opinionBy Rev. Fr. Ojaje Idoko
In the Shakespearean masterpiece, Julius Caesar, the Plebeians, the poor people were used as the door mat of the great power play. When the conspirators led by Brutus and Caius Cassius stabbed Caesar at the capitol and gave the reasons for their actions, accusing Emperor Caesar of inordinate ambitions, the plebeians shouted, good for him and they gave their full support to the conspirators. When Mark Anthony, the true friend of Caesar came to address the plebeians at the permission of the leaders of the coup, in no time he swayed the emotions of the people against the conspirators with his powerful speech of "I have come to bury Caesar not to praise him" fame.
In the Christian and Jewish world over, this week is considered the holiest of the weeks of the year. This is the week the Jews celebrate their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, this is Passover Week. And since last Sunday 24th March 2013, Christians started the Holy Week, holy because it is the week of the Lord's passion and death that gave freedom from slavery to sin and death. During this week, one of the high points of the activities is the capturing of Jesus Christ from Gethsemane by the detachment of the guards, who were fully armed to arrest a defenseless man. Jesus said to them, "Am I a brigand that you come with clubs and swords to arrest me?" (Mark 14:48). It was a violent attack on a defenseless man who meant no harm. His only crime was that the Jewish leaders could not tolerate his form of teaching. Their arguments were simply borne out of fear of losing what they thought was God's treasure put in their care, the leadership of the people and principles of their father as led down by Moses. They had cogent reasons backed by the laws of their religion. And the verdict was simple, he must die! For the High Priest, Scribes and Pharisees to succeed, they had to win the support of the crowd. Even those who had cheered Jesus on his triumphant entry into Jerusalem just few days back, were bought over with the accusation of the leaders "This man said he will destroy this Temple which took our fathers 46 years to build, he will change the laws of Moses and he claims to be God". For the ordinary unschooled follower of the Jewish religion, these were weighty accusations, tantamount to blasphemy. So he must die. So the song of "Hosanna to the Son of David changed to Crucify Him". Crowd manipulation! Yes, crowd manipulation is a dangerous thing. When people leave their will and faith in the hands of dubious people, that nation is in trouble.
It has become very difficult for the adherents of the two great religions in the world today to relate and live in peace because many unholy things have been brought into the practice of religion. Religion has been taken over by mercantile, political and leadership interests and the followers are manipulated to further these interests in favour of the leader. The violence that has enveloped the greater part of Northern Nigeria today is nothing more than crowd manipulation and control of the mind of man. It is foolhardy for one to think that they are fighting for the cause of God by destroying properties and human lives. Telephone masts, schools, police stations, markets, business places, banks and anything that catches their fancy goes up in flames. This cannot be in the name of God. This made the Catholic Bishops and other religious leaders, both Christians and non Christian to say that this fight can be anything but religious. But imagine that it is religious, which kind of god can tolerate this? It is encouraged that we allow our good religious values to rob on our daily lives including politics but it is wrong to use religion to feather political nests. When you mix religion with politics then you are working against the will of God.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam trace their religions to the root of Abraham. They are called Abrahamic religions. So can we call this a fight between brothers? Brother killing brother? The first account of human killing as contained in the holy books is that of Cain killing Abel and the reaction of God to that act was very disastrous to the perpetrator. Your brother's blood cries from the ground to me and I have heard his plea. When Jesus was being rough handled by the mob, Peter out of religious duty also pulled the sword, aimed it at the ear of Malchus, a servant of the High Priest and sliced it off in the name of religion. Jesus the master rebuked him, "put back the sword into its scabbard" (Matthew 26: 52). Violence is not a way of religion. God cannot be defended since he can defend himself. Jesus who is also known in Islamic religion as Prophet Isa, rebuking Peter against violence said "Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26: 53). In the same manner Jesus will say to "His Excellency", Governor Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this kind. If my kingdom was of this kind, my servants would have fought to stop me from being brought before you" (John 18:36). If Jesus Christ, (the Prophet Isa) says that the kingdom of God is not of this kind, which other kingdom are we fighting for?
Nigeria has lost human beings, houses, valuable properties and resources because of the interest of the few people who manipulate the rest of us. How come suddenly everything in Nigeria is judged by religion? Is it for the interest of religion? Where is God in all these? I cannot find God in any of these. What is religion without God? The person who practices religion without God is a dangerous person. There are many dangerous persons in Nigeria today because many practice and preach religion without God. All they do is the crowd manipulation. That is the reason everything in Nigeria is interpreted with religious coloration. So we hear sayings like, "a Muslim has been ruling, so it is our turn". A Christian has been ruling, so we are next." Same evil men, when the religious sentiment does not fly, they toss the tribal and regional coin. All is with the desire to control and manipulate the people. The Emir of Kano was attacked and he lost his aides and some other persons. Where is the religious dimension of going to a motor park and blow up a bus load of travelers and killing and maiming? What is the religious dimension in blowing up the United Nations' building in Abuja and killing and maiming both adherents of both religions?
Some Christians and their leaders are agitating that Christians should return fire for fire. For every Christian killed an adherent of Islam should die. Some call for retaliation in the guise of self defense. Recently Madgi Allam, a prominent Italian journalist who converted from Islam to Christianity and was baptized by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in March 2008 left the Catholic Church saying that Catholic leaders have not been strong enough in their opposition to Islam. His anger was that Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council of Interreligious Dialogue in the Vatican said that terrorist violence is a betrayal of the true Islamic faith. For Madgi Allam, Islamic extremism and terrorism are the mature fruit of that religious tradition and Catholicism is not strong enough to counter the "intrinsically violent ideology" of Islam. There are various sets of Islam as there are many denominations of Christianity. Some are moderate and accommodating while others do not tolerate others. The intolerant versions of both religions are the ones that mix other intentions with the practice of religion. Islam is said to be a religion of peace and Christ is the Prince of Peace. There is no teaching of violence in the real ideology of these Abrahamic religions. So where did we get it wrong? While we are searching for the answers, I will only repeat what Jesus said to Peter "Put your sword back into the scabbard for he who kills by the sword, dies by the sword" and moreover, Abraham is our father.
Rev. Fr. Ojaje Idoko is Director of Pastoral Affairs Department in the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja