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Immanuel James: Mubarak Bala & The Danger of Buttoned Lips



Some years ago, a new social culture emerged in Italy: many parents stopped introducing their religious faiths to their children. They chose rather to let them reach the official age of adulthood, so the latter could choose for themselves which faith to identify with, upon objective inquiry and conviction. For such parents, the commotion of truth claims had left them confused rather than convinced, and they did not want to instill error in the innocent teenager. Truth is, many people are not totally convinced about their faiths. Some have questions that have not been properly addressed by their Scriptures, but they stick around either because they have not found a perfect alternative, or because of the social consequences of apostasy.

Yet some parents are totally convinced. Whether that conviction is a result of dispassionate inquiry into their worldviews, or a result of cultural heritage, is a different thing entirely. What is paramount for them, however, is that they have embraced ‘truth’ and, just as they would force medication down the throat of an unwilling, sick child, they must force their faiths on their children. That was exactly what Mubarak Bala’s parents did.

The young man had embraced atheism consequent upon his intellectual persuasion to that effect, and was bold enough to declare same to his devout Muslim parents. His family members would not accept that. They beat him up, injected him with sedatives, and took him to a psychiatric hospital where he is now being ‘treated’ as a mad man. With a phone smuggled into his psychiatric ward at the Amino Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano, he sent messages across to a humanist friend of his, who has since contracted a lawyer to handle the matter. His father and doctors in the hospital insist he had psychological problems before he renounced Islam.

Two days ago, the lawyer was seeking to contract an independent psychiatrist to examine him. Problem is, with this kind of persecution already meted out to him, he would be lucky to come out negative from tests on psychological trauma.

Sometime last year, an adult Christian lady, daughter of a pastor, converted to Islam. When her father failed to bring her back to Christianity, he resorted to violence. She went through myriad persecution from her family, to the point that she had to seek refuge in the palace of an Emir, much to the chagrin of her father who alleged ‘Islamic’ diabolical entrapment.

Meanwhile, Mubarak’s father claimed that he took the action to prevent his son from being mobbed by the people. Sadly, that excuse, unfortunate as it is, protects a legitimate fear. As a society, we seem unaware that education, in its true sense, confers on the individual the privilege for rational skepticism. True education forbids the acceptance of dictated truths, and prepares the mind to ask hard questions about arrogant conventions. The search for meaning, for truth – for intellectual or religious convictions – is best when the individual is allowed to tread his own path with his bare feet, unshoed with traditions and dogma. That adult individual, escorted by ‘objective’ parameters of engagement, will most likely arrive safely in the journey.

When the mind is zipped up against an inquiry for which it is hungry, the lips buttoned against the expression of legitimate thought, there will be consequences. One of such consequences is that the individual becomes a mere captive of mind terrorism, an unwilling practitioner of the faith or ideal imposed. A forced member of any faith is even technically no different from an atheist, since the person involved performs hollow rituals lacking internal support. The baggage of unresolved doubt will never allow anyone to practise an imposed faith creditably. So what is the point in enforcing religious adherence? The better approach would be to counter the differing mind with factual proofs and other rational means of persuasion.

Another consequence of muzzled thought, this time with respect to the silent onlookers who would not condemn the kidnap of the mind, is that such bystanders unconsciously promote an ugly psychology. That mindset that frowns at otherness, one in which terrorists are implicated, is the same one receiving the blessing of our silence. Some may say, “after all he’s an atheist and therefore deserves it.” They forget that these ‘little’ encroachments, these private tyrannies, are the social elements that guarantee ideologies like Boko Haram.

We must all speak out and condemn this young man’s incarceration. We must reach out in love for, in the final analysis, we are still family – members of that clan of intelligent animals called humanity. We must embrace contrary opinion – whether as theists or atheists. We should recognise that religious truths are relative, not absolute, given the imprints of factors like socialisation, geography, social exposure, etc. Let us understand that each person in this pursuit of meaning and truth, is most likely an innocent violator of our own grounds, just as we are, to theirs. If God wanted us to reason alike, He would have made us all look the same.
Immanuel James is the author of the new book, ‘Under Bridge’. He lives in Lagos. You can reach him on Facebook – Immanuel James Ibe-Anyanwu | Twitter: @Aristotlejames |  08035711153.

