‘Beyond dialogue and tolerance, we must actualize religious values’

Prof. Muhammed Tabiu of the Faculty of Law, Bayero University Kano, speaks on how to ensure sooperation and understanding among Muslims and Christians at the interfaith mini conference organised by the Jamaat Nasril Islam, recently, excerpts;

In the face of the insecurity, and social and political crises that Nigeria faces, what is the responsibility of Muslim and Christian leaders?0

By leaders, we talk about this in the wider sense – religious leaders primarily, but also political leaders, government leaders, traditional leaders, community leaders, civil society leaders, all such leaders who are Muslim or Christian, the common denominator being their belief in religion and its essential relevance to their life.

Whenever I say Christian and Muslim leaders here I mean leadership in this inclusive sense. My reason for being inclusive in my reference to leaders and their role in resolving Nigeria’s crisis is the nature of the problem we are discussing – the responsibility of leaders who are Muslims and Christians in the critical situation in which our country has found itself. It should be obvious that it is a problem that cannot be addressed and resolved by religious leaders alone, even though by their calling, the Malamai and the Christian clergy should play a significant role.

It is a problem that calls for the concerted efforts of all Muslims and Christians who are in a position of leadership. Christian and Muslim leaders have a duty, guided by the values of religion, to give effective leadership in resolving the crises that our nation faces, and to do so by joining together in unity and cooperation.

There may not be much dispute in the first arm of my proposition – that our leaders must give leadership is almost a tautology. However, the second arm of my proposition is likely to be a bone of contention, if not in theory, but in practice.

That is where I said Muslim and Christian leaders have a duty to join hands and work in cooperation. Yet it should be obvious when we probe deeper that a condition for effectively leading Nigeria out of its current predicaments does call for joining of hands between Muslim and Christian leaders, because Muslim leaders can’t do it alone, just as Christian leaders can’t do it alone. Christian and Muslim joint leadership and action to rescue Nigeria from its current predicaments is an essential requirement for success

Why the need for understanding and cooperation?

The starting point to addressing the problem is to acknowledge the huge gap that exists between the necessity for the two groups of leaders to work jointly and in cooperation as Muslims and Christians, on the one hand, and the actual facts and practices, on the other.

In the various arenas of crises in Nigeria, it is not cooperative leadership to promote religious values that we see. While we do see cooperative leadership quite often, but it is in situations where religious values are the least consideration. And in many other situations where we find religious consciousness, cooperation and collaboration are lacking, as the leaders from the two religions engage more in conflict and distrust than in united and cooperative action.

In many instances, fueling distrust and discord is perceived as an essential ingredient of religious leadership. Inducing cooperation and collaboration between Nigerian Muslim and Christian leaders to resolve Nigeria’s problems is therefore a challenging proposition.

However, considering the representative character of participants at the interfaith meeting in Abuja, and the exemplary and high quality leadership it enjoys from their Eminence the  Sultan Muhammad Saad Abubakar and Cardinal Onaiyekan, who are an outstanding example of Muslim-Christian cooperative leadership, I am optimistic that the meeting is the right occasion to develop a full agenda for filling that yawning gap between the necessity for Muslim-Christian cooperation and actually achieving it.

How can this be achieved?

We need to undertake the agenda setting role. Let us set the agenda about effective leadership cooperation between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria based on the values of our religions. As will propose the following issues that I hope could serve as a broad guide for producing the agenda.

Let there be full realization of the need to take joint and cooperative leadership responsibility. Currently there is not much realization that cooperative and collaborative leadership based on our religious values is essential. Yet the incentive for such realization is there all around us. For how long shall we continue to identify ourselves as Christians and Muslims and do so with any sense of pride when we daily see the value of human life and human dignity continuously violated?

Here I mean the carnage and massacre that take place around us – on the plateau, in Borno and Yobe, Southern Kaduna, Benue, Nassarawa and so on. For how long can we watch human beings being slaughtered in hundreds, whether by insurgents, or by communal and religious bigots or indeed by the security agents of the State – recurrent negation of the compassion and humaneness that we stand for as religious people?

Shouldn’t the recurrent contradiction that is enacted before us propel us into action – the contradiction between our sense of religiosity and the prevailing atmosphere of violence and destruction, of corruption and injustice, of human suffering and destitution?

The daily experience of this unsettling contradiction should be our first incentive for action. The second incentive for action is the question the crises must raise again and again in our minds – will not all this violence and destruction one day engulf all of us?

