Editor's Note: This article was written by Samirah I. Tahir, a concerned Nigerian civil servant and a member of the #BringBackOurGirls family. This is a transcript of a talk she delivered at a daily sit out of the #BringBackOurGirls family in Abuja.
During our daily sit outs at the Unity Fountain, I was moved by the way Christians and Muslims came together during the prayer sessions for our global week of action. Muslims were around to support the Christian service on Sunday and Christians did the same on Friday for Muslims. It showed that there was no telling what we could achieve if we were to put aside our religious differences, come together and focus on our humanity. This thought lingered on my mind throughout the weekend till Monday when I came across a document, which I’d seen before: Prophet Muhammad’s Charter of Privileges to Christians (Letter to the monks of Saint Catherine Monastery).
(This is a Charter of Privileges Prophet Muhammad (SAW) granted to the monks of St. Catherine Monastery in the year 628 C. E. in Mt. Sinai. It consisted of several clauses covering all aspects of human rights including such topics as the protection of Christians, freedom of worship and movement, freedom to appoint their own judges and to own and maintain their property, exemption from military service, and the right to protection in war)
It inspired me to do this; I wanted to share it with the group and anyone who cared to listen. I was also spurred on by the fact that UNITY is what the U of our H.U.M.A.N.T.E.E.D.S (Hope. Unity. Motivation. Affability. Nationalism, Integrity. Transparency. Empathy. Equity. Discipline. Sacrifice) core-value at #BringBackOurGirls Abuja stands for. I spoke to Maureen about it and asked for time to put something together so I could present to the group on Tuesday. I couldn’t do it on that day though because I was yet to establish the document’s authenticity. It turns out there have been doubts about it; it’s believed to have been edited from its original form. So I decided to speak about other important points I’d put together from what I know as a Muslim.
Asides Boko Haram and ISIS, which the world has established are totally bonkers for their ideology of, killing anyone who doesn’t agree with them, Nigeria is no stranger to religious intolerance and conflict. In recent times there have been the 2011 election riots and the recurring violence in Plateau State. It also brings to mind the Central African Republic violence. These are people like you and I that just turned against and started killing each other. How on earth do people get to that point?
(Christians protecting praying Muslims during the 2012 Occupy Naija Protests. Photo Credit: spencerwatch.com)
I was born in Lagos and started school there. I was in primary 2 when we moved to Bauchi and I enrolled in a new school. Being a Muslim, I made one mistake (based on the opinions and perceptions of my new schoolmates) on getting to the new school in Bauchi; I made friends with pupils that weren’t Muslims. In Lagos, which was more cosmopolitan, I had friends such as Yemisi, Ebuka, etc. The only Muslim friend I recall having was a girl named Hidaya. I had no idea on getting to my new school that I wasn’t supposed to be friends with Amara, Ebele, Abiodun, Ijeoma. It made me something of a pariah or at least the odd one out for quite a while, almost till Primary 5 when I left the school. Young children at that age had divided themselves into 2 groups and whenever the bell for break rang, there was a race to “book” the seesaws, swings and other attractions in the playground. If a Christian got to a swing first, the Muslims were not allowed to play there for that day and vice versa. Muslims were not to have anything to do with Christians outside of the classroom, vice-versa for the Muslims. Of course no one is born an ethnic or religious bigot, it is an acquired trait which the kids may have seen or heard their parents do, hence the discrimination.
I was still a child when the Tafawa Balewa riots in Bauchi occurred, I was in Kaduna for the holidays when the Zangon-Kataf religious clashes occurred and because I was an avid CNN watcher then, I also knew about the Bosnian war as it was happening. These events really traumatized me and till today when I have nightmares, they’re almost always about sectarian violence.
Not much has changed as far as I can tell. Look around you at the way some of us treat each other due to religious or tribal differences. I want my fellow Muslims and my Christian brothers and sisters to understand that there is no basis in Islam for anyone to act this way for the following reasons.
In order to escape persecution and to practise their religion freely, the first few Muslims to accept Islam had to migrate to Abyssinia, which is present day Ethiopia. The Prophet (SAW) sent a delegation of 11 men and 5 women to a Christian King, Aṣḥama ibn Abjar who received them and granted them refuge from the hardship they were facing in Makkah. See my point here; they were granted refuge by a Christian King.
There are two/three things to consider here. The Quran as everyone knows is the primary source for everything Islam. In the Quran, Allah (SWA) says: And if thy Lord willed, all who are in the earth would have believed together… (S10V99). So there’s really no reason for the animosity. Oh I hate you, you’re not like me. It’s Allah’s decree that some believe in what you believe in and some don’t. The Almighty chose to make it so.
The Quran only allows for inter-marriage between Muslim men and Christian or Jewish women. I think that’s worth a thought.
In the Quran, Allah (SWT) clearly refers to Jews and Christians as “people of the book”, distinct from unbelievers. As theologians will tell you, these three religions are Abrahamic, tracing their origins to Abraham AS.
THE PROPHET (SAW’S) CONDUCT
It was reported in a hadith that the Prophet (SAW) once stood up out of respect when a corpse was being carried for burial. A companion said to him: “But he’s a Jew”, and the Prophet (SAW) replied, “Was he not a soul?”
On the Prophet (SAW’s) death it was discovered that he owed money to a Jew. He had thousands of companions who would have been willing and able to lend him money, but he chose to borrow from a Jew. I think that says something, for those of us who consider any person of a different faith to be inferior to them and therefore unworthy of decent, even if any interaction.
It is common knowledge that the Prophet used to debate religion and hold discussions with Jews and Christians. No insults, no animosity, no fighting, just logical debates. So how come we find it difficult to co-exist with others?
Some fellow Muslims on being challenged like this say “but the Christians of today are not the same as those ones of then”. Oh? Even within Islam we are told that we’re not to judge anyone. A part of the Prophet (SAW’s) last sermon tells us that no white man is better than a black man and vice-versa, except by their piety, and that the Almighty is to be the judge of that. So my dear Muslim brother/sister, who are you to peer into another religion of which you’re not even an adherent to determine who’s a sound Christian/ Jew/ whatever they choose to be?
Another response from Muslims is “but they hate us, they do this and that to us”. My response is so how are you any better than them? By doing the same? Please. Let’s all try to be more sensible.
The fact is we can never have an all Muslim Nigeria no matter how hard we try, neither can we have an all Christian Nigeria no matter how hard we try. Besides, what would life be like if everyone was exactly the same? Our diverse cultures, religions and orientations are what make life more colorful and interesting. We can all get along. Let’s try to get along.
The circle of violence we see every now and then must never be given the chance or environment to fester. There really is no basis for it in the Islam I know, unless one chooses to court mischief. This change must start with you and I.
SWA: Sallallaahu Alaihi Wasallam (peace and blessings be upon him)
SAW: Subhanahu Wata’aala (may He be glorified and exhalted)
AS: Alaihis-Salaam (peace be upon him)