Prophets of justice and peace
The reactions to my publication, “Prophetic voices in a confused nation” call for this reflection. Among these reactions are: (1) that talking about dialogue in the present state of the nation is self-deception. (2) “Prophets do not condone injustices, but expose and condemn them.”(3) In the face of glaring abuses of fundamental rights, Prophets do not call for dialogue but for ‘dia-praxis’. The proponents of these views referenced Rev Professor E.M. Uka’s paper: “Christian–Moslem Relations in the Arab and Middle–Eastern Countries: A Lesson for Nigerian Christians on Meaningful Interfaith relations.” Professor Uka argues that a “way to restore peaceful co-existence among the religions in any multi-religious state is to guarantee every religious group, equality before the law of the land not through Inter-religious dialogue, but through the constitutional provision of a secular state.
Uka traced the history of many Islamic States today that were originally 98 per cent Christians and opined that “the path of dialogue between Christianity and Islam has not worked out in practical terms mainly because of the fundamental belief of the Moslems in holy Jihad in which they are encouraged to continue until the entire world is beaten into submission to Allah and his law, sharia, is imposed on the whole world under Muslim dominion. They consider all those who are outside the house of submission (Dar-al-Islam) as part of the house of war (Dar-al-harb). He added that it seems impossible to have dialogue with ‘Islamists’ because Islam is not just a religion but a complete political, economic, social, educational and religious network with its own forms of governance. He recommends that what is needed to promote human fellowship and relationship in a multi-religious state is not dialogue but dia-praxis which he describes as human fellowships and relationships in which human beings share common praxis as in sports, commerce, in travelling and in their common response to natural disasters like flood and epidemics that are no respecter of religions or persons.
My response to Uka is that what he referred to as “Dia-Praxis” is an aspect of dialogue. Technically, this is “Dialogue of life, social engagement, encounter and action. It should be noted that almost every religion is mandated to convert the whole world to love God and neighbour. Here is the mandate of Jesus Christ: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations ,baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” (Matthew 28:18-20). So while Muslims are trying to make Nigeria an Islamic State, Christians too should work hard to make Nigeria a Christian State. If every Nigerian Christian and Muslim is truly converted from bad attitudes to the values of God, then Nigeria would have become a paradise on earth. Conversion today should go beyond change of religion to a conversion of the heart from evil to doing good.
Today, some Christians perceive the Boko Haram and herdsmen terrorism as Islamic agenda. Some people have defined “Islamization agenda” as a technical term for any use of state apparatus to make Islam appear as the State Religion. The points of reference for those who hold tenaciously to this view are: the OIC debate under General Ibrahim Babangida; the Arabic inscriptions on Nigeria currency; membership of Nigeria in the State of Islamic Coalition Against Terrorism under President Muhammadu Buhari and provision for the Sharia Code in the Nigeria constitution. Where were the Christian Ministers, Politicians, Law makers, Military officers and Security Agents when the Muslims of the same rank were pushing their concerns? Where was the Christian President of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) when the Arabic inscription was put on the Nigerian currency? Actually, is Arabic language Islam? Is it not possible to write the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary in Arabic?
Is it not better to focus on issues of injustice and resist the attempts of polarizing the nation along ethnic and religious sentiments? We can learn from the late Alhaji Maitama Sule who had a prophetic voice for justice. Sule thought that with the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari, the issues of injustice that had placed religion and ethnicity on the sacrificial altar of politics would be laid to a final rest with the presidential declaration of May 29, 2015: “I belong to no body and I belong to everybody.” He pleaded with President Buhari in these passionate words: “With justice, you can rule Nigeria well. Justice is the key. You should do justice to all and sundry, and I say all and sundry, because Allah says if you are going to judge between people, do justice, irrespective of their tribe, religion or even political inclination; justice must be done to whosoever deserves it….The world itself can never be governed by force, never by fear, even never by power. In the end, what governs is the mind. What conquers is the spirit. And the weapons of governing the mind and conquering the spirit are justice and fair play.”
The dividends of injustice are violence and all forms of agitation. If the leaders of our nation enable justice, then religion and ethnicity would be discharged and acquitted as willing tools in the hands of selfish office holders. Amos warned those who pervert justice (Amos 5:6-7) to establish justice (Amos 5:14-15). This is a divine command: “You shall not pervert the justice due to the poor in his suit. Keep far from a false charge and do not slay the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked. And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials and subverts the cause of those who are in the right” (Exodus 23:6-8). Justice is life, so “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an overflowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).
May those who want to cover their evil and dirty deals by causing religious revolution, ethnic violence and internal insurrection never succeed! We need prophets of justice and peace who can speak to power like Amos and other Prophets that confronted the kings to give account of their stewardship in the Old Testament. Self-defence and self-preservation are natural instinct in every human being but we must not forget the mandate of Jesus to love, show mercy and offer no violence to the enemies (Matthew 5: 43-48). With prophetic voices, we have the right to demand for justice when we are oppressed and intimidated. When one of the officers slapped Jesus, he demanded for justice saying, “If I said something wrong, prove it, otherwise, why did you strike me (John 18:22-23)?
Religious leaders and preachers should play the role of prophets of justice and peace. True Prophets must never contribute to the hate speeches that can put the nation asunder. They must dissociate themselves from all forms of violence be it verbal or physical. Non-violence is the power of love in action for humanity. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI said: “Non violence, for Christians, is not mere tactical behaviour but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is convinced of God’s love and power, who is not afraid to confront evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Loving the enemy is the nucleus of the ‘Christian revolution.’ ” Pope Francis in 2013 declares: “Faith and violence are incompatible.” In his message for the 50th World Day of Peace on January 1, 2017, he calls for “recognition of the primacy of diplomacy over the noise of arms.” The statement from the Vatican Press Office on August 26 when the 2017 theme was announced states, inter alia, that “Violence and Peace are the origin of two opposite ways to building society. May God give Nigeria selfless leaders who value justice and peace. We pray for wisdom for the citizens to vote in leaders who care about the common good irrespective of religious and ethnic affiliation.
Rev. Fr. Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja.
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