“Sometimes people call me “Boko Haram” and when it is possible I always try to educate them about Islam’s mission of peace to the world,” MallamTanko Muhammed told The National Times.
According to the devoted and practicing Muslim, people are erroneously considering everybody who calls the name of Allah a Muslim, “which is why whenever they commit acts of terrorism; it is attributed to all Muslims.”
Mallam Tanko Muhammed emphasised that “Islam is a religion of peace. When I meet you on the way, I say ‘Salam’, which means “Peace.”
He regretted that the message of peace preached by the Prophet Mohammed has been translated into violence by some who called themselves Muslim. “Boko Haram, ISIS and the others are not Muslims because the Prophet Muhammed has taught us how to live with others in peace and these groups are instead taking away lives,” Mallam Tanko lamented.
Speaking at an international conference on Peace and Islam, the Sudanese born Dr Moustapha Ahmad, challenged all those who associated violence with Islam to reread the Qur’an again.
However, some Muslims in the Newtown Airport neighbourhood of Douala recounted a nasty experience to The National Times. According to them, some time ago, there was a prominent man in Douala who reported many Muslims to the State Counsel because of a simple feud they had.
But in front of the legal expert, the man tagged the Muslims as members of Boko Haram and they were arrested.
Since the advent of the war against Boko Haram in 2014, many Muslims have been complaining of being victimised and called Boko Haram.
In one of the latest videos depicting military brutality in the North of Cameroon where the fight against the insurgence is on-going, soldiers are seen calling women and children Boko Haram before executing them.
These are just a few instances out of a plethora of others that Muslims faithful in Cameroon are subjected to, since Government declared war on the Boko Haram insurgency.
Intense military action against the group has resulted in some successes, but the perception of Islam as a religion and Muslims in general has seen its image smeared.
The National Times engaged in a lengthy discussion with Suleimman Mohammed, Graduate of Ahamadou Bello University Nigeria with extensive knowledge on the challenges facing Muslims within the context of the War against Boko Haram.
Sueleiman stated that the issues remain deep rotted within the communities in the Far North Region, especially those sharing borders with Ngeria and Chad.
He maintained that the reputation of Islam and the treatment of Muslims across Cameroon remain on the good side of narratives. He explained that very little has changed among Cameroonians irrespective of their faith in terms of interaction and other social engagement.
“The treatment of Muslims in Cameroon within the context of the fight against Boko Haram remains cordial. People still see us as good people… we interact and go about our activities… there might be cases of misconception probably because of misinformation…. The people are not versed with the northern parts of Cameroon. They consume only what the media gives them,” Mohamed Stated.
According to Suleiman, after the Boko Haram sect incursions into Cameroon, there were some heightened cases of maltreatment. “Around the Yaounde area, I know of women who left a bus because there was a Muslim inside…. That was when the issue was still hot in Cameroon,” Suleiman stated.
He cited the creation of mix-faith vigilante groups comprising Muslims and Christians as some of the instances to justify that Muslims are still treated as normal human beings in Cameroon.
Our resource explained that the people of the area share a lot in common in terms of tradition, language and believes. He furthered that, it is a mix of the same tribes across on the fringes of the Far North Region of Cameroon and the border with Chad and Nigeria.
The expert in Northern issues affecting Cameroon said languages such as Hausa, Mandara, Mataka, Kanouri, Fulfulde, Ngira, Kapsiki among others are found on both sides of the affected nations.
People who speak Kanuri, Fulfulde are found in the Far North of Cameroon and the Adamawa State of Nigeria. There are the Ngira, Kapsiki, Musgums found in Kolofata areas in Cameroon and also in the Republic of Tchad.
Suleiman ties the success of the military campaign in the area to collaboration form the local population and vigilante groups. He explained that military campaigns are sometimes predicated on information received from locals who speak the same language with members of Boko Haram sects.
But for these, the Amadou Bello University Graduate traced issues of insecurity and Boko Haram on Cameroon soil to endemic poverty in the affected areas.
He holds that diseases such as cholera are recurrent in the areas given the absence of basic facilities and limited access to education.
To him, Government measures to explain the differences in veils worn by Muslims and other things specific to their religion help to sooth aspect of discrimination against Muslims.
In its report number 241 of November 16, 2016, the International Crisis, Group(ICG) asserted that Cameroon’s war against Boko Haram started late.
“To consolidate gains and bring lasting peace to the Far North, the Government must now shift to long term socio-economic development, countering religious radicalism and reinforcing public services,” the ICG stated.
As at that November 2016, the ICG put the number of deaths owing to Boko Haram activities at 1,500 deaths, 155,000 displaced persons and 73,000 refugees.
The ICG affirms that the Far North is the poorest of Cameroon’s 10 Regions with the lowest school enrolment rate
“A combination of weak national integration and historic neglect by the State for many years contributed to the violence and the presence of smugglers in the Region, with a proliferation of highway robbers, traffickers, and petty criminals. It was vulnerable to this jihadist insurrection due to geographical and cultural overlap with north-eastern Nigeria, the presence of an intolerant version of Islam,” ICG surmised.
In the November, 2016 ICG account held that at least 460 attacks had taken place in the Far North with about 50 suicide bombings.
However, the ICG in its summary report observed that measures taken in 2015 such as the banning of full-faced veils, restrictions on taxis and motor bikes and military abuses may have pushed some Muslims including women to join the jihadist.
Besides these, right groups such as Amnesty International (AI), have accused the Government of abusing the rights of some Muslims in the fight against Boko Haram. It made claims of overcrowded prisons and torture of suspects to extract information.
Amidst a Government resolve and that of the members of the Lake –Chad Basin to erase the deadly group, Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria, marshalled the Multinational Joint Task Force,(MJTF) to the insurgents.
Within the political corridors of Cameroon, controversial declarations were made. National Assembly President, Honourable Cavaye Yeguie Djibril is quoted as having stated in an open address that, “there are Boko Haram members within us”.
But for these and few cases of kidnaps which pushed Government to action, the image and treatment of Muslims in Cameroon remains intact despite the difficulties of Islamic radicalism.
By Gerard and Maxcel