Writing is my means of saving me from myself! Immanuel James, author of 'Under Bridge', is the winner of the 2014 ANA National Prize for Prose.


  1. Eniola

    June 27, 2014 at 12:19 am

    Hmm I patiently await the comments of Bellanaijarians as this is a subject I have never seen handled on this website. Ms. Socially Awkward abeg waka come o lol.

    At some point we all struggle with finding the truth, either as a result of maturity or just the quest for something more and bigger than ourselves. This is a road I had to travel myself and If I had been condemned in this manner for “apostasy” I would have said SHAME on religion. While it is easy for some people to accept things easily based on faith, some of us have to take some logical buses to arrive at that destination hence the emergence of apologetics like C.S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, Lee Strobel et al. This kind of inhumane reaction never ever gets anything fixed especially to one who is seeking answers. We are the faces of God and sometimes by our words and actions, we actually lead people to God. I have to wonder if the parents and others who condemn have really thought through the tenets of their religion before dishing out merciless acts such as this. Having a well reasoned discussion as to why we follow our religion needs to be addressed in churches and other religious sites. People are easily swayed by worldly beliefs everyday because religious leaders do not provide the strong proofs and reasons why their religion makes sense. Faith works but God did not give us a reasoning mind for it to be dormant. Five years ago, i was a Christian because my parents were Christians, if they decide to be muslims tomorrow, I have made my choice to be a Christian due to reasons best known to me. Having healthy discussions and loving through it never hurt nobody.

    Whew!! Y’all can take over from here LOL.

  2. abual

    June 27, 2014 at 12:34 am

    I tnk ur piece is ok but not well researched. Firstly everyone has a ryt to freedom of religion which some religions forbid. Do U mean parents should adopt the carefree mode? If yes are d consequences not worse. Aisha Uzoechina was kept in the emir’s palace and presently the deputy governor residence wtout prior notice of her conversion, she was stopped from schooling and given a husband to marry which was put on hold juxtapose her case with the Sudanese woman, are U saying Aisha’s parents should have left her in d arms of a stranger bcos she embraced a new faith? In Bala’s case what mesical proof do U have to his mental state ?do know his history? I am a proud christian but pls be more detailed in ur analysis

    • Changing Faces

      June 27, 2014 at 7:08 am

      Some people just like to speak English! You said the article isn’t well researched, and still have not been able to communicate your own thoughts in a paragraph; I do not get your point.


      June 27, 2014 at 7:36 am

      it never ceases to amaze me when people delibrately misrepresent an issue to prove a point. the author needs to get his facts right

    • Immanuel James

      June 27, 2014 at 8:52 am

      Is Aisha an adult please? A 25-year-old adult or not?

  3. delimma

    June 27, 2014 at 12:38 am

    In life, whether as an atheist or practitioner of a faith U have a duty to mould and train ur children to ur best and for the good of society. If ur faith forbids ppl from not converting It shoul also stop converts from foming to its fold too, period

  4. Monisola

    June 27, 2014 at 2:50 am

    In agreement to the write up, I believe parents shouldn’t impose their individual beliefs on their children. Faith in most religion is personalized, one person salvation can’t be substitute for another, hence the need to allow everyone to set the path to follow. I was born in a Catholic family, a denomination I absolutely adore, however, the practice of pentecostal denomination resonate with me, hence my conversion.
    The journey of salvation should be autonomous regardless of religious practice or non religious practice.

  5. Changing Faces

    June 27, 2014 at 7:28 am

    Well said. The problem is that there are many bigots. People will keep silent in the face of another person’s persecution because they believe it’s deserved. How dare you not believe in God? I have a friend that told me he doesn’t believe in God! I asked why he still goes to church and his answer was that failing to stick to religion will cost him; people will not be comfortable with him, his business will suffer, it’d be difficult for a girl to marry him etc. He said he’d even become a knight in line with family tradition. No matter how educated and enlightened people are, non conformists are still judged harshly. Most of us are high on religion; even when our lifestyles do not in any way reflect what we profess.


    June 27, 2014 at 7:31 am

    1) truth can never be relative or it ceases to be truth.
    2)kids need to be guided and taught spiritual truth from the onset.when they grow up they should have the choice to continue to accept or reject what they were brought up with.
    3) at the end of the day, there’s no such thing as being completely open minded or being freedoctrine or prevailing belief systems.we’re all brainwashed and will continue to be by t main media, philosophy,atheism, esoterism,tradion, psychology, sociology culture,religion…no one can escape it.u just have to choose your brainwasher.

