This stereotype is similar to situation in Nigeria after violent demonstrations in the Northern part of the country over a Presidential election of April 16, 2011. Most commentators tend to generalise and attribute the unfortunate mob actions as either Northern Agenda or religiously-inspired. The views are obviously amplified in some sections of the media who would rather refer to the outcome of the Nigeria’s Presidential election as ‘Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the South defeats Muhammad Buhari, a Muslim from the North.’ This typecast has generated bad bloods among friends, neighbours and colleagues from different faiths and backgrounds who now relate on perpetual mutual distrust.
I was recently alarmed, after the election, when a friend unconsciously though jokingly told me: “you are now defeated and no chance again for you.” I got the message. He knows I neither belong to any political party nor promote parochial agenda of any form. In a sense, he knows I am a Nigerian but at this time he rather mischievously grouped me as a loser because I am a Muslim by religious belief and a Northerner by place of birth in Nigeria.
I had course in the past through my writings to describe senseless attacks especially in the North as devilish antics of politicians, desperation of jobless youths and drug-induced actions of addicted miscreants. Apart from the unfortunate killings of innocent souls, the major victims of the recent attacks after the elections are northern elites including public officers, politicians, and traditional rulers.
I was an electoral monitor who personally witnessed the conduct of the last elections in the North, being a member of a Media and Information Committee on Emergency Management (MICEM), under the directives of Director General of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Muhammad Sani-Sidi. When the crises broke out I was assigned to accompany emergency workers for on-the-spot assessment and for distributions of relief materials to displaced people in Kano, Kaduna and Bauchi. The task gave me the privilege of coming to term with the indescribable destructions.
We moved with security escorts from one town to the other and in different Internally Displaced People’s camps with truckloads of relief materials. There were gory tales and sites everywhere we visited. There are sad stories of members of National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) killed during the demonstrations. There is this pathetic story of a Christian corper killed in a Police station and also nauseating picture of a Muslim corper burnt to ashes in a mosque. The maddening mobs in their fury did not spare mosques, churches, houses, markets and business premises from their annihilation. A whole settlement was completely razed. In the presence of emergency workers, pregnant women delivered babies in the camps. These are not exaggeration but tragic realities.
While crook politicians and undesirable elements could be behind the senseless carnage in the North, I must on behalf of other peace-loving Muslims correct the erroneous impression that it was inspired by religion. Nigeria though a secular state is a religious nation where majority of the citizens are either Muslims or Christians with theological differences in each faith. They nevertheless share belief in God Almighty; belief in the Holy Books and the Holy prophets; and they are aware of moral code of brotherhood and the faith in the life hereafter.
Since this writing is from a Muslim’s perspective, my Holy Book, the Quran invites Muslims and Christians to come to common terms that we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him in His powers and divine attributes… (Imran;3:64). Similarly even when we should dialogue on the basis of faith, the same Quran warns us against hostile disposition and abusive languages but advises that we should ‘Invite (all) to the way of Lord with wisdom and beautiful exhortation, and argue in ways that are best.’ (Nahl; 16,125).
The Holy Quran also emphatically encourages Muslims to be tolerant towards others, warning that we should not force or intimidate others to our faith when it states that ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion.” (Baqarah; 2:256).Even in the face of provocation and aggression, Muslims are enjoined for calmness but can only take self-defence when it suggests “Fight it, the cause of God those who fight you, but commit no aggression; for God loves not transgressors.” (Baqarah; 2:190). In another chapter in the Quran it reveals that ‘Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for [your] Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loves those who are just. (Mumtahinah; 60:8)
As a Muslim not only do I rely on the Quran, I also take the prophetic words and actions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him who in various Hadith had enjoined Muslims to accord respect to the people of the books, the Christians and even Jews. In a handwritten Charter of Privileges to the monk of St. Catherine Monastery in Mt. Sinai, one of the oldest monasteries still standing today, the Holy Prophet of Islam wrote thus:
“This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.
“No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.
“No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.
“Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”
This charter has been honoured by Muslims since then and as of today the same monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world together with the Monastery of Saint Anthony situated across the Red Sea in the desert south of Cairo.
With the foregoing, those who allow themselves to be carried away by emotion with combatant outbursts should rethink as actions of misguided elements should not be attributed to Islam and other Muslims, whether by Osama bin Laden group or local thugs. We should understand and respect one another and avoid those tendencies that corrupt our characters and souls. As Nigerians we should be wary of politicians who could use any trick tribal, religious and sectional sentiments to instigate acrimony among us for their selfish interest. As much as we crave for good governance and the dividend of democracy, while Nigerian politicians have their way we should not lose our senses of good judgement.
This article by Yushau A. Shuaib has appeared in May 2011 in some print media including People’s Daily, Vanguard, National Mirror, The Sun, Daily Champion, Daily Independent, Leadership and Sunday Tribune.