Communiqué of Plateau Roundtable Discussion on the topic, Religious Freedom: Christian & Muslim Perspectives, organised in Jos, Plateau State, on December 12, 2013 by Carefronting Nigeria.

COMMUNIQUÉ

Communiqué of Plateau Roundtable Discussion on the topic, Religious Freedom: Christian & Muslim Perspectives, organised in Jos, Plateau State, on December 12, 2013 by Carefronting Nigeria.

Introduction

Carefronting Nigeria, in collaboration with Freedom House, convened the Plateau Roundtable Discussion Forum on the topic, Religious Freedom: Christian and Muslim Perspectives, on Thursday, December 12, 2013 at the Nana Country Home Hotel, Tudun Wada, Jos; with two eminent religious leaders presenting papers.

Secretary General of Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), Dr Khalid Abubakar Aliyu, presented a paper on the Islamic perspective of Religious Freedom, while Catholic Archbishop of Jos, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama presented a paper on the Christian perspective.

The two directly addressed a roundtable of civil society and rights activists, students, youths from different parts of Jos, government officials, religious leaders, representatives of religious groups and a crop of national newspaper and electronic media correspondents based in Plateau State. This communiqué is a summation of the points the resource persons raised in their researched papers, their responses to questions asked by other members of the roundtable, and the personal views expressed by those other members of the roundtable.   

Observations

Religion is God’s gift to man which instils humaneness in him and makes him able to appreciate life and the greatness of God.

Religion which spices up the life of a true adherent is misunderstood by many and abused also by many.

Misapplication of religion by its managers, adherents, and other hidden interests, and giving it religious colouration that has nothing to do with the religion, is the serious problem religion faces around the world today.

Applying freedom in ways that counter other people’s freedom is also often a cause of avoidable friction between members of the two major religions: Christianity & Islam.

Unless things are put in their proper perspectives and misapplication of religion and freedom to practice it is corrected, religion will continue to be implicated for no fault of it.  

Killing and maiming ‘others’ in the name of defending ‘our religious interests’ has sadly become common in Nigeria 

Although leaders and adherents of religion exist who are faithful to the tenets of their religions, a huge number exist too who can correctly be described as people of religion who are not religious. 

Freedom of religion involves liberty to religious practices, right to own or use places of worship, and right to propagate religion through peaceful and constitutionally guaranteed ways.

Islam recognises that God does not create everyone to practice the same religion and so abhors compulsion and appreciates that people should be allowed their freedom to hold beliefs of their own

According to the Qur’an (10:99), “If your Lord had so willed (and, denying them free-will, compelled humankind to believe), all who are on the earth would surely have believed, all of them, would you then force people until they become believers?”

An English commentator of the Qu’ran, Abdallah Yusuf Ali, says men of faith must contend tolerably with unfaith and must resist the temptation of forcing faith (imposing it on others by physical compulsion), as forced faith is no faith.

Religion, according to Islam, is to be left to the discretion of an individual, as indicated in Qu’ran 2:256, “Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error.”

Islam is not only concerned about rights, it is concerned about responsibilities too; thus anything that betrays the natural laws of God is against divine freedom; it therefore prohibits lesbianism, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage. 
  
Muslims and Christians are not at war anywhere; it’s certain hidden interests: economic, social or political, that are at play

Nobody has right to declare fatwa of death on anyone who renounces his faith

Pilgrimage requires only those with resources; it is political campaign for governors to sponsor pilgrimages.

Religion has to be a way of life; it is the only way Muslims can live the principles of Islam, without which it is impossible to be a Muslim.

Much strife is caused by accidental imams and pastors who misinterpret holy books, and people who do not know what their religion means but find their way to pulpits to deceive the ignorant many that they ‘lead’.

Religious freedom does not offer a license for intolerant behaviour, as one’s freedom is limited by the freedom of others.

Jesus showed example of religious freedom by bearing witness to the truth but refusing to impose the truth on those who spoke against it.

St Paul used persuasion and principle of accommodation rather than coercion, and would say about his witnessing, “To the Jews, I became like a Jew… (I Corr 9:20-21).

As a practical application of the principle of religious freedom, the Catholic Church no longer claims that outside of the Church there is no salvation, nor promotes a Catholic state as the ideal political order. 

All Christians are called to spread the gospel to all men and women, but it is expected to be done not by coercion but through peaceful witnessing.

Freedom of religion is fundamental if democracy is to thrive in any society.

Freedom of religion built on religious tolerance is foundational to peaceful co-existence
  
In parts of Nigeria where African traditional religious practice is strong, juju or masquerades infringe on the rights of women and children who have to be hidden because they must not see the masquerades.

There is growing sound pollution by flagrant use of public address system in the name of preaching or prayers, violating the rights of people of different faiths not inclined to the ‘noise’.

The emergence of the likes of Boko Haram represents a phase of religious distrust created by minority dissident groups claiming intent to Islamise Nigeria and eager to kill religious freedom 

Happily, forceful Islamisation of Nigeria is not the view of most Nigerian Muslims who see Boko Haram as fanatical and does not represent Islam.

Recommendations

Religion is used, because of its vulnerability, to pursue hidden interests; and this will continue till the wolves among religious leaders are separated from the sheep; this is something that should be done and done quickly

For sake of objectivity and fairness, religion should not be judged based on the wrong actions of a few adherents who choose to be extremists 

Religious freedom is a fundamental human right which must be recognised for all and considered by all to be sacred.

Everyone has the right to freedom of religion, including the freedom to change one’s religion or not to have religion at all. The public should understand and accept this.

The danger of abuse of religious freedom makes it incumbent on government to protect society from such abuse and uphold public order.

Hostility to people who convert from Christianity to Islam or from Islam to Christianity need to be discouraged as it is a common breach of religious freedom around Nigeria.

Insistence on conversion at the point of marriage between people of different faiths, another practice that is common and which mostly affects women, violates religious freedom and needs to be shunned.

Imposition of traditional religion on heirs to royal thrones if such heirs are to posses their inheritance by becoming the next king is a harm being done to religious freedom which requires a redress.

Authorities among ethnic groups and of units of government where people are marginalised on religious grounds owe religious freedom a duty to effect changes.

Intolerance to religious differences which has crept into the armed forces and displayed even in fields where security personnel are deployed to stop violence is a dangerous trend that leadership of the armed forces must address.

The practice in many states where public fund is spent yearly to sponsor pilgrimages in ways that impact undue favour to people in majority religions requires urgent review.

Partiality in admission to schools and employment into offices that deny minority religious groups their right to fair consideration should not continue.

Government and religious leaders must do more to prevent violent conflicts which polarise communities along religious lines and curtail the freedom of people of a particular faith in communities occupied majorly by people of another faith.

Nigerians need to be indoctrinated against the few selfish ‘religious leaders’ who manipulate religion to start and fuel acts of violence.

Even in cases of apparent unpremeditated religious conflict, Nigerians need to be indoctrinated to exchange violence for negotiation, confrontation for dialogue, and fire arms for handshakes.

All those who believe should prove their belief by living true to God’s exhortation that His plan is for peace and not war (Jeremiah 29:11)

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) have the reconciliatory privilege to unite Christians and Muslims; they should utilise that privilege to edify Nigeria and desist from rushing to defend their members even when such members are indefensible.

Working together, CAN, JNI, and the Nigeria Inter-religious Council (NIREC) should lead the way to inter-religious harmony and a more peaceful Nigeria.