By Razaq Bamidele
Religious intolerance is a global malaise that has triggered anarchy and turmoil in several parts of the world. Since the ‘70s, Nigeria has had more than a fair share of religious conflicts.
Studies have shown that between the Kano Maitatsine riot of October 1980 and the recent crisis in southen Kaduna in 2017, Nigeria has experienced over 100 incidences of violent religious conflicts that sadly resulted in killings, maiming and wanton destruction of property.
Against this backdrop an Islamic organization, Anwarul-Islam Movement of Nigeria decided to celebrate its 101st Annual Conference with a three-day seminar to commence with a lecture entitled; ‘Emerging trend of religious intolerance: Causes, Issues and Solutions.’
Addressing a press conference in Lagos on Tuesday to herald the commencement of the National Conference, the Movement’s National President, Alhaji Mubashir Adekunle Okanlawon Ojelade said the topic of discussion was apt and in line with the mood of the world at large and Nigeria as an affected country.
Ojelade, a lawyer told the newsmen that, “the annual parley, which will hold between Friday, April 14 (today) and Sunday 16 promises to be exciting, fulfilling and will deal with a subject that must be of interest to us as Muslims and Nigerians.”
Speaking further, Ojelade, who stressed the need for proper education, correct information and basic and relevant knowledge about religions, particularly Islam, recommended a nine-point solution to the malaise of religious conflicts across the globe.
The recommendations, according to him, are:
1- Religious education in schools (including comparative religious studies) to promote religious understanding and prevent radicalization particularly among the youth
2- Teachers of religious studies must be well-trained and groomed themselves.
3- Support and funding for the National Inter Religious Council and the state chapters of the council.
4- Regular parleys and dialogue between religious leaders and government at the federal and state levels. (The initiative by the Lagos State Government on this regard is commendable.)
5- Moving in promptly and decisively (not necessarily violently) to deal with crises when they occur. Government must act fairly and must not be one-sided in its intervention.
6- Government must address the socio-economic problems and unemployment in the country and the resultant deprivation, pain, frustration, agony, hunger and anger of the citizens (particularly the youth) which make them vulnerable and susceptible to crime.
7- The security agents must be well-trained and adequately equipped to carry out intelligence and surveillance on religious bodies and preachers that show tendencies toward extremism and radicalism.
8. As much as possible, religion should not be subject of campaign during elections.
9. And the Federal Government must secure our land borders, which presently are too porous, to prevent influx of illegal aliens that may constitute security threat to the country.
The national chairman reasoned that, it is high time the mutual religious suspicion in the land was addressed to usher in religious harmony and peaceful coexistence among the populace as preached by Islam “which is the religion of peace.”
Ojelade then urged the government to deal decisively, under the law of the land, with anybody or group that commits a crime or perpetrates violence under the guise of religion.
He however regretted that, “our challenge in the country is that the religious leaders have not been as mature and circumspect as they ought to be in reacting to religious issues by making inflammatory, uncomplimentary and inciting hate speeches, which can only compound issues or serve as inspiration for further violence.”
While asserting that Islam means peace in its entirety, Ojelade regretted that, “the unholy activities of the insurgents, who use Islam as motivation for violence is giving the religion a wrong and unfortunate label.”
The national chairman expressed worry about the growing tendency to demonize and stigmatize Islam and Muslims, declaring, however, that those who preach hatred and violence in religion and are doing their own work, not work of God.
“Insurgency is anathema to Islam. As such, Boko Haram and others who pretend to advance Islam through violence or compulsion are on their own and do not act for or represent Muslims,” Ojelade submitted.
The Anwar-ul-Islam leader disabused the minds of the populace about insinuation that there was a plot to Islamize Nigeria by quoting His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar who spoke at an event in Enugu some time ago.
The Sultan was quoted as saying that, “more Muslims died in the Boko Haram than Christians. You cannot Islamize people by killing them. You Islamize somebody by showing him love because there is no compulsion in the Islamic faith. So, please don’t look at any criminal from the religion he practices. Political leaders should stop using religion to divide the country,” the Sultan urged.
Ojelade didn’t stop at that. He also quoted the British Prime Minister, Theresa May on the recent attack on British Parliament when she contended that, “it is wrong to describe the attack as Islamic terrorism.”
Speaking to the Parliament, May said: “The attack showed the importance of all of our faiths working and recognizing the values that we share. This act of terror was not an act of faith. It was a pervasion, a warped ideology which leads to an act of terrorism like that. And it will not prevail.”
She therefore warned against “demonizing” or “stigmatizing” Muslims just as she condemned Islamophopia, racial and religious discrimination.
Tulip Sidiq, the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, according to Ojelade, also said that, “the people who commit acts of terrorism in the name of Islam do not speak for the majority of the Muslims in this country.”