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    Na’allah Mohammed Zagga’s Position on the Recent Demolition of a Church in Maiduguri by the State Government and the Apathy or Indifference by the Muslims as to What Had Happened

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    By Joshua Danladi Ephraim

    Malam Na’allah Mohammed Zagga, a public commentator, had written recently, on the above, which was posted in a WhatsAPP forum.
    Inspite of his being a Muslim (from his name), there is no doubt that he is a true Nigerian, since he kicks against Christian apathy, when it comes to Muslim matters, and indifference by the Muslims when it comes to matters affecting Christians, as in the recent case of the demolition of a Church in Maiduguri by the government.
    He, therefore, advocated for religious tolerance, by both Muslims and Christians, including the various state governments. He cited the cases of Borno and Rivers States, where a Mosque in Rivers State and the current case of the demolition of a church in Maiduguri .
    In both cases of Borno and Rivers States, he advocated religious tolerance, and cited the cases of Sokoto State and Plateau State as perfect examples of religious tolerance , and praised their efforts.
    However, I know that the situation is not as straight forward and as balanced as that, because the issue affects almost all the states in the federation, including the federal government, as well.
    In view of what he wrote, cited above, I then replied as follows:

       Mallam Na’allah Mohammed Zagga, I appreciate your write-up on a sensitive issue, touching on religion and its practice.  You seem to have been fair, on the Christian and the Muslims, in Nigeria. You seem to also, have put religious tolerance, on a balance, citing as good examples of   religiou intolerance, in both Borno State and Rivers State.          You also cited the two cases of Sokoto State and Plateau State, as States with religious tolerance.

    I appreciate your position, although, things are not as balanced and as straight-forward as you portrayed them to be, because just four randomly selected states do not represent the whole picture.
    In the four states cited, there are both areas of conflict as well as areas of collaboration, or tolerance, and intolerance.
    I completely agree with you, that the issue of religious intolerance, has implications (negative ones, albeit), on Nigeria’s political union. You admit that religious issues are volatile (and not only that, we will add, incendiary tools), in the hands of the political elite, therefore governments need to act.
    The issue of the church demolition in Maiduguri raises the twine issues of sincerity and justice.
    Zagga says that we must accept the meaning of religious diversity and tolerance. But, I add that we must not only accept the meaning, but we should practice the concept, as well. Accepting a meaning is different from the practice.
    With regards to the words, “religious tolerance,” I hate that word with a passion. Why must you tolerate a thing just because you do not like it ?
    1) The English dictionary defines, “tolerance” as “the ability to endure pain, or hardship; endurance.”
    It is “the ability, or practice, of tolerating and acceptance, or patience with, the beliefs, opinions, or practices of others; a lack of bigotry.” However, “Religious understanding”, means, “emotional process of comprehension ; assimilation of knowledge, which is subjective by its nature;”

