The National Muslim Council of Liberia, under the auspices of the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia (IRCL) and with support from the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) recently conducted a one- day dedicatory prayer and intercessory service in honor of children in Liberia.
The prayer and intercessory service came within a month when the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC) along with the IRCL and UNICEF held similar service for children in which the LCC renewed call for their protection against all societal ills. But the service by the Muslim Council was in slight contrast to the one held by LCC because a significant portion of the occasion was performed by children themselves and not by adults as was in the case of the LCC.
During the prayer service, keynote speaker Mohammed Konneh, extolled the Creator of mankind and reminded the students and youths about their roles and responsibilities as children towards their parents and society on one hand and the role of parents towards their children.
He urged parents to ensure their children's protection as enshrined in the Holy Qur'an and the tradition of Prophet Muhammad. Mr. Konneh, who is also Manager of the Warrebi Academy, reminded teachers and parents that the best form of training or punishment is not beating students or children; thereby urging them to develop and adopt strategies in the confines of the religion that advise them instead of banging them.
Though he was not emphatic to say beating children was tantamount to abuse, he said the religion of Islam had already set guidelines to train and punish someone, of which beating is the last result.
For his part, the First National Vice Chairman of the Muslim Council, Sheikh Oumara A. Kamara, sent a reminder to the general public and Muslims in particular that in order to ensure the full protection of children, parent must first follow their religious teaching as to how children are brought into this world.
He said if children are borne in marriages that are initiated and knotted according to God's command; the likelihood of children abuse will be slim. Mr. Kamara, who led the prayer for children and the nation of Liberia, beseeched the God's protection over children who have lost their parents to death as well as those who do not have parents as result of divorce or separation.
He also asked God's protection over children who continue to roam the streets because of different of reasons beyond their control. Reiterating that children are a blessing and the future of any given nation, the Muslim Cleric said it is an obligatory responsibility of every person to protect the children from any form of abuse.
He made particular reference to a Qur'anic teaching that instructs Muslim parents to treat their children and family with love and care and at the same time ensure their protection from societal vices and from the hell fire.
For his part, the National Chairman of the Muslim Council, Sheikh Kafumba F. Konneh, expressed gratefulness that though the service was intended to pray for children in Liberia, the performances of Muslim students at the occasion was a clear indication that their protection is already in full swing and only needs guidance from parents and the larger society.
The Sheikh said not only did Muslim students and children expose how educated and knowledgeable they have become about their roles as children to their parents and society, but also they proved that they were aware of the parents' role and responsibility towards them as children.
This, he said, was a milestone for the Muslim community in its strife to uphold a "religious teaching and a new global fight to protect children."
However, Sheikh Konneh maintained that while parents wish their children would honor and obey them and grow in the right way, they should not expect much of their children if they as parents do not put their children on a right trajectory and protect them from all forms of abuse; indicating that what parents sow in their children is what might reap. He warned against careless parentage; saying such lays the basis for the abuse of the child.
He assured children of the Muslim Council's commitment to work with child protection agencies, both in and out government and the United Nations in advocating for the protection of children in Liberian and around the world.
He concluded by expressing regrets over the absence of UNICEF at the program. The Sheikh intoned that watching video recordings and reading newspaper stories about the program will not replace and guarantee the interactions UNICEF might have had with children and their parents during such occasion.
Though UNICEF is a main partner in both programs with the LCC and NMCL, which is under the auspices of the IRCL, the UN Children Fund was also not present at the prayer service held last month at the Lutheran Church in Sinkor, Monrovia by the Liberia Council of Churches.
Besides UNICEF, the Liberian Muslim leader lampooned the Government of Liberia for not attending or being represented at the program. Both the Ministries of Labor and Gender & Development were invited but failed to attend the service.
At the same time, both current and past Secretary Generals of the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia, Mr. Mohammed Sheriff and Rev. St. John York, agreed with one another that such program should be attended by representatives from both religions - irrespective of who might have organized it.
Sheikh Konneh, among the rest of the Muslims agreed that the LCC should have been invited and present on the children program. The Muslims, too, were not present at the LCC services last month. Both religious blocs have agreed to begin to work on modalities to ensure that they are hence present or represented at each other's programs.
IRCL in partnership with UNICEF has been engaged in the implementation of a project title: "Strengthening the response Mechanisms of Religious Communities against violence and abuse of children." The project's focus on children between ages 0-17 and therefore highlights concerns for the protection of adolescent girls who in the IRCL and UNICEF context are quick in becoming mothers.