Religion of Thursday, 14 March 2013
Source: Salisu, Mohammed
Feeling the same way the French Philosopher, Denis Diderot felt during the age of Enlightenment, a movement that was devoted to a critical reexamination of accepted doctrines and institutions from the point of view of rationalism; I have resolved to start this piece with his assertion, that “education, persuasion, and prayer are the only legitimate means of spreading religious faith. Any method that produces hatred, indignation, and contempt is impious. Any method that arouses the passions and supports selfish interest is impious. Any method that weakens the natural bonds of the family and alienates fathers from their children, brothers from brothers, and sisters from sisters is impious. Any method that would tend to stir up men, to arm nations, and to soak the earth with blood is impious. And it is impious to want to impose laws upon man’s conscience: this is a universal rule of conduct. People must be enlightened and not constrained”. To further reiterate his point, Denis categorized intolerance into two. Whiles Ecclesiastic intolerance according to him consists in regarding as false all other religions except one’s own and in demonstrating or shouting this true religion from the rooftops without being stopped by any form of terror, sense of decency, or even the risk of death, Secular intolerance consist in breaking off all relations with those people who have a different conception and way of worshipping God and in persecuting them by all sorts of violent means.
It is to purge this orgy of servitude that all the Heavenly Books, although may be advocating for one faith or the other, did not make a believe in a particular religion obligatory to all mankind. And Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights signed on the 12th of October, 1948, asserts freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It particularly affirms the individual’s right to worship, observe and teach a religion of his/her choice.
Seriously frustrated by the fact, that many of the Pagans in Mecca at that time turned a deaf ear to his call to Islam, God made it categorically clear to Muhammad not to be upset, for [If it had been thy Lord’s Will, they would all have believed,- all who are on earth! Wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe!] Q10: 99. He was also reminded of his main mission, which is to; [Preach! for you are just to preach, but not to exert influence over them] Q 88:21-22. And to the Prophet and Muslims in general, the final and the sacred command was/is; [Let there be no compulsion in religion] Q2: 256. So the recent pogrom attacks on Christians and incursions on their Churches in some part of the world and in Nigeria in particular have not only come as a shock to all well meaning Muslims across the globe, but has remained a bigger embarrassment to West African Muslims in particular. And as a student of Islamic Civilization, I feel ashamed of myself, and wished some Muslims have not grown to become enemies of Islam. Pushed by this circumstance, I have decided to make an expose` of how Islam has enjoined us to relate to our fellow brothers and sisters, the Christians.
THE QUR’AN AND CHRISTIANS
In describing the most pious Muslims, the Qur’an stated among other things, that they are; […those who believe in the Revelation sent to thee (Muhammad), and sent before thy time and (in their heart) they believe in the Hereafter] Q 2: 4. And say (you Muslims) that, [We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) Prophets from their Lord: we make no distinction between one and another of them: and we submit to Allah] Q 2: 136. And for those who would want to flout these rulings, note that [Those who deny Allah and His Messenger, and wish to separate between Allah and His Messengers, saying: “We believe in some but reject others”: and wish to take a course midway, - They are in truth Unbelievers; and we have prepared for Unbelievers a humiliating punishments] Q4:150-151. As for those who may be genuinely confused with the above verses, the following should set the record straight. [And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Torah that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light. And confirmation of the Torah that had come before him: a guidance and admonition to those who fear Allah] Q5:46. And [This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the Christians and Jews is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women among Christians and Jews, when ye give them their due dowries, and desire chastity, not lewdness, taking them as lovers] Q5:5.
