Linking Christianity, Islam and African Traditional Religion for a New Nigeria

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religions

In the Tower of Babel narrative, humans planned to build a tower reaching the sky, home of the gods. They were able to plan and begin the project because they spoke one language and understood one another. When the gods became afraid of the mighty capacity of human collaboration, they brought confusion into humans’ language leading to misunderstanding and discontinuation of the project.[1] Hence, when a person wishes to discourage collaboration and productive breakthrough among others, he highlights social/religious/economic or other divisions.  Nigeria’s highly-divided society can achieve collaborative productivity by reducing divisions and linking Nigerian societies/religions for a new Nigeria.

 

Cersei Lannister insisted that “the faith and the crown are the two pillars that hold the world, one collapses the other follows.”[2] Despite the physicality of man’s nature, man has a spiritual aspect that makes him seek to transcend his physical nature. Man always finds himself unfulfilled, never satisfied on the throne of conquered material success,[3] therefore he seeks a supernatural happiness.[4] “All specifically human action is thick with spirituality: there is always something that evades the sphere of matter in knowledge, will, speech, culture, technique, etc.”[5] Hence, while securing the material resources for physical happiness, man seeks the spiritual purpose that fulfils his supernatural desire for meaningful life.

 

Religion is defined as the belief in the existence of a god or gods, and the activities that are concerned with the worship of them.[6] Attempts to explain human origin beyond postulations of coincidence points to an intelligent force of creation, which is beyond nature.[7] Also, the presence of order, beauty, purposeful-motion and harmony in nature cannot rise from coincidence, but from an intelligent creator.[8] This realization necessitated the belief in a supernatural being that is responsible for creating the world and humans. Through religious activities, humans seek direction from the creator in dealing with creatures towards the actualization of their lives’ purposes.

 

Though the desire for God resides in all humans, different societies shape and practice their different religions according to their specific experiences. People’s interactions with their environments – works, politics, neighbours, wars and climate – influence how they organize their different religions. Thus, humans organize their religions, or adopt other people’s religions for achieving spiritual happiness, despite their material wellbeing. This is why there are different religions in the world with different practices and doctrines, directed to the same God. Yet, their aim remains to obtain proper directions for achieving spiritual happiness, even through their interaction with their environment. Hence, religions and religious doctrines shape people’s personal and social lives with pious values and consciousness of the divine and ultimate happiness.

 

The journey to ultimate happiness continues along the path of enlightenment through religious, social and academic discoveries and revelations. These institutions collaborate to provide direction for social behaviours and practices for peace and progress. Religion obtains information from revelations; academia obtains from observation and research, and government harmonizes the directives for common good. Hence, the criteria for religious recommendations or academic proposals is their contribution to common good – justice, peace and productivity. While religious doctrines aim at spiritual happiness, academic and political edicts aim at the intellectual and physical wellbeing.

 

Before the Nomad-Arabic and colonialist-European invasion of Nigeria, the different Kingdoms and communities had their various Traditional religions. In 1804, Uthman Dan Fodio (Fulani) introduced Islam in Northern Nigeria after conquering the Northern cities,[9] while the Europeans introduced Christianity after annexing the southern communities and kingdoms.[10] Though the Europeans conquered all of Nigeria, they allowed Islam to continue in the North because of its centralizing structure. They also allowed African traditional religion to continue, as long as the people were loyal to their colonial agenda. Thus, the three religions were expected to contribute from their different doctrines to the colonial government’s agenda. Then, after the Nigerian independence, these religions were expected to contribute to common good in Nigeria through their teachings.

 

In order to fulfil their social role, these religions interpret their doctrines to emphasize ’virtue as man’s perfecting element’[11]. Though they are highly influential, it is difficult to synthesize the numerous Traditional Religions in Nigeria or their doctrines. Yet, like in other religions, there are virtuous and vicious members of African traditional religion in different parts of Nigeria. Despite the difficulty in summarizing their numerous doctrines for evaluation, African Traditional Religions have and can contribute to social virtues in Nigeria. CHRISTIANITY and ISLAM have similarities in their holy books bearing witness to the necessary virtues for progress and common good.

