Arcivescovo cattolico, Nigeria
With so much hostile inter and intra ethnic conflicts, religious antagonism and ferocious political struggles in the world, it is a legitimate question to ask if it is still possible to live together.
With the world's structural imbalance: the level of inequality created by economic structures is living side by side in peace possible? In poorer nations where the scramble for scarce resources generate horrible conflicts and wars even among brothers and sisters, can we talk of living together?
Living together becomes difficult in our world today because people use religion as a weapon of war instead of peace, people politicize religion, exploiting it for economic and political gains. The word "religion" comes from Latin "religare" - "to bind", namely, to bind oneself to God and to neighbour . It was Jonathan Swift’s acid observation that we have ‘just enough religion to make us hate one another but not enough to make us love one another.’ With Al Qaeda in Asia, ISIS in the Middle East, Al Shabaab in the East Africa and Boko Haram in the North East of Nigeria, the gap widens and the hope for peaceful coexistence seems to become a mirage. But we are people of faith. We shall keep trying different possibilities and hoping for peace.
Isaiah 11:6-9 defines what genuine religion should achieve: reform and transform relationships; it reconciles the irreconcilable such as the wolf dwelling with the lamb, and the leopard lying down with the kid... True religion broadens the mind and according to St. James, it should be made concrete in caring for the orphans and the widows (James 1:27). Politics too is about good governance, social development and the progress of humanity, but unfortunately, some people turn politics and religion into tools for self aggrandizement and destruction instead of positively building humanity. A reversal of attitude is necessary, so that living together, not only merely living together, but happily and peacefully living together will become possible.
In Nigeria, the evolution of Boko Haram (BH) from rationality to irrationality makes peaceful coexistence among Christians and Muslims much more difficult. If the BH had remained faithful to their initial vision of ridding the society of immorality, corruption, social evils and purifying Islam, they would have had many admirers and perhaps followers outside of Islam. But they began to destroy and kill in the name of Islam. Some undiscerning people therefore equate Boko Haram with Islam and so cannot understand when we talk about the genuineness of dialogue with Muslims. We are at pains to explain that the normal prayerful and neighbour-loving Muslim should not be stigmatized or stereotyped as fanatical because of the nefarious activities of Boko Haram. That blocks communication and renders peaceful coexistence difficult.
Imagine a prominent religious leader telling his colleague to be watchful, since one cannot trust the religious leader of the other faith and describes him as "a green snake in green grass"! Suspicion and distrust dominate when one has such a frame of mind. In Jos my city, because of such distrust we see a polarized existence where Muslims live in a part of the town and the Christians live in another with one not daring to cross over. The consequence of this is the multiplication of local arms, explosives, which explains why one hears in the news of bombings or attacks.
Effort at peaceful coexistence must be consistent and continuous. The normal tension between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria does not only exist but it is made more complicated by the activities of Boko Haram. Even the religious organizations that should bridge the gap such as the umbrella bodies, the Christian Association of Nigeria for Christians and the Jama'atu Nasril Islam for Muslims engage in squabbles and unnecessary controversy instead of seeking ways of building peaceful coexistence . The wearing of the hijab for instance was banned in Cameroun and Chad for the obvious reasons that some people hide their identity to commit terrorist attacks, but in Nigeria it became too sensitive an issue and it started to generate bad blood. There is need for flexibility. This was what was demonstrated by the Catholic Church in Jos and elsewhere when we had to suspend the yearly processions for Christ the King, Corpus Christi, hold Easter or Xmas vigils at 4pm instead of at night for the sake of peace. We must meet each other half way.
Patience or restraint is not foolishness neither is it cowardice. The unfortunate July 5th, 2015 bomb attacks on a mosque and a Muslim gathering in Jos causing many deaths by Boko Haram terrorists were very sad. Unfortunately, in anger, some Muslim youths decided to attack some Christian Churches. But the refusal to retaliate by the Christian groups did save lives. Restraint is called for, not impulsive action based on religious sentiments. People must learn to overcome evil with good. The best way to respond to violence is non-violence. Dialogue of life becomes an urgent necessity if peace must flourish. Initiatives to foster peace, such as forming peace clubs, having interfaith educational programmes or extending help to internally displaced people or refugees without discrimination become very essential.
In his remarks to welcome delegates for the 29th international peace meeting under the auspices of the a Community of Sant'Egidio, the President of the Republic of Albania, H.E. Mr. Bujar Nishani, stated that there is religious tolerance and harmony, whereby Muslims, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox live in harmony and Albanians have never faced or experienced religious conflict among them. This is the fruit of a tradition cultivated with a great deal of patience, effort, and sacrifices generation after generation. The warm reception we got in the Orthodox Cathedral of Tirana is evidence of such openness of religious groups in Albania.
I have argued several times that the number of soldiers on our streets in Nigeria will not give us peace neither will multiplying arms, until we decide to see in each and every one the image of God and a brother and a sister. There must be a change of heart, a metanoia, with everyone playing his or her part, by refusing to be the cause of violence. It may be like a drop in the ocean, but the ocean would not be complete without the drop.
As Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral has written, "Have courage, my friends! For pacifism is not a sweet jam as some may think . . . Continue speaking out for peace, against the wind and the waves . . . Pacifism is not something easy. One must not abide injustice in silence. My friends, continue to cry out, until the circle of peace is expanded."
The first condition for peace is for people to really learn about each other, to start to really understand and appreciate one another. The surest way of melting the "ice" of mistrust is to promote interaction among people--through meetings, visits, cultural and educational exchange. During these days in Tirana we have proved that irrespective of cultural, racial, color or geographical differences, we can overcome our prejudices and peacefully enjoy the little time God has given us in this world and use it fruitfully. This is what I have been feeling powerfully at this multi cultural and multi religious international peace meeting holding here in Tirana. May we continue to be prophets, teachers and instruments of peace.