•Muslims worshipping with Christians on Christmas Day is indication that religious tolerance is possible

Editorial by The Nations Newspaper published on 5/01/2022

NEWSDAILYNIGERIA– For the better part of last year, just like the preceding ones in recent times, the dominant news from Kaduna and practically all the northern states have been gory tales of banditry, kidnapping, communal upheavals, ethnic crises and terrorism, among other sundry acts of violence. Kaduna has also been one of those states in which religious intolerance and extremism played key roles in compounding the problems of disunity, instability and disharmony.
No better news could thus have emerged from the North West state than when over 500 Muslims from seven states in the region reportedly joined their Christian fellow citizens at the Christ Evangelical and Life Intervention Ministry in attending the last Christmas service traditionally observed on December 25, to celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Remarkably, this incidentally was not the first time that Muslims would be participating in the Christmas festivities in Kaduna State alongside their Christian counterparts. According to the General Overseer of the Christ Evangelical and Life Intervention Ministry, Pastor Yohanna Buru, “this is the 10th year the church has been hosting Muslims from various states for Christmas celebrations. Last year, the number of Muslims that attended the church services outnumbered the Christians and this year also, many Muslims attended the church services. Over 500 Muslims from Kaduna, Kano, Zamfara, Katsina, Abuja and Niger states joined us at the service to promote peace and unity”. This year’s event obviously made news against the background of the deterioration in inter-ethnic and religious relations in Kaduna State and beyond in recent times.
Equally noteworthy is the fact that the Muslims who attended the Christmas church services cut across various sects, including the Tijjaniya, Shiiat, Kadriya and Sunni. Stressing the need for Muslims and Christians to live together in peace and harmony, the District Head of Kurmin Mashi, Kaduna, Alhaji Rabo Abdullahi, expressed happiness at the number of Muslim youths and Imams that participated in the Christmas service. A Muslim woman who was at the service, Hajiya Sumaya Gabi, gave an interesting insight into why Muslims attended the Christmas service which she said was because Pastor Buru had in the past brought some of his church members to celebrate the Islamic festival of Maulud with them. This is a striking indication of the power of leadership and the force of personal example to influence positive and harmonious relationship among the followership.
Explaining the rationale for his laudable initiative, Pastor Buru said “We must remember that we are created by one God, and we are the children of Adam and Eve, and we both have our holy scriptures (Bible and Quran) from one God which guided us on how to live in peace and harmony with each other”. Most of those who hate, harm and kill other people in the name of religion presume that they are acting on behalf of an Almighty God whose interest they are defending. They do not see the absurdity and illogicality of religious intolerance and extremism when the God they claim to believe in has the power to allow the existence of only one religion were that to be his desire. Rather, the religious diversity that exists in the world enriches human experience, reflects the sheer magnitude of the divine and illustrates the futility of trying to box the infinite creator into narrow human compartmentalisations.
In April last year, the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammed Sa’ad Abubakar III, when inaugurating a 1,800-seat capacity Central Mosque in Anyigba, Kogi State, commended the overwhelming presence of Christian clergymen at the event as unprecedented. Incidentally, the Sultan has collaborated with such other religious leaders like Bishop Hassan Kukah and Cardinal John Onaiyekan of the Catholic Church, for instance, to promote inter-religious harmony in the country. The Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) was formed in 1999 as a permanent and independent body to afford traditional rulers and religious leaders a platform to preempt and prevent ethno-religious crises from spiralling out of control whenever they occur. The Kaduna example should spur this body to intensify initiatives to continuously strengthen ties and relationships across religious divides in the country.
It will certainly not be out of place for the Kaduna State government to consider instituting an annual inter-religious thanksgiving service at which adherents of the different religious groups in the state can gather to worship God and further solidify religious harmony in the state. What has started as a private initiative can be given the legal and moral imprimatur of the state, given the multi-religious character of the society, notwithstanding the secularity of the Nigerian state. The show of unity by Muslims and Christians in Kaduna State last Christmas is a beam of light for the rest of us to find the path to greater, peaceful religious co-existence in Nigeria.

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