Nigeria is a multi-religious nation, with Christianity, Islam and African traditional religion being the dominant religions. Ordinarily, religion is supposed to engender peace but most unfortunately, religion has caused serious polarity in the Nigerian polity. Religious intolerance is seen as one of the biggest societal problems in the world today, Nigeria inclusive.
Christianity and Islam do not see eye to eye just as adherents of the two religions cannot co-exist harmoniously. At the slightest provocation Islamic extremists unleash terror, destroying houses and burning down churches. In most cases, the perceived Christian “offenders” are beaten or stoned to death before setting their lifeless bodies ablaze.
The story of Nigeria is replete with examples of extra-judicial killing of Christians in the northern part of the country, on account of alleged blasphemy. For instance, on July 14, 1999, a Muslim mob beheaded Abdullahi Umaru in the village of Randal in Kebbi. On November 20, 2002, an article in ThisDay newspaper, perceived to be blasphemous, ignited a rampage by a Muslim mob, which burned down ThisDay office in Kaduna. The mob also attacked churches as well as properties belonging to Christians. When Christians confronted the Muslim mob, soldiers and police intervened and at the end about 250 people died.
In February 2006, churches as well as shops and homes belonging to Christians were torched by Muslim rioters in different states following the publication of a cartoon in the Danish magazine, “Jyllands Posten”, considered to be blasphemous by Muslims and in that same month,
two churches were destroyed and more than 20 Christians killed. This was because a teacher, Florence Chukwu, who is a Christian, allegedly seized a Quaran from a student who was reading it during an English Language class.
On March 21, 2007, Christianah Oluwasesan, a teacher at Government Secondary School, Gandu in Gombe, and mother of two was killed on the flimsy excuse that a student complained that Oluwasesan, a Christian, touched a bag containing a Quran, thereby defiling the Quran. In 2016, Bridget Agbahime, a 70-year-old petty trader from Imo State was clubbed to death by Islamic fanatics after she was accused of blasphemy for asking a Muslim to move his Islam cleansing ritual away from the entrance of her shop.
The list goes on and on with the most recent case being the gruesome murder of Deborah Samuel, a 200 level student of Home Economics at the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto. Deborah was beaten to death and set ablaze after being accused of blasphemy.
All of these killings are due to religious intolerance. The situation can be improved upon if the government maintains neutrality and is not seen as supporting any religion over and above the others. Every effort must be made to avoid preaching that can ignite hatred from other religions. Inciting religious programmes on television and radio should be banned by government.
Adherents of all the various religions should see each other as brothers and sisters. This will engender love and eschew hatred. Also, adherents should eschew religious extremism. It is extremism that causes intolerance where adherents take the laws into their hands instead of resorting to seek redress.
In addition to all of these, as a people, we can deliberately begin to imbibe what obtains in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In spite of being an avowed Islamic nation, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in the middle of the Arab world, has churches for Christians, Gurdwara for the Sikhs, temples for the Mormons while a synagogue is being built for Jews, and they all worship and co-exist peacefully and harmoniously!
Muslims in the Emirates, like everywhere else, do not eat pork, so you will not find it in supermarkets but to make life easy for non-muslims, big supermarkets usually have a separate section for non-muslims, where pork can be bought. The same is applicable to alcohol. Muslims do not consume alcohol but non-muslims can buy and freely consume alcohol.
In all of this freedom enjoyed by non-muslims in an Islamic nation like UAE, there are only two restrictions. It is an offence to attempt to convert a Muslim to any other religion and secondly, non-muslims resident in the Emirates, who consume alcohol, must, out of respect for Muslims, suspend such consumption when it is time for Muslim prayers.
There is mutual respect among the adherents of the various religions in the UAE. In fact, the religious tolerance and harmonious co-existence of the religious adherents rest squarely on the pillar of mutual respect. A mosque, Mary, Mother of Jesus Mosque was built by the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed in 1989. It is located in Al Mushrif, a central neighbourhood in the city of Abu Dhabi and is beside a Christian community, surrounded by three churches. Originally named Mohammed bin Zayed Mosque, the Abu Dhabi Ruler decided to rename it “Mary, Mother of Jesus Mosque” on June 14, 2017 as a mark of respect for Christians. The change in name was also meant to demonstrate the value of co-existence among religions in the UAE.
This is the kind of religious tolerance Nigeria and the rest of the world needs. We all need to know and respect the fact that no religion is superior to the other; they are only different from each other. We all have to work harder to have religious tolerance in Nigeria. It is achievable.