Peace is a unique virtue in the life of man. Its value cannot be measured in terms of gold or silver. Any life without peace is a life in vain. Peace, in any tempestuous circumstance, is often not by chance. It is rather a well-planned sphere of life with formidable pillars like endurance, tolerance and mutual understanding. The usual template of peace in any society is based on experience gained from history.
This article is not new. It was first published in this column in 2012. But it is being repeated here today because of demands for its republication by many readers who passionately believe in its relevance to the current Nigerian situation in which religion has become the biggest commercial venture that vigorously constitutes a tug of war at the instance of some commercial charlatans who are claiming to be religious leaders. Such charlatans are mostly known by the hate speeches which they provocatively dish out in torrents from their pulpits as a form of enticing advertisement to certain ignorant people who can be lured into the dragnet of their commercial venture.
The Wings of History
History is an invisible object with two invisible wings flying across generations in time and in space. One of the wings is positive, the other is negative. It is only with history that the present becomes the heritage of the past while the future awaits the baton of continuity or otherwise from the present. No living nation or tribe or even individuals can dream of a realizable future without a veritable present based on a memorable experience of the past. The web of life is like a magnet which no iron element can bypass on its way to ornamental glory.
Fabric of Uncertainty
Against what ought to be a valuable heritage, Nigeria is, sadly passing through a fabric of uncertainty today as she rolls back the fibres of the future into those of the present and weaves both into the vestiges of the past. Such is a sign of a dead nation waiting to be interned. What war is not ravaging Nigeria today in spite of Allah’s abundant bounties? The forces of the present seem to have connived with those of the past to jointly engage in wrestling down the future with a determination to depriving the generations yet unborn of any hope of decent existence.
For decades, Nigeria has been forced by the so-called leaders to fight political, economic and social wars without winning any. Now, a religious dimension is being desperately added for pecuniary purpose.
Thus, like a billow vigorously storming around at the instance of an invisible tempest, a melee of religious hullabaloo engendered by a vicious political Pandora has virtually turned Nigeria into a land of curses. God! Where are we going from here?
Purpose of Religion
By its design and intent, religion is supposed to be not only a panacea for all human psychological ailments but also a soothing balm for any spiritual ache. Ironically, however, religion in Nigeria today has been turned into a poison without any provision for an antidote. And through our usual attitude tagged Nigerian factor, we seem to be bent on swallowing the pill of that poison without minding its dangerous repercussion.
The Factors of Ignorance
The factors that culminated in what we now variously call religious militancy, extremism, fanaticism and terrorism emanated only from the yoke of ignorance which bad governance has perennially incubated. And could anything have influenced bad governance as much as ignorance? Yet ignorance would not have had a role to play in our religious or political lives if we had demonstrated the will to genuinely follow the tenets of our religions and learned from the lessons of history without banking on biased assumptions and fallacious rumours.
History as a Teacher
History as a teacher always has a lesson to teach those who are ready to learn. But unfortunately, most human beings, especially Nigerians, refuse to learn any lesson from history and the price is what we are paying today.
In 1962, Nigeria’s Governor General, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (who later became Nigeria’s first President in 1963), paid a three day official courtesy visit to the Premier of Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello in Kaduna. Dr Azikiwe was accompanied by his wife, Flora. The host Premier mobilized all the paraphernalia of office in honour of his guests whom he accorded an unprecedentedly flamboyant hospitality. The three days visit enabled their wives to become so familiar with each other that Flora also invited the Bellos to the East on a similar visit. By the time the visit ended, Dr. Azikiwe had become so much impressed that at the point of departure he held Ahmadu Bello’s hands and gently told him to “please let us forget our differences”.
In response to that emotional but infatuating gesture, Sir Ahmadu Bello said in an equally gentle, baritone voice: “No sir! Rather than forgetting our differences, let us understand them. I am a Muslim from the North. You are a Christian from the South. It is only by identifying and understanding those differences that our friendliness can truly blossom and endure”. There and then, Dr. Azikiwe nodded in agreement with his host’s logic and accepted the fact that one could not forget what has not been identified and understood.
The Lesson to Learn
The lesson to learn from this experience is that of mutual understanding without pretentiously sweeping anything under the carpet. That is the principle upon which the marriage of political strange fellows who find themselves in a joint government is often based in Nigeria. It is also the principle upon which partnership of many Nigerian businessmen and women is based despite their cultural incompatibility. But that principle is not applied to Religion in Nigeria despite the existence of a body called Nigeria Interreligious Council (NIREC). And this is because of easy but dubious access to cheap wealth by certain fraudulent charlatans who are greedily masquerading in the cassock of religion and parading themselves as religious leaders.
