Sheikh Ahmad Lemu Under the Shade of Islam - 1929/2020

A personal account of Sheikh Ahmad Lemu's Life

  • Sheikh Ahmad Lemu was the national president of the Islamic Education Trust (IET), Minna
  • He was the Grand Qadi of Niger State until he retired to take on full time dawah work with the Islamic Education Trust (IET), Minna, as the National President.
  • He was one of the three founders and trustees of the Islamic Education Trust (IET), Minna

"I remember him saying in Hausa, “in this country of ours, you were able to form an organization and do the works that you do without information getting to us? Without our help? Then this affair of yours surely comes from Allah, and may Allah support you.”

That was his remark in front of his sultanate council members. And that was how we became public. That was how people began to know that an organization called Islamic Education Trust had been established. But we kept to our memorandum, with emphasis on education and dawah.

A Simple Life Under the Guide of Islam

I was born to a man named Abubakar and his wife, my mother, Amina. It was in the cold northern winds of December in 1929, in a town known as Lemu in Niger State, that I drew my first breath. Around the time of my birth, people divided themselves into groups—sort of like clans. Each group bore the name of what its members knew how to do best.

 

My parents belonged to the group known as Clerics. My mother was born into the cleric group of Bida, before she married into my father’s cleric group in Lemu. The Clerics lived their lives learning and teaching the Quran and the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, may Allah be pleased with him. Children born into Cleric homes already had their path set for them; a lifetime of learning and teaching and living under the guide of Islam.

My father was a strict disciplinarian who had an Islamic school in the compound where he taught the Quran to children of the community. And as a true Cleric, his life revolved around learning the Quran, practicing its teachings and teaching it to his community. This was what formed the foundation of my existence; learning and teaching.

Before I had any bearing on anything, I joined the Islamic school in my father’s compound. So that by the time I could talk and walk without falling, I had Quran verses on my lips. From then on till 1939, when I joined the elementary school in Lemu, my life was about the teachings of Islam, the memorization of the Quran, and following in the path of the noble Prophet and his companions.


This was the life my father wanted for all his children; a life guided by Islam, and a life spent seeking and teaching knowledge. He made a habit to always point out the need to seek knowledge, western knowledge inclusive.


He would say that if one was to succeed in life, one needed to know a little about everything. It was why, once I finished elementary school in 1944, he had no objection to my proceeding into Niger Middle School, Bida.

In Pursuit of Further Knowledge

My certificate came in 1948. It was called the Middle Four Certificate, and with it, one could apply to the government for various positions. A good number of my mates applied and got placements in the government’s service, but my father was against my taking any appointment.


His argument was simple; he felt I was too young to be tied down in service, and felt my youthfulness could be better used in the pursuit of further knowledge. Also, he was worried that at such a young age the exposure to power and money that governmental appointments provided would corrupt me.


So, with his blessings I went to study Arabic, Islamic Studies and Shariah at the Shariah Law School in Kano to obtain Middle Six Certificate and, a diploma in Islamic Studies, Shariah and General Education in 1950 and 1952 respectively.


I finally took appointment as a teacher of Islamic Studies, Arabic Studies and English in Government Secondary School Bida, in 1953. This time, my father had no objection.

A Purpose-Driven Life

I returned to the country with these certifications and a new appointment as the Principal of Government Secondary School Bida. Yet, I felt there was more to do with my life. I felt a void in my heart that I did not know how to fill. In pursuit of a way to fill this void, I took up several appointments. I took up post as Vice- Principal of Government Secondary School, Ilorin in 1965,

and then Principal of Arabic Teachers College Sokoto in 1966. It was at this time that I started to build a semblance of a purpose for my life.

Around me, I could feel the morals that we held dear during my childhood, evaporate from society. People had become increasingly driven by greed and personal interest than by the interest of the public. I was especially worried about the Muslim youth across the country.


I felt that if we were to continue down the path of moral decadence that we were on, our future and that of our children would be far gloomier than we could perceive. I pondered on what to do, on how to disseminate and uphold the beautiful teachings of Islam, and ensure that more people had access to proper Islamic education in the country.

