Over 80 million Nigerian Christians have just concluded the celebration of Easter which is recognition of the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is perhaps one of the most important celebrations in the Christian faith as it is the greatest show of love by God to his children.
This year’s celebration was unfortunately marred with loss and death as attacks on a number of churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday left over 300 persons dead. The attacks were said to have been conducted by extremists of a different religion.
In the next few weeks, a similar number of Muslims or more will be observing their holy month called Ramadan. This is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad according to Islamic belief. The month lasts 29–30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon, according to numerous biographical accounts compiled in the hadiths.
Nigeria will once again commemorate this celebration by declaring a two day public holiday to be recognized by both Christians and Muslims alike. This in my opinion puts Nigeria as one of the most religious nation in the world.
As I contemplated on what to write about this week, I kept thinking about what religion means to different people and how similar the different religions really are belying the frequent religious violence happening around the world today.
As a Christian, one of the most controversial religious act I did was building a mosque in my hometown. It all started when the then house keeper and gardener of my home in the village, Alhaji was involved in a motorcycle accident on his way to a nearby town to observe the Friday Jumat Service. Having spent a week in hospital, returned and had Alhaji discharged so he could complete his recuperation at home. I also made sure I provided for his family during that period. Later that evening of his discharge, one of Alhaji’s sons, Mohammed, who came in from Sokoto to help nurse his father while doubling as a watchman also, casually announced a visit by some of his father’s friends who desired to express their gratitude to me for my benevolence to Alhaji. I was thrilled and asked him to let them in. When I came out to the courtyard to receive them, I found myself staring at some 100 faces of mostly northern Muslims sitting and standing wherever they could find room.
“Aah, where did you all come from” I began with obvious shock at the large number of people in the courtyard. They all smiled as they proceeded with a long greeting that lasted a full 2 minutes. Their spokesman, Dikko taking a cue at the end of the greeting explained that with so much of them now resident in Akwukwu-Igbo (my hometown), there was the need to have a mosque where they could worship. He said they found it too tiring, stressful and dangerous travelling to the nearby town, a distance of some 35km, for Friday Jumat services. Besides, they were unable to have their morning call to worship too, he further explained.
All of them said they would want the mosque built in honour of Alhaji, who had become their de facto leader as the oldest among them and the earliest Muslim sojourner in the town.
Having listened carefully to their request, I could not but wonder at their fervor and their belief in their mission. At this stage, I realized that I needed time to think about their request and what it would mean to the town, so I asked them to find a suitable land by themselves and revert to me when they had done so.
Why me, I asked myself as they left? Why did they not go to the Obi or someone else with such a request? I wonder how the town would react to a mosque in their midst, given the history of our people in the 1960s. But I told myself that just like a church, a mosque is a place of worship. These Muslims, our fellow Nigerians simply wanted to worship their God safely in their own house of prayer. So I resolved that I would build a mosque in honour of the man who had provided me security for over 35 years.
In a few months, the mosque was built and I even went a step further by inviting my good friend, His Royal Highness, the late Emir of Kano, who is a custodian of the faith, to commission the building to the delight of the people, well the Muslim people I should state. If I thought that would be a good end to a remarkable endeavor, I was naïve at best, having completely misunderstood my people. All through the construction work, not once did I receive any note of disapproval from any quarters. What I did not realize was that the tempest was building and getting ready to explode in a drama worthy of a thriller movie.
My community is predominantly Christian, say 98.99%. The rest is a mixture of animists, atheists, Muslims and adventure seekers in the land of religion. The people found it quite difficult to accept the concept of a mosque in their midst. And to think that the harbinger of this desecration was the grandson of the pioneers of Christianity in the town was in their sight, abominable. News came to me frequently that in some Pentecostal churches, the pastors would lead the congregation in a “send-down-the-fire” prayer on me for bringing Islam to the town. This worried me a lot at first as I believed that the building of the mosque was also a balancing act of the Christian in me; to do God’s work here on Earth. If it was any consolation, I was also told that on Fridays, the Muslims prayed for my protection and good health. So, there I was, being burned with fire on Sundays, and having the fire put off every Friday at the mosque.
Never once did I regret doing what I did and since then I have helped in one way or the other to build more mosques and churches. It makes no difference if the call is to love your neighbor as yourself. You see, during this period, I received a lot of Easter wishes from my Muslim friends and I am aware that during the holy month of Ramadan, a lot of Christians break the fast with their Muslim neighbors. This is what I appreciated about my nation, the fact that it didn’t just tolerant different religions, it celebrated them. I therefore find it appalling and difficult to comprehend the recent pattern of violent attacks of churches and mosques in the name of religion. Apart from the inter-marriages that occur between these two main religions, I am aware of Muslim families becoming Christians and vice versa.
As a Christian that practiced the faith, I know the only difference between both religions is that Muslims don’t accept the fact that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. I conclude by reiterating a point I once made in a previous article on that the people of this country and the world it seems have been injured and fractured with unnecessary killings and division. Until we can begin the process of healing and forgiveness, I fear the unity we so desire will remain nothing but a dream.
From my studies all over the world and relating too different religious institutions, I have come to respect every religion as the same. The reason I am able to write all these is because I carry with me the doctrines of my Christian faith and I know that many other religions share similar doctrines too showing that we have more in common than we think or choose to belief.