Re: Ooni of Ife, Oba Ogunwusi and the Origin of Religions By: Imam Ridwan Jamiu
Recently, a BBC video interview with Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, the Ooni of Ife went viral on the social media. His Royal Highness pontificated in the interview that Yorubaland was the origin of Islam and Catholicism. He claimed, among others, that Oodua or Oduduwa was the founder of the major religions: Islam and Christianity. He asserted that Oodua was the first to worship Allah (Olodumare) in purity with unsewn sheets of cloth at the Mount of Arafat in Makkah, the sanctuary visited by Muslims today. White robes used by Muslim pilgrims in Makkah were ordained by Oodua who sent apostles for religious mission including Prophet Ibrahim, before the advent of Prophet Muhammad [peace be upon him]. He posited that Makkah is a sanctuary of prayer (Du’a in Arabic) which is from Ile-Adua or Ile Oodua (House of Oodua) because it belongs to Oodua. It was the Yoruba people who started these practices, but many unfortunately do not realise this and have even abandoned it, he added. May the Almighty God show us the right way, he concluded.
The brief but bizarre interview has generated uproar among many people especially the Muslims. Muslims have always been very jealous about their faith. Reactions to the interview varied as various as humans are. But the polite, intellectual and educative responses are always praiseworthy and edifying. The interview raised issues of paramount importance upon which rests the foundation of existence. It is a worthy endeavour to search for where lies the eternal truth. Failure to grasp the truth may spell one’s eternal doom and perdition. Life is meaningless without living for the real purpose because of which it has been created. The issues raised in the interview will be discussed as follows.
One, Yoruba beliefs and practices are only passed on through oral tradition. Oral tradition, as opposed to oral and written history, is often subjective. This makes it difficult to apply academic methodologies in studying some historical claims. Therefore, all that Ooni said may not be true.
Two: Catholicism we learnt came from the Latin word ‘katholikos’ meaning universal. Kata “in regard to” + holos “whole”. It doesn’t have Yoruba origin.
Three: the mention of Oodua as having worshipped Olodumare (which refers to Allah, the Almighty) in white robes at the plain of Arafat in Makkah is instructive. If Oduduwa had worshipped Allah at Arafat in Makkah and had met with Prophet Ibrahim [peace be upon him], as asserted by Oba Ogunwusi, then Oodua must have practiced the religion of Prophet Ibrahim. And that religion was the religion furthered by Prophet Muhammad because he also worshipped there and in fact, Makkah was his birthplace. Was Oodua a Muslim?
Four: a careful study of Prophet Ibrahim is facilitated by the Qur’an and the Bible. Both the scriptures have many things in common but scholarship agrees that the Qur’an has maintained its originality from the time of Prophet Muhammad but the Bible has been subject of edition and interpolation as is accepted by the academia. Be that as it may, both scriptures reverence Ibrahim [father Abraham]. He is the father of faith and a paragon (Qur’an 22/78, Q2/124, Q16/120-123, Genesis.17/3-6, Gen.18/18, 12/3, 17/20, Neh. 9/7-8).
Abraham was neither a Jew nor Christians but an upright believer in one God, Muslim (Q3/67). (The words ‘Christianity’ and ‘Judaism’ were not divine; they were coined by people. They are not found in the scriptures). He worshipped only one God –Allah. He was never a polytheist or Idolater. He was never an animist. Oodua must necessarily have practiced what Ibrahim did if their meeting was anything to go by. But unfortunately, the Qur’an asserts unambiguously that Prophet Ibrahim and his first son –Ismail (Ishmael), not Oodua, built the Kaaba and established the rites of pilgrimage [Hajj] that is practiced till today (Q2/125-130, Q22/26-33). Prophet Muhammad followed this path and therefore, practiced the religion of Abraham, which is Islam. Islam means total submission to the will of Allah –the Olodumare, the uncreated Creator of all creatures. Prophet Muhammad never claimed to be the founder of Islam, but the final messenger of Olodumare sent to the whole world to establish the religion practiced by Adam, Noah, Ibrahim, Moses, Jesus and all true Prophets of God –Allah.