In the first months of 1966, I wrote to the Secretary of Jama’atul Nasril Islam. We were surviving coups and counter coups at the time, and things were changing rapidly across the country. I was very concerned about the state of the country and the north in particular. In my letter, I expressed my concern for the welfare of Muslims. I had drafted a memorandum detailing suggestions and guidelines that I felt would improve the plight of Muslims, and had attached this to my letter to the Secretary. Unfortunately, I spent the next two years, waiting on a reply that never came.

In the time I waited, I went for my first pilgrimage. I had taken a prayer book with me with special supplications. I had so many things I wanted to request from Allah, but amongst the top on that list was the desire to find a wife. It was in 1967, at Jabal ar-rahmati (mountain of mercy) on Arafah; where the Prophet Muhammad was said to have stood to observe the rights of Arafah, that I prayed to Allah for a wife like Aisha and my prayer was answered.


I said to Allah, “wa’asaluka imraattan muminatan tayyiatan,” which means that I was asking Allah for a real woman who would be a true believer. I altered the prayer a bit by I adding “jamilatan,” meaning beautiful. And indeed, my Aisha was very beautiful, Alhamdulillah.

The Birth of a Legacy

However, it was a year after meeting her and getting married, that the notion of Islamic Education Trust was birthed. Aisha was in Sokoto, serving as the Principal of the Girls College there. I had asked my friend, Alhaji Ashafa to accompany me to see my bride. May Allah rest his soul, my dear friend is no longer with us. I remember us sitting together, the trio of us, discussing the state of affairs of our dear nation. I confided in them about my unhappiness at the silent reply to my letter.

Aisha, who had otherwise been listening through the discussion, then said to me, “why can’t we form our own organization and do what we want others to do on our behalf.”

The moment she mentioned that, my friend, Alhaji Sani Ashafa Suleiman, agreed and replied, “Why not?”

I was excited but also quite uncertain about taking on such a task, so I asked, “when?”

“Now,” he replied.

I remember that it was a Thursday, 14th of Ramadan of that year, equivalent to the 16th of July. I persuaded them to postpone the formal establishment to the following day. It was on that Friday, after our Juma’at prayers, in Aisha’s house in Sokoto, that we established what is now known as the Islamic Education Trust.

A Space, the Plan and the Decision 

In the Beginning, we were operating from Aisha’s pantry. We held meetings there, we made decisions there, we drafted plans and counter plans, argued and agreed there. Until we came to the

decision that this little organization of ours could not be sustained on the shoulders of the three of us. And so, secretly, we invited people into our fold.


We were very careful about who we sought to be a part of us. We would observe people we felt were worthy of our association, we would then send them letters containing information about who we were and what we planned to do, and ask them to meet with us. Some agreed to be a part of us, few didn’t. but it did not take long before word got out that we were establishing an organization meant to solely educate people about Islam.

Although no one said it to our faces, we knew that our organization was an open secret. I feared that word might reach the Sultan of Sokoto before we had a chance to present ourselves to him. And that had the potential of setting us in a bad light before the Sultan, who was the official leader of Muslims in the region. So, we put together a committee and went to see the Sultan.

Fortunately, when we went to the Sultan, he had assembled his sultanate council members to listen to us. We told him how our objectives were strictly around education and da’awah. We wanted to spread Islam, and we wanted to teach Islam, to promote peaceful coexistence in the country. We believed that Islam was a beautiful and peaceful religion and we were determined to teach and spread it. The Sultan looked impressed.

I remember him saying in Hausa, “in this country of ours, you were able to form an organization and do the works that you do without information getting to us? Without our help? Then this affair of yours surely comes from Allah, and may Allah support you.”

That was his remark in front of his sultanate council members. And that was how we became public. That was how people began to know that an organization called Islamic Education Trust had been established. But we kept to our memorandum, with emphasis on education and dawah.

We sat and planned all of it, but the whole idea of forming Islamic Education Trust came from Aisha, may Allah bless her.

In the Early Days of IET

We ran IET like a military unit. Since the idea was to provide Islamic education and spread the teachings of Islam, we needed people who were passionate about dawah, people who were ready to make working with IET their priority. 


We avoided huge numbers, and staff was selected only after careful evaluation. There was, and still is, no room for levity, dawah affairs were considered so important, that we ensured that people understood what working with us entailed. 