    • Disco

      June 27, 2014 at 10:12 am

      Can you explain what is spiritual truth and why kids need to be taught it. My house is a religion free zone and my kids are well balanced, intelligent and good kids without the lies, judgement, abuse and contradictions that come with religion.

      Africans put so much emphasis on religion yet we are the most corrupt and poorest of all the continents. Free your mind, live right and treat people as you would want to be treated and you will see how much more better the world would be. People use religion to create all sorts of atrocities. You don’t need religion to be a good person, stop using it as a moral compass

  7. bb

    June 27, 2014 at 8:30 am

    I am atheist and Proud, Nigeria needs more atheism and rational thinking. This hugging unto religion at all cost and replacing action with prayer is just madness, In any society where there is too much religion, look carefully and u will see injustice and impunity enthroned there, Religion is crap, free the mind!

    • Troll

      June 27, 2014 at 9:07 am

      I don’t think religion is crap. I think humans are the crappy ones. We’ll always have things that we hug for escape, hope or comfort; religion, tribe, race and all other unimportant things that we’ve made the important.

  8. Dayo B

    June 27, 2014 at 9:22 am

    I wholeheartedly agree with the author. We must all stand against injustice in whatever form it occurs. We do not respect religious (or lack thereof) freedoms in this country and its really the root cause of a lot of the problems that we have. Folks with all that “My religion is better than yours” bullshit. People need to understand that you not draw adherents to your faith by being wicked, callous and downright intolerant. This nonsense of people celebrating when one person switches religions is also a problem. Will the score keeping give one a free gate pass to heaven?

    I am curious though…if this had been a case of a Christian boy denouncing his faith and had been treated in this manner by his family, what would be the general response of the public? Heck, of BN readers? Would there be 300 comments or 11 comments? Would there be outrage or would people try to rationalize the cruel behaviour by the parents? Would CAN come out in support or not? These are questions that I have.

  9. @cyebog

    June 27, 2014 at 9:47 am

    Nice piece!

    I would like to say that I am one of the few lucky individuals whose parents didn’t have to force them to accept the religion they were practicing. My Dad is a christian and my Mum is an adherent of the Grail Message. While growing up, they had their fights (which is normal) on which place their children should attend to improve their religious life.

    We followed my Dad to church and after some years, worshiped in the same place as my Mum. When the children got to the age of thinking for themselves, we all split. My brother went to the Catholic church, My sister went back to RCCG and I stayed back and worshiped with my mum.

    Each of us have a right to freedom of worship as long as it does hinder the other being in his/her development. My siblings are old enough to think for themselves and as such are responsible for their actions. When we come to the round table, religion is dropped and there still exist that harmony that is sought for when a family is together.

    Commenting on Abual’s reply, I believe good tutoring isn’t a factor of religion. The following virtues have nothing to do with religion: Truth, Discipline, Honesty, Sincerity. If you were in Aisha’s shoe, you would run anywhere as long as you know you would be safe from harm. Be it a Reverend’s or Imam’s house.

    As someone who is always searching for knowledge to improve myself, I stumble on a lot of books where you can deduce if the path is right or wrong. But this you cannot do if you don’t ask questions. No matter how silly a question was, I would always ask it to clarify all doubt. And when you cannot give me an answer (because you probably don’t know and use the excuse of “there are some questions that cannot be answered”), I’ll just move on ahead.

    I think the issue for most is the ability to lose what they have and accept that they have been wrong all the while. Knowledge is power and what you can get from knowledge can either enrich what you know or totally give you a different view of what you have already known. Either way, you will never lose.

    When confronted with the truth, you either accept it or repel it (which is natural) but the decision is taken after a comprehensive analysis of the information in question. This is a very big situation most people face and as a result, they tend to repel it with whatever arsenal they have in store.

