Muslim – Christian Cooperation and Unity

Muslim – Christian Cooperation for Conflict Prevention/Management, Peace Building and Reconciliation in Northern Nigeria

 

 

 

 

 

By

Kabir Hamisu Kura

Executive Director

Community Development Initiative (cdi)

No 11 Sokoto Road, Nassarawa GRA,

P. O. Box 14089, Kano.

E-mail: kabirkura@yahoo.co.uk

GSM: 0803 314 4162, 0808 554 2212

 

 A Presentation during the 2010 Christian and Muslim Leaders Conference on Christian and Muslim Cooperation for Conflict Presentation/Management, Peace Building and Reconciliation. Theme: Christians & Muslims Cooperation for Conflict Prevention/Management, Peace Building and Reconciliation. Organized by Programme for Christian – Muslim Relations in Africa (PROCMURA) Nigeria North Area Committee. Held between 6th and 9th October, 2010 at Jacaranda Conference Centre, Kachia Road, Kano.

 

 

 

Preamble

“Believers’ harbouring hostile feelings to other people who have faith in God is a moral weakness that displeases God, who prohibits all believers from displaying such feelings. He calls on people to establish peace, tolerance and friendship”

We are living in an era in which we desperately need peace, friendship, and solidarity for peaceful coexistence and sustainable development. The tensions and conflicts that so defined the twentieth century continue in this new century, and innocent people all around us continue to suffer from them. Despite the urgent need for solidarity and cooperation, certain circles are perceived to be inciting ethno-religious conflict, particularly between the two greatest and deep-rooted religions (Islam and Christianity). This issue needs to be scrutinized, as the war of religions that they envisage is having disastrous consequences on us. One of the best ways of preventing such a disaster is to strengthen the dialogue and cooperation between these religions. This is not a hard task, as there are no fundamental differences between Islam and Christianity. To the contrary, there is much common ground between them. Considering the current situation and the nature of the problems, we need shared values that will make cooperation necessary for solving the problems, promote understanding, tolerance, conflict prevention/management, peace building, reconciliation and further the cause of a society dominated by morality, happiness, tranquility, security, and prosperity. This can be achieved by forming an alliance of all conscientious people, namely, sincere and religious Muslims and Christians who will come together and unite in this common cause.

Introduction

There are many nations in the world with different colours, creeds, and languages. These differences have been a cause of enmity throughout history. The perceived wisdom is that people can never manage to co-exist and that disputes arise wherever such differences exist. However, this is a great misconception and the facts are otherwise. In fact, it is God in his own infinite mercy that created human beings in different communities and in the Qur’an, he calls all people to peace and security:

God calls to the Abode of Peace and He guides whom He wills to a straight path. (Qur’an, 10:25)

It is a known fact that, in some parts of Northern Nigeria, there have been reoccurring conflicts and disputes between members of the two religions in recent past, and these can be linked to the erroneous reasoning and evil motives of certain states, nations, and individuals who pursued their own economic and political gain instead of the central beliefs and teachings of the two religions (Christianity and Islam). One of the common aims of these divinely revealed religions is to ensure the happiness, security, peace, and tranquility of all people by opposing conflict.

A sincere believer is one who quest for justice, peace, tolerance, and support for all people to attain peaceful coexistence. There is therefore, the need for cooperation and tolerance through dialogue and alliance among us the believers of the two religions. This dialogue and alliance should not be restricted to meetings and conferences alone, but rather put into practice the promotion of unity in diversity between people who advocate common values, fight for the same cause, and seek permanent solutions to common problems.

Manifestations of Ethno-Religious Conflicts in Nigeria

By ethno-religious conflict, it means a situation in which the relationship between members of one ethnic or religious group and another of such group in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society is characterized by lack of cordiality, mutual suspicion and fear, and a tendency towards violent confrontation. In Nigeria, it is interesting to note that ethnicity and religious bigotry have become a fulcrum of various forms of nationalism ranging from assertion of language, cultural autonomy and religious superiority to demands for local political autonomy and self-determination. All these sometimes lead to some forms of contextual discrimination of members of one ethnic or religious group against another on the basis of differentiated systems of socio-cultural symbols and religion.

Therefore, in a multi-ethnic and religiously diverse society like Nigeria, with some forms of contextual discrimination, relationships between people may be characterized by lack of cordiality, mutual suspicion and fear as it is the case among the ethnic and religious groups in Nigeria. In fact, this mutual suspicion and lack of cordiality among the various ethnic components explains why ethno-religious conflicts have become a permanent feature of Nigeria as a nation as far back as 1980s to date.