 

TOLERANCE and FORGIVENESS

Christianity:

  • Matthew 6:9 – Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
  • Matthew 5:24 – If you are going to make an offering in the temple and remember that your brother has a grudge against you, drop your offering on the way, go and settle with your brother, then come back and make your offering.
  • Luke 6L27-36 – Love your enemies, and pray for those who hate you.
  • 1 John 4:20 – Whoever claims to love God, yet hates a brother is a liar. How can you love God you do not see and hate your brother who you see?
  • Luke 15:11-32 – Story of the prodigal son

Islam:

  • Yunus 19: mankind is naught but a single nation
  • Al Baqarah 150: that there be no ground of dispute against you among the people.
  • Al Baqarah 256: let there be no compulsion in religion
  • Al Maida 32: if any one slew a person, it would be as if he slew the whole people, and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.
  • Al Maida 45: we ordained therein for them: life for life, eye for eye… but if anyone remits the retaliation by way of charity, it is an act of atonement for himself.
  • Al Baqarah 280: if the debtor is in a difficulty, grant him time till it is easy for him to repay. But if ye remit it by way of charity, that is best for you.
  • Al Maida 48: if Allah had so willed, he would have made you a single people, but his plan is to test you in what he hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues.
  • Al Kafirun 6: To you be your way, and to me mine.

 

MODESTY

Christianity:

  • Ephesians 5:18 – Do not give yourselves into drunkenness
  • Matthew 7:13-14 – Follow the narrow path that leads to life
  • Matthew 10:16 – Be as gentle as a dove, but as wise as serpent
  • Ephesians 4:26-27 – Do not let anger remain in you while you wake
  • Mark 2:27 – Law was made for man and not man for the law

Islam:

  • Al Baqarah 263: kind words and covering of faults are better than charity followed by injury.
  • Al Nisaa 19: eat not up your property among yourselves in vanities: but let there be among you, traffic and trade by mutual good-will.
  • Al Imran 86: when a courteous greeting is offered you, meet it with a greeting still more courteous, or at least, of equal courtesy.
  • Al Baqarah 179: in the law of equity there is saving of life for you. O ye man of understanding; that ye may restrain yourselves.
  • Al Maida 87: O ye who believe, make not unlawful the good things which Allah hath made lawful of you, but commit no excess, for Allah Loveth not those given to excess.
  • Bani Israel 32: nor come nigh to adultery for it is an indecent deed and an evil way.
  • Bani Israel 33: nor take life which Allah has made sacred.
  • Luqman 19: and be moderate in thy pace, and lower thy voice, for the harshest of sounds without doubt is the braying of the ass.
  • Hamin Sadja 34: Repel evil with what is better: then will he between whom and thee was hatred become as it were thy friend and intimate.

 

GENEROSITY and KINDNESS

Christianity

  • Luke 10:25-37 – Good Samaritan story of human compassion above religiosity
  • Matthew 25:39-45 – Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me
  • Mark 3:1-6 – Despite its legal prohibition, Jesus heals a sick woman on a Sabbath day
  • Luke 18:22 – If you want to follow me, distribute your possession to the poor

Islam:

  • Al Baqarah 83: treat with kindness your parents and kindred, and orphans and those in need; speak fair to the people, be steadfast in prayer and give zakat (charity to poor).
  • Al Baqarah 264: o ye who believe! Cancel not your charity with reminders of your generosity or by injury, like those who spend their wealth to be seen of men.
  • Al Imran 92: by no means shall ye attain righteousness unless ye give freely of that which ye love.

