Denying Boko Haram its assumed Islamic identity

It seems that not a day passes by without news of attacks by the militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria

Maha Akeel
Maha Akeel
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It seems that not a day passes by without news of attacks by the militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria that claims to do so in the name of Islam. They target innocent civilians, Christian and Muslim. In fact, they have killed more Muslims than non-Muslims; around 80 percent of the victims are Muslims who lived in the northeast region of Borno where the group has a stronghold, but international news coverage tends to give the impression that these are religious-based attacks, especially after the mass kidnapping by Boko Haram of over 200 Christian schoolgirls from the village of Chibok in April. The girls are still in captivity despite the efforts of the Nigerian government and pledges of Western support to free them.

Moderate mainstream Islamic institutions have always spoken up against terrorist acts

Maha Akeel

The kidnapping of the girls made world headlines and generated outrage and condemnation in the West and by Muslims worldwide. There were also loud calls, with an accusatory tone, for the Islamic leaders, organizations and religious institutions to speak up and take action against this terrorist group that is abusing the name of Islam for its own political gains.

Fringe groups

The fact of the matter is that moderate mainstream Islamic institutions, leaders, and people who represent the majority of Muslims, have always spoken up against terrorist acts, especially those committed in the name of Islam by fringe groups acting outside the boundaries of law, humanity and religion. As soon as news of the abduction was reported on, the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the largest bloc of Islamic states with 57 members and the only official voice of the Muslim world, issued a statement condemning in the strongest terms the criminal act and called for the immediate release of the girls and their safe return to their parents. Other statements followed by the International Islamic Fiqh (jurisprudence) Academy, an affiliate institution of OIC, and the OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission denouncing the barbaric act and all acts of violence as having nothing to do with Islam and against its basic tenets. The OIC continues to issue statements condemning every heinous killing and destruction of property committed by this group and urging the authorities to intensify their efforts to end these acts of terrorism and violence and bring the perpetrators to justice while offering its solidarity and assistance.

Moreover, the OIC secretary-general, Iyad Madani, visited Nigeria in early June in a show of solidarity with the government and met with the president and senior officials and even flew to the northeast region where the government forces are fighting Boko Haram. He expressed the readiness of the OIC to assist Nigeria in every way possible in order to bring to an end the insurgency in the northeast part of the country and to contribute to the long-term sustainable development of Nigeria. During his visit to the northeast state of Borno, namely the city of Maiduguri, he met with officials and tribal leaders and saw and heard firsthand how the fear and misery seeped in the people who feel isolated from the world and neglected.

Tackling this crisis

Clearly, tackling this crisis in Nigeria is not going to be easy or fast. Approaching it only from the military perspective is not enough, as the Foreign Minister of Nigeria Bashir Amin Wali himself admitted in a recent interview with the OIC Journal. He said that the government is also intending to focus on socioeconomic development that would address some of the grievances of the region, which would hopefully stifle the basis for the rallying calls of rebellion.

However, there is another very crucial issue that needs to be addressed in order to completely pull the rug out from under the group in its mobilization and recruitment of the youth to commit the violent acts, and that is their claim to Islam. In his speech at the Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, last month, the OIC secretary-general said that he is “convinced that combating this separatist movement that adopts violence, intimidation and murder, should start by denying its assumed Islamic identity as most of its victims are Muslims.” By denying them their association with Islam and branding their acts as absolutely criminal and un-Islamic, we can ensure cutting off their supply of followers. The secretary-general also pointed out to the need to deprive the group of its backers and suppliers of money, weapons and other resources and assistance. “It is to be noted that the technical, logistical and material potentialities that the movement shows urges us to consider its support resources and empowerment and the reasons behind that,” he said. Madani further urged the OIC member states to support Nigeria in its security and economic confrontation of Boko Haram and purge the environment from which it emerged.

Boko Haram and other such terrorist groups are a threat not only to the country they are operating in but also to the surrounding region and the whole world. We need concerted efforts to uproot this dangerous menace.


Maha Akeel is the Managing Editor of the quarterly magazine, OIC Journal, issued by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Before joining the OIC six years ago, Akeel worked as a journalist for five years. She participated in local and international workshops and forums on women’s rights and the role of the media. She also wrote opinion articles about Saudi women, and was interviewed by several regional and international newspapers and broadcast channels including the Wall Street Journal, BBC World and Sky News. Akeel received her university education in the US and has an MBA and an MA in Communications and Cultural Studies.

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