Shaykh Sulaiman Faruq Onikijipa: The New Grand Mufti of Ilorin
By Abubakar Imam
Ilorin Emirate has always enjoyed the services of Islamic scholars of varied ages, backgrounds and schools of thought from time immemorial. These scholars, who are mostly indigenes of Ilorin, are resident in the city while some of them, who are non-indigenes, whether trained by Ilorin scholars or not, are also resident in the city. A number of Ilorin scholars sojourn elsewhere and only come home occasionally to the pride and admiration of their fellow compatriots.
Probably due to the fact that the community is an haven of Islamic scholarship, only very few of those propagators of Islam, who are based outside, command the respect of the people of their ancestral home. Names of many of those “foreign-based” erudite scholars do not ring bell in Ilorin. Only very few members of such category, who are known in Ilorin, are as admired in the Emirate as they are in their abodes of propagation. In such category, and as known to members of my generation, specific mention must be made of Shaykh Muhammad Kamaluddeen Al-Adabiyy (1905-2005); who started his phenomenal career as an Islamic scholar and public speaker in the present-day Republic of Benin and was upon graduation shuttling between Ilorin and Lagos and was quite popular at each of the places. There was also Shaykh Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilory (1917-1992) who bestrode the field like no other; and his sons, particularly Shaykh Habibulahi Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilory, OON (b. 1958) whose lectures at Ilorin and elsewhere always attract huge crowd of admirers from all walks of life. Unarguably, Shaykh Sulaiman Faruq Onikijipa belongs to this category of such crowd pulling scholars who attained prominence at home and in their places of sojourn.
In fact, the first time I was opportune to listen to the new Grand Mufti of Ilorin was in 2004 when he delivered a thought- provoking lecture to commemorate the conferment of the same title on its first holder, Shaykh Muhammad Kamaluddeen Al-Adabiyy, MFR,OFR,ORSA,FISN [(1905-2005)]. He was the youngest and the last of the prominent Islamic scholars who were given the opportunity to deliver [a] lecture in the one-week long programme. The venue was the Ansarul Islam Primary School, Okekere, Ilorin. The lecture did not only draw a mammoth crowd but also marked the beginning of my admiration for his oratory, erudition and patriotism. I was completely “arrested” by his manner of presentation and power of conviction that I knew within me that the man has a date with history.
I have listened to him a couple of other times thereafter in the course of which my first impression about him remains largely unchanged. He has, through his words and actions, convinced most of his compatriots that he is not only gifted and knowledgeable but he is also determined to leave worthy legacies in the sand of time.
In spite of the above, I initially shared the sentiments generated by his appointment that he was perhaps “too young” for the position considering the fact that there are many elderly scholars in the Emirate . Some persons felt that being not based at Ilorin was also a minus for the scholar. There are others who also felt that he has not demonstrated the “enabling moderation” which characterised the life and times of his predecessors.
The divergent reactions provided the need to interrogate the factors behind his choice for the prestigious title as well as propelled yours sincerely to seek for his curriculum vitae and interact with those who know HIM better. What I came across are quite interesting especially about the versatility, humility and moderation of Shaykh Onikijipa and thereby compelled this piece for discerning readers for the benefit of knowing our new Grand Mufti more.
Yes, he has made it in life. Yes, he has his weaknesses as you and I. It is, however, an incontrovertible fact that he has created a niche for himself as he is one of the most discussed Islamic scholars of our time. Anyone who has access to detailed information about this patriot would no longer be surprised with his appointment as the new Grand Mufti of Ilorin by the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji (Dr) Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, CFR, on Thursday, July 22, 2021 at an impressive ceremony held at the forecourt of his palace.
By this appointment, Shaykh Onikijipa stepped into the shoe left behind by the celebrated founder of Ansarul Islam Society of Nigeria, Shaykh Kamaluddeen Al-Adabiyy; and his foremost student, disciple and former President of the Society, Shaykh Khidir Salaudeen Apaokagi Al-Adabiyy (1917-2013) who was also the founder of Mahad Adabiyyah Arabic and Islamic Institute, Owo, Ondo State. He has also succeeded the first Khalifat Adabiyyin and the eldest of the children of the first holder of the title, Shaykh Sofiyulahi Kamaldeen Al-Adabiyy (1926-2014), who held the title for less than a year.