    1. it also means “opinion, judgment, or outlook” ;
    2. It is ” mutual agreement, or informal contract”;
    3. it is “a reconciliation of differences” ;
    4. sympathy;
    5. it is,showing compassion.
      The issue of Western Countries being “more tolerant of religious diversity” than us, is a different cup of tea.
      During the Crusades in mediaval Europe, you could not talk of “tolerance” as we have now. In fact wars were fought not only for conversion to Christianity alone, but for other purposes, as well. That is when we could talk of Europe as Christian countries. But not so, now as christianity seems to be only a relic of the past and part of their heritage. Today, diverse peoples and religions have infiltrated those countries and these have legitimized the use of the word, “religious tolerance”, showing acceptance, or toleration of other religions.
      The European past industrial culture and ideology, is different and cannot be described as Christian. Infact, on a sober reflection, it is anti-Christianity.
      Interestingly, it is these African countries which the Europeans evangelized before, that could now be described as practicing, or trying to practice “true” christianity, and they are even taking christianity back to Europe, the Americas and the rest of the world.
      Therefore, to use the words, “religious tolerance”, can only be applied to the Nigerian situation, where we have Christianity and Islam, as two dominant religions. Therefore, to say that the European countries are more tolerant of diverse religions is to miss the point.
      In fact, what is happening in those world capitals, cities and countries, you have mentioned, is that Islam seems to be taking over, as nature abhors a vacuum.
      You will not believe it; Turkey was a christian nation. In fact, it is the birthplace of St. Paul of the Bible. He was from Tarsus. Eventually, christianity died out and Islam took over.
      It is a similar thing that happened in North Africa . North Africa was christian, until the coming of Islam, when it took over these countries in the middle-east. The only religion that existed in lsreal was Judaism and Idolatry. Even what is now known as Saudi Arabia, and other Islamic countries, were idolatrous, until the coming of Prophet Mohammed (SAW), who then, launched the Islamic jihad .There was, then, no conflict with the Jews. Looking at their Jewish Torah, the Glorious Qur’an could be said to have benefited a lot from the Torah and other holy books. Most of the practice in Islam resemble the practices, rituals, architecture and the way of dressing, or we can say, were lifted from those of the Jews.
      Infact, there is the religious injunction of the Prophet, that the nearest to the Muslim, were two groups of people: the Jews, and the Christians.
      The jihads that the prophet launched and carried out, was done out of the persecution meted out to him and his followers.
      It was attempt to stamp out idolatry and to establish and purify Islam.
      The Prophet was not known to have embarked on jihad against the Jews. In fact, from them, he had friends. He also taught his followers how to allow freedom ,whenever, and wherever, the Islamic kingdom had Jews, or Christians.
      As to whether his successors stuck to the Prophet’s teachings and practical examples (the Sunna), is left to be seen. But we know that the jihad swept through the Middle East and North Africa,which was formally christian and they became Muslims. The spread went on to other areas, including Turkey and some Eastern European countries. So, Prophet Mohammed (SAW), who came over five centuries after Judaism and Christianity, showed a perfect example of ‘’religious tolerance’’. The jihads that followed cannot be regarded as perfect examples of what the Prophet did, because his, was an answer to persecution. After him, the jihads that followed, would seem to have not, in my opinion, the ‘’religious tolerance, during the Prophet’s time. This is more so, because the jihadists waged war against, not only the idolaters, but christians as well. Perhaps this was a return-match to the ‘’Christian crusades.’’ But the crusades could be described as wars for territory and not for forcible conversion of muslims to christianity. However, since Christianity was their way of life, it could be copied, or accepted, by those affected.As a point of fact, we are not told they waged wars against Islam and Muslims. I would, rather, prefer that we use the word, ‘’religious understanding. Toleration is an expression of psychological negativity. The word ‘’understanding’’, expresses positivity and is preferred to “intolerance.’’
      To demonstrate the religious tolerance that seem to be in the areas he mentioned, Mohammed Zagga, attributed it to their ‘’emotional attachment,’’ to the tenets of democracy. Here, we will agree with him again .but it should be noted that democracy, is a form of political system, which is wholly material and it is not spiritual and therefore democracy, is different from the christianity . While democracy has the Constitution and other laws, Christianity has the Christian Bible for guidance .One of the cardinal principles of democracy is freedom. Freedom of speech, or expression,the press, association and religion etc. It is little wonder that these so called democratic nations are tolerant of religious diversity. They are no longer emotionally attached to religion.
      But as we said earlier, that of Nigeria is different. Although we profess practicing democracy, the line between democracy and authoritarianism, or dictatorship is sometimes blurred; we are neither here, nor there. In addition, we have not yet internalized the democratic ethos, practices and beliefs, to an extent we can be ‘’emotional’’ about it, like those countries. We are students and are still learning.
      However, what Nigerians seem to be ‘’emotional’’ about, is religion. Fundamentally, the differences are there. We have learned just as those countries Mallam Zagga mentioned, have, ‘’emotionally’’, internalized their democracy. Democracy and authoritarianism are anti-thetical, as well as parallel: they do not meet. Both systems do not co-here, in those countries; they are either democratic, or authoritarian. That is why there is diversity of religious persuasions in those democratic countries. But it is not so, in those authoritarian countries of eastern Europe and elsewhere ;the religion of the leaders is the religion of the people. Therefore, in their separate cases, there seems to be harmony: very little, or no conflict, and no diversity. But that of Nigeria, presents a ‘’hybrid case.’’ Democratic principles are mixed up with the religions. It becomes an issue of ‘’relative advantage’’ .All states in Nigeria profess to be democratic and therefore, should be following constitutionalism and the rule of law and not rule by men. But in states where one religion is prominent and dominant, with practical structures of domination, the other minority political group is suppressed and the law is interpreted and applied in such ways that appear to be ‘’one law for the adherents of one religion, and a different one for the adherents of the other religion. There is therefore, an unequal application of the law to other wise two equal groups. Religion therefore, becomes a matter of ‘’tolerance,’’ by the majority ruling group and their religion, over the minority group practicing the other religion, but who are not in power. This is how we understand the two situations of Rivers and Borno states which Zagga cited.
      Little wonder then, our religious diversity is treated as ‘’tolerance,’’ and not ‘’understanding.’’ Whoever has the upper hand, lords it over the other. This experience is replicated at the national level : the religion of the president becomes the preferred religion and the other religion is treated unequally, a mixture of democracy and authoritarianism, in the above cited .
      In the case of the Western democratic countries, religious diversity, is a tool for understanding and development. But in our case in Nigeria, religion seems to be incendiary tools, used by the elite in their fierce competition for the resources of the state. In this process, they adopt the term ,‘’religious tolerance”, to show, or create, the impression, in their political supporters, that they, (the elites), do not like the adherents of the other religion but they are just ‘’tolerating’’ them. Therefore, my thesis is not for ‘’religious tolerance,’’ but religious understanding. When both christians and muslims understand each other , it solves the problems associated with intolerance.

    @J.D. Ephraim is an Abuja based lawyer and public affairs analyst.

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