MUHAMMAD AND CHRISTIANS
The excellent relations the Prophet had with Christians was driven by two main factors; first is his obedience to Qur’anic legislations to that effect, and two is his own affable demeanor which always translated into love and compassion to the other. In embarking on his exhortative activities, the Prophet wrote letters to some renowned political and religious leaders, explaining to them Islam, and inviting (and not threatening) them to embrace it. In His letter sent to Negus, the then King of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), the Prophet stated after a noble salutation, that “Indeed I praise none but (only) the one God, and I bear witness that Jesus- the son of Mary- was created from the WORD (kun in Arabic), just as He created Adam with his (two) hands. So I am inviting you to Islam, and to follow what has been revealed to me. May the Lord bless you”. There is however contradictory statements as to whether the King accepted Islam or not. But that for me is a minor. The important issue here is the “diplomatic” approach adopted by the Prophet in His call to the Islamic path.
What is however clear is the similar letter He sent to Maquqas, the then Archbishop of Alexandria and the Byzantine Governor of Egypt. Although he declined to embrace Islam, he was so touched by the content of the letter that he offered to the Prophet two Christian girls to choose one for marriage. The Prophet married Mariya whiles she remained a Christian for more than six months before she on her own evolution embraced Islam. For Sireen, He encouraged and assisted his personal Poet, Hassan bin Thabit to marry her. And she also remained a Christian for more than a year before embracing Islam on her own free will.
When a delegation of Priests visited Him in his house, the Prophet in honor of these august visitors spread His bridle on the floor for them to sit. And totally dismayed by His constant and total cooperation, solidarity and collaboration with Christians in social, political and economic issues, the companions asked the Prophet why all these “love and care” for people with different faith. The Prophet told them; “whoever harms a Christian has harmed me, and whoever harms me has harmed God”. And “whoever kills a Christian (intentionally) will never enter the kingdom of God”. And whiles lying on His sick bed bubbling to death, the Prophet kept reminding His Companions to ensure and protect the rights and liberties of their neighbors (i.e. Christians and Jews). But if circumstances demand that you discuss religious matters with them, remember to [argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for (it is only) thy Lord who knows best, one who has strayed from His path, and one who receive guidance] Q16:125.
THE CALIPHS AND CHRISTIANS
Having such a strong foundation established by the Prophet, the right guided Caliphs (Abu-Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali) did not reinvent the wheel, but rather continue, super cum laude, the good relationship the Prophet exhibited with Christians. But the Caliphate era which spanned from 632-661AD has a unique position in the history of Islam. Apart from the fact, that this period was characterized by terrible internal political upheavals, precipitating a social crisis leading to many assassinations, the era also witnessed an upsurge in the spread of Islam outside Arabia, a scenario known as “the conquest” (al-futuhaat in Arabic). As was the norm at that time, empires, religious groups and tribes moved around in a marauding way, raging attacks and annexing the lands (countries) of their victims. When this happens, the conquerors often imposed their language, culture and religion on the vanquished.
And although trade was a contributory factor, it is mainly through the “conquest” activities of these Caliphates that Islam entered Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and others. Years before then, these countries had their own languages and religions, with most of their populations being Christians. And as usual of the political ethos of that time, the Christians of these countries were “arabized” in language and culture when the (Arab) Caliphs “invaded” it, but were not “Islamized”. And if they were, the magnificent ancient and pre- modern Churches conspicuously coruscating in the cities of Cairo, Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad, Amman, Jerusalem, etc will not have been there till date. And there are two reasons why the Caliphs did not impose Islam on the Christians. First is their obedience to the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet, and second is the fact, that their target for the conquering was not Christians, but Pagans living in these countries, and who were not only at loggerhead with Christians, but also constantly tortured them for “insulting” their gods. So in some of these countries, Christians actually “helped” the Muslim conquerors to success. And history has testified to the camaraderie and esprit de corps that existed between Muslims and Christians all through these periods.
And although he was the strictest of all the Caliphs, Umar’s relationship with Christians in Palestine after he conquered it was very congenial and meritorious. He ingenuously organized both the Muslim and Christian youths to clean-up churches that were in shambles, and renovated those that were in tatters. He also kept reminding his Governors to vigorously ensure the rights and liberties of Christians in their territories. He also decreed for the poor, disabled and aged Christians (like their Muslim counterparts) to be taken care of by the “Islamic Endowment Fund”.