Going by the series of comments and impressions of litany of visitors who paid congratulatory visits to the new Grand Mufti at Ilorin and in Lagos, it is crystal clear that the appointment of Shaykh Onikijipa was a popular one. The distillation of the comments showed that the appointment has the backing of the wisest and widest spectrum of the people of Ilorin and their friends ranging from the clergymen, the business community, the academia, politicians and all and sundry from all walks of life who visited to congratulate and express solidarity with him on his appointment.
There is no doubt that the position of Grand Mufti of Ilorin is one of the most coveted in the Emirate. This is not only due to the high caliber of its previous holders who were highly respected elder statesmen prior to bagging the title, but also because it was the first title fashioned out by the present and 11th Emir of Ilorin. The title’s prestigious nature is also stemmed from the fact that the holder is regarded as the Chief Interpreter of Islamic law for the Emirate and one of those who enjoy the closet consultation with the Emir on Islamic matters.
Shaykh Onikijipa has come a long way. The title was not just thrown at him. He was prepared, probably unanticipatedly, for the position going by his intimidating credentials and career trajectories which had seen him playing leading roles at home and in diaspora at least in the last three decades.
Shaykh Onikijipa, who is famously referred to as Al-Miskinbilahi, was born in Ilorin in 1961. He is a member of the famous Onikijipa family of Omoda in the Ilorin West Local Government of Kwara State. His family is reputed for Islamic scholarship. His uncle, Shaykh Abdullahi Alabi Onikijipa, who lived between 1910 and 1952 and was the alter ego of Shaykh Kamaluddeen Al-Adabiyy, was a fascinating teacher of Arabic and Islamic studies whose impact is still being felt seven (7) decades after his death. Shaykh Sulaiman Onikijipa’s father was Shaykh Umar Faruq Onikijipa who was a friend and dependable ally of Shaykh Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilory, while his mother was Alhaja Aminat Akanke Faruq Onikijipa, who hailed from Asinleke Compound, Okekere, Ilorin. His late mother was an elder sister of late Alhaji Saka Saadu (1938-2017), OFR, who served as the Honourable Minister of State in the Federal Ministry of Education from 1998 to 1999. His maternal grand father, Shaykh Imam Sa’adullah (a.k.a Baba Ni Okekere), was also a notable Islamic cleric who ended his earthly career and sojourn as the Imam of Okekere Mosque in 1988.
The new Grand Mufti is not the only scholarly member of the contemporary Onikijipa family. Other members of the family who have also excelled one way or the other are Shaykh Ahmad Abdullahi Onikijipa, who is an often quoted author of several works on Ilorin; Shaykh Sidiq Faruq Onikijipa, who was a prominent teacher at Markaz prior to his death in 2020; and his immediate elder brother, Shaykh Usman Faruq Onikijipa, who is also doing very well in Islamic propagation.
The new Mufti of Ilorin started out as a pupil of a traditional Quranic school at his ancestral home. In 1969, he was enrolled as a pupil of Alore Primary School, Oke-Apomu, Ilorin, from where he received his First School Leaving Certificate in 1974.
Upon the completion of his primary education studies, Shaykh Onikijipa became a pupil of an Advanced Quranic school at Ataragba Compound, Agbaji, Ilorin, which he attended between 1974 and 1979. He was never given a breathing space. He was always compelled to learn extensively for him to have a great future, which he is now enjoying.
As someone who was being prepared to have a solid career in Arabic and Islamic studies, Shaykh Onikijipa was enrolled at the Darul Uloom Arabic and Islamic Institute, Isale-Koto, Ilorin. He was trained at the institution from 1979 to 1983.
He subsequently proceeded to the globally renowned Arabic and Islamic Training Centre (Markaz), Agege, which was established by his mentor, Shaykh Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilory, for further training in 1983. He completed his Senior Secondary education at the institution in 1986 and was consequently introduced to the world as a “budding scholar”.
In spite being inculcated with sufficient knowledge at Markaz, Shaykh Onikijipa enrolled himself at the Institute of Religious and Behavioural Education, Lagos, in 1998. He graduated with a Diploma in Islamic Religious Studies in 2000. At the same institution, he also proceeded on a programme, which eventuated in the award of Higher Diploma in 2002.
Shaykh Onikijipa was not a man who limits knowledge acquisition; and so, his next port of call, as clearly indicated in his curriculum vitae at the disposal of this author, was Pebble University, Australia. From the institution, he received his Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts and doctorate degrees; all in Islamic Studies in 2007, 2010 and 2020, respectively.
The new Grand Mufti is a well trained scholar and an accomplished product of a famous citadel of learning who has cultivated wide fraternity with the leaders and products of other institutions with a view to broadening Islamic propagation and making Islamic scholarship attractive to others.One will never find the new Grand Mufti rubbishing the contributions of other scholars as some clerics do for no reason other than just to be “relevant”.