Five: according to the Wikipedia, ‘whatever the case may be, it is now considered a historical fact that Oduduwa and his fellow settlers were outsiders from elsewhere that were absorbed by the aborigines of Ife.’ It is thus clear that Oodua met some indigenous people at Ile-ife after his exodus from Makkah or Egypt [land of origin of Oodua is a subject of debate], and later became a dominant force and leader to the Yoruba people after gaining influence [or victory] over Obatala, the erstwhile leader of the 13 confederate Yoruba communities. It was argued that Orunmila, the progenitor of Ifa, was a consultant to Oduduwa. Perhaps, in his exercise of tolerance and respect, Oduduwa used to seek counsel from Orunnmila on political matters being the latter a respected chief in his community even though he was an Idolater and animist.
Alternatively, Oodua was exiled from his homeland being an animist and found like minds among Ife people when he arrived with his retinue. But the battles between him and the aboriginals may upset this theory.
Claiming that Oduduwa or Obatala had stake in the creation of the earth or heaven, or that they were divines is baseless; it is only a creation of myth and folklore. Deification of Oduduwa as is obtained in the Yoruba pantheon was probably a sleaze and spiritual corruption people reverted to out of ignorance long after the demise of Oodua. This could not be far-fetched; Jesus, Buddha, Confucian and many great historical personages were deified by their unaware followers long after their earthly life. Great and exemplary people are meant to be emulated in good course; they are never to be adored or worshipped besides the almighty God.
The Ooni occupies a position of eminence. He should set up a committee of academic researchers on this matter if there is need. But Allah, the Lord of universe, has said in the Qur’an- His glorious revelation to mankind, “We revealed to you [Muhammad] the Scripture only to clarify for them what they differ about, and guidance and mercy for people who believe.” Q16/64
In conclusion, I invite your Eminence to the worship of only one God-Allah, the Olodumare whom Oodua used to worship at Makkah. Abandon all the polytheist and animist practices and beliefs of the indigenous Yoruba people. Most of the practices are outdated and retrogressive. Let our people embrace technology and eschew dogmatism and fetishism. You are a personality in whom we see a great prospect. Embrace Islam and turn your face to Makkah in worship [where Oodua used to face and worship Allah] as the Muslims do. We will be well pleased with you to be our Oba in Yorubaland and a leader in Islam.
Allah says, “He prescribed for you the same religion He enjoined upon Noah, and what We inspired to you [Muhammad], and what We enjoined upon Abraham, and Moses, and Jesus: “You shall uphold the religion, and be not divided therein.” As for the idolaters, what you call them to is outrageous to them. Allah chooses to Himself whom He wills and He guides to Himself whoever repents.” Q42/13
He also said, “Whoever seeks other than Islam as a religion, it will not be accepted from him, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers.” Q3/85
In his book, ‘Dictionary of Islam’ pg. 402, Thomas Patrick Hughes writes: “Islam does not profess to be a new religion, formulated by Muhammad (nor indeed is it) but a continuation of the religious principles established by Adam, by Noah, by Abraham, by Moses, and by Jesus, as well as by other inspired teachers, for it is said that God sent no fewer than 313 apostles into the world to reclaim it from superstition and infidelity. The revelations of these prophets are generally supposed to have been lost, but God, it is asserted, had retained all that is necessary for man’s guidance in the Qur’an…”
Charles J. Adams observes: “Islam has nothing of the character of innovation or of accident; it is not the peculiar invention of Muhammad in response to his own limited experience. Rather it is the eternal truth, the one right religion that was the religion of Adam and Abraham and of Jesus, as well as Muhammad, the religion that God has established for all men. In resolving to follow the straight path of Islam one sets his feet upon a way trodden by countless others, Prophets, saints, heroes, pious and learned men from the very beginning of the world. The effect of a man’s submission to God’s ordained way is to renew his contact with the eternal well-springs of being.” Charles J. Adams, ‘Introduction to Islamic Civilization’ edited by R.M. Savory, Cambridge University Press.
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