Thus, before the present democratic experiment in Nigeria, there were ethno-religious conflicts that claimed so many lives and property (Mohammed, 2005). Notable among such crises are the maitatsine religious disturbances in parts of Kano and Maiduguri in the early 1980s; Jimeta-Y ola religious disturbances (1984), and Zango Kataf crises in Kaduna State (1992). Others are Kafanchan College of Education Muslim Christian riots; Kaduna Polytechnic Muslim-Christian skirmishes (19811982); and the Cross vs the Crescent conflict at the University of lbadan (1981-1985). Yet other early ethno-religious conflicts include the Bulumkutu Christian-Muslim riots (1982); Usman Danfodio University Sokoto (1982); and the Muslim-Christian Clash during a Christian procession at Easter in Ilorin, Kwara State (1986).

Against the background provided above, it then means that since a long time ago, many parts of Nigeria have become theatres of war, characterized by an increasing number of ethnic and religious crises. The spate of ethno-religious conflict in Nigeria has however, increased with the birth of Fourth Republic. The frequent occurrence of ethno-religious conflicts with the coming of democracy is due to freedom provided by democratic rule. The first leg of ethnic and religious riots in Nigeria in recent time was in July 1999, when some Oro cultists in Sagamu, in Ogun State accused a Hausa woman of coming out when the cultists were outside with their gnome. This led to some altercations, which eventually led to full-blown crisis. Many people, majorly of Hausa and Yoruba tribes lost their lives. The infamy was however, temporarily put to check only when a dusk to dawn curfew was imposed on the sleepy town of Sagamu. Unfortunately, however, as the infamy was put off in Sagamu, reprisal killings started in Kano, a major Hausa city. As a result, many people died and property worth billions of Naira destroyed. Kano residents of Southern extraction who had lived, all their, adult lives in the ancient city of Kano had to return to their native land to count their losses. When Kano City was settling down for peace, Lagos erupted with another orgy of violence, visibly as a mark of vengeance of the Kano mass killing of the Yoruba tribe men. This time, the O’dua People Congress moved against the Hausa/Fulani traders in the popular ‘mile 12 market’ and for two days, the area was turned to a killing field. Another ethno-religious conflict that left a remarkable mark in Nigeria was the Kaduna/Enugu riots. The root cause of this set of riot was the introduction of the Islamic Legal Code (Sharia) by some goverl}ors of the northern states of Nigeria. Governor Ahmed Yerima of Zamfara State first introduced the Islamic Legal Code in October 1999, which was greeted with pockets of unserious protest. Initially, no many harms were committed as a result of the protests over the introduction of the Sharia code.

However, the hitherto subdue fire was ignited when Governor Mohammed Makarfi of. Kaduna State tried it in February 2000. Because of the deep seated animosities between the Muslims and Christians in Kaduna State in general and the state capital in particular, coupled with the fact that both are almost at par in population, the two went for their swords and many were slained in cold blood.

In the Kaduna riots, the Igbo tribe (a predominantly Christian ethnic group) was mostly affected. However, like the Sagamu incident, and as it should be expected, Enugu and other Igbo cities erupted in violence when many Igbo returned dead and those who were lucky to escape had tails of woe to tell, as they too were targets of attack by the Hausa/Fulani in Kaduna. It is important to note here that the Kaduna/Enugu ethno-religious riots presents some features that look like the prelude to the 1967-1970 civil war in Nigeria. In other words, the riots constituted sufficient force that could lead to a civil war as law and order collapsed in the two areas.

In October, 2000, another ethno-religious conflict occurred. This was the Lagos-(Idi-Araba/Oko-Oba) Kano myhems. The cause of this was the misunderstanding between the Hausa residents and the Yoruba in Idi-Araba in Lagos over the use of a convenience by a Hausa resident, as a result of this misunderstanding many Yoruba residents of the area were killed with bows, arrows and machetes. Responding; the O’ dua People Congress (a Yoruba militia) came into the picture and things worsened. Later, Oko-Oba, another Lagos suburb with a high population of Hausa/Fulani stock joined the fray of madness. The violence later spread to Kano and as expected the southerners were mostly the victims.

