gradually being put in place. We have received donations from prominent Muslim personalities as well as mosques. We are aware that in the long run, personal donations would not sustain the project, so the finance structure is mosque-centered since it is a religious affair and not a business venture.
All mosques are expected to participate eventually while the few ones that have keyed into the project are doing well in terms of contributions. These are the basic sources of funding for our activities. The foundation already has a website (www.ummah-cemetry.com), which serves as a point of call for us and our activities. It also has a database revealing facts about the participating mosques and the level of their commitments.
Are you saying you do not have any external financiers, considering the heavy amount involved in this project?
Not at all, all our finances have been sourced locally from the sources mentioned earlier. However, as with Islam, any action carried out to establish the religion and seek Allah’s pleasure attracts enormous everlasting reward. We, therefore, seek more support and contributions from individuals and groups, locally and internationally, as this would allow us to achieve our targets within a short time. We want people to consider the numerous benefits in aiding this initiative. There is the reward for reviving the Sunnah of Muhammad, which is to bury dead Muslims at cemetery. This will be the first time a body is legalised to establish standard cemeteries in South Western Nigeria.
Visitation to and offering prayers for dead Muslims at cemeteries is also a Sunnah, and this becomes realisable only with the availability of cemeteries that are comfortable for such purpose. This foundation provides the platform to also achieve this noble Sunnah. Whenever a Muslim contributes to a virtuous objective, the reward is eternal, regardless of whether he is there or not, especially if such project is of endless benefits. This is also a project that wishes to eradicate disdainful and shameful practice whereby dead Muslims are treated with disrespect, with their burying at homes, gutters, beside septic tanks and other condemnable places.
What are the challenges you have faced so far?
The major challenge has to with finance. We have projected a standard cemetery equipped with necessary facilities like security fence, mosque, offices, CCTV camera, full lighting system, water system, uninterrupted electricity and ambulances. There would be a standard database system for all the dead Muslims buried at these cemeteries in line with global best practice. We are partnering the government in this area. The welfare and salaries of the staff is also there. The various sections in the cemetery would be manned by adequate and competent personnel that would be well remunerated. The first phase of the project ongoing at Ejioku, Akinyele area of Oyo State would gulp around N70 million naira.
There is also the cultural impediment, with many Muslims, especially the elders in our society still not convinced of the need to use the cemetery. They have displayed much apathy towards the programme because they think the proposed system would deprive them of the perceived honour attached to being buried in their homes. This is an erroneous belief that is contrary to our religion. Realities have also proved this stand wrong.
We have also faced opposition from some Muslim scholars who view our activities as a threat, a challenge to the status quo, for one reason or the other.
But the contention of these people is that the graves at home would be more properly maintained.
That is erroneous. There is no better security and maintenance for graves outside the provision of the religion itself, which is the cemetery. Graves in homes are present and potential burden on those concerned and the society at large. From the religious point of view, graves in homes could prevent Muslims from observing prayers at home and it could attract punishment for those involved. The social, health and legal implications of having graves in homes are also enormous. The way forward is for the Muslim to abide by what Allah wants and that is where our success lies.
One of the proposed areas of operation of your foundation is inheritance. What is this all about and what are the modalities for achieving this?
Islam has its unique ways of wealth distribution. From the onset, the foundation was not particular about it but based on professional advice from our team of lawyers, the foundation concluded that death and inheritance cannot absolutely be separated in Islam. It is the dead whose properties would be shared. So, it is a way of uplifting the Shariah of Islam that we have incorporated the inheritance affairs into it. But that aspect would become operational fully when we go full swing. It would be a separate office professionally manned by experts in that field of knowledge, as our society is blessed with many scholars who have garnered local and international expertise in the field.
Considering the fact that you are trying to replace a rooted norm in the society, adequate enlightenment is key. What effort is your foundation making to sell this idea to the average Muslim?
The foundation was officially launched at the University of Ibadan central mosque. Citadels of learning and research are critical partners in the development of the society. Since then, we have sensitised Muslim communities, associations and mosques across almost all areas of the Ibadan metropolis and we are reaching other areas soon.
What actually is the size of the reach of the foundation? Is your operation meant for the Muslim population in Ibadan alone?
The mandate of the foundation covers the south western part of Nigeria. That is, we are establishing and maintaining standard cemetery system for all Muslims in each major town in the South West of the country. The programme is in phases, and the first phase is the Ibadan cemetery project presently under construction. It is our projection to kick start and fully run the first one before reaching out to other areas in the zone.