Boko Haram: Grave Mistakes in the Name of Islam

A Scholarly Analysis of the Group’s Ideologies
God never sanctions violence or the killing of innocent people.

Editor’s note: The article was originally published in February 2012, in response to a Youtube video in which Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, appeared and defended previous bloody attacks carried out by the group, and is hereby rehighlighted for its importance


Recently, the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, appeared in a YouTube video and defended latest bloody attacks carried out by the group. In a 15-minute video, Shekau showed himself wearing a camouflage bullet-proof jacket and sitting in front of two AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles. He claimed that recent killings of Christians were justifiable revenge killings and taunted President Goodluck Jonathan.

Boko Haram, which is an indigenous salafi group that only turned itself into a salafi jihadi group in 2009, propagates a version of Islam that not only forbids any interaction with the Western World but it is also against the traditional Muslim establishment and the government of Nigeria.[1]

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The group, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege" or "Western education is a sin" in the northern Hausa language, is blamed for almost daily killings that have escalated from small-scale shootings to increasingly sophisticated attacks. Last year, the sect carried out a suicide car bombing of the UN headquarters in the capital Abuja, killing 24. On Christmas Day, coordinated explosions targeted Christians with 37 killed in a single church, again near Abuja.

The message of Shekau, as far as shari`ah (Islamic law) is concerned, is full of juristic, maybe unintentional, errors and mistakes that Islam and mainstream Muslims should not be blamed for. In the following lines, I will objectively analyze the shari`ah proofs that clearly show how far Boko Haram founds their ideologies and violent activities on wrong conceptions that Islam is free of:




Full English Translation of Shekau’s Message

“Greetings to you and greetings to fellow muslims and thanks be to God. This is a message to Goodluck and to the CAN president. Alhamdullahi, we are known as Jamatu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-jihad which some people derogatory term as Boko Haram. We have said all that needs to be said and everyone has seen what the security personnel have done to us.

Follow the Shari`ah Zone

Everyone has seen why we are fighting with them. We hardly touch anybody except security personnel and christians and those who have betrayed us. Everyone knows what Christians did to Muslims, not once or twice. Why I have come out to explain myself is because of the explanation Jonathan and the CAN president gave on us, including the various versions people give about us that we are like cancer (a terrible ailment) in this country called Nigeria. No, we’re not cancer, neither are we evil. If people don’t know us, God knows everyone.

Everyone knows what happened to our leader. Everyone knows what wickedness was meted out to our members and fellow muslims in Nigeria from time to time in Zango kataf, Tafawa Balewa, Kaduna, villages, Lanngtang, Yelwa shendam. Different things were meted out to muslims in this country. Everyone knows that democracy and the constitution is paganism and everyone knows there are some things that God has forbidden in the quran that cannot be counted, even western education! We have stopped everything apart from saying we should stay on the path of truth and peace and live right in the sight of God. There, we will have peace and that is what we have been preaching and because of that they said we should be killed and our mosques destroyed. We decided to defend ourselves and God has said if you follow him, he will give you strength! That is why Jonathan, you should know that this is beyond your power.

Also by Dr. Wael Shihab:

It is not our doing but that of God. It is beyond you. Wallahi, what you are saying is like you have not started saying anything! Before God created the earth, he knew what was going to happen and he has promised in the holy book that he will help his religion. It is beyond your power. What you see has been happening, God allowed it because you have refused to follow him and you have betrayed his religion. That is why Jonathan, this is beyond your power – yes, If a few in your Government say nice things about us, it is not surprising – it has happened many times – our hands are open! Anybody that says he will not follow God, even if he loves us, God has not said we should love such a person. God has said we should show such person the right path and embrace such person, you Christians should know that Jesus is a servant and prophet of God. He is not the Son of God. This religion of Christianity you are practicing is not a religion of God – it is Paganism. God frowns at it. What you are practicing is not religion.

Aside that, you Christians cheated and killed us to the extent of eating our flesh like cannibals; you did all you wanted to us. We are trying to coerce you to embrace Islam, because that is what God instructed us to do. Even at that, without provocation, you slaughtered us and took our wives and humiliated us. Now, you CAN president, you come out to say your people should come out and do whatever they want to do! Any right thinking person knows what you mean, any right thinking person knows what you are saying. This is why as leader of this sect, I tell you to repent and to you Christians, repent! This path we’re taking is God’s path. Fellow muslims, understand us, our objective is not to kill or humiliate or steal. This explanation has become necessary, even if i don’t explain, i can decide to keep mute because the person i love to know me like this is God. I have no objective than to help the religion of God, that is all i can explain. But if you want further explanation, we have tapes you can listen to and know our objectives. This is also my message to the President of Nigeria, Jonathan, who has come out to say negative things about us and also a lot of harm to us – God has given us victory and we have done what we want to do.

