There are some things we need to understand. Things that I believe helped me overcame the wrong doctrines and unfounded sentiments. First, since my childhood, I have never believed anyone is infallible (Not even my parents. I used to argue a lot with my father on many issues. We still argue once in a while. Though, I let him win on most occasions). My motto is nobody is above mistake. What I have seen in most believers (Christians and Muslim) is that they so much rely on their religious leaders. A lot of my Christians friends would justify everything with ‘my pastor says’. Muslims would always round up their argument with ‘Sheikh this said that’. Like that explains everything. That over reliance on religious leader’s opinions has led to wrong beliefs and evil ideologies. Most times, our religious leaders express their own personal thought as religious teaching.
Take for example; a former landlord of a family friend who ejected the family because they were Muslims. He told them he could no longer have Muslim pray in his house and that his pastor informed him that most Muslims engage in fetish activities. I have also seen a lot of Muslims who will never rent out their houses to Christians. When you ask such people their reasons, what they will tell you will nearly make you puke. One ‘scholar’ (those bigots are not worthy of that exalted title) once told me that Christian tenants in Muslim homes are usually with ulterior motive. That ulterior motive, he claimed, was to convert the Muslim landlord and his family. He also contended that one will never have peace immediately he allows Christians in his house. Mutual distrust and misconception, one might say.
The truth is most of these people who discriminate against others usually have little knowledge about the people they discriminate against. Their hatred is a direct product of teachings of their leaders and sentiment of their locale. We don’t tend to challenge our religious leaders or popular but largely unfounded sentiments in this part of the world. Especially among us Muslims, we nearly see God in our leaders. Those of us that fail to do that are tagged ‘liberal’ (by those who are friendly, some not so friendly call us other unprintable names.)
I was a member of an organization circa 2003-2006. The Amir (president) of that organization had a weekly lecture where he weekly told us about American wickedness against Muslims; Christians’ plan to take over the world, blah, blah, blah. The organization was able to attract disillusioned and frustrated youth, who were looking for someone to blame for their woes. That membership, the Amir later used for his own political agenda (Are you getting the drift?). The members, totally brainwashed, were conveniently used as campaign tools during the 2007 and 2011 elections for candidates of the Amir choice. They couldn’t think for themselves again. So, if you want to seriously address the issue of intolerance in Nigeria, you first have to tell people that their pastors, imams, Alfas, Sheiks, prophet and general overseers are not infallible. They are not even saint. They are human being capable of making mistakes and telling lie for personal gains. Note that not only religious leaders help cultivate hatred. Some parents and relatives, too. A simple advice to everyone, please re-educate yourself.
Another thing we need to understand is respect. Respect me and I will respect you. And this paragraph will most likely go out to Christians. We need to respect each other belief system. Some Christians that I have met seem incapable of doing that. The diplomatic ones will just simply overlook your religion. Some on the other hand will never let you be. When I was in junior secondary school at Aipate Baptist Church Grammar School, I had a lot of problems with some of my class mates. They were aware I was a Muslim but couldn’t stop trying to make my religion look inferior to their religion. They nearly made me a radical because I had to be prepared for them. Most time, I beat them in debate concerning the two religions. The fact was I knew more about their religion than they did while they knew little about mine. Some Muslims are also guilty of this (I mean ignorance of one’s professed religion).But I never allowed this kind of attitude to change my approach to life. I don’t think I will ever understand people who tell me I am going to hell fire because I can’t see God their own way. But I will never blame others for their attitude. I will blame only them.
In the first part of this article, I put forward ignorance and miseducation as one of the root causes of intolerance. Ignorance can simply be corrected with education. I think it is high time we started teaching each other about our religions without trying to convert anyone. Some Christians believe that Islam makes it compulsory that all Muslims must have multiple wives. Most Muslims equate trinity to polytheism. Most would change those kinds of beliefs if someone could just explain it without asking them to become Christians or Muslims. We can even introduce a Joint Religious Course/Subject in our secondary schools.
I became who I am (i.e. a tolerant,open-minded, unprejudiced, and broadminded person)largely because I re-educated myself. I read a lot and widely too and I relate a lot with people of diverse background. I try to learn about everything and everyone. I cultivate relationship with non-Muslims and I have formulated a law that a good Christian is a good Christian while a bad Christian is simply a bad person. Religion rarely makes you bad, I choose to believe. A pastor who slaps his church member at will or one who beats young children up or one who embezzles church fund does not represent all Christians. Neither does an imam who marries ten wives or one who embezzles society’s money or encourages (or justifies) the hatred of non-Muslim represent all Muslims. Mark Twain was right when he posited that ‘all generalizations are wrong…’.
I respect Christians and their beliefs even if I cannot understand some of them. I will never hate anybody because he/she is a Christian, Buddhist or oracle’s worshipper for that matter. Some of them, I am happy to admit, are better than the so called Muslims. Kaycee (a writer on naiajastories.com) once asked his Christian mother who believes that anyone who is not redeemed is going straight to hell this (paraphrased) question;What if she had been born in Afghanistan to an imam father, would she not be a Muslim?We all need to ask ourselves something like that. I am one of those who believe that our birth, locality and circumstances largely determine our religion. So, what is our problem? One more thing, if God wanted us practicing one religion He could simply have created us that way. God, it seems, likes diversity. He says ‘O mankind! We have created you a male and a female and made you into tribes and nations, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is the pious one.’ (Quran 49; V 13). I believe something similar is in the Bible.
Lastly, I believe it is timeopen-minded, unprejudiced, tolerant and broadminded believersspoke out. We need to tell those dogmatists, narrow-minded, extremist, bigots that they no longer have place in our society. If religion cannot foster peace, love and harmony then I think we need to re-evaluate the reason for religion in the first place. If we believers continue on this pedestal of intolerance, bigotry, prejudice and hatred, then atheists may have a point. Let’s learn to live in love, peace and harmony like the first line of my Alma Mater anthem preaches.
Iwo, January 5, 2012.