Sheikh Abubakar Gummi: 28 years after

Sheikh Abubakar Mahmud Gumi, the well-respected Kaduna-based Islamic scholar died 28 years ago on Friday, September 11, 1992 in a London hospital. During his eventful scholarly lifetime, the sheikh was a rallying figure to the Muslim community or ummah especially during some of its most trying moments. His life was an embodiment of worship of Allah the Most High and service to humanity. He was not obsessed with materialism in a world awash with craze for easy money, a cancer which afflicts even some of the religious leaders in the country.

When Gumi died at the age of 70 years in 1992, many described his death as “the end of an era”. John Paden(1986) recalled that during the late  Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello’s first pilgrimage  to Makkah in 1955, Gumi served as translator for the Sardauna “Since King  Saud does not speak  English”(p.281). Gumi was a teacher in the famous School for Arabic Studies (SAS), Kano in the 50’s. In addition to Arabic and Islamic Studies, he encouraged young men and women to acquire Western education. The late Abubakar Gumi, in concert with the late Sardauna, formed the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) in 1962. The Sultan Bello Mosque (which went through major rebuilding largely with the financial support of the late Alhaji Abdulwahab Folawiyo, the Baba Addini of Yorubaland, before Gumi’s death), was the JNI’s nerve centre. When the JNI idea was mooted, Gumi and others “Met in Abubakar Imam’s house…. (They) built the Sultan Bello Primary School. Gumi’s garage in Unguwar Sarki became the school”(p.561).

Sheikh Mahmud Gumi was a former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, a former member of the Judicial Service Commission, a former Grand Khadi of the then Northern States of Nigeria (until he retired from service in 1975) and a former chairman of the defunct National Pilgrims Board which eventually transmuted into the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). He was also the chairman of the National Teachers Institute (NTI) Kaduna.

The magnificent Sultan Bello Mosque, venue of the late Gumi’s Da’awah programmes, greatly misses the Sheikh particularly his Ramadan and regular Tafsir and Ahadith sessions. A decade or so after succeeding Gumi, one of his well-known associate scholars and a man of humour, Sheikh Lawal Abubakar, also died – may Allah (SWT) reward them with His Paradise.

Through sheer accident than by design, Gumi’s elder son, Dr. Ahmad Mahmud Gumi, who had been based in Saudi Arabia, succeeded the late Sheikh Lawan Abubakar in conducting the annual Ramadan interpretation of the Holy Qur’an or Tafsir at the Sultan Bello Mosque in Kaduna. The junior Gumi, if truth be told, is somewhat a huge departure from the senior Gumi in temperament and style, which largely limited his wide acceptability compared to his late father.

Several years ago, for instance, the junior Gumi sought to convene a unity meeting of the estranged Sunnah Islamic groups, but due to apparent haste or wrong approach, the attempt ended in acrimonious circumstance. But in terms of pure northern bluntness, Dr. Ahmad is very much like his father. Controversy however seems to dog junior Gumi . He was involved in so many controversies as to dilute the real facts. This is obvious even when he is apparently right, like in drawing a parallel between cutting hairs and nails for Muslims intending to sacrifice animals during the Eid el-Kabir or when he is apparently wrong like in questioning the authenticity of the Hadith on six days fast in the month following Ramadan called Sitta Shawwal.

At times the late Sheikh Mahmud Gumi will make a wisdom-laden statement whose real meaning may not be immediately understood. A notable one was where he was quoted as saying politics is superior to prayer. No wonder at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown et al, the supremacy of political power over prayer came into play as governors were literally deciding when, where and how to congregate.

An enduring legacy of the JNI which Gumi helped to nurture, is the weekly Fatwa programme run by the articulate Ustaz Ibrahim Tahir on Radio Nigeria Kaduna Hausa Service on Thursdays and Fridays. The JNI is often wrongly compared with the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in terms of agitation. Radicalism is one word very strange to the JNI which is an organisation largely run by traditional rulers. The current Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, however seems to be making moves to rejuvenate the JNI in an action akin to the saying, it is better late than never!

The late Gumi was an embodiment of peace whose often blunt views were picked upon by enemies of his to imply a hostile personality; his views on Muslims and political leadership or their marginalisation in the Federal Civil Service and Armed Forces were usually loud and clear. An irony of Gumi’s life is that his appeals for peaceful co-existence earned him the wrath of some of his disciples who believed he has “compromised” too much.

When he went to receive the coveted King Faisal Award for Service to Islam in 1987, a wide spectrum of the society followed him to Saudi Arabia to receive it. He was a member of the Saudi-based Muslim World League (Rabidah). His influence led to the placement of several Nigerian students in Saudi Arabian institutions notably the Islamic University of Madinah. When several decades ago a group of scholars met in Jos to form the Izala movement, they called it ‘Izalatul Bidi’a’ but Gumi added ‘Wa Iqamatus-Sunnah’. Although a de facto leader of Izala, the late Sheikh would at times had disagreement with the excesses of some of its leaders or followers. Gumi was such an open scholar that some radical disciples would accuse him of ‘apostasy’ based on a misunderstanding of his interpretations or viewpoints and would quickly utter the Kalimat Shahada signalling his “return”  to Islam simply to appease the agitated  followers.

Gumi’s often unpalatable view or advocacy of a “Muslim President” is based on the game of number view of democracy since the country is more than 60% Muslims. But what the Sheikh should have added was that politics is also a game of ‘give and take’. One hopes our democratic short cutters in this country are listening.

The greatest tribute to the late Gumi who died 28 years ago, is to ponder over his life of Da’awah, learn from its lessons and continue with and build on all his good works and with continuous prayer to God the Most High, to reward him and all others who dedicate their service to Him with Paradise.

Finally, it is worth noting for those Muslims in governance today that Sheikh Gumi and other advocates of Muslim leadership, do not crave for it merely for its sake, rather to portray the sense of fairness, honesty and good governance preached by Islam.

Garba, a current affairs observer, wrote from Kano , mail: kofararewa

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