By Muyiwa Adetiba
Last week, a post came to one of my often visited WhatsApp platforms that got many people commenting on its profundity.
According to the post,if you collect a hundred red ants and a hundred black ants and put them together in a glass jar, nothing will happen until somebody shakes the jar violently. Then they start fighting and killing themselves with the red ants believing the black ants are the enemy and vice versa.
Meanwhile, the real enemy is the person who shakes the jar. It means black and red ants as distinct and potentially vicious as they are, can stay in close proximity in relative peace if nobody violently rubs one against the other. The fault then, is not in the ants but in the force that pits one against the other.
Who is shaking the jar in Kwara State and to what purpose? Yoruba Muslims and Christians have always lived like siblings anywhere in Yorubaland. In fact many are siblings. They are aware of their religious differences no doubt – Muslims go to mosque on Fridays and Christians go to church on Sundays. But they are more aware of their common cultural heritage. So they celebrate each other and refuse to put religious boundaries to love and friendship. Besides, wise elders play down the differences while playing up the similarities. And the similarities are plenty for those who keep an open mind.
The State Government decided to stir the hornet’s nest when it declared recently that students who so wish could wear hijab or religious scarf to schools founded by Christian sects but currently funded by the State. The State Government should know it would hurt the Christian owners who must have felt the action was rubbing salt on an old wound. The schools were wrongly taken over in the first place and should have been returned like many other State Governments had done. I attended a Mission school which admitted Muslims without any discrimination as long as they passed the stringent entrance requirements. Nobody had Muslim or Christian engraved on their head. Like the Mission schools in Kwara and many others across the country, Igbobi College was also taken over by Government. All Old Boys fought as one for its return and succeeded. Many Old Boys – Christians and Muslims – have since made enormous sacrifices to get the school back to its former state or better. Anybody, including the Kwara State Governor would want to be proud of his old school and all it stands for.
In our time, every school had its distinct uniform. The purpose was to ensure uniformity – or sameness if one wants to be semantic. In our time, this uniformity went from head to toe, literally. This included footwear, school wear, and day wear. It included head wear (cap), tie and sweater which were supplied by the school. Haircut was not left out.
There was a permissible range beyond which you were sent home. Of course beards and moustaches were not allowed. This uniformity ensured that the bias of financial background was reduced. The bias of tribe was reduced. The bias of religion was reduced. This allowed a young student to find and develop himself free from societal biases and prejudices.
There was someone I didn’t know was Ijaw until years after we left school and I could link names to tribes. There was even someone I didn’t know was a Muslim until he celebrated his 70th birthday two months ago! Thanks to my background, I have grown up looking at people as individuals and not through ethnic or religious lenses. This has remained with me. For me, piety comes from what you do and not what you quote. Honour comes from what you value and not what you wear. Friendship comes from shared interests and not professed religions.
Very few people have a say in their nationality, the colour of their skin and their religion. They are largely accidents of birth. They should therefore, not confer any advantage or disadvantage on anybody. So as we fight White supremacists, we should also fight religious bigots. As we try to erase the White and Black divide, we should also try to erase Christian and Muslim divide. These man made divisions were created out of insecurity and fear and should be eradicated. They have brought untold sorrow, tears and blood to the world (apologies to Fela). There is no evidence anywhere that God favours Whites over Blacks or Muslims over Christians.
What Kwara State Government has done is to destroy the innocence of these youths and it is unfortunate. These young people have been made the cannon fodder between two warring factions and it is sad. Many budding relationships would have been destroyed. The instinctive bonding between young people will now be replaced by the wariness of distrust. The common ground of humanity and heritage they could have shared will now be coloured by the exaggerated differences between the two religions.
No child should have to grow up being so conscious of the colour of his skin and the religion of his parents that he thinks they will make a difference to his relationships and therefore future. No child is born a racist. They are taught by the environment they grow up in. No child is born a religious bigot. The environment teaches them. They are taught by leaders who hide their insecurities and fear under race or religion.
If Kwara State wants hijab as part of its school uniform, then it should start or mark down some schools where everybody wears it. Or better still, encourage those who want hijab as uniform to start their own schools. But to have a policy where some students wear hijab and some don’t, is to create religious, spiritual and mental divisions which could lead to a physical division among them. It is to separate Christians from Muslims which could have unintended consequences. It is to tamper with the minds of young people before they are formed.
It is to tamper with their innocence. Nigeria is divided enough as it is. Further divisions should not be taught at youth. Especially in Yorubaland which had always risen above religious conflicts.
Tomorrow is Easter. It is a day Muslims and Christians come together in my part of the world to celebrate as one. The State Government should take its cue from the spirit of Easter and enact a policy that will unite Muslims and Christians in its State. Wearing religion on your sleeve – or in this case, your scarf – is the exact opposite of what the country needs right now. Poverty and insecurity are the common enemies of the people. We need to come together to fight them. We need to play down religion in public spaces.