opinionBy Cornelius Omonokhua
Introduction: Religion and Ethnicity have been perceived as serious challenges to national sovereignty. Many people did not choose the religion and tribe they found themselves. The danger is that the horizon of some people is limited to the tribe and religion they have inherited. For instance, some Christians were made to believe that outside the Church, there is no salvation because Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and no one can reach God except through him. The Muslims inherited the teaching that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is the last and final prophet who received the message of Islam directly from God, therefore only those who accept Islam and unconditionally surrender to Allah will be saved.
The Indigenous Religions in Africa taught their children that Christianity is the religion of Europe while Islam is the religion of the Arabs and that these religions have come to erode the good values of Africa. Consequently, religious and ethnic communities have become the focus of dialogue and peace building to keep a nation united under a western system of government. Since 1960, the question of the national unity of Nigeria lingers and the voices of those calling for a national sovereign conference refuse to wane. Others have gone beyond that to demand for resource control and clear ethnic boundaries. This calls for a brief synopsis of the identity of these communities to see if any nation can really be one in her glaring diversity in a society under a sovereign and democratic leader.
The Christian Community Jesus was accompanied by a group of disciples, twelve apostles and women who ministered to him (Mark 3, 16-19; Luke 8, 1-3). The community of Jesus could be compared to that of the Zealots, who called for political revolution, the Pharisees who called for moral reform and the Essences who withdrew from the community regarding themselves as the elect. The Jewish nation saw the community of Jesus as the "sect of the Nazarenes." (Acts 24, 5; 24, 14; 28, 22) However, the community of Jesus was different in the sense that they did not withdraw from life as the other sects. Even the post-resurrection community often met in the temple (Acts, 2, 46). Jesus used the available culture, tradition, the environment and life style of the Jews to build his community (Matthew 5, 17-18). The community of Jesus was unique in the ministry of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace. These virtues became the condition for the acceptance of the offering by God in the temple (Matthew 5, 17-18). Jesus prayed for the unity of this community and the future ecclesiastical community (John 17). Jesus respected the existing political system of the Roman government by allowing the payment of the temple tax since Caesar and what belongs to Caesar belong to God (Mark 13, 9). After the resurrection, the disciples could look back to this decisive event as a fulfillment of the Old Testament. Baptism was required to belong to the community of Jesus. This was followed by the communal service of prayer or the breaking of bread. Jesus formed a living fellowship of love, the koinonia (Acts 2, 38-46) and successfully handed over leadership to the apostles making Peter the head of the community that was also called, "the church". The Church is the body of Christ because the supreme sacrifice of Jesus Christ was not outside himself. He was the priest and the victim. He willingly offered himself for his community to be reconciled to God and live in peace and harmony with one another and the people around them. This action was consummated on the cross. 'It was at Antioch that the disciples were first called 'Christians'" (Acts 11, 26). It should be noted that this community was one and universal at the time of Jesus and the apostles. The implication of this is a lesson to the Church today to be united and be equipped with the capacity to promote peace in the society.
The Ummah: The phrase Ummah Wahida in the Qur'an means the "One Community" brought out for Mankind to command what is righteous Ma'ruf and forbid what is wrong Munkar (Qur'an 3:110). In Arabic Ummah can also be used to mean "nation". Al-Umam Al-Muttahida, means the United Nations. The community in Islam is also called Jama'ah. In Islam religion is not separated from the social and the political aspect of life. All aspects of the society are bound by the discipline of Shareeah which is the law, the source of empowerment, the source of legislation and the driving force of the community. Qur'an 3: 102-105 describes what the community should look like in Islam. The Jama'ah is destined to become government and in early Islamic community the Jama'ah was powered and governed by discipline and order with a social and political structure. It had financial and economic accountability. It had a military response and a source of justice. However the Muslim community has a space and place for Christians and people of the book. We may need the Muslim scholars to explain to us the succession policy in the Ummah after the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). The need to sustain the message of peace and justice of the Ummah in the context of religious freedom is very important today more than ever before.
Challenge to National Sovereignty: When Tanzania gained independence from Britain in 1961, Julius Nyerere attempted an African based community "Ujamaa". He published his development blue print "Arusha Declaration" in 1967. Ujamaa which formed the basis of African socialism is a Swahili word for extended family. Nyerere believed that a person becomes a person through the people or community. He translated Ujamaa as the basis for a national development project. This included political-economic management model which collapsed as a result of the oil crisis that started in 1970. Another factor that affected Ujamaa was the collapse of export commodity prices especially of coffee and sisal. The war with Uganda in 1978 and two successive drought made it clear by 1985 that Ujamaa had failed. The implication of this Tanzania model is that it is not possible to have a nation of only Christians, or Muslims or any particular tribe because all men (and women) form one community from the one stock with a common destiny (Nostra Aetate 1; Acts 17, 26). This also shows that it is the will of God that all his creatures live together by creating unity out of diversity. If we observe any lacuna in our western heritage, we should constructively fill the gap with African values to build a global community. This will enable us contribute to the creation of beauty out of our varieties today for a better tomorrow.
Fr (Prof) Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja, and Consultor for the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (CRRM), Vatican City