The National Missioner of Ansar-Ud-Deen Society of Nigeria, Sheikh AbdurRahman Ahmad had a chat with Muslim News on the sidelines of the Year 2021 Inter-faith parley on the significance of Inter-faith gatherings in a multi-religious country like Nigeria, among other related issues. Excerpts….
MN: Why the need for inter-faith parley/dialogue, especially in a country like Nigeria?
Well, Allah (SWT) has made it very clear to us in the Glorious Qur’an. “If Allah so willed, He would have made all of you a single community”, Surah Nahl, verse 93. Allah’s design is that we’ll be pluralistic and multi-faith. For as long as the world remains, there will probably be Muslims, Christians and those who do not even believe in God. You know, at some other levels we need to relate, we need to find commonalities among us and work on the basis of that. We need to understand the differences between us so that we will be able to respect one another and create harmony.
In fact, even Allah (SWT) has encouraged us to do this; to find what are the commonalities between us, what are the differences. He said, “….come to a word common between us and between you, that we worship none but Allah, that we associate nothing with Him and that some of us do not take others as Lords instead of Allah.” Qur’an 3: 64.
Allah (SWT) didn’t say we should forget our differences. He says we should know our differences, acknowledge them, respect them and look at how we could work together.
What will not be acceptable is what we call ‘Wahdatul Adyaan’, the unification of all religions. Islam does not approve of this and Allah has told us that this is not acceptable. It was a proposal by the Makkans and it was rejected. That’s why Surah Kafirun (109) of the Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (SAW). But in terms of living together, co-exisiting in peace, knowing our boundaries and respecting them, promoting communal peace, we can relate at the level of interfaith. Since we cannot deny the reality of the fact that our faiths are different.
MN: Narrowing it down to this event (year 2021 Inter-Faith Parley), what’s the significance?
We live in this country and a state like Lagos where we have so many things that bring us together. We live in the same city of Lagos. We are part of the people, we have a common government and are all expected to make inputs into the government. So, our coming together is to help government minimize the possibility of conflicting positions. By meeting, we’ll harmonise our positions; we’ll give what is due to the Christians to them; and what is due Muslims to Muslims. The incidence of unhealthy rivalry will be minimised. This is a way of fostering religious harmony.
Religious harmony does not mean that as an Imam, I’d starting attending church. It doesn’t mean that. It means that, people have made choices, I respect their choices and they should respect mine too. I dress in a certain way that perhaps others who are not Muslims or people who are Muslims may not necessarily agree with, but let them accept that I have a right to dress like that and it doesn’t disturb anything or create a disequilibrium.
That, when I manifest my religious identity, it is not an affront to anyone; I am not breaking any rule. It’s part of my rights as a person to assert my religion and other identities. These are some of the reasons parleys like this are important. As religious people, we can jointly make inputs into government policies, such that government policies do not become irreligious or anti-religious.
MN: Some believe that the main agenda behind this gathering is to address the roles played by the youths during #EndSARS, going by the thrust of the discussions here today. How do you react to this?
In all fairness, that would not be true. This would not be the first time that Muslim and Christian leaders will be gathering to discuss issues of common concern. For instance, security is a matter of common concern. When there is insecurity, it doesn’t discriminate between faith or ethnicity or gender or age group or social status. So, it is something that affects us both and we can discuss it and find a way out of it. Religious leaders on the Muslim and Christian sides, I must say are people of integrity, whose integrity is not for sale. The rising insecurity in this country, especially in the city of Lagos, in traffic, at home is a matter of concern that we need to take joint action and joint understanding for the government to be able to function effectively. This is not about #EndSARS. But if issues pertaining to #EndSARS are discussed, it is because it is also something of concern to all of us.
MN: Why is there incessant molestation of female Muslims over their use of the Hijab by non-Muslims when there exist interfaith bodies?
On Hijab molestation, dialogue is an ongoing thing. It is not concluded the way it is started. We have been in dialogue with government and it has been very sincere and uncompromising, insisting that Muslims have a right to manifest their religious belief and identity. This is something that is even guaranteed in the constitution. Even if the constitution does not guarantee it, we would have rejected it because it is our God-given right and we must assert it.
Parleys like this will give us the opportunity to bring to the notice of government the fact that some of its agents are in flagrant violation of the constitution and the agreement that we have reached with the government overtime.
For instance, we have reached an agreement with the government that anything pertaining to religion must be referred to various religious leaders. For particular reference, if a Masjid (mosque) has committed an infraction of a building regulation, government should not just go in and demolish the masjid. They must involve religious leaders so that we should see other means of settling the issue within the law, rather than for government to be seen directly taking action which could be misunderstood.
People are entitled to their opinions which may not necessarily be informed. This is not about pampering or praise-singing the government. It is an opportunity to tell the government the home truth without being disruptive.
MN: What are your expectations from government at all levels?
Well, generally, government exists to satisfy people’s demands on the widest possible scale. Demands for wellbeing, security, economic development, jobs, health, good roads, other social infrastructures. Particularly, I’m emphasising the need for security which is the greatest challenge that we have today in this country.
I and other religious leaders expect the government to do much more. It is not our business to listen to the complaints of government of being overwhelmed. Of course, that’s why they took the job. But then, it will be wrong of us if they seek our cooperation, support, and we turn it down. That is what we are doing right now. Government is enlisting our support to address the issue of insecurity bedevilling us. So, that’s number one.
We expect the government to be accessible to the people. They should open helpline desks and so on so that people may be able to talk to them and they’ll take action in addition to what they are already doing.
We have told the Governor that, even if he needs to post a Director or two or some people to take calls if he couldn’t do that himself. We know that Governors are overwhelmed by all kinds of messages that some of them don’t read and they cannot even cope with. But they should get someone to help them read these messages and bring it to their notice, so that the ones requiring urgent actions can be addressed.
We are also expecting the government to know that there is a lot of hunger in the land. Prices of basic commodities are swelling by the day. People are out of jobs. They are hungry; they are angry. Every day brings its own challenges. Government must also be sensitive to this, particularly, this is not the time to further increase the economic burden on the people. They are already burdened. In fact, they are overburdened. Increase in prices of government services, basic necessities will only add more to the frustration and suffering of the masses. These are some of our expectations from the government and they are very basic indeed. Fix the roads, fix security, don’t increase prices, especially foodstuff and basic amenities, address the escalating tension in the land.
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