In September 2001, the ethnic tension between the Tivs and Iunkuns in Plateau State reached a head after decades of fighting. The September 2001 ethnic tension was caused by what can be called a mistaken identity. What this means is that some Tivs took some nineteen soldiers to be Junkuns but in fake army uniform. The Tivs youths captured them and slaughtered them one by one. The reprisal attack by the men of the Nigerian army in Zaki Biam was devastating. Also in the same month Jos, the Plateau State capital city, joined the madness. The cause of this was the appointment of a Christian as a Local Council Chairman. It is interesting to note that by the time sanity found its way back to the city, more than hundred and sixty (160) lives had been lost in the mayhem.

In the following month of the same year, that is October, 2001, there was another’ mayhem in Kano. This was, however, caused by an international event when some terrorists attached the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in the United State of America. Shortly after the United States launched an offensive against the Taliban government in Afghanistan, Kano erupted with another round of ethno-religious conflict. In this case, some Islamic fundamentalists who felt that the United States of America had no reason to bombard Afghanistan decided to set the city of Kano on fire. Like the earlier crises in the city, the Southern tribes in Nigeria were mostly the victims of the Kano ethno-religious conflict. All the crises events presented above and which occurred before and since the coming of democracy in 1999, remain stark reminders that the conflict hot beas around the country are always steaming and ready to explode at the slighted provocation. From the various examples of ethno religious conflicts cited, it can be seen that there is no sharp distinction between ethnic conflict and religious conflict. What this means is that a Conflict that begins as an ethnic ‘conflict may end up as a religious crisis and vice-versa. This explains why ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria are always devastating in their effects.

 

Causes of Ethno-Religious Conflicts in Nigeria

The events of ethno-religious conflict that have pervaded the country as reported above are also stark reminders that the conflict hotbeds around the country are many and may still be waiting to explode – May Allah prevent it. This shows that, the ethno-religious conflicts are evils that are always around us and which as claimed by Jega (2002:36) tend to always stretch the bounds of unity to a potentially snapping point. The most logical question that arises from the above is what are the causes of these ethno-religious conflicts in Northern Nigeria?

As we have seen so far in this discuss, ethno-religious conflict is distinguished from other types of social conflict in that it involves ethnic groups, which are of different religions. In discussing the causes of ethno religious conflict in Northern Nigeria therefore, it is important to mention at this point that both religious and ethnic factors are present in the majority of social conflicts the Northern Nigerian people have witnessed. Religion and ethnicity as they present themselves in Nigeria have therefore become critical factors in ethno-religious conflict. At different levels and times people experience religious or ethnic discrimination, people complain of past and present religious and ethnic discrimination, people demand for religious or ethnic rights in their state, and more importantly, the state uses religion or ethnicity in political discourse or action. What the above means is that ethno-religious conflict is a multi-causal variable. For effective discussion of the causes of ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria therefore, there is a need to put this into consideration.

A major cause of what we now see as ethno-religious conflicts in Northern Nigeria has to do with the accusations and allegations of neglect, oppression, domination, exploitation, victimization, discrimination, marginalization, nepotism and bigotry. In every nation (Nigeria inclusive), there is no complete agreement on how wealth, power and status are to be shared among individuals and groups. There is also no agreement on how to effect necessary changes and reforms. This is because, different groups and individuals have diverse interests in which case, some groups will have their aims met, while others will not. What this means is that conflict (ethno religious ones inclusive) usually occur when deprived groups and individuals attempt to increase their share of power and wealth or to modify the dominant values, norms, beliefs or ideology. Thus, in Nigeria and going by the various examples of ethno-religious conflicts cited earlier. There seems to be a divisive interplay of politics, ethnicism and religions, which has consequently led to the rising nationalism and militancy of various ethnic and religious movements. It is interesting to note that the overall consequence of this is the escalation of various ethno-religious conflicts that are witnessed all over the country today which are meant to correct any perceived form of marginalization, oppression or domination.

It is important to note here too that the failure of the Nigerian leaders to establish good governments, forge national integration and promote what can be called real economic progress, through deliberate and articulated policies, has led to mass poverty and unemployment. This has resulted into communal, ethnic, religious and class conflicts that have now characterized the Nigerian nation. Poverty and unemployment have therefore served as nursery bed for many ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria because the country now has a reservoir of poor people who warmongers as mercenary fighters. What this means theoretically is that poverty and unemployment increase the number of people who are prepared to kill or be killed for a given course at token benefit. This explains why all ethno-religious crises that ever occurred in Nigeria have a large turnout of people (including the under-aged) as fighters.

