I have just returned from Maiduguri where I went to felicitate with the diocesan who was celebrating his 22nd year of consecration as well as having a thanksgiving service for a successful synod. The theme of the synod was…with God nothing is impossible” (Mt.19:26).
I had the privilege to give the message and in the message I made three points about the implications of the synod theme. It was also made clear to the congregation that the problem between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria is not about whether we worship the same God but who is worshipping the true God! The three religions we recognize in Africa and Nigeria all have similar teachings about this One God. Islam and Christianity in particular teach the following in their scriptures:
1. There is only One God, the One and only divine being (Mk.12:29); (Muhammad. 47:19).
2. God created everything that is not God(Gen.1:1); ( Al-Shura, 42:11)
3. God is radically different from everything that is not God (1 Tim.6:16); Al-An’am, 6:103).
4. God is good (1 Jn.4:16); ( Al-Buruj, 85:14).
5. God commands that we love God with our whole being (Matt.22:37); (Al-Zimar, 39:45).
6. God commands that we love our neighbours as ourselves(Matt.7:12); ( Hadith I.e. authentic sayings of Muhammad): None of you has faith until you love for your neighbours what you love for yourself. (Muslim).
For extremist leaders on both the Christian and Muslim sides, we suggest that they go through the document A Common Word: Muslims and Christians Loving God and Neighbour” (http://acommonword.com) and take the trouble to read the various comments from the two communities.
The world of Islam has moved on from that of the periods before the 21st century and it is in the interest of Christlike leaders to study the paradigm shift in Christian-Muslim relations, eschew the combative crusader spirit and embrace the spirit of dialogue.
We have a huge number of rational, well-informed and God-fearing leaders within the Muslim community as well as the Christian community, Nigerian religious leaders should please stop fanning the embers of hatred, bigotry and arrogance. It is driving both communities further and further apart and until the leaders learn from what is going on among rational and God fearing Christians and Muslims, extremists among us will continue to commit mass murder like what happened on Sunday, 29th, April 2012 on BUK campus to innocent men and women who chose to worship this One God as a Trinity.
A theological position shared by many Christians in the world over is that Christians who still share the Crusader spirit and a terrorist who shouts Allahu Akbar ( “God is the greatest”) as he pulls the fuse of the bomb strapped around his waist have something in common. They are naming God very differently, and yet they are, alas, worshipping the same god- a blood thirsty god of power, not the God of justice and mercy of the normative Christian and Muslim religious traditions (Volf, 2011:119).
It may interest Nigerians to note that Muslim religious leadership almost uniformly condemns terrorism: On religious and moral grounds, we denounce the contemporary concept of terrorism that is associated with wrongful practices, whatever their source and form may be. Such acts are represented by aggression against human life in an oppressive form that transgresses the rulings of God, frightening those who are secure, violating peaceful civilians, finishing off the wounded, and killing prisoners; and they employ unethical means, such as destroying buildings and ransacking cities: Do not kill the soul that God has made sacrosanct, save for justice( An-Aam. 6151). (http://ammanmessage.com/index.php?option[accessed May 1, 2012]. Nigerian religious leaders from both the Christian and Muslim communities must, as a matter of urgency get better informed so that Nigeria can move forward as one nation.
I have continued to speak out on the teachings we have had in the northern parts of Nigeria that all of us who worship this One God as a Trinity are dhimmi i.e. ‘protected citizens’. That means we do not share the same platform as our Muslim colleagues who worship this One God as a Unity! Because of the uninformed knowledge of a huge number of Muslims in the northern parts, the murder of a Christian is not seen as a murder but a so-called religious duty though the Qur’an forbids forceful conversion.
Those leaders who are informed should as a matter of urgency begin a massive programme of balanced teaching of the Qur’an and Hadith as well as contextualisation of Islam to a pluralistic society like Nigeria. On the Christian side, there is a lot of ignorance of the religion of Normative Islam. Christian leaders need to go back to school and learn a bit more about the struggles the early Church had with the Person of Jesus Christ and the development of the Trinitarian understanding of the Godhead.
Such leaders need to study Islam from the theological point of view, understand normative Islam and climb down their high horses so as to see the Muslim as one genuinely desiring to worship this One God as taught by his religion. The denigration of an entire religion, its civilisation and it’s adherents in the name of God is not Christlike and it is breeding a future generation of leaders who are intolerant, extremist and arrogant. No nation has ever survived and developed with this type of mindset, Nigeria cannot be an exception.
A Call on the Government to Act
On the side of the government, there is now an urgent call for decisiveness, this government should please, in the name of God, put a stop to the sin of impunity among politicians and religious bigots.
If bishop Fearon kills or maims anyone in the name of propagating the Christian faith, bishop Fearon should be treated as a murderer and not protected by his religious group and hailed as a religious leader. This is the only way to deter future murderers in our midst who put on the facade of religion. Killing innocent lives by any means is barbaric, inhuman and it should be called by its name-murder!
We are crying out and challenging this government to stop talking tough and start acting tough as allowed by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The killings of worshippers in mosques and churches is not acceptable, Nigerians love their religions and they desire freedom to worship this One God the way their scriptures enjoin them. It is the duty of any responsible government to give all it’s citizens a sense of security, sense of belonging and the freedom to worship this One God as provided for by their religious traditions and within the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The question Nigerian Christians and Muslims must Face:
I have dared to point out six teachings both faiths share vis-a-vis this One God. I am not about the question of salvation as taught by each faith but about our plural society and it’s need of peace and peaceful co-existence for even development. What both communities must do is to challenge each other on living out the teachings they both share about this One God. When it comes to practices, the fundamental issue is not whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
It is whether they both worship the true God. Deeds reveal which god we worship-the true God or a false god-better than words; and it matters little which god we profess to be worshipping. Our god is known by our fruits( Volf, 2011:117).when Christians and Muslims live out the teachings of their faith traditions faithfully, Nigerians will decide on who is worshipping the true God and who is not.( Isaiah. 58: 3-7; Baqarah. 2:177).
Nigerians- Christians and Muslims who believe in their scriptures have an opportunity now to live out what their scriptures enjoin them to do as a witness to those who call on the name of this One God but live a life that denies their belief in existence of this One God. In addition, religious leaders should learn from this wise saying: A Bishop is never more like Jesus like when he has his mouth shut ( Ignatius of Loyola, 1491-1556).
May the Lord give us the grace to live such a life as to bring glory to His name so that Nigeria can enjoy peace and peaceful coexistence in spite of our different ways of worshipping and serving this One God.
Josiah Idowu- Fearon Ph.D. (ABU), Bishop of Kaduna( Anglican Communion)