Inter-Religious Dialogue for National Development

Marcus Amudipe

 

Introduction

Religion can be a great tool for social harmony and human development when properly implemented.  Bearing in mind that religion is so sensitive, touchy and volatile in nature, as it could be an instrument of positive change leading to growth in many civilizations. However, paradoxically, it has also served as a motivation for violence, hence its indication in some literature as a “double-edged sword”. It has the ability to make the nation and also serve as a modus for fostering peace in the society. As a matter of fact, religion gives meaning to life and binds humans together i.e. emphasizes on peaceful co-existence, for no religion preaches violence. But it is so sad and unfortunate that in contemporary society of today reverse is the case. Instead of it making the nation, it has rather marred it.

This is due to the imbalanced and unhealthy religious interaction which plagued the Nigerian socio-religious cum cultural setting. However  religion is not to be blamed as Dopamu                                                                                          rightly observed that,” It is not religion that has failed man, rather it is human factor that has turned religion into a two edged sword i.e. cohesion and division.

Contemporary world today are explicitly known for unreflective and immoral crises either orchestrated by religious zealots or political anarchist. Religious crises has become a way of life in so many countries, not excluding Nigeria  It has drenched human blood and as well sent a whole nation in to agony, despair, disarray and destroyed human civilization.

Against this backdrop, this article seeks to examine the religious interaction in Nigeria and how the principles of religious dialogue can be used as a tool can be used to curb the various issues of religious violence

 

Religion and the Nigerian Society

Religion as well as its institutions in every society has at one point in time or the other played  a pivotal role in the subject of the maintenance of what is social. It is important to note that the statement afore makes reference not only to social order and control, but also to social change, disorder, deviance, social death and re-birth. As such, the subject matter of religion is one that  is probably over-studied, and  its impact  on  general society and societal  beliefs,  yet cannot be over-emphasized. Giving religion a particular definition indeed is problematic, and  ‘it  is  conceptually  problematic  to  come  up  with  a  single  universal definition of religion’ as it is as old as time itself, and its many dimensions change as the ever-constant nature of change.

However in the midst of the subjective nature of religion which had made it impossible to have a generally accepted definition or objective definition of religion we can always refer back to the etymological definition of religion which implies the root definition of religion. Religion by it’s root definition implies to link or connect. It’s that which connect man and a spiritual being which is wholly greater than him.

Just as it’s found in every part of the world, it’s no different here in Nigeria as the country is populated with various religiously adherents as listed in the introduction of this article.

Adding to this, the religiosity of the African man of which Nigeria is a part of is better summarized and explained in the words of the late  J.S Mbiti who stayed, ” Africans are notoriously and incurably religious” Dopamu another African Scholar stated that the African man is always with his religion, either on the field or on the table of his meal. These explanations sum up the essence of religion to the African man, and to the Nigerian man. It’s a phenomenal which permeates every aspect of his life. A Phenomenal that he holds sacred and with every sense of reverence. This great sense of reverence and fear attached to religion has over the years made people, better still religious adherents illogical in their way of reasoning as they allowed themselves to be lured away from what religion is and had been taught to use religion for pure selfish means which has endangered the lives of others.

The Constitution of the nation Nigeria adopted the secularism approach for its inhabitants in order to curtail the negatives of a multi-faith or pluralistic society. The feature of secularism in a multi-faith setting like that of Nigerian demands that there will be no State religion, the state government must separate religion from politics in its various form of affairs.

Religious Dialogue

Dialogue is a form of communication between two or more persons. It involves sharing of ideas among a group of people. The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary defined dialogue as “a discussion between representatives of parties to a conflict that is aimed at resolution,” This definition presupposes the aim of dialogue- resolution of conflicts. It   means that dialogue is a means of resolving conflicts among human beings.

