The Inquirer (Monrovia)

14 February 2013

Liberia: Religious Tolerance - a Source of Unity and Cohesiveness

opinion

The field of journalism provides latitude that affords a journalist the opportunity of diversely looking at several issues whenever he or she goes on his/her beat or to cover a particular event. Normally, there is always high focus on the main event, something considered as the "main bar." But sometimes, there may be other events or happenings, which are considered as the "side bar" with great news value, or can be treated from a feature perspective.

In some instances, the "side bar" may overshadow what is generally expected to be highly featured as the most important aspect of that event that is of public interest, knowing that "news is any thing of public interest."

On Tuesday, the Catholic Church of Liberia held a mass in observance of the 77th birth anniversary of ailing Archbishop Michael Kpakala at the Sacred Heart Cathedral on Broad Street. The colorful occasion in the embellished church, brought together hundreds of persons, including members of various fraternal organizations within the church.

As expected, the 'main bar" which was about honoring the Bishop on his natal day was reported in some media institutions yesterday. The comments of the main speaker were also reflected in those reports by the media. The media institutions that reported that angle of the service were not wrong as it was the main focus. Notwithstanding, there were many "side bars" and then the main focus of the occasion. Such side bars can either be treated as human interest story or feature article. One of which was the presence of the Muslim Council of Liberia led by its leader Sheik kafumbah Konneh.

As I was leaving the church to return to work, I saw the Council's delegation led by its leader ascending the steps to enter into the edifice where the service took place. As I passed by them with appropriate greetings, I intuitively said to myself that, that was a positive development in the country's strive to building a united and cohesive society.

One of the reasons why some societies have been atomized or disintegrated today is owing to religious intolerance. When one group feels that their religion is better than those of others, then, there is always a problem. This can also be likened to ethnocentrism, where one group feels their culture or beliefs are supreme to others. Such a feeling makes such group to see that of others as contemptuous. Obviously, such feeling and belief also bring about misunderstanding because of the lack of tolerance.

Article 14 of the Liberian constitution speaks of this issue of religious freedom. In that article it states; "All persons shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscious and religion and no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment thereof except as may be required by law to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental right and freedoms of others. All persons who, in the practice of their religion, conduct themselves peaceably, not obstructing others and conforming to the standards set out herein, shall be entitled to the protection of the law. No religious denomination or sect shall have any exclusive privilege or preference over any other, but all shall be treated alike; and no religious tests shall be required for any civil or military office or for the exercise of any civil right. Consistent with the principle of separation of the religious and state, the Republic shall establish no state religion."

I take this recent example of the Muslim Council attending the Catholic Church service and even making remarks because of the significant of the service that brought together people from different backgrounds. I know of Christians who have also attended events of Muslims. I recall during one of the Ramadan celebrations when Dr. Togba Nah-Tipoteh was seen in front praying along with Muslims on the end of the fast month. My former neighbors in the Bardnersville Estate, the Golafah are Muslims. Tolerance took us a long way, as there was no confusion or misunderstanding over religious matters. I still cherish such tolerance.

Although the Constitution provides "no state religion," the enforcement and realization of this constitutional provision depends on the citizenry who may come from different religious beliefs. If one group feels that its religion is "better" or "supreme" than that of others, misunderstanding and confusion are bound to befall such society.

As I was doing research on "religious tolerance, ' I came across one definition that refers to it as "allowing followers of other religions to follow their spiritual beliefs without oppression or discrimination. Religious tolerance is a fundamental right in a democracy. Most people believe that religious tolerance, using this definition, is a noble goal, and is vitally necessary for world peace. Of course, no right is absolute. Tolerance may not necessarily extend beyond religious beliefs to include some religious actions - particularly those that harm or harass others. Similarly, one quotation from one Anon who puts it this way, "Religious tolerance means to refrain from discriminating against others who follow a different religious path. Tolerance is more difficult to maintain when you know that your religion is true and their religion is wrong."

Fundamentally, considering these points, one can clearly say that religious tolerance is accepting the beliefs of others and even points out and deviations from such written materials. Sometimes misunderstanding of these sacred books can bring about deviations and something detrimental to the society. There might be instances where people may use religion for selfish reasons. I know of a case of instance that a particular Christian Faith was espousing, to the annoyance of the society. In addition, I heard of an incident in which some followers were burnt to death in a particular society. These are vices we must firmly confront in a peaceful and gentle way as no religion encourages such acts.

But all-in-all, religious tolerance is healthy for any society because the absence of this is a recipe for chaos and confusion. This is why I take interest in this issue involving the leadership of the Muslim Council that attended the mass at the Catholic Church on Tuesday.

As a nation and people, let us continue to promote and encourage religious tolerance. This is one way to move this country forward. We are aware of the work of the Inter-Faith Council of Liberia, a body that brought Muslims and Christians together in finding peace during the turbulent years in this country. Let us still continue for the collective good of society.

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