Working with IET was a call to duty, a soldier’s call, that was to be answered with promptness. It is why till date some still refer to IET as “IET soldier soldier” I took great interest in each member of staff that worked with us, I felt that knowing them individually would help me understand them better, train them better and ensure their wellbeing and maximum productivity. Although IET was nothing like a social club, we were a family.


We would organize a general prayer sometimes, we would spend the entire day, supplicating to Allah to direct our affairs and guide us right. I tried, to the best of my abilities to be a model example, to be accessible to everyone, so that they could feel at home at IET and treat the organization as theirs.

Life Outside the Bubble Called IET

While we were operating IET from Aisha’s pantry, fashioning a workforce and watching our dreams slowly take form, life was happening to me outside of the bubble that was IET.


I was still teaching in schools around the north, and had taken up some extra positions here and there, one that let me work administratively to ensure that children got a solid western education. I was Senior Area Inspector of Education in the North Western State Ministry of Education between 1968 and 1970.


Then I was made Chief Education officer in 1970. I held that position till 1974 when I became the Director of planning and Development. I was quite content with the path my life was

on.


The positions gave me just enough time to focus on da’awah without jeopardizing my work ethic and competence. I was happy. I was very happy indeed. But all these changed shortly.

In 1976, I got wind that I was being considered as a judge for the Shariah Court of Appeal for Sokoto and Niger States. All my life, I never desired to be directly responsible for the lives of anyone.


My greatest fear was to be an appointed leader, one whose decisions would determine the course of another person’s life. Perhaps this stemmed from my father’s opinion on leaders, especially as he grew up seeing area court judges abuse their powers and mistreat people.


He never wanted any of his children to take up outright positions as rulers or judges. Yet here I was, being considered for a position where people’s lives could be mended or bent by my mere utterances, I was demoralized. I felt very unhappy and started plotting a way out.

Ambushed to Become a Judge

I saw an opportunity when Aisha decided to attended an Islamic Conference in London. I took leave from work and went with her. While there, I refused to take any calls, or meet anyone who knew me from home, or accept any letters. I wanted no one to have access to me.


I felt, if I could not be reached for long enough, they would consider someone else for the position. I was wrong, they had tricks up their sleeves. They got hold of a childhood friend of mine who called at the hotel I was in, on the pretence of an emergency. 


It was in London, ambushed by a friend, for lack of better words, that I was informed that I had indeed been drafted as a Judge and my letter was waiting for me.

My Life was Taken Away from Me

I went on to be the Grand Khadi (Chief Judge) in 1977. It was a trying time in my life. I used to go into the market, mingle with people and be unnoticed. I wore simple clothes, in fact, I did not own a Baban-riga at the time.


Suddenly, everyone seemed to know me. My life was taken from me. I couldn’t go where I wanted, when I wanted or dress how I wanted. I had to dress the part, and act the part of a ‘respected judge’ But what really troubled me the most was the lack of time.


My duties as judge seemed to swallow all the time I had. Most importantly, my position opened my eyes to the happenings in the country, and to realizing the true problem the nation had. I realized that across the country, the idea of public interest had dwindled.


To replace it, there was an abundance of selfish interests; greed for huge sums of money and quest for power, influence and leadership. I then took it upon myself, to not succumb to bribes, to threats that eventually came, or to the allure of power.


For the most part, I tried to remain as simple as possible, to hold on to my father’s values, dedicating my time to work and IET. I went on to remain Grand Khadi till I retired in 1991 and returned solely to da’awah.

Building the Center of Excellence

By the time I returned fully to IET, so many things had changed for us. We had established the Da’awah Institute of Nigeria- DIN and the Dawah Coordination Council of Nigeria- DCCN. 


We also had a building to our name. We realized soon enough that it was no longer feasible to operate from our houses, or pantries. The magnitude of our activities required a proper centre where we could operate from with ease.


So, I remembered that General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, who had become the military president at the time, was once my student at Government College Bida and decided that perhaps he might be interested in coming to our aid. I reached out to Alhaji Umaru N’ndanusa, who was an active member and a friend. He helped secure an appointment with the General.


When we met with the General, we spoke to him about IET, and how we had come up with DIN. We wanted DIN to be an establishment strictly for the purpose of dawah across the country.