How do we assure ourselves that we and our families and our loved ones are immune? The third incentive for action is that as religious people we are not helpless. Our religions have equipped us with the values, knowledge and skills and guidance to change the situation. I know for example that a Muslim believer cannot be a helpless on-looker to violence and corruption. The Prophet (PBUH) has said – ‘whoever sees wrong among you should change it – with his hand, his word or his heart, the last being sign of weak faith’. I presume there is similar call to action against violence, corruption and injustice in the Christian religion. What bigger wrong deserving of action for change can there be than the situation today in our country?

The fourth incentive for action is that we are not materially incapacitated – we can mobilize the human and other resources that are needed to change the situation. Nigeria is a well endowed nation. It has huge human and material resources – all of them in the control and disposal of the Muslim and Christian leaders. Given the will, there are enough resources to combat and stop violence, to redress injustices, to roll back poverty, to alleviate the human suffering.

What then is lacking sir?

Is it the will and the faith to do what is right? Is what is lacking the sense of sacrifice – the fear not to give up our comfort and privileges? Is what is lacking the sense of doing what is right and just? Is it that we cannot see the iniquity that surrounds us, or we lack the foresight to perceive the danger to our lives, our values and our convictions? Can we afford to admit that we lack the will and faith, we lack a sense of sacrifice, justice and foresight? If religiously guided and motivated leaders (Muslims and Christians) lack these values and these competencies, then we are totally lost – who else can have them – the politicians?

The first issue in this agenda setting discussion is therefore the question – how do we induce the full realization of the need for Christian and Muslim leaders, guided by their religious conscience, to take cooperative and joint responsibility for rescuing Nigeria from its present predicament? Religious leaders must give proper guidance to themselves and their followers.

If there is not much realization for the need for cooperation and collaboration among the leaders, how could we expect it to be prevalent among the followers? This is the second issue for the agenda setting discussion – how do Muslim and Christian leaders, guide Muslims and Christians to learn to cooperate and work together, inspired by religious values, for resolving Nigeria’s crises? That the two religions must accept and respect each other, not to talk of cooperate and collaborate is an issue over which there is considerable confusion and doubt among both leaders and followers.

We must admit that currently, the way and manner many Muslim scholars and Christian priests teach and guide their followers does not encourage equitable and peaceful coexistence, not to talk of cooperation and collaboration. We seem unable to clarify our rights and duties as citizens of Nigeria, a multi-religious and multi-cultural nation.

It seems there are among both Christians and Muslims many who doubt the Nigerian enterprise and who don’t feel any qualms in undermining it by sowing seeds of discord and conflict. How else do you explain the fiery hate speeches that come from the mouths of some of our religious leaders?

How else do you explain some of the divisive tactics of our political leaders, who are Muslim or Christian? People who are skeptical about Nigeria as a nation may have their various reasons. Some may resent how Nigeria came to be created, or may harbor bigoted religious ideas that admit of no peaceful coexistence or cooperation, or nurse grievances about past injustices (real, imagined or orchestrated) suffered by their ancestors, or be victims of the current prevailing injustices.

Whatever the reasons, it is the duty of the leadership to search for solutions – religion always has solutions that promote peace, justice and human wellbeing. Sources of bigotry should be continuously identified and addressed, and the true teachings of religion clarified, current injustices must be redressed. As for grievances about bygone historical incidences, we must learn to forgive, reconcile and draw a line, so that the nation can make progress and is not continuously weighed down by the past.

How do leaders lead and guide their followers to accept peaceful coexistence and practice cooperation?

This is by engaging in meaningful and beneficial dialogue. The third issue is dialogue – how do the religious leaders engage in the meaningful and beneficial dialogue that is essential to peaceful coexistence, understanding and collaboration in enhancing the role of religious values in resolving the national crises? Such dialogue can only happen when there is the appropriate environment for it, where peaceful and beneficial conversation can take place, guided by the high values of religion.

This cannot happen if we do not accept and abide by the ethics of dialogue, which include mutual respect, ability to listen to each other and to understand each other, to know where we agree and where we differ and how we can coexist with our differences without having to condemn and slaughter each other. It should be a conversation that is devoid of threat of violence, intimidation or ridicule, where all sides eschew bigotry and self-righteousness.

Going by what currently usually happens, creating this environment is not going to be easy. What we are used to is quite the opposite, intimidating and trying to shut up each other. We prefer to play the power game to overawe and intimidate.