This is almost 11 years our members are being killed. Anything people want to say or do, we say enough is enough! We serve God and we do not harm anybody, but anybody that looks for our trouble, we will face such person or persons. We follow the tenets of the Quran and anybody that thinks he can fight God, should not think his prayer or praying in the mosque can save him. Any muslim that cheats and hides under the cloak of religion, if we know such person, we will not hesitate to eliminate him. Yes, I am saying so because it does not take 5 minutes to kill just as we are being killed. We follow the teachings of the Quran. This is what God has told me to explain. Allhamdulillah”[2]


Democracy Isn’t Paganism

Democracy, according to many contemporary scholars, could be one of the means and styles of shurathat Muslims can apply to manage their political affairs.

In his message, the group’s leader Shekau described democracy and constitution as “paganism”. This is a sheer misconception of Islam and its political system. Islam doesn’t specify a single political system for the management of people’s affairs. What Islamically matters is the application of justice, equality, freedom, security, and protection of people’s lives, faiths, lineages, minds, and properties. The rightly guided caliphs, namely abu Bakr, `Umar, `Uthman, and `Ali, were elected and nominated through various styles of consultation (shura) and nomination.

Democracy, according to many contemporary scholars, could be one of the means and styles of shura that Muslims can apply to manage their political affairs. Islamic parties, such as Freedom and Justice in Egypt and Al-Nahda in Tunisia, have recently gained majorities in fair democratic elections. They, and other salafi parties such as an-Nur in Egypt, welcome democracy that works within the religious and cultural principles and values. Arab and Islamic countries that that have witnessed the so-called Arab Spring call for the application of democracy—that doesn’t violate religious or cultural values of people—and the removal of dictatorship and oppressive regimes. Democracy, in that sense, is compatible with Islam and its tenets and cannot be equated with paganism.

Here, I would cite the following fatwa issued by Sheikh Mohamed El-Moctar El-Shinqiti, former director of the Islamic Center of South Plains in Lubbock, Texas:

Democracy consists of a set of values and procedures. One of most the important values of democracy is people's right to choose their leader and not to be ruled by force or tyranny. This is also an Islamic value, which we call shura or mutual consultation. Another important value is checks and balances by which powers are distributed and separated in a way that achieves independence of each power and the ability to check and correct each other. In Qur'anic terminology, this is called al-mudafa`ah, which is a very important Islamic concept that protects the society against corruption. Almighty Allah says, {Had not Allah checked one set of people by means of another, the earth would indeed be full of mischief} (Al-Baqarah 2:251).

As for the procedures of democracy, such as elections, voting, campaigning, et cetera, these are means for achieving principles. In this sense, democracy is also an Islamic principle. This does not mean that each democratic country is Islamic, but it does mean that each Islamic country should be democratic. 

As for non-Muslim countries applying democracy, they are still non-Muslim. In one way, they adopt an Islamic political system, but they also lack other aspects of Islam such as belief, manners, and social conduct.” [3]

Constitution, likewise, cannot be described as paganism in itself. A constitution that promotes justice, equality, responsible freedom, and security of all citizens is compatible with Islam and its shari`ah. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was the first man who made a constitution to govern the relations between various communities in Madinah. After Hijrah, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) founded the first Islamic state on the basis of equality, justice, and freedom for all citizens of various backgrounds, cultures, and faiths. Muslims and non-Muslims co-existed in the early Muslim state in Madinah while enjoying equal rights and bearing the same obligations towards their state.

Muslims, therefore, should not only peacefully co-exist with other faith communities of their country, but they should also support and assist them in goodness as much as they can. In doing so, Muslims are following the path of the Prophet (peace and blessings be on him) and his Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) who worked for the interest and wellbeing of all communities living with them in Madinah.