We would teach the teachers themselves, we would research about the best practices for dawah, we would propagate Islam across the country and ensure that people knew the appropriate meanings of the words they read and memorized from the Quran and Hadiths, while encouraging them to practice what they learnt. He was very impressed, and without hesitation, he built the DIN complex for IET in Minna, Niger State.

The next thing we did, was establish a research unit in the complex. We wanted to find practical solutions to problems arising in the society. One of such problems was the thin and deteriorating tolerance levels between Muslims and Christians in the country.


It was not enough to teach people about Islam, to have them understand the words of the Quran, it became important to teach people how to disseminate information about Islam without sounding derogatory or insulting towards other faiths.


It was important that Muslims and Christians alike, understood the importance of peaceful coexistence in the development of the society and the country. And this was how DIN dived into Interfaith activities. We wanted to unify the nation, so we taught people of all faiths a better way to dialogue amongst themselves, one that would no longer involve violence and discord.

The New Approach

For us at DIN, life became about teaching Muslims about Christians, and Christians about Muslims, preaching the need for peace between faiths and sects across the country.


We also learnt, through researches and trainings, better ways to do dawah, better ways to promote peace and unity in the society. But we soon realized something that led to the establishment of the Dawah Coordination Council of Nigeria- DCCN.


There were many organizations and forums and groups developing across the country. These groups were also trying to educate Muslims and encourage people to live in good conduct and Islamic practices. We observed the methods these groups adopted and thought that, since the general interest was in ensuring a better Muslim community, a better society, a better nation, we could unite forces to maximize productivity.


The idea was not to take up people’s organizations or restructure their objectives, the idea was to teach them better ways to conduct dawah. 


We would invite different groups, commend them on their effort in promoting Islamic practices in the society, and then offer them training on our methods of dawah.


Some of them declined, which was understandable, they might not have felt they needed what we offered but, a good number accepted this offer. We therefore designed dawah methods, tested the methods and upon the success of each method, we would tactfully share our findings with the groups we worked with.

While establishing DCCN, we omitted, or rather, didn’t put into consideration, that there was a fraction of the Muslim community that felt excluded from our activities.


It was my wife and her friends that decided that there had to be an organization for Muslim women, somewhere they could discuss Islam with regards to how it affected them as Muslim women, and to educate themselves better on their religion.


They created the Federation of Muslim Women’s Association of Nigeria. A lot like DCCN, but for women. With the goal being to promote the values of Islam amongst the Muslim women in the county

It took so much for Aisha and myself, with the help and dedication of our friends and family, to build IET into what it is in recent times.


Everything, from DIN to DCCN, to the research unit that has grown, and the various centres we now have across the nation, started from that Thursday in Aisha’s house. It is satisfying to see that the vision for IET stood the test of time. Everything we have achieved has been in line with educating the community of Muslims, and ensuring that Islam isn’t misrepresented or used as a tool in disintegrating peace.

Flashback: A Nostalgia for Childhood Era

I often look back to the days when I was a care free child in my father’s Islamic school, and a baby in the arms of my mother, to the days when father would wake us very early in the morning, have us reciting the Quran right after our morning prayers, marveling at the effort they put into ensuring I had discipline and focus.


It made me realize that perhaps, all my life, what I did was chase the life of my childhood. I wanted the life that allowed us leave our homes unlocked, the life that held members of the society to moral uprightness and good conduct. I wanted that kind of environment for every Muslim. And I knew that if Muslims learnt the true ways of the Prophet Muhammad, and the peace and perseverance that Islam taught, we could arrive at a similar environment.

It is why, looking forward is a mixed feeling. Retiring and watching younger ones take up the management of IET has left me feeling hopeful that the beauty of Islam and peaceful coexistence will continue to reach people.


It has made me a content that my purpose in life is fulfilled. It has also left me sad, at the work that is yet to be done, at the world and its evil, and wondering if there would ever be a time as calm and beautiful as the time of my birth. But I like to think that my father would be proud of the life I have led, and that when I am reunited with him, In Sha Allah, we would look upon IET, together, happy and well pleased.

The Islamic Education Trust and  the Dawah Institute morn Sheikh Ahmad Lemu