Book: My Jihad: The Autobiography of an Islamic Eschatologist cum Human Rights Activist
Author: Prof. Ishaq Lakin Akintola
Reviewer: Mahfouz A. Adedimeji, PhD
Publisher: Shebiotimo Press
Place of Publication: Ijebu-Ode
Year of Publication: 2023
When the Greek statesman and general, Pericles, said that what you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments but what is woven into the lives of others, he was only emphasising the need for us to leave indelible momentos that would impact future generations. Thus, for reasons ranging from setting records straight and helping one to take one’s place in history to understanding one’s personal journey through life and engaging in self-discovery, people with talent have often embraced autobiography as an art form since St Augustine of Hippo pioneered it in the year 400 with his Confessions.
For Prof. Ishaq Lakin Akintola, an enigmatic personality that evokes both intense admiration and undisguised hostility from many Nigerians, the rationale for his autobiography is to tell his own story by himself in order to avoid controversies about his life after his death and beat “post-humorous merchants of falsehood at their nefarious game” (p.iv). Perhaps, what the foremost Islamic eschatologist did not realise he was doing was to provide a roadmap through which the younger Muslim generation would be able to find their way in the vast jungle of life. Without equivocation, I aver that here is a book that every conscionable Muslim would wish he had read in his formative years and every conscious Muslim would be inspired by.
Being factual without being pretentious, self-effacing without being effusive, Prof. Akintola lays bare the details of his eventful but hard life. Reading the author’s deeply engaging autobiographical masterpiece, one would be struck by the similarity between him and the late South African President, Nelson Mandela, who from the get-go declared in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (1994), that his father bequeathed to him, apart from life, a strong constitution, a royal bloodline and a name, Rolihlahla, which accurately translates to “troublemaker” in Xhosa, a major South African language.
Though Mandela did not believe in names being destiny as believed in Yoruba cosmology, he still emphasised that friends and relatives ascribed the storms he caused and weathered in life to the name. For Akintola, meaning “courage is sufficient wealth” in Yoruba, to be additionally bequeathed with the name, Lakin (meaning “have courage”), a strong constitution of Islam and a royal bloodline that would have made him a king if he had so chosen, our author is typically Mandelan. As a human rights activist, his perception as a “troublemaker” by a segment of the Nigerian elite, the way the apartheid regime in South Africa perceived Mandela, would also make a compelling deconstruction of the two. But no one can deny that the Spartan Akintola is a blessing to Muslims in Nigeria and humanity in general. He is a man with a keen vision and a divine mission that he pursues with unusual passion.
Just as the lion belongs to the cat family though it is more than just a feline, My Jihad is an autobiography but it is an autobiography with a difference. Apart from providing interesting accounts of the author’s life as a student, lecturer, activist and public opinion moulder, it also documents aspects of his socio-political interventions and academic exertions. The book is a magnum opus of a peripatetic daa’iah (caller), a restless social activist and a complete gentleman who burns himself like wax to illuminate the path of others. My Jihad is a gripping account of a life of exceptional courage, inimitable self-discipline, infectious simplicity, uncommon contentment and unwavering commitment to humanistic and transcendental causes. Written in a racy style and accessible diction, it is a book that any educated mind would find nourishing and downright unputdownable, especially the core autobiographical component that constitutes the first 197 pages or half of the book.
Structurally, the book is divided into five chapters, apart from the foreword, the preface and the introduction. The choice of five chapters can be stylistically associated with the author’s fascination with Islam, the religion of five pillars, the teachings of which percolate the book. As Prof. Akintola himself notes, the first three chapters are the real story of his life, what Mahatma Gandhi would call “the story of my experiments with truth”, the title of his own autobiography.
In Chapter One, we encounter “The Making of an Intellectual Jihadist” where Prof. Akintola takes us through the journey of his background with interesting accounts that would make one burst into laughter. Quite unpresumptuous and down-to-heart, he gleefully shares his childhood pranks, the bicycle he rode in Ife till he had an accident that was almost fatal and how he disguised as a photographer to attend a public demonstration of fire-fighting techniques at the Enuwa Square before the palace of the Ooni. His April Fool’s prank of shouting Hariiq! Hariiq! Hariiq!!! (Fire! Fire!! Fire!!!) as an international student at the prestigious Azhar University, Cairo, almost led to his expulsion but the courage and bravery in him would make him talk himself out of trouble.