A very important cause of ethno-religious conflicts in Northern Nigeria is the breakdown of such vehicles of social control that characterized the traditional African societies such as. the family, education, law, religion and political system that cared for the well-being of ail citizens. Indeed, the malfunctioning of all these important institutions has actually increased ethnic and communal conflicts in Nigeria. For instance, the inability of many homes to make the ends meet with the family income tends to increase immorality, broken fatherless/motherless homes, divorces and drunkenness, leading again to a large reserve of youths who could be employed for execution of ethno-religious conflicts. It is also important to note that the school system in Nigeria today is in shambles and cannot impact even sound knowledge, let alone instill discipline and desired type of morality. The religious institution is also not playing its expected roles, while the law enforcement agents indulge in crimes, demand bribes and collect illegal levies from motorists openly and, shamelessly. All the above constitute a wrong signal to the social and encourage social vices in the society thereby laying the foundation for conflicts in general.

Our security operatives’ orientation tends to encourage and legitimize the use of force and violence as instruments of social change and attainment of set goals and demands. From this, it is customary to see that, the use of coercion and force in settling conflicts has become a tradition in the Nigerian body politics. Strongly related to this is the uncontrolled arms supply, which has quickened the outbreak of; conflicts, and encourage belligerents to go on fighting rather than find peaceful settlement to disputes.

As noticed by Ikejiani Clark (2005) over the years, many events in Nigeria have led to the politicization of mistrust, intolerance, violence and acrimonious relations between the mainly Moslem north and the Christian south of Nigeria. To this extent, Ikejinai-Clark contended that there has been an unfortunate insertion of ethno-religious discrimination and incompatibility in the structures of the Nigerian State since the colonial period. In 1931 for instance, the colonial administration under the leadership of Governor Donald Cameroun did not encourage intermingling of religions. An advice given by the governor is indicative of this. The Governor advised the Christian missions to thread softly in Moslem areas so as to maintain the stability of indirect rule. The political events of the January 15, 1966 coup and the July 1966 counter-coup further entrenched ethno-religious configuration in Nigeria. This is because the killings and counter-killing that follow the coups which took ethnic and religious colorations as the Muslim dominated tribes in the north were set against the Christian dominated tribes of the southern region.

Islam and the Promotion of Peace

Islam, a religion of peace, tolerance and acceptance, requires believers to treat all people with justice and respect. Devout Muslims are tolerant, forgiving, modest, understanding, gentle, genuine, and honest. In fact, God commands them to be just even when it is not in their own interests or those of their families to be so; to feed orphans and prisoners of war first, even if they are hungry themselves; and to be selfless, patient, and firm in virtue. Such Muslims are far more accepting of non-Muslims, for they know that compulsion is disallowed in religion. When dealing with non-Muslims, they do their best to show the way to the right path, address the other person’s conscience, and become the means of this person’s acceptance of a virtuous life, which is only possible if God grants him or her faith.

It is a known fact that, throughout Islamic history, the People of the Book have been always treated with tolerance in Muslim societies. This was particularly evident in the Ottoman Empire. It is a well known fact that the Jews, whose rights were denied and were exiled by the Catholic Kingdom of Spain, took refuge in the lands of the Ottoman Empire. When Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror captured Istanbul, he granted both Christians and Jews all their fundamental rights. Throughout Ottoman history, Jews were regarded as a People of the Book and enjoyed peaceful coexistence with Muslims.

Non-Muslims in the Period of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

When we examine the relations of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) with the people of the Book during the first years of Islam, we see that he co-operated with Christians. When Muslims were subjected to cruelty by pagans in Mecca, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) told them to migrate to Ethiopia, a place where Christians lived at that time. King Negus, the Christian ruler of that country, accepted the migrant Muslims and protected them against oppression.

The Qur’an also gives the example of Jesus’s disciples to other believers for their loyalty to God and His messenger. There are also striking similarities between the first Muslims and the first Christians.

The tolerant attitude adopted by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) towards Jewish communities also sets a good example for all believers. During the period of the Constitution of Medina, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) treated Jews kindly and tolerantly. He encouraged that there be co-operation, counseling and goodness between Muslims and Jews. Indeed, this was put into practice in daily life. This just and tolerant attitude of the Prophet (pbuh) surely applied to all people from all religions and races. Despite treachery, attacks and plots, the Prophet (pbuh) always forgave the perpetrators in compliance with the verse “those who pardon other people” (Qur’an, 3:134). And as the verse suggests, “Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and kindly instruction, and discuss (things) with them in the politest manner…” (Qur’an, 16:125), he always summoned people to Islam with gracious advice.

