November 29, 2020

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AfricaTopForum – News Around Africa

Still on Arabic inscription on naira

2 min read

By Usman Bello Balarabe

Sir: I refer to the suit filed by one Lagos-based-lawyer, Malcolm Omirhobo against the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Attorney General of the Federation in which had claimed that the Arabic inscriptions (Ajami) on naira notes symbolize the religion of Islam and argued that it is a threat to Nigeria as a secular country.

There are millions of Islamic books written in different languages including the Muslims Holy Book (Koran) which has its English, French, Hebrew versions amongst others.  Just like the Hebrew version of the Koran does not make it ‘Jewish Koran’ or ‘Christian Koran’ so also the Arabic version of the Bible does not make it an ‘Islamic Bible’.

The plaintiff failed to understand that language is used as a symbol of communication not of religion because not all Arabs are Muslims. In the Middle East there are other religions that use the Arabic language. Among them are Druze, Christianity, Samaritanism, Zoroastrianism, Yazidims and Judaism amongst others. Does that make them Muslims?

Ajami is the usage of Arabic alphabets to write out Hausa just like English alphabets were used to write Yoruba, Igbo, and even Hausa inscriptions on some of the naira notes. Does that make it Yoruba, Igbo, or Hausa naira? And to the extent that these are not the only ethnic groups in Nigeria, why the fuss about Arabic inscriptions (ajami) which is merely a scripting language in some parts of the country amongst the populous Hausa communities?

The cross is the principal symbol of Christianity. Does that make the Red Cross emblem which is a generic emblem for medicine and are associated with first aid, medical services amongst others, a symbol of Christianity? Does that make some of our hospitals, and healthcare volunteers carrying the Red Cross inscriptions ‘Christian’ hospitals or ‘Christian’ healthcare workers? If not, why would the Arabic inscriptions (ajami) on naira notes symbolize Islam?

In India, apart from Hindi and English languages, more than 10 languages amongst others from the most popular ethnic groups are used in the country’s currencies to represent and appreciate the diversity of its citizens. The usage of any of these languages does not symbolize superiority of any group over others nor does it constitute any threat to India as a secular nation.

It is unfortunate that this controversy is coming at a time when the country is still striving to restore its shattered peace in the aftermath of the ENDSARS protests.

The plaintiff should jettison his fussy claims and educate himself on the issues.  In the same way that the Arabic version of the Bible cannot be tagged as “Islamic Bible”, it is erroneous to treat the Arabic inscriptions (Ajami) as anything more than a medium of communication.

  • Usman Bello Balarabe, India.

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