    I know I will have children and it is my responsibility to make sure that they are properly brought up (which of course, has little to do with religion)

  10. amebo

    June 27, 2014 at 9:53 am

    hmmm, this is a delicate subject, when it comes to religion Nigerians are overzealous.. the truth is everyone born into a family authomatically follows the faith of their parents. almost 98% dont bother to research the other religions to see for themselves if they are actually in the right religion or not, your father is a babalawo in the village, ofcourse even if you claim to be a christian at school just because its too embarassing to claim to be a traditionalist, deep inside and when you are back home where no one will criticize you are back to herbs and incantations. then the issue of the 2% that researched and feels the other religion is the right one, and decided to convert, the next thing is the family didnt accept, naturally put yourself in their shoes, if you are really certain your religion is the right one, and your child wakes up one day and say am defecting to another religion ofcourse after the initial shock and anger, denial etc. you will naturally say no, especially if that child still lives under your roof. its a litle different if the person is on his/her own married etc, the worst is to disown the child. its very hard for africans and Nigeria to be specific to just take it in good grace or say na u sabi do what u want…we are not like westerners that their male child will say na woman i wan be and gbam he changes his breast and his down below to that of a woman and the parents will say my love i will sill love you whether you decide to change to a pig. Nigerian parents will curse you first before they say over my dead body.

    when you say allow them to choose, its cos it hasnt happened to you when it does, you wont say that, you will have all the reservations you can probably have about it. put those parents in your shoes thats just what am asking. whether its from christianity to islam or islam to christianity. there is no force in religion but just put yourself in their shoes.
    i proudly rep islam

  11. JUJU

    June 27, 2014 at 10:38 am

    please i want to ask the writer just one question and i hope he/she answers,
    Q: DO YOU KNOW MUBARAK BALA IN PERSON, & if yes For how long?

    i know a little about them, friends of friends of family, matter of fact is that His father is a well enlightened Man, who was a broadcaster for BBC, while it is not my place to state how one should run their family or how they choose to do it, this was clearly an internal matter that got out of hand, resulting in d current situation.

    truth of d matter is, there is more to this story. the history runs deep and long…. its nt just abt him been an atheist….personally im for freedom, live ur life hw u wnt, as long as it dosent affect me, easier solutions could have been reached, like his family disoowning him or him dem, he clearly wants freedom, and i pray that Both find peace and solution 2 d matter. I Pray God intervene and d elderly family members also intervene,… LIFE IS NOT THAT HARD.

    BUT remember as a parent it is Hard to c ur child break ur heart. and ESp wn dey r too old (in his case) for you to infleunce dem dt much.

  12. pacesetter808

    June 27, 2014 at 11:42 am

    I do not know specific details of this story as the family is yet to make any comments publicly so I would not judge either party. However, people need to be more liberal about the way religion is addressed. It should be left to every adult to decide which faith he/she wants to follow. I’ve interacted with people from different faiths and I’ve come to this conclusion…….A good person is a good person, same way a bad person is a bad person irrespective of the persons’ faith or religion. We should not be too quick to judge the next person because his/her faith differs from ours. There are extremists in every religion. We must not be quick to conclude that everyone practicing a certain religion is evil because of the actions of extremists in the said religion. It’s perfectly okay to preach or try to influence the next persons’ choice of religion if we decide to be evangelists of faith but the decision to accept/decline should be left solely in the hands of the person being preached to and this decision must be respected.

  13. Akolade

    June 27, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    I agree with Immanuel James. Morality and Religious truths are both relative and subjective.

    Take for instance, the sacred commandment: “Thou shalt not kill”

    God gave this commandment to Moses in Exodus 20:13, as a guideline for the Jewish nation… However in multiple verses of scripture, we have instances where heads of kings/people are cut off in wars, even God commanded Moses in Numbers 25:4 to cut off people’s heads out of God’s holy anger.

    However in the NT, Jesus leads a pacifist lifestyle, even to the point of healing the ear of an enemy: Luke 22… and urging us to offer the other cheek if we are provoked.

    Same goes for Islam and any major religion… Moral contradictions wholly related to the context of the prose.

    What this tells us, is that Morality is indeed relative and subjective to the times one finds oneself in. Religion is a moral compass; one which is relative and subjective, even as i emphasize my point, to the times one finds oneself in

    In the quest for truth, we must guide our children but not force feed it down their mouths. We must educate them on our truths (which are unique and subject, once again, to the societies we find ourselves in), show them why we believe what we believe.. How this belief has translated to our gain… and then trust that they will make the right decision.

    Even in business, we say, “You can teach a man something, but it is greater for the man to know, WHY he is learning it.”

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