Stages of Ignorance
For thousands of years, peoples of all races and tribes across the world thrived vaingloriously on cultural ignorance while attributing their calamities to mysterious forces and blaming such mysteries on what they called witchcraft. In the past, here in Africa, millions of children were forced to die in infancy by their own parents out of sheer ignorance while the same parents turned round to blame what they called ‘ABIKU’ or ‘OGBANJE’ for the mass infanticide which they ignorantly engendered. With time, however, education and knowledge of science brought about the invention of various vaccines with which children were immunized against different diseases thereby giving those infants the opportunity to survive. And this has enabled us to know today that the mystery which we once called ‘ABIKU’ or ‘OGBANJE’ was a euphemism for ignorance in African mythology of those days.
Now that the days of cultural ignorance seem to be over, Nigerians have devised another means of restiveness by shifting to religious ignorance which enables them to replace the infanticide of the yore with modern day genocide through terrorism and banditry. It is hoped that one day, real education and not mere literacy will also help us to overcome the spectre of religious ignorance and propel our country to the progressive pedestal on which she ought to have been dwelling for long.
If it had pleased the Almighty Allah to make all human beings one single race with one colour, one tongue and one religion, He would have done so without receiving any query from any quarters. But as the undisputable Omnipresent and Omnipotent entity, His decision to diversify His creatures cannot be faulted because it is from that diversity that all creatures have consistently derived unfettered benefits. In the world today, there are different races and tribes of human beings with different colours, languages and cultures each functioning as predestined and yet they all interact positively with one another to the benefit of all and sundry. This is in accordance with the words of Allah in Chapter 49 verse 13 of the Qur’an thus: “Oh mankind! We have created you from a male and a female and classified you into races and tribes that you may interact positively with one another (and thereby draw from the advantages therein). Verily, the most honourable among you before Allah are the most pious ones. Allah is All-knowing and most acquainted with all things”.
What is true of human beings in the above quoted Qur’anic verse is equally true of other creatures. For instance we can all see that on a single plot of arable land, a variety of plants may grow to form an orchard but each plant with different foliages and fruits. Some of those fruits may be sweet, some may be bitter and some may be sour. Some may be fruitful and some may be fruitless. Some may be trees of gargantuan posture while others may be ordinary legumes. Yet they are all fed by the same soil, watered by the same rain and photosynthesized by the same sun. Their different foliages, sizes, heights and tastes notwithstanding, they all function effectively and advantageously according to the purpose for which they are created.
In the ecosystem, no tree in an orchard will ever accuse another of bearing fruits different from its own and no animal will blame another for carrying a different feature or for wearing a different colour. No whale will ever denigrate even a fingerling in the ocean for sharing the same water with it. Ditto the world of birds, reptiles, and that of insects. Even as plants, animals, aquatics, reptiles, birds and insects, those creatures know that for everything Allah does He has a reason which may not be known to them as creatures. It is only among human beings that discrimination and segregation exist based on ignorance.
Parable of Religion
We can also compare the above analogy to a situation inside a football stadium where there is a variety of sections such as State Box for the upper class, State Box Extension for the Middle Class and popular side for the lower class. At the entrance of the stadium, each person obtains a ticket according to his or her financial ability which determines his status. And that qualifies him for a seat in any of those sections according to the status of the ticket obtained. Without prejudice to the categories of the tickets they obtain, all the spectators in the stadium are authorised to watch the match for which they have paid. If at the end of the match however, a spectator who was privileged to sit in the State Box turns round to say that another spectator who sat at the popular side of the stadium did not watch the match others around them will sarcastically conclude that something might have gone wrong with the psyche of the accuser. The positions from which those spectators watched the match might be different but the fact remains that they all watched the same match. That is the parable of religion in the lives of individual human beings.
The Mission of Religion
In Islam, all revealed religions are like an embassy established by a nation in another nation to strengthen her diplomatic relation with the host country. The Ambassadors appointed to manage such embassy may be changed from time to time just like the foreign policy which guides those ambassadors but the embassy remains intact barring any unforeseen circumstances. So is the case with the Prophets of Allah. They might have come at different times and from different lands with different tongues. They might have brought different books revealed in different languages but their mission was one and the same because their Creator who appointed them as Ambassadors is only one and He cannot be pluralized.