Even while addressing the “overzealousness” of some emerging scholars,the new Mufti always does so with maturity and wisdom. He , is indeed, a worthy leading light of the vanguard bridging the gap between the past,the present and the future.
Shaykh Onikijipa is a courageous preacher who has been lending his voice to the progress of Ilorin Emirate and Islam in so many ways. His annual Tafsir on the African Independent Television (AIT) during the month of Ramadan in the last few years is one of the most popular programmes,which has kept many more enlightened about Islam.
Shaykh Onikijipa is one of the most generous preachers of Islam. Onikijipa gives charity in abundance. He donates his erudition and personal resources. He has never attended a fundraising function either as the Guest Speaker or otherwise in Ilorin without offering huge donations to the organisers instead of collecting honorarium from them. His contribution in that aspect is quite gargantuan and can be likened to that of the first Grand Mufti, Shaykh Kamaluddeen Al-Adabiyy, who always offered his widow’s mite to every communal project during his life time.
The love of the new Grand Mufti for Ilorin and his admiration and respect for Alimi dynasty and consistency in pursuit of peace and progress certainly earned him this prestigious honour. He is not the type that hides his feelings on Ilorin. Either one agree with him or not, he would always state where he belongs on every contemporary issue.
I would also like to recall what the former Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who was also Governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki,CON(b. 1962) said about the new Grand Mufti when he attended his annual Ramadan Lecture a few years back in Lagos. Dr Saraki said that Shaykh Onikijipa was a man of conviction and was not one of those preachers who missed their lines of thoughts simply because of the arrival or presence of a big shot.
The new Mufti is a well traveled personality who has been to every continent of the universe in pursuit of scholarship. He has participated in close to twenty(20) international conferences on Islam and human development held in Nigeria, Turkey,United Kingdom,Ghana and Libya. Other countries he has visited included Senegal,Egypt,Qatar and Saudi Arabia where he presented quality papers on topical issues.
Prior to his appointment as the Grand Mufti of Ilorin, Shaykh Onikijipa has received several honours and awards in appreciation of his generosity and contributions. He is a Fellow, Academy of Corporate Management and Strategic Planning and the International Association of Community Education.
He is also a Member and Representative of the World Federation of Sufi Order. He was also appointed by His Royal Highness, the King of Morocco, as a Member of the African Islamic Scholars Group.
Shaykh Onikijipa is a winner of prestigious awards from NASFAT and the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He also holds the International Merit Award of All African Students Union. The new Mufti is also a recipient of an honourary doctorate degree in Science and Human Service bestowed on him by the Columbus International University, Norton,England as he is also an holder of the Global Peace Ambassador of Access to Human Rights International (AHRI).
This great son of Ilorin is the proprietor of the increasingly popular Markaz Al-Amani Li-Tahliimil Arabiy Wal Islamiy School, Lagos, which has produced many promising scholars. He is also a prominent member and leader of the Tijaniya Brotherhood to which he was initiated by Shaykh Abubakar Al-Miskin of Pakata (d.1991),from whom he inherited the alias with which he is popularly known.He named his own Tijaniya group as Jamhiyat Al-Amani Islamiyat Nigeria through which he has attained huge success as a projector and promoter of sufism.
Remarkably, Shaykh Onikijipa is married to Alhaja Rahmatullah Kehinde Faruq Onikijipa, who is a prominent Lagos-based business tycoon .The two love birds are blessed with children who are doing very well.
The new Grand Mufti has,no doubt, secured a place for himself in the history of Ilorin. It is no longer possible to write the history of honourary title holders of the southernmost Emirate without giving him and his career due consideration. He is the youngest holder of the title. He is also the first alumnus of Markaz to bag an honourary traditional title of Ilorin Emirate and has become the only holder of the title who propagates from outside the Emirate.
Considering his hugely intimidating credentials and enormous contributions to the growth of learning, Islamic religion and promotion of the general interests of Ilorin Emirate, I am of the conviction that he deserves the honour. Being who he is, he has declared that the honour was not for him as a person but for his illustrious mentor, Shaykh Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilory.
It is my prayers that Almighty Allah grants him all it would take to discharge the responsibilities of the title beyond the expectations of his most sincere admirers. May Allah strengthen and grant him more Knowledge,sound health and wisdom for him to succeed wonderfully. Aamiin.
Imam is National Publicity Secretary, Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union.