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Religious politics and prospects of humanism in Africa – Part 2

By Leo Igwe
05 July 2022   |   2:45 am
Western Christian and eastern Islamic state configurations have slowly suppressed and subordinated the city of the indigenous God in most parts of Africa. The secular tradition survives

Continued from yesterday

Western Christian and eastern Islamic state configurations have slowly suppressed and subordinated the city of the indigenous God in most parts of Africa. The secular tradition survives in these state establishments and has been the target of this imperialist religious assault and appropriation.

For instance, in Kenya, we witnessed how both Christian and Islamic groups rallied against the registration of Atheist In Kenya. They pressured state actors to reject the application, and when their efforts failed and the group was incorporated, they lobbied and got the organization deregistered. Religious organizations based their opposition on the notion that Kenya was a godly state and could not afford to recognize a godless organization. Many believers are not in agreement regarding which godly, indigenous, Christian, or Islamic godly state Kenya is.

They allude to the provision in the preamble to the Kenyan constitution to back up their position. They ignored the section that guaranteed freedom of religion or belief and equality of all citizens before the law. Many believers were of the view that registering the AIK was like licensing devil’s worship. Christians, not atheists believe in the existence of the devil; atheists and humanists are not devil worshippers. But in the Christian political universe, these prejudices and misconceptions are politicized and weaponized to exclude and delegitimize atheism and humanism.

Let us take a quick look at Nigeria where the situation is more charged and polarized. Since independence, the Christian and Islamic formations have been trying to overrun the country and turn Nigeria into an Islamic, Christian, or Chrislamic state. The secular tradition has served to limit their incursions and put a wedge between religious politics and state management. In places where Muslims are in the majority, Islam is privileged and Sharia law is enforced. Christianity is the de facto state religion in parts of Nigeria where Christians are in the majority. While Nigeria, constitutionally prohibits state religion, Christianity and Islam are the de facto state religions in Nigeria. Due to the prevailing religious and political situation, the constitutional and human rights of non-Muslims are not guaranteed in parts of Nigeria where political Islam rules. The rights and liberties of non-Christians are flagrantly violated in places where political Christianity reigns. 

But in Nigeria, religion-based injustice and oppression, inequity and persecution are worse in Muslim-dominated areas where political Islam is in force. Let us take the case of Mubarak Bala to illustrate the dark and destructive impact of religious politics. Bala was born into a Muslim family in Kano in northern Nigeria. In 2014 he renounced Islam and in response the family took him to a state mental hospital in Kano where he was treated, sedated, and medicated for mental illness. There is nowhere in the medical literature where apostasy is identified as a form of mental illness. But a pathological interpretation of apostasy applies in Kano and other sections of Nigeria where political Islam rules. Apostates run so much risk including honour-based violence, severance of family ties, and death. Bala managed to escape from the hospital when the staff embarked on industrial action. But the Islamists in the region were unpleased and unappeased, they continued to monitor the activities of Bala especially his posts on social media platforms. 

On April 28, 2020, officers from the Kano state police command arrested Mubarak Bala in Kaduna and whisked him to Kano following a petition from some Islamist lawyers. These lawyers complained that Bala made some posts on Facebook that insulted the prophet of Islam. The police held him incommunicado for months, and in February 2022, they arraigned him and in April a state court sentenced him to 24 years in prison. Bala’s arrest and outrageous sentencing happened and could only happen in a place like Kano because political Islam rules in the region. Kano has a Sharia police unit and state institutions are Islamic or quasi-Islamic structures. There have been other cases of blasphemy-related attacks, killings, and violence in Kano, Niger, Kaduna, Borno, Sokoto, Bauchi, and Abuja targeting Muslims as well as non-Muslims. Political

Christianity and Islam are hostile to spreading humanist ideals and values, to the humanity, dignity, and equal rights of atheists and humanists including their rights to freedom of religion or belief, freedom of speech, and expression. The prospects of humanism in a Christian or Islamic state are dim when the state violates its secular character and neutrality and leans toward Christianity, Islam, or indigenous religion. Religious politics has no place for humanism, for a non-religious, nontheistic, and non-supernaturalistic outlook based on ethical and responsible living in the Christian city of God or Islamic city of Allah. 

For a better and brighter future for humanism and free thought, humanists must remain vigilant; they must work, and campaign to preserve the secular tradition. Humanists and atheists must ensure that post-colonial African states are neutral on religious matters and that state actors are unbiased for and against any religious or belief group.