 

SINCERITY

Christianity

  • Matthew 5:37 – Let your yes be yes and your no be no
  • Exodus 20:16 – Do not bear false witness against anyone
  • Ephesians 4:15 – Always speak the truth with love

Islam

  • Al Baqarah 42: and cover not truth with falsehood, nor conceal the truth when ye know what it is.
  • Al Baqarah 44, 204: do ye enjoin right conduct on the people, and forget to practice it yourselves, and yet ye study the scripture.
  • Al Anam: 93: who can be more wicked than one who invents a lie against Allah or say, I have received inspiration, when he hath received none.
  • Al ANam 144: but who doth more wrong than one who invents a lie against Allah, to lead astray men without knowledge?
  • Al Tauba 4: So fulfil your engagements with them (pagans) to the end of their term.

 

INDUSTRIOUSNESS and PRODUCTIVITY

Christianity

  • James 2:18 Show me your faith without your good work, and I through my good works will show you my faith
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:10 – He who does not work, let him not eat… Proverbs 10:3-5; 18:9-10; 21:25

Islam

  • Al Anam 152: And come not nigh to the orphan’s property, except to improve it.
  • Al Anfal 22: for the worst of beasts in the sight of Allah are the deaf and the dumb, those who understand not.
  • Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) advised his followers to seek knowledge as far as China (though of different religious beliefs) for managing earth and the resources within it.

 

Despite having doctrines that support social virtues, Christianity and Islam contain passages that can be twisted for justifying social atrocities. Some of these passages have been exploited by different people in the history of both religions to justify inhuman acts. Through proper interpretation and contextualization, these passages can be protected against exploitation by people with misguided intentions and socio-political/economic agendas. Few of the twistable passages for justifying misguided intentions from both the Christian and Islamic holy books may include:

 

GREED and EXPLOITATION

Christianity:

  • Matthew 13:12“Whoever has will be given more… whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”
  • Malachi 3:10“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that they may be food in my house.”
  • Colossians 3:22 – servants obey in all things your masters according to the flesh.
  • Deuteronomy 20:17 – Instructions for taking other people’s lands: “Completely destroy them – the Hittites, Amorites, etc. – as the Lord your God has commanded you.”

Islam: Al baqarah 198 – it is no crime in you if ye seek of the bounty of your Lord.

 

INTOLERANCE, CONFLICTS and BARBARISM

Christianity

  • Numbers 30:17 – Moses instructs the Israelites about the Midianites: “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”
  • 1 Samuel 15:3-20 – Samuel instructs Saul about the Amalekites for sinning: “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”
  • Matthew 10:34-36 – “I have not come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword.”
  • Matthew 11:12 – “The kingdom of God suffereth violence and the violent taketh it by force.”
  • Exodus 22:18 – “Suffer not the witch (wicked) to live.”

Islam

  • Al Maida 38: As to the thief, male or female, cut off his or her hands.
  • Al Imran 85: If anyone desires a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted of him.
  • Al Tauba 123: O ye who believe, fight the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find harshness in you.

 

With these different elements in Holy Books, preachers are able to interpret passages that suit their spiritual or socio-political desires. Greedy, hateful and intolerant preachers know the passages to emphasize for their greedy and hateful agendas. Conversely, just and peaceful preachers know the passages to emphasize for their agendas for social justice, progress and common good. Hence, the effect of religious interpretations are directed according to the relativistic influence of the preacher. And without regulating bodies to evaluate the effects of doctrines and their preachers, they can be used for atrocities.

 

Until the 15th century, Christianity was only Catholic Church, and its doctrines were evaluate by the Magisterium – College of Bishops. The Magisterium was responsible for scrutinizing and directing the church doctrines and preachers to avoid misinterpretations and heresies. Eventually, some people began protesting and breaking out of the Catholic Church to form other Christian groups with varying doctrines. Today, there are many thousand denominations of Christian groups created from different doctrinal or managerial disagreements within and outside Nigeria. Thus, there is a multiplication of contradictory doctrines between the many Christian groups seeking members with targeted doctrines.