Contextually, dialogue is a sure means of resolving religious differences. The idea of religious dialogue presupposes that there is conflict. That conflict exists is one thing, and proffering solution to the conflict is another thing. Religious dialogue has to do with discussions concerning the views of different religious parties for the sole aim of understanding each other better. As a Christian, there is no way I can understand a Muslim very well without knowing his faith background. This can be perfectly carried out through dialogue. The fact of dialogue is also concerned with the exchange of ideas and opinions, being an encounter that takes place on equal ground with mutual confidence, frankness and without ulterior motive

 

Religious Dialogue in the Nigerian Experience

Nigeria is a country of heterogeneous cultural and religious beliefs. The citizens indispensably relate together on socio-economic basis. The interactions between Muslim and Christians in Nigeria in recent times have been influenced by mutual suspicion and competition. These often lead to unabated religious conflicts such as sporadic religious crises which continue to engulf the Northern part of Nigeria in the recent time. Over  the years since the post-independence period of Nigeria, the religious terrain of the Nigeria society which is purely a pluralistic one  has experienced religious violence in one form or the other as a result of the great affinity of people to their religion.

According to the words of the late J.S Mbiti, he stated that, ‘Africans people are notoriously and incurably religious which does not exempt Nigerians in any way. In the Nigerian context, these various religious feelings and huge sense of loyalty to their respective religions in which they not only believe that their religion is the only one true religion, but also claim both within their internal religious circles and when in public spaces that their religion is the only true religion. With this show of religious particularism in a secular state and the little knowledge  of one another religion, intolerance arising from misunderstandings  which often led to religious fights and violence.

Arising from the volatile nature and the vulnerable nature of religion, these violence often escalate into a national mayhem, as we have seen many times, they become politicized and what started as a small fire becomes a huge one.

The first religious crises experienced in Nigeria were the revolutionary activities (jihad) of the Uthman Dan Fodio in 1804 in the old Hausa Empire. The revolution was launched to fight against syncretism rampant during the time. The Jihad was aimed to restore and propagate the tenets of Islam. The Maitatsene religious crises of February 1980 were the first sectarian crisis that led the country into confusion. The religious mayhem extended to Yola in 1984, Bauchi and Borno in 1985 respectively while the infiltration of the sectarian militancy engulfed Kaduna in 1986. The causalities were more than ten thousand people who were Muslims and Christians

The following summary of religious conflicts as recorded by Tell Newspaper (August 10, 2009)

December 1980 Maintseini riot in Kano

1982: Bulunkutu’s religious violence

February 1984: Religious crises in Jimeta in Gongola state

December 1998: Protest and Violence over imposition of Christian religious studies in Maduguri.

February 2000: Riot over sharia in Kaduna.

April 2000: Saki Oyo State and Iwo had religious violence as a result of the preaching of one Alfa Mofoye (an Islamic Scholar) against Christianity.

November  2000: The people of Offa in Kwara State witnessed religious riot following the demolition of the ancient Moremi shrine

There were more successive inter- religious riots between Muslims and Christians which further broadened the socio-religious cleavages among the citizens of Nigeria and even the geo-political zones of Nigeria.

The major sectarian upheaval in the country is the Boko Haram sect.  The insurgency came into existence in the 1960s but visibly became a threat in Nigeria in the year 2002. The sect is critical of western civilization and philosophy and its philosophy. Through strategic bombing and raiding, the group has killed thousands of lives, rendering many homeless and economic growths of the affected communities stagnant.

