As the 2020 First Quarter Meeting of the Nigeria Inter-religious Council (NIREC) held on March 12, 2020 at Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, under the theme, “Together We Can Grow Peace For The Nation”, it is auspicious to appreciate the commonalities of the two religions that 90 per cent of Nigerians practise. Yet, the fact that a vast majority of Nigerians are either Muslims or Christians, who respectively claim to be followers of the Religion of Peace and the Prince of Peace, is often the basis for undue rivalry and inter-faith conflict in the country.
The theme of the meeting was partly informed by the tension that defined inter-religious relations in the country between December and February, 2020, as disclosed by the Executive Secretary of NIREC, Fr. Prof. Cornelius Omonokhua, when newspapers were inundated with reactions and counter-reactions bordering on differences in the appraisal of the state of the nation.
One major implication of NIREC, co-chaired by the President-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, and the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. (Dr) Sam Oyekunle, for Nigeria is that we can achieve unity without uniformity. This is accentuated by the fact that the world in which we live is not even homogenous in any way, yet, world countries still manage to come together through various international platforms to achieve common objectives.
Given the peculiarity of Nigeria as a country where Muslims and Christians have almost the same population, the need of the day is to identify and solidify areas of convergence, rather than exaggerate areas of divergence. One powerful area of convergence of the two religions, along with their triplet, Judaism, is that they are monotheistic religious traditions that are rooted in the same Prophet, Abraham and Ibrahim, scripturally described as the ‘father of faith’.
This need for Muslims and Christians in Nigeria to appreciate how they can work together becomes imperative against the dominant media narrative that portrays them as enemies or rivals who operate on parallel lines that cannot meet. The urgency of inter-religious harmony is also predicated on the fact that Nigeria is such a religiously balanced country in which no one can claim outright victory in the event of an all-out conflict.
Apart from having the same origin in the same Prophet of God, the two religious are united on what should constitute values that define faith. As I noted in “Religion as a Catalyst for Peacebuilding, National Integration and Conflict Management in Nigeria”, a paper presented at the Conference on “Religion as a Tool for National Cohesion” organised by the Save Humanity Advocacy Centre in collaboration with the Africa Studies Development Unit, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in Abuja, on November 9, 2018, religion in general or Islam and Christianity in particular, is all about righteousness, education, love/law, ideology, gratitude, generosity, orderliness and naturality, all of which can be said to be the meaning of religion, when perceived as an acronym.
That both Christianity and Islam make love a core component of their teachings is evident in the Golden Rule that you should only “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and the Prophetic tradition that “none of you truly believes until you love for others what you love for yourself.” This means that religion is vain and useless if not built on the foundation of love which makes peace reign in any society.
The world is a terrible state because human beings have failed to understand their own history and origin. The world is embroiled in war and violence because men have replaced the power of love with the love of power in their secular and religious activities.
Without understanding and appreciating the ultimate origin of religion as God, Who every religious follower claims to serve, human beings will continue to wander in the dark caught in the webs of Shaitan. It is high time Nigerians, regardless of their religious affiliations, ethnic identities or political persuasions, realised that we are all from God and to Him we shall all return. However, our meeting with Him will not be pleasant except by embracing love, peace, justice and other religious virtues in our interactions with fellow human beings.