Recommendations

In view of the aforementioned, It is my sincere hope that this forum with Allah’s guidance and help achieve lasting peace and peaceful coexistance in Northern Nigeria and by extension Nigeria. I therefore offer the following recommendations:

  • Need for more integrated and articulated programmes of conflict prevention. Such programmes should be able to effectively resolve and prevent ethno-religious conflict as the case may be. Emphasis should be on Early Warning Signals (EWS) monitoring and detection.
  • Encourage the formation of effective and functional platforms like PROCMURA for ethno-religious leaders so that through them it would be possible to establish a network for conflict prevention and management at the grass root.
  • The youth and in particular in school and out of school should be targeted education and sensitization on conflict prevention/management, peace building and reconciliation.
  • Media sensitization for wider societal reach.

 

Conclusion

Given the deplorable state of Northern Nigeria in development indices, Muslims and Christians have opportunities to engage in programs that will alleviate poverty, advance the freedom of the citizens of the country. The dialogue of action is an important means of curbing religious violence in Nigeria. Both Islam and Christianity preach peace, social justice, and charity.

In both the Muslim and Christian tradition, there exist a deep spiritual heritage. Dialogue can exist at this level. Muslims and Christians can share their religious and mystical experiences with each other. Muslims can learn from Christians as well as Christians learning from Muslims. This will help to clarify the false positions held by both Muslims and Christians.

Muslim – Christian relations in Nigeria is a very complex set of relations given the many Islamic and Christian sects in Nigeria. The history of the country as well as the history of the religious groups is complicated. This discuss is in no way exhaustive but a reflection on some of the major events in the history as well as the major issues involved in a discussion of Muslim – Christian relations in Northern Nigeria.

Muslims have an honourable past with justice, mercy, tolerance, compassion, conscience displayed and the noble values they possessed. A God fearing Muslim avoids all kinds of behaviour which will not be pleasing to Allah. The social life marked by peace and tolerance during the administration of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the caliphs succeeding him and other Muslim administrators, depended on commitment to the Qur’an. There is therefore, nothing to prevent the Muslims of today drawing lessons from past experiences and re-establishing cooperation, peace building, conflict prevention and reconciliation for peaceful coexistence brothers and sisters whom God created and put an end to cruelty and promote unity.

LET’S STOP TALKING ALONE, BUT RATHER WORK THE TALK

SAND AND STONE

TWO FRIENDS WERE WALKING

THROUGH THE DESERT.

DURING SOME POINT OF THE

JOURNEY, THEY HAD AN

ARGUMENT; AND ONE FRIEND

SLAPPED THE OTHER ONE

IN THE FACE.

THE ONE WHO GOT SLAPPED

WAS HURT, BUT WITHOUT

SAYING ANYTHING,

WROTE IN THE SAND:

TODAY MY BEST FRIEND

SLAPPED ME IN THE FACE.

THEY KEPT ON WALKING,

UNTIL THEY FOUND AN OASIS,

WHERE THEY DECIDED

TO TAKE A BATH

THE ONE WHO HAD BEEN

SLAPPED GOT STUCK IN THE

MIRE ! AND STARTED DROWNING,

BUT THE FRIEND SAVED HIM.

AFTER HE RECOVERED FROM

THE NEAR DROWNING,

HE WROTE ON A STONE:

“TODAY MY BEST FRIEND

SAVED MY LIFE “.

THE FRIEND WHO HAD SLAPPED

AND SAVED HIS BEST FRIEND

ASKED HIM, “AFTER I HURT YOU,

YOU WROTE IN THE SAND AND NOW,

YOU WRITE ON A STONE, WHY?”

THE FRIEND REPLIED

“WHEN SOMEONE HURTS US

WE SHOULD WRITE IT DOWN

IN SAND, WHERE WINDS OF

FORGIVENESS CAN ERASE IT AWAY.

BUT, WHEN SOMEONE DOES

SOMETHING GOOD FOR US,

WE MUST ENGRAVE IT IN STONE

WHERE NO WIND

CAN EVER ERASE IT.”

LEARN TO WRITE

YOUR HURTS IN

THE SAND AND TO

CARVE YOUR

BENEFITS IN STONE.

THEY SAY IT TAKES A

MINUTE TO FIND A SPECIAL

PERSON,AN HOUR TO

APPRECIATE THEM,A DAY

TO LOVE THEM,BUT THEN

AN ENTIRE LIFE

TO FORGET THEM.

TAKE THE TIME TO LIVE!

DO NOT VALUE THE THINGS

YOU HAVE IN YOUR LIFE, BUT VALUE

WHO YOU HAVE IN YOUR LIFE!

“Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”