Causes of Religious Violence in Nigeria

  1. The lack of recognition of one another: This is a major cause of the tension between religions in Nigeria. This is caused as a result of the fact that these different religious view has different doctrine which they holds sacred and they also believe that their respective religion is the one true religion, thus as a result of this they count other religious worldview as a pseudo religion. A situation where Christians see the adherents of the other religion as sinners or unbelievers or a situation where Muslim faithful see people of the other faith as infidel will result to nothing but hatred for one another which can easily lead to violence at the slightest provocation.
  2. Campaigns of hatred and blackmail: Both Christians and Muslims are actively involved in campaigns of hatred against each other. This is manifested in various forms including: incitement, distortion of fact about each other, blocking each other’s chances as demonstrated in the issues of Shari’ah and Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC). Beside that, blackmailing and the distortion of facts caused the famous Kafanchan riot, according to Bashir Isyaku and Imo. It was reported that one religious leader, the Revd Abubakar Bako, publicly misinterpreted and falsified some verses of the Qur’an and made uncomplimentary remarks about the Prophet Mohammad to the hearing of Muslims.
  3. Intolerance: the inability of the adherent of the three major religions in Nigeria to peacefully co-exist with one another has created a huge gap in terms in terms of relationship with one another. The constant disdain between them, the inability to accept their differences and celebrate their similarities has constantly ensured a rocky relationship between them. For a pluralistic state like Nigeria, there need to be among members of each religious world view the value of tolerance for peace to reign
  4. Extremism: Extremism from both sides is another important reason behind religious violence in Nigeria. As indicated above, in most cases this extremism is based on poor knowledge of the teaching of the religion being defended by the group involved. It is very unlikely that Christianity taught the Revd Abubakar Bako to provoke adherent of other faiths as a means of propagating his religion.
  5. Politics– the constant use of religion as a tool to divide and rule is another reason why religious violence is prevalent in our society. Politician has mastered the art of using the religious appeal to instill ethic groups and religious groups against one another. Politics in Nigeria has taken a huge turn with the use of religion to influence it workings.

 

THE NEED FOR RELIGIOUS DIALOGUE

The primary aim of religious dialogue is peace, inasmuch as religion in the layman words is nothing but a tool employed by man to access the spiritual, recognizing a supreme being wholly greater than him, whom he renders reverence and support to in act of worship and submission, which also influence his daily interaction with the people around him and his physical environment.

Other need for religious dialogue are highlighted below

To break down stereotypes which block meaningful human interaction

To foster mutual understanding of the theological, sociological, political, and personal assumptions which motivate dialogue participants

To promote reconciliation in those areas where misunderstandings and divisions exist, or when apparently irreconcilable differences emerge, at least to develop further understanding and mutual respect

To appreciate dialogue as an end in itself, this informs the understanding and behavior of participants in other contexts.

  

Using the Principles of Religious Dialogue and other Principles as a tool to curbing Religious Violence in Nigeria

The principles of religious dialogue which are reverence, openness, empathy among many other principles are veritable tools that can be used to curb religious violence and prevent the politicization of religion to cause religious instability

  1. Openness– there is a need of members of the three different religions in Nigeria to be opened towards another. The concept of openness is critical and very important in religious dialogue. This will enable the  parties involved to see beyond sentiments with an opened mind and objective mind, bounded by one goal which is peace and peaceful co-existence
  2. Respect– This is another key principle which adherents of these three religions must embrace for the sake of peace. They must come not with the view of under-rating or soiling the religious views of people of other faith. They must in the course of interaction embrace other religious world-views with respect. When this is done, it gives a room for a peaceful and calm atmosphere
  3. Empathy– This is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is feeling or experiencing. It is the ability to put oneself in the shoes of others. Without empathy we will lose our moral compass. In religious dialogue , this goes a long way in helping us understand the grievances of   members of the other faith, hence helping us understand the need for mutual agreement
  1. Categorical Imperative– This is also regarded as the golden rule, and it implies, ”Do unto others what you want them do unto you” when this principle is properly embraced the Nigerian society will be a step ahead in achieving an ideal society where peace and unity abide irrespective of the varieties in religious worldviews and perspective. There is no sane individual who will want others to do him or her harm.
  2. Resist Stereotyping– this is being sensitive to the similarities and differences among dialogue participants. One of the purposes of dialogue is to break down over-simplified understanding about the group with which one is engaged in dialogue.

Conclusion

For the Nigerian society to progress and move forward in terms of growth and development, for policies of the federal government to receive a conducive atmosphere to grow and germinate, for each component units of the federation to come to exist as a true federating unit which is devoid of sentiment and bigot, there is a huge need for religious maturity among it various component units. We must as a nation come to realize that if Nigeria must move forward politically, then it must pay a very close attention to the institution of religion. It must ensure that through an effective religious dialogue, normalcy can be restored. A nation without peace lacks the basic element for growth.

July 20, 2020

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