Muslims believe that all the Prophets and Messengers who have come into the world to guide mankind were from one and the same God who created the universe. Thus, Prophets Ibrahim (Abraham), Ismail (Ishmael) Ishaq (Isaac), Musa (Moses), Daud (David), Isa (Jesus) and Muhammad (SAW) as well as others who preceded them or came in-between them brought the same message of monotheism through which mankind was counselled to worship one God and be upright in conduct.
In Qur’an Chapter 2 verse 285, Allah admonishes Muslims against discriminating among His Apostles thus: “The Apostle of Allah, Muhammad, (SAW) believes in what has been revealed to him by his Lord, and so do all the (Muslim) faithful. They all believe in Allah and His Angels, His Books as well as His Apostles. We do not discriminate against any of His Apostles. They say ‘We hear and obey. Grant us your forgiveness oh Lord! To you we shall all return”.
As a Muslim, you cannot believe in one of those Apostles and disbelieve in others. And you cannot believe in one of the revealed Books while disbelieving in others. That is why no true adherent of Islam will ever express foul language against the person of Jesus or blame the misdemeanour of a Christian on Christianity as some Nigerian Christians do against the person of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and Islam as a religion when they accidentally have an unpleasant encounter with a misbehaving Muslim as if there are no misbehaving Christians in Nigeria. Were Nigerian Muslims also to bring such a disgruntled rivalry into religion especially in their propagations, the country called Nigeria would have probably been long forgotten.
Unity of God
Although the modalities for worshipping God may differ from faith to faith and from sanctuary to sanctuary this does not change the course of their faith in only one God. Thus, the rivalry between Muslims and Christians especially in Nigeria over who is spiritually right or wrong is a product of ignorance.
As taught by Christianity and Islam through their revealed Books respectively, the areas of life that need our cooperation are by far more comprehensive than those in which we differ. For instance, both the Bible and the Qur’an counsel humanity to worship one God. They preach good deeds to neighbours and other fellow human beings publicly and privately, irrespective of religious lineage. They advocate good care for our parents, our children, the aged ones amongst us and the handicapped. They urge kindness to our spouses, forgiveness for our offenders, leniency with our adversaries and magnanimity in victory to the vanquished. They admonish us against cheating and any form of corruption. They forbid theft, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism and above all the killing of fellow human beings extra-judicially for whatever reason. They also warn us against provocation, aggression, oppression, exploitation and transgression even as they emphasize the ephemerality of this world and the eventuality of the hereafter. In all these, we have a common affinity to jointly guard.
The few areas in which we differ are abstract and quite personal. They are not areas on which human beings are given the power to pass judgement. Only the Almighty God can judge on them. Such are the areas which we believe will pave our ways into the Paradise. But since paradise is for individuals and not for religious blocks why are we fighting each other as religious bodies on the basis of belief or disbelief? After all, the journey to Paradise or Hell is a matter of choice for every individual. And no one can tell with precision who will go to Paradise or go to Hell. Such is the prerogative of God which He has not assigned to any human being and which no human being can and should arrogate to himself or herself except one who wants to play God.
Perception of God
As an adherent of a religion, you can only perceive your God according to your faith and that should not cause any rancour between you and adherents of any other religion. As Nigerians, we dwell in the same country, eat the same foods, drink the same water, wear similar dresses, trade in the same markets, share the same offices and spend the same money. Our children attend the same schools, write the same examinations and obtain the same certificates. We intermarry across tribes and ethnicities as well as religions. All these form a stronger bond that ought to unite us much more than the abstract ones which often threaten to tear us apart. In a situation where the factors of life that unite us grossly surpass those that divide us will it not be stupid to relinquish unity and cooperation for the adoption of satanic animosity and ruinous antagonism?
With the official formation of an interfaith group called NIREC, it had been thought that religion in Nigeria would be the last bastion of hope that could pave way for a future of harmony not only in the sphere of religion but also in the social and political spheres as well. But unfortunately that noble thought is now rapidly being turned into an unwarranted despair as the agents of Satan are becoming more aggressively combative against peaceful coexistence just to gain personal ephemeral life in which they would ride in executive jets regale in exclusive mansions to the detriments of the ignorant congregations which they exploit to the marrows all in the name of religion.
It was to guard against such satanic tendencies that a famous American intellectual and Statesman, Williams Webster, coined the following stanza to be added to the archive of modern civilization:
“If we work marble it will perish; if we work upon brass, time will efface it; if we rear temples, they will crumble into dust; but if we work upon immortal minds and instil in them just principles; we are then engraving that upon tablets which no
time can efface but will brighten to eternity”. God Bless Nigeria!