Daily Trust (Abuja)

16 November 2012

Nigeria: Reflections On Our Common Rituals

In this year alone, Nigerians - Christians and Muslims - have shared three religious rituals together. The word rituals, is used sociologically to mean - the expression of religious beliefs.

Firstly, Christians observed their annual festival of the Lenten season by fasting for a period of forty days culminating in the celebration of Jesus' resurrection from the dead at Easter ( Feb. 22nd-April 8th). The Muslims followed with the Ramadan when they fasted for a period of thirty days culminating with the celebration of Eid ul-fitr (festival of the breaking of the fast).

During this last Ramadan (20 July-18, August), for the first time in the history of Christian - Muslim relations in Nigeria, there were more joint iftah i.e. "breaking of fast" together than one recalls in recent past. This was a very good omen and a positive development in the relationship between these two communities in the northern parts of the country in particular. Unfortunately, the Christian community did not invite Muslim faithful with the same enthusiasm and frequency during the Lenten period!

The second ritual is the very recent one that has just ended - eid adha - the "Festival of Sacrifice". For this ritual we will only make a few remarks and leave the details for a whole article. This festival is the celebration of the willingness of Abraham who sought the cooperation of his son, Ishmael (not mentioned in the story) to offer him as a sacrifice to God. Having demonstrated his total obedience to God, God, replaced This son with a ram for that particular sacrifice ( As-Saffat, 37:100-111).It is this belief that eid adha reminds the Muslims of -the ritual of ram sacrifice.

This same story is told in both the Jewish Bible and Christian Old Testament almost exactly with one major difference -the son is specifically named as Isaac- (Gen. 22:1-18) in the Jewish and Christian Scripture. Whether we call him Abraham or Ibrahim - there is no theological significance as unfortunately, some ill-informed leaders of both communities would want us to believe. It is worth noting at this point that among the Iranians it is Isaac and not Ishma'il that was offered to God!

Both communities emphasize the lesson of Abraham's total obedience to God - for that God blessed him in a very special way.

This sacrifice in Islam has its relevance for the Christian Community in the feast of Easter when Christians observe the substitution of Isaac in the death of Jesus on the Cross. In Christian theological terms, Jesus is the perfect Lamb that takes away the sin of the whole world which resulted from the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Christians therefore, could see Eid Adha as the Islamic expression of the sacrificial death of Jesus on the Cross!

In both faith traditions, the lesson is the same - obedience - total obedience to God! Abraham demonstrated his trust in God, Jesus Christ wholly surrendered Himself to die for the entire world so as to be reconciled back to God. Both faith traditions teach that only those who are truly obedient are followers of God - those who are truly submitted to Him are able to enjoy His blessings.

From this eid celebration comes our third common ritual, the hajj - one of the Five Pillars of Islam - it is a command, a wajib in Arabic. As I write or you read this article, the Muslim pilgrims for this year are on their way back from this religious journey to Nigeria. As our Muslim Colleagues return, some Christians, particularly those who believe in Pilgrimage to Jerusalem are on their way to Jerusalem.

For the Christian community, pilgrimage to Jerusalem is not commanded; it is not a religious injunction. Unfortunately, the fever of an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem and some to Rome has caught up with a good number of Christians in Nigeria.

Christians must now accept this reality that this ritual, a command to all Muslims has infested some Christian faithful who, though not a requirement for blessings from the Lord in the Christian faith, have begun to make this ritual almost an obligation.

Lessons for both the Christian and Muslim Communities

Firstly, the sharp increase in sharing iftah together during the Ramadan needs to be taken beyond just the thirty-day period. To prove to those who have interpreted this as a political agenda, and also cynical about having a constructive engagement with our Muslim faithful, we suggest that this initiative should now move to a higher level by studying our scriptures together and getting involved with each other in community development projects. The Anglican diocese of Kaduna is already engaged with the WAFF Road Mosque Forum in Kaduna along this line.

Secondly, these growing relationships between our two communities need to be encouraged further by activities in solidarity. Boko Haram scourge should be an opportunity for joint actions against those who are committed to fanning the embers of hatred between Christians and Muslims, and the destruction of the northern states. Our joint actions against this scourge will for confirm to the world that this is not what Islam teaches and preaches. Well-meaning leaders from both the Christian and Muslim communities must come closer, make more joint statements condemning Violence on one hand and encouraging our young unemployed youths to get engaged in lucrative jobs and shun the attraction to violence.

A third and final suggestion is a plea to all well-meaning Christians and Muslims to humble themselves and accept that there are no two or three Gods - there is only one God: Both the Christian and Muslim who know their scriptures agree that both the Holy Bible and the Glorious Qur'an affirm the following six claims.

1. There is only one God, the one and only divine being.

2. God created everything that is not God.

3. God is radically different from everything that is not God.

4. God is good.

5. God commands that we love God with our whole being.

6. God commands that we love our neighbours as ourselves.

As this writer continues to affirm, Christians and Muslims refer to the same God in their worship. This is a challenge to what I call holy living. It is how we live that tells others who our God is. The challenge before Christians and Muslims today in the northern states is to live what we believe. It is the way each Christian or Muslim behaves that informs the 'other' whether we worship the same God or not. The North has a significant number who profess to know this God - let such believers demonstrate their love for this God by living out their belief in Him. This is the only way we can save the lives of our young, intelligent men and women who in the future will help develop this part of the country as the southern parts.

Dr Idowu-Fearon is the Diocesan Bishop of Kaduna (Anglican Communion)

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