Deploying religion for national unity

The warning issued to politicians to stop using religion to incite conflicts in the country ahead of the forthcoming general elections could not have come at a better time. The admonition was contained in a communiqué issued at the end of a 4-day inter-religious dialogue for leaders of Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN) and Fellowship of Christian Students of Nigeria (FCSN) held in Kaduna recently. The students’ bodies urged Nigerians to avoid politicians that deploy hate speech to incite conflict for their selfish interests before, during and after the polls. The communiqué, which was signed by the convener of the dialogue, Muhammad Jameel Muhammadu, also called on religious leaders to preach peace and teach sermons devoid of bias and sentiments. “Hate speech is dangerous in a plural society like Nigeria, hence perpetrators should be brought to justice,” the communiqué added. One of the resource persons at the occasion, Rev. James Wuye, said no religion teaches hate speech and urged adherents of the two major faiths in the country to come together to tackle the menace. He warned that all past ethno-religious upheavals were precipitated by hate speeches. A participant at the dialogue, Josiah Timothy of the Kaduna State University, said he had been enlightened to respect other people’s religious opinions. Similarly, Hajara Umar from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, said the training had taught her not only to respect Christians but also to protect them and their worship places. The recent Kaduna dialogue came about 13 years after a similar parley was organised by the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA). The Islamic body invited the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) not merely as an observer but as a participant in the deliberations. The purpose of the NSCIA-facilitated brainstorming session was to find areas of intersection by the two great religions. At that occasion, it was reassuring to hear a Catholic priest quoting, with amazing ease, verses from the Holy Quran as well as from the Holy Bible in a bid to show that both faiths have the same view on love. A Muslim cleric likewise quoted from the Bible and Quran to illustrate the brotherhood of man. However, more than a decade down the road, religious animosity does not still exist in the country but has also nosedived for the worse in recent years though some of the various uprisings witnessed since the 2005 parley have not really been caused by differences in religion. We commend the latest initiative of the Muslim and Christian students’ leaderships. After their interaction, it is important to ensure that the lessons learnt at the dialogue percolate down to their members who are usually the foot soldiers often deployed by politicians as canon fodders to perpetrate all manner of crimes often wrongly attributed to religious differences. Religion, certainly, could be an instrument of national cohesion. Unfortunately, hypocrisy and bigotry have been the authentic religions of some Nigerians. Any wonder that the rate of crimes has been on the rise? The crowded churches and mosques seen every day in the streets have done little or nothing to boost morality and promote peace, love and unity. The time has come for our religious leaders to start contributing in healing the wounds of the nation. Clerics should not dwell on prosperity, which is really mammon worship. They must not teach their congregations that one religion is superior to another, for it is the same God that all religious people worship and pray to, regardless of their modes. Under no circumstance should a cleric engage in hate preaching, even against atheists. Suffice it to say that no true Muslims or Christians can do terrible things ascribed to adherents of either religion in this country: corruption, murder, dishonesty, arson, etc. If those who have led Nigeria since independence had been true Christians and Muslims, the poverty and under-development which are corollaries of bad governance would have been avoided. Lastly, it is high time we came to terms with the fact that we are first and foremost Nigerians before anything else. Religions were created for us and not the other way round. It is a truism that religions are a spiritual compass aimed at guiding us on our life journey. Those who deviate from the path are the ones fanning the embers of disunity.