Nigeria has been struggling with the menace of terrorism and extremism that emanated from the religious perceptions of a particular group of people over the past 10 years.
The Boko Haram group that started locally in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, has taken national and international dimensions with affiliation with various groups around the Sahel.
Various efforts were made to check the growing menace in the country by governments at all levels, Civil Society Organisation, Development Partners as well as religious bodies and institutions.
One of such institution engaged in working with Nigeria over time in preaching religious moderation, tolerance, and better understanding among people is the Al-Azhar Institute of Cairo, Egypt.
During President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to Egyptian President Abdul Fattah El-Sisi in February 2016, he advocated for an extensive economic agenda which he noted was challenged by “international terrorism…lots of resources that could be used for development are being diverted to address security issues.”
Since then, the two countries have been engaged in addressing this challenge in order to move forward in their century-long relations. Moving on from this, a delegation from the Al-Azhar Institute was in the country in early November to propose various means of re-establishing the concept of moderation in religious practices.
Al-Azhar Institution is considered to be the most influential Sunni Islamic academic and preaching institution worldwide. It had traditionally adopted a moderate understanding and approach to Islamic teachings, and promoted the values of peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding among the three principal Abrahamic religions. A mission of Al-Azhar clerics and experts has been present in Nigeria for decades, offering moderate education teachings in academies and schools across the country. Al-Azhar also grants annual scholarships to Nigerian students at its Headquarters in Egypt.
The visiting delegation explored the possibility of increasing the number of scholarships granted to Nigerian students as well as of expanding its presence through cooperation and association agreements with additional schools and academic institutes in Nigeria.
During the visit of the delegation, the Embassy of Egypt in Abuja also organised an interactive panel discussion on best practices for modernizing religious teachings and education, including in the context of supporting de-radicalization, rehabilitation and reintegration programmes. The panel provided a platform for the visiting delegation to exchange views on this critical topic with Nigerian government functionaries along with the directors of local academies and schools affiliated with Al-Azhar.
Dr Nazeer Ayad, the Secretary-General of the Islamic Research Academy at Al-Azhar, highlighted in his keynote address, the roles and shared responsibilities of the Islamic educational and policy institutes in spreading the true teachings of Islam that promote moderation and acceptance of all faiths and beliefs. In his capacity as the head of the Al- Azhar delegation, Ayad pledged additional resources for the capacity building of Nigerian Islamic Institutes and preachers, with the view of equipping them with the needed knowledge and skills to reinforce the narrative necessary for countering radicalization.
Dr Nahla El-Saaedy, Director of Al-Azhar’s International Students Development Center, asserted the necessity to develop frameworks that ensure equal gender accessibility to Al-Azhar affiliated educational institutes in Nigeria and identified the need to supplement the existing Arabic language training centers as key to the ongoing efforts to preventing radicalization.
During the visit, the delegation explored the possibilities of increasing the number of scholarships – currently standing at 671 annual scholarships – granted to Nigerian students, as well as expanding its presence through cooperation and association agreements with additional schools and academic institutes in Nigeria.
The visit also included a one-day official trip to Kano state where the delegation, engaged with the Governor and Emir of Kano on the above subjects, and paid a visit to the Egyptian Cultural Center and to the Al-Azhar Academy in the State, along with other schools affiliated to Al-Azhar.
The delegation also met with members representing the board of trustees of Al-Istiqamah University in Sumaila, Kano State.
As the visiting delegation left for Cairo, the Embassy of Egypt in Abuja has pledged to ensure that the various aggrements and decision reached are put into protocols to make an early implementation possible.
“Most of the decisions and agreements put forward during the visit are already well known positions. So, the embassy will only serve as the intermediary towards implementing them,” Ambassador Ihab Awad said.
The various efforts by the government and peopls of Nigeria and Egypt would definitely engender the spirit of religious moderation which is greatly needed to stabilise the polity and curb the negative trend of extermism and terrorism being experienced over the past 10 years in Nigeria.