Rev. Fr.  Dr. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua

Director: Mission and Dialogue

Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja

When I was studying philosophy, I read some Western Philosophers who claimed that Africans have no intellectual capacity to comprehend and understand the concept of the divine transcendence. Some went further to say that Africans have no souls therefore they may not be able to understand the value of the human person. What a contradiction to the faith of Africans who are known to be “God conscious” and deeply religious! Now I am beginning to wonder if we are not attempting to prove these philosophers right, given the way and manner life is being wasted inNigeriatoday. If we really have the capacity for God and actually, believe in the God of love, justice and peace, then we should be able to prove our faith in actions. It is not enough to go to our various houses of worship to pray whereas our actions contradict our piety. I do not know if God answers the petition for energy and wits to kill fellow human beings? I need to be enlightened by those who may let blood flow like a river in God’s name.

The compass is now turning towards dialogue in Nigeriaas one of the efforts to put an end to violence and terrorism. The question is: “what form of dialogue are we talking about here”? Is it dialogue of action, dialogue of religious experience, dialogue of social engagement or dialogue of theological exchange? Whatever form of dialogue it is that has become a subject of this clarion call; we need to begin with the clarification of the concept: “GOD”. What does God mean to each partner in dialogue? Is the God affirmed in Christianity, different from the God affirmed in Judaism, Islam and Traditional Religions? Is the concept of God the same for Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals and Pentecostals? Is the Concept of God the same for all the sects in Islam: the Sunnites, Kharijites (Ibadiyya), Shites (Isma’iliyya), Sufis, Wahhabiyya, Muslim brotherhood, Ahmadiyyah etc? This question is important because in Judaism as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, Saul thought that he was doing God’s work by persecuting and killing Christians until he got the correct concept of God by divine illumination on his way toDamascus to kill Christians. This divine illumination converted Saul to become Paul the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9). The founder of the Islamic Wahhabi sect, ‘Abd al-Wahhab, introduced the war cry of the Wahhabis: “Kill and strangle all infidels who give companions to Allah.”  On the day of battle, he gave each soldier a letter addressed to the Treasurer of Paradise.  It was enclosed in a bag which the warrior suspended from his neck.  The soldier believed that by dying in battle he would go straight toParadise, without being examined by the angels Munkar and Nakir. Many Iranian Wahabis still believe in this teaching.

Today, it is presumed that almost all religions believe in the existence of one God who created heaven, earth, human beings and all that exist. The same God is the God of life and judgment; the same God who created the heaven for all righteous people to behold his face on the last day. Sometimes I wonder if some people still believe in heaven or hell! Though the oneness of God is affirmed by many people, the concept and how some people relate to God is quite different. The name: “God” has gone through a lot of evolution. Since he is a pure spirit, it took ages for the human mind to arrive at the concept of one God as we believe today. Before the call of Abraham, the whole world believed in the existence of many gods. In the Bible, the book of Joshua reports that Yahweh the God of Israel says- this, “In ancient days your ancestors lived beyond the River such was Terah the father of Abraham and of Nahor and they served other gods” (Joshua 24,2). The Holy Qur’an testifies to this as follows: (Also) mention in the book (The story of) Abraham: He was a man of truth. A prophet: Behold he said to his father; “O my father! Why worship that which heareth not and seeth not, and can profit thee nothing” (Suratul Maryam 41- 42).

The names of God in Hebrew underwent a development from polytheism to monotheism. The name originates from El, Elohim to Yahweh. El was known and adored outside Israel. As a common name, it designates the divinity in almost the whole Semitic world. El qualifies what God was in Israel. El Elyon was the God of Melchizedech King of Salem. This El was treated identically with the God of Abraham (Genesis 14, 20). From El, the people of Israel arrived at Elohim, El olam and El Shaddai meaning God almighty (Genesis 17, 1). This was the God revealed to Abraham. Yahweh is the sacred name of God that was revealed to Moses in the burning bush: “I AM WHO I AM”. The people of Israel preferred to call God Lord, Adonai out of respect for the sacred name Yahweh.Before the call of the prophet Muhammad (SAW), the name of God in Arabic Allah came from the root Al ilah meaning “the God”. Allah was used to indicate the chief God of the Kabah before Muhammad’s time. Allah was also used for the Supreme Being. Other gods were also worshipped by the Arabs. The Qu’ran mentions three goddesses, Al lat, Al Uzza, and Al Manat, representing the sun, the planet Venus and fortune. According to Goeffrey Parrinder (1957), the Meccans called these goddesses daughters of Allah. Carleton S. Coon (1944) is of the view that “the god” was referred to as il or illah”: “This was originally a phase of the Moon God, but early in Arabian history the name became a general term for God, and it was this name that the Hebrews used prominently in their personal names, such as Israel. Under Mohammed’s tutelage, the relatively anonymous Ilah became Al-Ilah, The God, or Allâh, the Supreme Being”.

In Etsako, God is called Osinegba. The root of this name is Osi meaning the transcendent being. From a point in time the African people believed in a Supreme Being who is a pure spirit. Since they are not able to see him they thought they could reach him through the created things. Today the traditional worshippers worship one God except that they call upon Him through the divinities and ancestors. God remain one despite our different concepts and different names: Yahweh, Deo, Allah, Theos, Abasi, Osinegba, Ubangiji, Chineke, Chukwu, Oghene, Osenobulua, Osanobua, Tamarau, etc. But the big question lingers: “Is your concept of God a divine violence or divine peace”? If God for you is the God of war, I may let you know that my concept of God is a divine transcendence that is so powerful to the extent that he does not need a human being to defend him or kill for him through any form of jihad or crusade. Perhaps we can begin with dialogue of religious experience, namely the operations and actions of God in the life of each individual. At the end of the day, we may discover that all the killings that have been attributed to religion in God’s name have various reasons other than victory for God. May the God of mercy and compassion guide us to the way of peace!