Moreover, both Islam and Christianity being proselytizing religions, accepting to dialogue in an atmosphere of mutual respect and consideration is quite a challenge. But the guidance from the Qur’an in Sura 3:65 and other related verses is quite clear, we should start by identifying common grounds.

If religion is to play the role that we envisage in Nigeria it is difficult to imagine how it can do so in the current atmosphere of mutual rejection, suspicion and competition for worldly power between Muslim and Christian leaderships.

There must be a better environment for communication, dialogue and identification of common interests. Dialogue for peaceful coexistence should however only be the beginning. To effectively deal with the crises that engulfs our nation, we must be able to go beyond dialogue and tolerant coexistence. We must reach the point where we actualize religious values by jointly and cooperatively identifying and pursuing good causes together for the progress and wellbeing of the people.

There is no shortage of such good causes for promoting what is right and combating what is wrong, where the teachings and values of our religions offer the best and most effective solutions – ending fratricidal conflicts, combating bribery and corruption, bringing solace and justice to suffering people, reforming our electoral processes, changing harmful and dehumanizing practices, promoting aspects of our common African culture that encourage amicable settlement of disputes and conflicts.

This issue is in fact the whole essence of the cooperation and collaboration – that it serves as a means to an end, which is applying the teachings and values of religions, to assert the supremacy of God the Almighty, to downgrade the rising tide of atheistic ideas, which tend to be better advertised and marketed, and to improve human wellbeing. Enabling a culture of peaceful coexistence and cooperation to develop and flourish The fourth issue I which to place on the table emanates from what has been our common experience. Good causes are easy to identify and talk about.

We do that quite often. Sometimes we even go further by implementing them in a kind of experimental manner through one or two projects. And usually that is all. We pursue good causes in a temporary and episodic manner.

How does respecting the rights and dignity of everyone irrespective of their religion and ethnicity, how does cooperation rather than competition and conflict – how do these become part of our habits? This appears to me to be the biggest among the challenges – it is like trying to reverse the way in which some of us have been living our lives. It is a challenge that ANOTHER CHALLENGE COMES FROM THE MEDIA WHICH OFTEN IS ILL-INFORMED OR MISCHIEVOUS AND FOREIGN INTERESTS WHICH PREFER TO INSTIGATE DISCORD AND CONFLICTS FOR THEIR OWN PURPOSES calls for re-educating ourselves and our followers to value others and their beliefs and way of life, to disown our divisive preaching of the past, to place humanity in the centre of our faith and action, to commit ourselves in action (as we have always done in words) to higher values of faith, fear of God, wellbeing of humanity, and ending human suffering. It is to be done by inculcating the principles in our children using the best methods, by giving, using people who are exemplary leaders; it is to be done by the leaders demonstrating these values in their conduct and everyday life.

The most challenging issue in setting the agenda for cooperation is therefore how to enable the culture of peaceful coexistence, mutual understanding and respect, cooperation in doing what is right, flourish. The fifth issue is to identify and continuously take account of the numerous challenges that advocating and practicing cooperative Muslim and Christian leadership in Nigeria entails. Some of those challenges are first of all outright opposition to tolerance and interfaith cooperation – whether due to ignorance, misunderstanding or bigotry or materialistic self-serving motives.

Another challenge comes from the media which often is ill-informed or mischievous. The third is the challenge of foreign interests which prefer to instigate discord and conflicts for their own purposes and another is the challenge of divisions within our own religious communities and perhaps many others. We need to factor these into the agenda, and from time to time to consider how to address in the most effective manner.

What is the way out?

To resolve Nigeria’s crises of development and nationhood, understanding and cooperation between religious leaders is necessary. The effective and collaborative application of religious teachings and values is essential if headway is to be made in stemming the tide of violence and destruction, installing visionary leadership and taking the country forward on the path to development.

Concerned Muslims and Christians who are in leadership position have a duty to create the environment for understanding, dialogue and collaboration in good causes based on religious and godly values to take place and become the norm. We must replace the culture of conflict, suspicion and mutual denigration.

That will only be possible if the leaders themselves realize the value and necessity for the spirit of understanding and collaboration to prevail, and if they take the necessary steps to reeducate themselves and their followers and to enable this new culture to flourish through admonishing, preaching, teaching and advocacy and practice. There will be challenges, which should be identified and addressed all the time. Let us start drawing the agenda of how the objectives of promoting understanding and cooperation for the good of society may be achieved through commitment to religious values.

Author: Our Reporter

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