By Fassy Yusuf
THIS is a country that is difficult to x-ray especially when it comes to the issue of religion. Head or tail, you are misunderstood!
Ordinarily, religion is ‘the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.’
According to Wikipedia, ‘Religion is a social-cultural system of designated behaviours and practices, morals, worldviews, texts, or organisations that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, and spiritual elements.’
It is, indeed, a system of beliefs and practices by means of which a group of people struggle with the ultimate problem of life.
Furthermore, ‘Religion is an organised collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence.
Many religions have narratives, symbols, and sacred histories that are intended to explain the meaning of life and/or to explain the origin of life or the Universe’.
The purposes of the practice of a religion, in my humble view, are to achieve the goals of salvation for oneself and others, and to render due worship and obedience to God. We all have different understandings of salvation and God.
In the modern world, there are seven major religions, namely: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism with differences in many respects, including how each religion is organised and the belief system each upholds.
According to the worldwide percentage of adherents by religion (2015), Christianity (31.2%), Islam (24.1%), No religion (16%), Hinduism (15.1%), Buddhism (6.9%), Folk religions (5.1%), Other religions (0.51%), Sikhism (0.29%), and Judaism (2-0.2%).
The characteristics of religion can be broken into the following arenas (see www.learnreligions.com):
Belief in Supernatural Beings,
Sacred versus Profane Objects, Places, Times,
Rituals Acts focused on Sacred objects, Places Times,
Moral Code with Supernatural Origins,
Characteristically Religious feelings,
Prayer and other forms of Communication, and
A World view and organisation of One’s life based on the World view.
Most of the dominant religions in the world today, have been in existence for over two thousand years, whereas, the Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Tiv, Kanuri, Efik, Ibibio, Gwari, Nupe, Igala and others occupying the now present geographical space called Nigeria had existed without any knowledge of Islam nor Christianity until less than one thousand years ago!
While I stand to be corrected, my research tells me that Islam was introduced to northern Nigeria as early as 11th century (a little over one thousand years) and Muhammed Rumfa (1463-1499), a Sultan of the Sultanate of Kano, was the first ruler to convert to Islam in Hausaland, whilst Islam spread in the north.
It was the Fulani War of 1804-1808 championed by Usman dan Fodio that eventually led to the extinction of Hausa Kingdoms.
In other words, Usman dan Fodio did not bring Islam to the north, he only succeeded in spreading Islam through his conquests of many of the Hausa Kingdoms.
On the other hand, Christianity came to Nigeria in the 15th century through Augustinian and Capuchin monks from Portugal.
However, the first mission of the Church of England was established in 1842 in Badagry by Henry Townsend, whilst Samuel Ajayi Crowther brought the first Bible to Nigeria some years later.
With considerable evangelism and evangelisations, Islam and Christianity became the two dominant religions in the country pushing aside the Traditional religions of the people that they met!
Christianity and Islam are two of Abrahamic religions. Others include Judaism, Baha’I Faith, Yezidi, Druze, Samaritan, and Rastafari. Here we are concerned with Christianity and Islam.
These two religions recognise Abraham as their first prophet. The point should be made that Christianity, Islam and Judaism trace their origins back to Abraham, who, in Genesis, had humanity’s first relationship with God after the failures of Noah’s flood and the Tower of Babel.
Judaism and Christianity trace their tie to Abraham through his son Isaac, and Islam traces it through his son, Ismael.
Indeed, the Islam’s Holy Khabah was started by Prophet Abraham and the sacrifice during Id-El Adha was as commanded by God to Abraham.
Fundamentally, the central tenet of Christianity is the belief in Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah (Christ). Christians believe that Jesus, as the Messiah, was anointed by God as saviour of humanity and hold that Jesus’ coming was the fulfilment of messianic prophecies of the Old Testament.
There are three main Christian values, namely: Love (a fundamental characteristics of who God is and it is a value that is to describe His children as well), Generosity (the core of Christian value of being kind and unselfish, especially with our money and time), and Courage (characterised by boldness and confidence).
Generally, Christians believe in one God that created heaven, earth, and the universe.
On the other hand, the absolute focus of Islamic piety is Allah, the Supreme, All knowing, All powerful, and above all, All-merciful God. There are five pillars of Islam, viz:
Belief in Allah as the one and only God, and Belief that the Holy Prophet Mohammed is His Apostle and Prophet,
Pray five times daily,
Giving alms to the poor and needy,
Fasting in the month of Ramadan, and
Pilgrimage to Makkah and Madinah if you have the means.
There are Ten Commandments in the Bible, including:
I am the Lord, your God. You shall have no other gods before me,
You shall not worship false gods,
You shall never take my name in vain,
You shall keep the sabbath day Holy,
Honour your Father and Mother,
You shall not murder,
You shall not commit adultery, and
You shall not steal.
It is stated in the Muslim Holy Book ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from Error (Q. 2:256).
The real essence of religion is by directly seeing God at the base of nature and at the base of the self that we can feel God’s infinite warmth and attain to the essence of religion, which is to live in God. The essence of true reverence and love for God can emerge only from living in God.
Unfortunately, in our country religion, which should be a personal belief, has been elevated to the beginning and end of everything. We pretend to be holier than the Pope and better than the Custodian of Khabah (Holy site in Makkah). We have allowed religion to polarise us as if religious dogmatism would guarantee salvation.
Ordinarily, wearing of veil should not be a threat to knowledge acquisition but some of our religious leaders on the two divides are making a mountain out of a molehill. Incredibly sad, indeed.
At a time when nations are contending with issues of development, health, education, technology, climate change, global sustainability, and human rights, we are festering on the issue of veil (aka hijab)! Head covering was introduced into Arabia long before Prophet Muhammed, primarily through Arab contacts with Syria and Iran.
Hijab is an Islamic concept of modesty and privacy, usually expressed through female dressing. It is often a cultural, not a religious construct.
Many Catholics and other Christians use veil or hijab, and there is nothing sacrosanct about wearing it. No female can go to any of the established Churches without a veil or hijab.
As a Muslim with a Christian mother and Christians as siblings, it is never an issue. Our albatross is the underdevelopment and lack of empathy towards other sects or religions.
We all believe that my religion is better than yours. Whereas only God knows those that are pious. It is not when you turn your face to Kiblah (Holy Site) that you are worshipping God; nor all those that call God, the Father, that are serving God.
As a country, we must move away from religious bigotry and zealotry and pursue the essence of life and God’s mission on earth.
The unending hullaballoo between Christianity and Islam in the country should stop to avert a conflagration that can consume the nation. Hijab should not be an issue in a sane country.
I am not going to contest what the highest court of the land would say on the matter. They are made up of human beings and are therefore, fallible. Infallibility belongs to God.