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Opinions of Sunday, 28 October 2012

Columnist: Kuyini, Ahmed Bawa

Don’t force Muslim students into Christian worship

– Is Prez Mahama right ?

On Friday 26 October 2012 President John Mahama called on school authorities to stop the practice where by in some senior high schools Muslim students are forced to observe the Christian faith because it infringes on the right to freedom of worship as enshrined in the constitution. The President’s pronouncement about this problem, which exists in both public and private schools, drew negative responses from some Ghanaweb readers. Some people defended the practice and that “if you go to Rome do what the Romans do”.

I find it profoundly astonishing that a practice such as this, which belittles Christian worship, still finds support among some Christians. For any Christian to think that it is alright to force non-Christians to attend church services borders on ignorance about the purpose of worship and lack of respect for Christian worship. Forcing Muslim students to worship in church violates their human rights, imposes psychological torture on the young people, is completely at variance with true Christian principles, and Jesus Christ will never accept that such be visited on any human being. How then can some Christians get it so wrong? Are we really saying that God would love to see a young boy or girl sitting in his House of Worship upset, angry and depressed and yet singing words of praise with contempt? Let us think again.

We need to note that one of the most fundamental and irrefutable principle of worship and religious expression is that it comes from the heart. And to force Muslim students to worship against their free will does not pass this test. It is psychological violence and immoral. No deity of any prescription or description (be it from the perspective of Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism or Islam) will be happy to have a person worshipping with strong reservation or abhorrence. This is exactly what happens when you force Muslims to worship in the Christian way. Do we seriously think that Jesus Christ, a unique embodiment of humility and tolerance would appreciate such practice whereby a young child or teenager is sitting in the church angry and trying to understand why such injustice has been imposed upon him/her? God and Christ will not appreciate such worshippers. Why then do we do it? The answer lies in either the fact that we are following the practice of the colonial church, which used intimidation in mission schools to convert African children or that we are following the common mistake of organised religion. A common problem with organised religion is that it often loses its moral focus and instead directs its attention to power and control. It therefore becomes political, inhumane, insignificant and detached from the real issues of human kind. This is exactly what we saw when people supported the coercion of Muslim students. They stopped thinking about the essence of the Christian worship and began to think about the politics of religion, which is about power. How can we be so ignorant about the essence of worship to actually think like this? From my experience with other religions, worship is not taken lightly. Most religions including Islam and Hinduism would not compel people to come to the Mosque or Temple if they don't have faith in what is going to occur there. So it is strange that our headmasters, pastors and school chaplains are belittling the Christian service in this way. What is the point having a disgruntled young person in a church service? I wonder whether or not our school heads and chaplains have thought about this problem in this way. If they have not, then they should and make sure that they change because the only feelings these Muslim students have when they are compelled are abhorrence, injustice and perhaps hatred. Let us not, in our ignorance of what Christian worship is about, strive to create negative attitudes in non-Christians. President John Mahama is right, in that Ghana’s secular constitution guarantees the right of religious expression and this extends to the fact that public educational institutions must ensure that all students are free to worship. Further Christian or Muslim supported schools, which receive Government funding, should have this principle enshrined in the culture of their schools. This is necessary for two reasons: First, the school is an institution for learning and not a church or mosque. If a person walks into a Church, Temple or Mosque, he or she will have no reason to think that he/she should be allowed to worship in a totally different way from what the building was designed for. However, schools are not houses of worship. Rather they are centres of learning and it would make more sense to separate religious practice from education. Thus extending worship within schools beyond what is required by the curriculum is inappropriate. Secondly, there has been true religious tolerance in Ghana for hundreds of years now and there is hardly a family where you will not find siblings or extended family relations believing in different faiths – Traditional religion, Christianity or Islam. Most of us don't think ill of our family members who believe in a different faith and we need to maintain this tolerance. However, in recent times, it is becoming quite apparent that many of us who have become Christians or Muslims think that our brothers and sisters who follow our traditional religions must give up and follow Christianity or Islam. To a large extent that is wishful thinking and absurd, particularly when we recall the fact that many of us are the first Christian or Muslim in our family or that a generation ago, our ancestors were traditional worshippers.

Do we think Christianity or Islam is better than African traditional practices? The answer is in our own hearts and minds; a matter of faith. In other words, this personal conviction of the superiority of Christianity or Islam is purely subjective. My point is that, if we are so ignorant enough to think that by forcing people to worship, we will make the whole world Christian or Muslim, we are simply tickling ourselves. And to know that we are tickling ourselves, we just have to look at India and China, which make up nearly 50% of the world population and yet have less than 5% believing in Christianity and Islam. I personally believe that if you are headmaster or priest and you force young people to worship Christ just because you have authority over them, God will not be impressed because they sing the praises in a state of trauma, reservation and half-heartedness. Let us come back to our senses.

Dr. Ahmed Bawa Kuyini (For CEVS-Ghana, Tamale).