 

Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) instituted Islam in the 7th century at Mecca as a combination of political and religious ways of life.[12] He instituted five pillars of Islam as Shahada (Faith), Salah (prayer), Zakat (charity), Sawn (fasting) and Hajj (pilgrimage). Islamic rites and seasons are regulated in different political spheres by different national Supreme councils linking to Saudi Arabia. However, Islam may not have a clerical authority for interpreting holy books like the Catholic Church since every Muslim of good character has equal access to God. Also, recognized pious males in families and communities, who have undergone Arabic religious lessons can lead in prayers and interpret holy books.[13] Though it makes Islam more egalitarian and democratic, extremists may exploit the privilege to spread wrong teachings.

 

Despite having histories of violence and peace, Christianity and Islam can be freed from exploitable loopholes and renewed to promote social virtues. Each religion of God is originally a source of rapid material and moral progress for mankind. However over time, like all things, it will slowly begin to decline and eventually lose its original influence and beauty, and is then in need of renewal.[14]

 

Who benefits from the distraction of religious agreement?

Societies progress by collaborating to utilize their human and natural resources to produce what they need for sustenance and profit. However, when members of a society continuously clash on ethnicity and religion, they become unproductive, needing external products for sustenance. Also, in the heat of inter-ethnic and religious clashes, societies trade valuable resources for weapons and sustenance commodities. British industrialists formed Nigeria by brutally yoking several unconsented kingdoms of varying religions under a militarized federal government for obtaining mineral resources. It could thus, be inferred that colonialists enlarged the seed of conflict, and have been reaping cheap mineral resources.

 

Though Christianity, Islam and Traditional Religions can be misused for fuelling superstition and crisis, they can also be used for improving productive collaboration. They can shape social behaviours by emphasizing the fundamental social values of sincerity, modesty and generosity. The religious bodies can evaluate the interpretation and application of the doctrines disseminated as theirs in modern civilization of human rights and enlightenment. Thus, despite the need to respect people’s freedom of worship, responsible governments may assist different religions to evaluate the formation process of religious bodies and leaders for common good. Qualification for religious leadership may, thus, require social-philosophical training and psychological evaluation to avoid poisoning the society with dangerous doctrines and values. Also, religious leaders may have to take legal responsibility for the effect of their doctrines in the society. For freedom of worship does not imply a freedom to mislead people into conflicts and unproductivity.

 

“In truth, religion is a radiant light and an impregnable stronghold for the protection and welfare of the peoples of the world. For the fear of God impelleth man to hold fast to that which is good, and shun all evil. Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness and justice, of tranquillity and peace cease to shine. Unto this will bear witness every man of true understanding.” – Baha’u’llah[15]

[1] Bible story adapted from Genesis 11:1-9

[2] Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 4

[3] Battista Mondin, Philosophical anthropology (Rome: Urbaniana University press: 1985) p.196

[4] Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Ia IIae question Part 2. Q1, a7-8.

[5] Battista Mondin. Op. Cit. p.196

[6] Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, International Student’s Edition. S.V. Religion

[7] Cf. Thomas Aquinas, op. cit.

[8] Cf. Thomas Aquinas, op. cit.

[9] Ahmadu Kurfi and Oyelade Bello, Know your country and beyond (Ibadan: Safari books, 2014) p.53

[10] Oladele Fadeiye, European conquest and African resistance (Lagos: Murfat publications, 2011) pp38-44

[11] Thomas Aquinas, Op. cit.

[12] Ashmede Asgarali, “Does Islam have a central authority?”, Masters from University of Manitoba (1978) https://www.quora.com/why-doesnt-Islam-have-a-central-authority

[13] Aboutislam.net/counselling/ask-about-islam/islams-structure-religious-authority/

[14] http://oneglobalfaith.org/for-the-curious/spirituality-without-religion/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw5fDWBRDaARIsAA5uWTjKqydQOr2bzy7DygFXISe6qhFcdWUHlXtP1M7oAwCEh1A5EOvJ6YsaAuONEALw_wcB

[15] Ibid