Wednesday, 30 January 2013

An Atheist's Letter To Nigerian Muslims; El Rufai's Tweet Didnt Result In Riots

Dear muslims,

We are all Nigerians, whether muslim or christian or pagan. We are all one irrespective of tribe or religion. However, I write this letter with anger and disappointment. I am disappointed and angry at the ease at which extremists have found a stronghold within the religion of islam and have used it to cause terror and mayhem to people in the north. This issue of islamic extremism is really dividing Nigeria into different parts faster than tribalism or the greed for oil have ever done to Nigeria. Concurrently, I am going to use the christian response to El Rufai's tweet concerning Jesus to highlight a possible solution to this case of religious extremism. I believe that muslims can learn from our christian brethren's reactions to the tweet.

First of all, we have to establish three facts. The first fact is that I am not a christian or a believer in God, and so, I am not trying to preach a religion or promote christianity in this letter. The second fact is that christianity and many other religions are not totally innocent when it comes to extremism as well. The third fact, which is the most important, is that islamic extremism does not top at Boko Haram; there are islamic youths and clerics who engage in dangerous activities that are destructive to the fabric of our society.

Now, that we have established these facts, we can now dive into the issue at hand; what muslims can learn from the christian handling of the El Rufai tweet. El Rufai made an expensive joke on twitter that had the punchline of Jesus sleeping with Mary Madgalene even though the point of the joke was to ridicule the staunch defenders of the current Nigerian president. There was a christian backlash on twitter and on the internet because of the perceived blasphemy emanating from the tweet. I want to clearly stress it out that there were no violent riots on the streets of Lagos or Port Harcourt in reaction the perceived blasphemy towards the revered figure of Jesus Christ. This is in direct contrast to reactions to anti-islamic messages where riots claimed the lives of innocent people(for example; the riots against the 2002 Miss World beauty pageant in Nigeri and against the Danish cartoons in 2006 that claimed the livesof innocent Nigerians). I will advance the argument that Muslims can learn from this difference in reaction which stems from a reformed view in christianity and other modern religions towards a more humanistic approach in faith.

Muslims should have meetings with their youths and clerics to preach a more peaceful and humanistic version of islam. It should be reiterated 5 times a day from clerics and imams that killing for a religion is wrong and that one should reply words with words not violence. You wouldn't find a christian preacher or pastor in Nigeria condoning the killing of a blasphemer or an unbeliever or calling for violence. Infact, Christian leaders have reacted and called for an apology from El Rufai without threats or violence. The reason for this different approach from Nigerian christian goes beyond the roots of christianity in Nigeria. The reason is a simple reformation in religion towards a more enlightened and less barbaric way of spreading and experiencing faith.

Before christianity was properly spread in Nigeria by the British in the 19th century, there were numerous wars which almost destroyed Europe in the preceding centuries and christianity almost "out-crusaded" itself. There was also a growing age of enlightenment from the 17th century. The experience of the wars and enlightenment forced christianity to take religion a little less fantaically as more humanistic ideals were followed. Principles of personal liberty and fredom of expression were gaining popularity in the 18th century. With time, some progressive ideals became associated with christianity in the 19th century.

The point of the historical trip back to some centuries ago is to advice muslims to understand that faith can only succeed if it becomes progressive. I am not saying that the fundamentals of islam should be changed. I am saying that Nigerian muslims should practice their religion in a more peaceful way with the times . I have mentioned that more work has to be done with youths and cleric to keep promoting non-violent approaches to those who insult islam- either simple worded replies/complaints to the blasphemer/heretic or mediation between both parties. The simple way to do this is for the most popular imams or clerics to be given directives by the leaders in the society or government to preach tolerance to non-muslims and different sects of muslims 5 times a day.

There are other solutions which I want to offer;
-Making and sharing pamphlets to the youth on how to relate to non-muslims peacefully and how to peacefully react to anti-islamic issues.
-Creating activities and jobs at mosques for the youth so that idle ones wont have a chance to be recruited by terrorist/extremist groups
-Spreading the message that non-muslims in the north are still you Nigerian brethren and should be treated with respect.
-Creating television/radio programs to address the issues above in order to reach millions.

I hope my words have given some muslims a reason to think about how their religion is practiced in Nigeria. I choose to believe that there are good muslims who want a change. However, work has to be done to make that change happen. I will end this letter with a quote from Muhammad

"A perfect Muslim is one from whose tongue and hands mankind is safe."


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