THE DYNASTIES AND CHRISTIANS
The years 661 to 1258AD witnessed a torrent development in the history of the world. The years saw the rule of the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties, and the spread of Islam to all the five continents of the world. But aside ensuring the religious, economic, political and social welfare of Christians, this era also witnessed a tremendous increase in the number of Christians in “Government machineries”. Christians were appointed by these Muslim rulers to important positions, and majority of the “Personal Assistants” and “Private Doctors” of these Muslim rulers were Christians. Under the Abbasid regimes in Baghdad, when Christians elected their leaders, they were officially inducted in the Muslim Rulers’ palace and ceremonies organized to that effect. Within these periods, Muslim communities were not secluded from the Christians’. They lived together in oneness, love and compassion. They celebrated each others yearly festivals, and attended one another’s weekly occasions. This was how Muslims and Christians lived as one family from the time of the Prophet till the tenth century. Although there used to be some sporadic skirmishes as is naturally expected in all human societies, situations quickly get back to normal and life went on. So why the recent attacks on churches in Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Zanzibar, etc? Why the hatred and animosity? Why the hostilities? How come all Churches in almost all Islamic countries are now given a twenty four hour police protection? What went wrong? THIS IS WHAT WENT WRONG I am not laying claim to the monopoly of knowledge. And I do not think I can exhaust all the dynamics that led to the cleavages and hostilities between these two Abrahamaic religions. But as a Muslim who has studied for many years in the traditional Islamic Schools (Makaranta) in Ghana, and also had the opportunity of studying in two different Universities in the Arab world, I feel I have a clue to the terror.
The “activities” of the Crusaders in the Middle East in the 9th-10th centuries was not only the straw that broke the camel’s back, but it also served as the turning point in the history of these two religions. The “Crusade” in itself is not the subject matter here, but the numerous FATWAS (an Islamic Legal opinion) that were issued during these turbulent periods is my focal point. Under such situations, Islamic Leaders who also combined as Political Leaders issued FATWAS denouncing Christians and calling for their heads where/whenever possible. Most of these FATWAS were issued in writing and sent to Governors of various territories. To strengthen their positions, these Islamic/Political Leaders supported their stances with some verses of the Qur’an that were revealed to the Prophet in relation to the way He should behave and react in the invent where the Muslim community was attacked by “outsiders”. Famous of these leaders who issued FATWAS during the “crusade” are Mu’in ad-Deen Unur (d. 1149), and Nuru ad-Deen Zangi (d. 1174). These leaders publicly and constantly described Christians as enemies of Islam and Muslims, outlawed any formal or informal relationship with them, and call on all Muslim farmers not to sell any food stuffs to them
The reactions of these leaders is quiet understandable considering the fact that Muslims were at war with Christians, with the latter being well armed than the former. And a good leader will use any means possibly to win a war. The danger however is that, these FATWAS have been published into books and are taught in Islamic schools in almost all the Islamic countries/communities. What is more serious is that, the socio/politico settings that led to the issuance of these FATWAS are not taught (at least) in the high schools and at the undergraduate levels. And what percentage of these students embarks on graduate studies? The works of these leaders during these tribulation periods is still rigorously taught by traditional Islamic scholars in Ghana. And the passion and irritation that often engulfed the atmosphere when these FATWAS are being explained is better left unsaid. Surprisingly, what seems not to ever occur to these “Islamic Scholars” is that, this kind of FATWAS was not issued by the above named leaders when life between Muslims and Christians before the “crusade” was normal and cordial. And they would not have issued these FATWAS in the Ghanaian setting where majority of the Muslim intellectuals are product of Christian missionary schools. These leaders would not have said this in our environment where from Kindergarten to the University, there is a higher possibility that a Muslim student will be taught only by teachers who proclaim Christianity, and yet grow to become a responsible Muslim. These leaders would not have issued these statements in our social setting where many Muslims still visit hospitals and clinics established by the Church. Etc!!