Western Education Isn’t Generally Sinful

It is not Islamically acceptable to argue, as Shekau’s message indicates, that Western education is totally rejected or un-Islamic. Shekau’s claim that “everyone knows there are some things that God has forbidden in the quran that cannot be counted, even western education!“ has no backing in shari`ah. The Qur’an and the sunnah call on Muslims to seek beneficial knowledge and cooperate with all human communities—irrespective of their cultures, faiths, or races—on goodness for the sake of peoples’ wellbeing and interests. The Qur’an says,

{And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression.}[4]

Also, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said,

“If one treads a path in order to seek knowledge, Allah will make easy for him the (way) to enter Paradise.[5]

The above hadith indicates that a Muslim may travel and leave his or her homeland to seek knowledge. Well-reputed Muslim institutions and universities such as Al-Azhar used to send eligible students to various parts of the globe, including Europe and the States, to pursue their higher education. Western education has positive and distinguished features. We, Muslims, may refrain from some educational courses or systems that contradict our religious or cultural values. However, we don’t reject all sciences or educational systems that come from the West.


God Does not Justify Violence or Killings

God never allows violence. Boko Harm should reconsider their ideologies and stop all violent activities against people, Muslims and non-Muslims. Members of the group are not allowed to take the law in their own hands. It is the responsibility of the state and its concerned bodies to maintain peace, security, etc., and to apply the law in order to prevent chaos and disorder from creeping into the society. The group should resort to legal channels to pursue justice and ask for the application of the law.

All people’s lives, properties, honor, and places of worship are Islamically protected and secured. God never justifies violence or the killing of innocent people. It is only the legal authorities that are entitled to apply the law and maintain justice without discrimination on basis of faith, race, gender, or culture.

Throughout centuries, Muslims, whether governments or peoples, have shouldered the well-established Islamic duty of protecting non-Muslims’ lives, properties, and places of worship.

In Madinah al-Munawarah, there was a large Jewish community as well as some other Arab tribes who had not accepted Islam. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) prepared a mithaq (a covenant or a constitution) for organizing relations between these communities. The covenant of Madinah laid down broad principles on which cordial relations would be established between Muslims and non-Muslims. Protection of life and property, and freedom of thought and of worship were guaranteed. Among the principles of the covenant are:

The Jews and the Muslims, . . . each group must support the other against anyone who fights the people of this document (covenant of Madinah). Their relationship shall be one of mutual advice and consultation, and mutual assistance and charity rather than harm and aggression . . . Charity and goodness are clearly distinguishable from crime and injury, and there is no responsibility except for one’s own deeds. God is the guarantor of the truth and good will of this covenant. This covenant shall constitute no protection for the unjust or criminal.[6]

In Islam, the protection of the places of worship of non-Muslims is guaranteed by the well-established principles and proofs of shari`ah. Islam does allow non-Muslims to freely observe their religious ceremonies and rituals. Allah says:

{To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged;- and verily, Allah is most powerful for their aid;- (They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right,- (for no cause) except that they say, "our Lord is Allah". Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid his (cause);- for verily Allah is full of Strength, Exalted in Might, (able to enforce His Will).” (Al-Hajj 22: 39-40)

Throughout centuries, Muslims, whether governments or peoples, have shouldered the well-established Islamic duty of protecting non-Muslims’ lives, properties, and places of worship.


Christians Aren’t Pagans

The Boko Haram leader considers today Christians as “pagans”. He says, “This religion of Christianity you are practicing is not a religion of God – it is Paganism.” This claim has no backing in shari`ah. According to the Qur’an, Christians and Jews are called “People of the Book”. The Noble Qur’an makes it clear that a Muslim is Islamically commanded to maintain good and kind relations with all people, particularly the People of the Book. A Muslim is allowed to marry from Jews and Christians, which signifies Islam’s clear call for maintaining good relations among faith communities. In this context, sheikh Qaradawi states,

Islam has made marriage to Jewish or Christian women lawful for Muslim men, for they are Ahl al-Kitab, that is, People of the Book, or people whose tradition is based upon a divinely revealed Scripture. Although they have distorted and altered it, they do possess a religion of divine origin, and hence Islam has made some exceptions in dealing with them. The Qur'an says: {... And the food of those who were given the Scripture (before you) is permitted to you and your food is permitted to them. And (lawful to you in marriage are) chaste women from the Believers and chaste women from those who were given the Scripture before you, when you give them their due cowers, desiring chastity, not lewdness or secret intrigues...} (Al-Ma’idah 5: 6)

The Qur’an calls on Muslims to cooperate with Jews and Christians to encounter paganism and advocate belief in God.