If other African students acquiesced to racist slurs and endured being pelted with stones like lizards, Ishaq’s own would be different because he would go out with his own stones in his pocket and return missiles with missiles, teaching the Egyptians of his time some lessons that not everyone would tolerate nonsense. In Libya and Germany, there were unforgettable memories and the bitter-sweet story of his PhD adventure at the University of Ilorin is symptomatic of the axiom that before a righteous man will to fall in a pit in a pitch-dark night, lightening would strike to illuminate his path. They wanted him to miss his PhD defence but he was luckily attending a conference at the same University of Ilorin where the defence would hold without having a clue!
In Chapter Two, “The Story of MURIC: The Making of a Human Rights Activist and the Manifestation of Jihad in Me”, the reader encounters Prof. Akintola’s radical background where voicing out a concern about the rights of the students almost led to his expulsion from Mahd, Ibadan. Any time there was injustice, Akintola would rise to defend others. Even standing against fixing examinations during the Juma’at time at Lagos State University (LASU), contrary to the university rules and regulations, earned him what he calls a “Satanic sermon” during a Friday prayer session. Part of the price he paid was professional stagnation for many years, reminiscent of how the late Gani Fawehinmi was denied of SANship until it became embarrassing to the title that a Fawehinmi did not append it after his name!
The June 12 electoral debacle and the civil unrest that trailed it eventually galvanised the author to join Campaign for Democracy before choosing his own path by founding Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) in 1994. Much of the chapter is devoted to the activities and impacts of MURIC in defending the cause of Islam and the oppressed often at great personal costs, including threats, attempts at eliminating him by electrocution and the invasion of his house by unknown gunmen. His activism made him to connect with the students of LASU who seized a secret police agent but it was the comrade lecturer who addressed them and got the man released at the time everyone was jittery.
In Chapter Three, the “Matters of Principle” that characterise Prof. Akintola’s life would make you cry because of his self-punishing regimen. In our country that is infested with corrosive materialism and ravenous greed, Prof. Akintola serves as a model for the youth and the society at large that not everything that counts can be counted. What he lacks in material wealth is compensated by his rich intellect, razor-sharp pen and exceptional character. He enjoyed his small portion and did not join the crowd as a matter of principle, making him to famously declare that he would not bury his father and bury his money when his father died on December 18, 2018. As a lecturer, he engaged in commercial driving to make ends meet and blended well until when one of his “colleagues” needed admission for his son and got to Prof. Akintola’s office in LASU. That was when his bubble burst and the drivers wanted to be giving him some preferential treatment at the area. “This special treatment continued the next day and the next until I could take it no more”, he wrote on page 131 and that ended his kabukabu career.
One of the other interesting accounts here is about his landlady who ordered him not to horn his car before her house and that his ablution water must not drop on her floor! Despite his courage, his exceptional humility makes him admit thus: “I was frightened out of my wits and like a frightened dog, I put my tail between my legs and went inside quickly, my kettle of water in my shaking hands” (p.182). He endured all this humiliation without letting her know that he is a lecturer. But as fate would have it, he became a landlord in the same neighbourhood and was requested to be the chairman with his former landlady being his Vice-Chairman. This is instructive especially in our society where we abuse power and demean others as one keeps wondering how many people can be so disciplined as our amiable professor. Here is a man that voluntarily relinquished the offer to be a king and he is the one who was humiliated without saying a word. The taste of the pudding is in the eating and there are many nuggets of wisdom in the book, including “goodness to neighbours must carry no hidden charges and there must be no conditionalities attached to hospitality” (p.191). Though the landlady changed her ways later, the message to the rich is strident and I echo President Bola Tinubu to say, “Let the poor breathe. Don’t suffocate them!”