Similar of these “Anti Christian FATWAS” were also issued in the Islamic world when Israel was created in 1947. This time around, a lot more militant Islamic movements were established to help “execute” these FATWAS. Although Muslims all over the world are aware, that Israel is not a Christian country, the open knowledge however, is that the countries that backed the creation of the Israeli State in the United Nations and financially assisted in its realization are mainly “Christian countries”.
The recent attempt by a Pastor to burn a copy of the Qur’an in the United States, and the production of a film, ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad in the same country has muddied the waters more. BOKO HARAM The horrendous activities of the “Ahlul Sunna Lid-Da’wati Wal Jihad” group (a.k.a. Bako Haram) have been given a saturated coverage by all the major media houses across the globe. Whiles it is true that “Boko Haram” in Hausa language means “secular education is a sin”, we are morally obliged to state the true and rightful position of this militant group. Members of the group are not against secular education in itself, but the concomitant discomforts that come along with it. In other words, they are only against the “leisure-free-life-style” that secular education often comes with. For our private and religious lives, as stated by one of their spokesperson will be crumbled without secular education. He added that the guns and bombs we use were made by “secularists”. Many of us had travelled to Mecca for Hajj via Aircraft manufactured by “secularists” and driven by pilots trained in secular schools. We use cell phones and listen to the Qur’anic recitation either on televisions or radios manufactured by “secularists”. We pray in carpeted mosques with fans manufactured by “secularists”. We wear cloths made by secularists. We access medical services from people trained in secular schools. The list is endless! Again, Boko Haram bears this brand today because of the way Muslim students’ rights has been (and continue to be) violated with impunity in some secular schools in some part of Nigeria. Muslim students are forced to attend church services, and a favourable environment is not created for them to observe their daily prayers. And to worsen the situation, secular education has become a spring board for mastering nudity which in their estimation is being “encouraged” by the Church.
THE WAY FORWARD IN GHANA
Sadly, all the situations that led to the formation of this obstinate group prevail in this country. Although the constitution of this country and the bye-laws of the Ghana Education Service vehemently reject it, Muslim students are still being forced to attend church services in our schools. Christian Church services have become “school functions”. And we were in this country when a Muslim student jumped to his death in a senior high school in cape coast because he rightfully didn’t want to attend church service. Has anything changed? I wonder what would happen if one day the Muslim prayer becomes a “school function” in any of the Ahmadiyya schools. Hell will surely break loose. Apart from the fact that the issue will be made major headlines by the local and the international media, Human Rights bodies would surely issue one statements after another about it. A convenience place for Muslim students to even observe their daily prayers is a problem in many of our schools. Because of these challenges and others, many Muslim parents are refusing to enroll their wards in secular schools for fear of them being Christianized. And the Ghanaian State is paying dearly for this. It is for this reason that I suggest the following.
First, the Government should ensure, that Muslim Students in our schools are given the necessary environment for them to practice their religion. For history has shown that, no matter how long a group of people are suppressed and subjugated, a time will come they will revolt. And since frustration leads to aggression, the Government should work hard to eradicate all the frustrations Muslim students are facing in this country. For I am sure it would have been cheaper for the Nigerian Government to pay for this price than what they are paying for now. Second, since Arabic language remains the liturgical language of Muslims, Arabic can never be separated from Islam. It is in connection to this, that I am proposing to the Arabic Section of the University of Ghana to organize some kind of a yearly “New Year School” for these numerous “Islamic Scholars” who preach and teach in our Zongo communities across the country. The aim of this “school” should be to reform and refine their knowledge in Arabic/Islamic studies, with the core subject being “Muslim- Christian relations”.
Finally, to all Muslims and Christians, remember Denis Diderot’s statement that if you cry out that the truth is on your side, I will cry out as loudly that I have the truth on my side, but I will add: it does not matter who is mistaken, provided that there is peace among us. If I am blind, must you strike a blind person in the face?
Ghana Institute of Languages, Accra Saleh2g2@yahoo.com