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Much ado on interfaith in northern Nigeria – Part 2

By Ismail Hashim Abubakar
20 April 2022   |   2:49 am
Another figure, seen also as a strong organ in interfaith dialogue programme, coincidentally also bearing the name Shaykh Nuru Lemu, although sounding calm

Continued from yesterday

Another figure, seen also as a strong organ in interfaith dialogue programme, coincidentally also bearing the name Shaykh Nuru Lemu, although sounding calm and soft-spoken unlike his namesake, has taken it up to himself to clear what he thought are misconceptions being circulated about the interfaith dialogue initiative.

In an audio clip shared via social media, Nuru Lemu claimed that interfaith is never a new invention nor devoid of a rudimentary religious basis, tracing it to the time of Prophet Muhammad when he designed a pact of peaceful coexistence with Jews as citizens of Madinah, and when he entered into a truce with Quraysh polytheists in the famous treaty that would be known as Hudabiyyah. Nuru could have gone on to cite the pre-Islamic treaty known as Hilf al-Fudul which the Prophet participated in, and pledged to partake in a similar one if a need for that would arise. In fact, Nuru would have cited numerous Quranic verses upholding peaceful coexistence and dialogue between Muslims and members of other faiths, as can be discerned in chapters like Surat Ali-Imran, Surat al-Ma’idah, Surat al-Mumtahanah, etc. Since Islam and Christianity are the most visible religions in Nigeria, it is interesting to make the case with the verse that says: 

“You shall certainly find the Jews and those who associate partners with Allah the most vehement of the people in enmity against those who believe, and you shall certainly find those who say, `We are Christians,’ the nearest in friendship towards those who believe. That is so because there are savants and monks amongst them and because they are not haughty “ (Surat al-Ma’idah verse 82).

Nuru Lemu Nuru, who heads a mega religious and educational centre in Niger State, a neighbour to Abuja, where his sacked namesake is based, added that the dialogue will also concentrate on intra-Muslim relations. Thus, it will work out ways to dent and lessen the growing discords and animosities among Muslims occasioned by ideological rivalry and sectarian division. 

From this viewpoint, it is not hard to convince Muslims that the interfaith issue is a healthy, innocuous mission that Muslims would warmly welcome as a process of living up to the expectation of their scripture and broader Islamic vision.

However, it must be clarified that interfaith dialogue may have a unique interpretation for Christians different from what Muslims may be ready to accept. Muslims do not appear ready to assimilate the neo-liberal interpretation of Islam in such a way that they would compromise established Islamic values and fundamental teachings. Muslims may fail to implement certain injunctions of Islam based on human weakness, but they will hardly portray them as outmoded, irrelevant and unsuitable for the modern situation. Christians for instance, as evinced by the obsession of Mathew Kukah in his anti-Islam columns and public discourses, may conjure that interfaith dialogue would henceforth guarantee them an institutional legitimacy of marrying a Muslim woman, or it may make Muslims feel reluctant in missionary work while they (Christians) continue to win converts either directly by luring pockets of northern animists or through the new atheism phenomenon that trend mainly in the virtual world and cyberspace. Christians may conjecture that Muslim females especially in Yorubaland where the controversy keeps erupting will relinquish their fundamental right of wearing hijab. In fact, many Christians would wrongly assume that interfaith dialogue, when successfully embraced, will encourage Muslims to keep mute on tragic instances befalling their fellows such as the series of ethno-religious crises that broke out in places like Jos, Tafawa Balewa, Southern Kaduna, Lagos Sagamu, etc. 

In retrospect, to what extent are Nigerian Christians ready to accept Prophet Muhammad as God’s apostle just as Muslims uphold Jesus as Prophet as a fundamental condition of being a Muslim, without which one will be outside the fold of Islam? Or at least, are Nigerian Christians ready to reserve some respect for Prophet Muhammad in such a way that they will shun all utterances and actions that may be considered blasphemous, which, needless to say, fuel religious crisis and further strain relations between Muslims and Christians? 

Nigerian Muslims would be very willing to uphold peace initiatives, but they will be very unlikely to accept any interpretation of interfaith that warrants silence and reprisals in situations their fellows are innocently attacked and persecuted anywhere on Nigerian soil. Muslims will invoke the same scripture which warns them not to ally with their enemies – whoever they might be, which enjoins them not to give in to treachery, which cautions them on prospects of being bamboozled and hoodwinked by their enemies and which reminds them to be prepared for self defense. Therefore, the interfaith initiative appears to be a neutral concept that can be applied positively or negatively and can be abused or misinterpreted disproportionately.  But it is clear, that its application goes hand in hand with contexts and real-life experiences.

Concluded

Abubakar wrote from Rabat and can be reached via ismailiiit18@gmail.com.