Tolerance of such a degree is a characteristic of Islam which is hardly to be found among other faiths and nations. Despite the fact that Islam takes the People of the Book to task for their unbelief and error, it permits the Muslim to marry a Christian or Jewish woman who may, as his consort, the mistress of his house, the mother of his children, the source of his repose, and his companion for life, retain her own faith—all this, while the Qur'an says concerning marriage and its mystique, {And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell with them in tranquility, and He has put love and mercy between you....} (Arum 30: 21)[7]

The Qur’an, moreover, calls on Muslims to cooperate with Jews and Christians to encounter paganism and advocate belief in God, saying,

{Say: 'O People of the Book, come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but God; that we   associate not aught with Him; and do not some of us take others as Lords, apart from God. And if they turn their backs, say: 'Bear witness that we are Muslims.}[8]

Given the above, it becomes crystal clear that it is not acceptable, as far as shari`ah is concerned, to call Christians or Jews as pagans. Moreover, Muslims are commanded to maintain good and kind ties with all people, irrespective of their faiths, cultures, or races.


No Compulsion in Faith

In Islam, there is no compulsion in religion. Shekau argues that, “We are trying to coerce you (Christians) to embrace Islam, because that is what God instructed us to do.” It is not Islamically justified to coerce anyone to convert to Islam. Allah Almighty says,

{Let there be no compulsion in religion.  Truth has been made clear from error.  Whoever rejects false worship and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks.  And God hears and knows all things.}[9]

One of the fundamental truths established by the texts of the Qur’an and the Sunnah is that no one can be compelled to accept or convert to Islam.  It is the duty of Muslims to translate the Islamic ethics and values into practice in order to practically show people the real meaning of Islam. Muslims are to establish the proof of Islam to people so that truth can be made clear from falsehood.  After that, whoever wishes to accept Islam may do so and whoever wishes to continue upon unbelief may do so.  No one should be threatened or harmed in any way if he does not wish to accept Islam.

The group leader and members should reconsider their views and study Islam and its values through sound scholarly sources.

The Qur’an makes it clear that people are free to choose their faith with no coercion, saying,

{If it had been your Lord’s will, all of the people on Earth would have believed.  Would you then compel the people so to have them believe?}[10]

{And say: "The truth from your Lord (has come in this Qur'an). " Then, whoever wills (to believe), let him believe; and whoever wills (to disbelieve), let him disbelieve.}[11]

Therefore, the group leader and members should reconsider their views and study Islam and its values through sound scholarly sources.


Concluding Remarks

World Islamic institutions such as al-Azhar and IUMS should contact the group leaders and members and offer them whatever necessary of books, courses, and counseling so as to bring them back the moderate practice and values of Islam.

In conclusion, I faithfully call on members and leaders of the Boko Haram group to study the juristic and religious books of the well-reputed moderate Muslim scholars. They really need to study sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi’s encyclopedic book “Fiqh of Jihad” (Jurisprudence of Jihad), which is summarized, translated into English, and published at OnIslam.net website, and “Non-Muslims in the Muslim Community”. They may study the juristic revisions of the Egyptian Islamic Group that has abandoned violence, decided to call to Islam through legal peaceful means, and finally participated in the political life and gained a good number of the Parliament seats.

Prominent Muslims scholars in Nigeria and other parts of the world should spare no efforts to wisely and kindly approach the group members in order to discuss their ideologies and correct the misconceptions that they may have about Islam and its shari`ah.  World Islamic institutions such as al-Azhar and the International union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS) should contact the group leaders and members and offer them whatever necessary of books, courses, and counseling so as to bring them back the moderate practice and values of Islam.



[3] www.onislam.net, January 30, 2012.

[4] Qur’an, surat al-Ma’idah 5, verse No. 2.

[5] Al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami`, No. 6577.

[6] See Sirat Ibn Hisham, pp. 110-111.

[7] Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam, online version, http://www.2muslims.com/directory/Detailed/226100.shtml, February 5, 2012.

[8] Qur’an, surat Aal `Imran 3, verse No. 64.

[9] Qur’an, surat al-Baqarah 2, verse No. 256.

[10] Qur’an, surat Yunus 10, verse No. 99.

[11] Qur’an, surat al-Kahf 18, verse No. 29.

Related Links:
Literalists' Approach and Complications (1/3)
Modern Zahirists: Features and Methods (2/3)

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