While the first three chapters would be of interest to the general reader, chapters four and five would only assuage the intellectual thirst of the scholarly-minded. The fourth chapter contains five papers of his eschatological writings in Nigeria, beginning with his highly acclaimed inaugural lecture that I was privileged to attend on February 28, 2017. Here, Prof. Akintola’s area of academic interest, eschatology, defined as “the doctrine of the five last things, namely: death, resurrection, judgement, heaven and hell” (p.199), comes to the fore. The fifth chapter is a harvest of 10 papers or entries, including a two-page list of “other books and monographs by the author”. The reason for this is to make the reader have in a single package a composite account of life and selected academic works of the author, which is fantastic. Though the articles in Chapters Four and Five are academic, they manifest the characteristic readability of the essential Akintola without compromising scholarly depth. I charge readers, especially Muslims, to plunge into the ocean of Akintola’s scholarship and discover the precious pearls with which they can eschatologically live a life of purpose, which actually is the purpose of life.
As amazingly beautiful and highly beneficial as the book is, it is also a proof that no one is 100% perfect. The first observation that a reader would make is that though like other autobiographies, the photograph of the author is emblazoned on the book cover with the title, his name is missing – a striking omission. Then, though I doubt if Prof. Akintola is ideologically opposed to photographs, I believe that sharing some old photographs to illustrate the interesting accounts, not just photographs from cited media reports, would add more to the functionality and aesthetics of the book, as we have in the autobiography of the Ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, My Vision: Challenges in the Race for Excellence. This is the same tradition that is evident in such autobiographies as Nasir Ahmad’s El-Rufai’s The Accidental Public Servant (2013), Hon. Justice M. M. A. Akanbi’s The Story of My Two Words: Challenges, Experiences and Achievements: An Autobiography (2014) and Timothy Olagbemiro’s Leadership with Grace: The Experience of a Vice-Chancellor (2023), among others.
There are few factual, structural and typographical mistakes that I believe are due to the fact that the book was being written up till April this year. On page 121, there is reference to the “minister of Communications and Digital Planning” (instead of Economy) while former President Buhari’s Chief of Protocol was inadvertently referred to as “the Chief of Staff”. To illustrate the structural infelicities, we have “This SSS men” (instead of these) on p.120, and “I am a pragmatist person” (p.129) where “pragmatic” is the correct form. The “x’ key appeared to fail in a number of areas leading to “ecutive” (p.iv) (executive) and “ercise” (p.168) (exercise) while words like flambouyance (flamboyance) (p.124), “setee” (settee) on p. 136 and “quarried” (queried) on page 137 illustrate typographical issues. Even the “foreword” actually bears “foreward” (p.iv), a common mistake. Of course, these are minor issues that would be addressed in the subsequent edition and they do not detract from the overwhelming value of the book.
I earlier compared Prof. Akintola to Nelson Mandela who issued a press statement, “The Struggle is my Life” on June 26, 1961. By “My Jihad”, the author also re-echoes the fact that struggle (jihad) is his life and by so doing drives the centrality of struggle in a Muslim’s life into the readers’ psyche. It is foregrounded that jihad is not a holy war and Akintola has never engaged in violence. Rather, jihad is “struggle” or “striving” and he is so much fascinated by it that he named his daughter Jihad. A jihadist of his like is a man who is struggling always to be a better version of himself and contribute to the making of a fair and just society. My Jihad is therefore a call to action that the world will be a better place with courage, justice, self-discipline and respect for the rights of others.
There is no way one would read My Jihad: The Autobiography of an Islamic Eschatologist cum Human Rights Activist without arriving at a sobering conclusion on the significance of courage crowned by a compelling sense of personal discipline as the greatest ingredient of success. After all, Aristotle said that courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees others. May the Almighty Allah multiply Prof. Akintola’s kind and grant him more health as he retires from LASU without being tired of serving Islam and humanity.
This is a book that everyone should read to challenge their perspective of success. It is a treasure trove for the Muslim youth, particularly students of tertiary institutions in Nigeria and Africa. In reading this important addition to literature, I advise that you keep a handkerchief close because you will cry and laugh as a result of the sheer force of its profundity, if you are emotional.
Please obtain a copy and get a life!