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Compass Direct

OFFHAND COMMENTS SPARK LATEST ‘BLASPHEMY’ RAMPAGE

October 02, 2006

Charred Ruins of St. Peter’s Cathedral

(Compass Direct News) – Jummai opened her tailor’s shop on the morning of September 18 without any premonition that a crisis awaited her.

Equally unsuspecting were her fellow Christians, less than 20 percent of the predominantly Muslim population of Dutse, capital of Jigawa state in northern Nigeria .

But by that afternoon, her offhand comments exchanged with several Muslim customers had attracted the wrath of local Islamist agitators. And suddenly, angry mobs started forming all over town, demanding the Christian tailor be killed for blasphemy against Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.

The dispute spiraled into a violent, one-day rampage, leaving 16 churches burned down, six Christians injured and at least 2,000 Christians homeless. In the aftermath, government officials moved to institutionalize the crisis, announcing that the churches and Christians themselves would be forced to resettle outside the town limits of Dutse.

Jummai’s alleged blasphemy came in the context of local resentments against comments attributed to Pope Benedict XIV, accused of slandering Islam the previous week in a speech in Germany .

Local Christians told Compass that Muslims in the capital were “looking for an excuse” to trigger a crisis over the pontiff’s statements.

Bishop Yusuf Ibrahim Lumu

According to the Anglican bishop of Dutse, the Rt. Rev. Yusuf Ibrahim Lumu, a misunderstanding of some sort occurred between Jummai, a member of the Living Faith Church , and a Muslim woman named Binta.

In an exchange of heated words, Binta declared that since Jesus had turned water into wine, he must have been a drunkard.

“Jummai was infuriated by these words,” Lumu told Compass. “In return she commented that if Christ was a drunkard, then Muhammad must have been a womanizer, since he had many wives.”

According to another source, a Muslim police officer named Isa Dauda who was present during the argument also made derogatory remarks against Christ, pushing Jummai to retort, “But Christ has risen from the dead! Muhammad could not rise from the dead, and he is still in his grave.”

Irate bystanders immediately began spreading rumors against Jummai across town, declaring she had blasphemed against Muhammad and deserved to die. Reportedly the Christian tailor was taken by force to the Turakin Dutse, an adviser to the emir (Muslim leader) of Dutse.

According to Lumu, who heads the local Christian committee investigating the incident, Jummai was ordered then to leave Dutse within two days or be prepared to die.

But Jummai’s whereabouts since then are unknown to Christian leaders contacted by Compass. Before Jummai could leave town, some said, she was arrested by policeman Dauda on charges of causing “religious tension” and taken to police headquarters, where she remains under detention.

“Some are saying she left the town as directed, but we do not know where she is,” the bishop said.

It was not until a full-blown rampage began on September 20 that most church leaders had even heard about Jummai’s alleged blasphemy. And when clerics appealed to police authorities to stop the attacks, which raged for six straight hours, they were ignored.

State Police Commissioner Faulted

Bishop Lumu said it was disturbing to see the police stand around watching while the mobs destroyed churches and looted the shops and homes of Christians.

Destroyed Assemblies of God church

“In a country that talks about freedom of religion, churches were destroyed by Muslim fanatics with active connivance of the police commissioner of Jigawa state and Muslim leaders,” Lumu said.

“Some of the pastors reported the burning of their churches to the police commissioner, but he declined to assist them,” the Rev. Hamidu Samaila Gimba of the Evangelical Church of West Africa told Compass.

According to Gimba, the few Christian policemen who attempted to assist Christians were threatened by State Police Commissioner Abubakar Sardauna. “The police commissioner is partisan on the side of the Muslims in this case,” Gimba said.

When the fleeing Christians reached police headquarters, Lumu said, “All the church leaders there appealed to the authorities to allow their men to stop the destruction of our churches, but to no avail.”

When a Christian police inspector identified only as Yakubu arrested one of the ringleaders of the Muslim mob torching churches, Police Commissioner Sardauna arrested Yakubu and turned him over to the angry militants.

Yakubu’s life was only spared when he knelt and performed the Muslim prayer ritual alongside his Muslim captors at the Emir’s house, Lumu said. And only after several Christian policemen threatened to hold Sardauna responsible for Yakubu’s life were they allowed to rescue him from the mob.

The bishop said it was a personal miracle that he and his family survived the attacks.

“Without being asked to do so, a group of eight Christian policemen evacuated me, my family, and 15 pupils from our school. Minutes after we were moved out, the Muslim fanatics came and burned down the cathedral, the bishop’s house and the residence of the nearby Catholic priest,” Lumu said.

Churches to be Forced out of Town

In the wake of the Dutse attack, the city’s Christian leaders were told in person by Jiwaga Governor Ibrahim Saminu Turaki that the government planned to relocate all their churches outside Dutse.

He added that the Christians of Dutse will also be expected to move out of town to live in the bush on virgin land that will be given to them.

“This is an apartheid policy,” protested Christian leaders, declaring that it violated their rights as Nigerian citizens to practice their faith without discrimination, as guaranteed by the constitution.

Bishop Lumu sees the forced move as a holy war against Christians. “Jihad is not only fighting wars. It also includes banning of the building of churches, destruction of churches and persecuting Christians by whatever means,” he said.

Rev. Gimba

The truth is, the Rev. Gimba said, “Christians here are regarded as second-class citizens.”

With the introduction of sharia (Islamic law) six years ago in northern Nigeria , Christians have come under serious pressure from the Islamic government of Jigawa state, Gimba said.

“Sharia has aggravated the already strained relationship between Muslims and Christians,” Gimba said, “[because] under this system, the government stifles Christianity and the church by promoting Islam.”

Since Islamic law was implemented in 2000, Jigawa state has banned the building of new churches and refused to allow Christian students to attend public schools unless they convert to Islam.

“Our children are denied admission into government schools,” Lumu said. “For your child to get admission, the child must convert. The child’s name must be changed from Christopher to Abubakar. Otherwise such a child will not be admitted. And once the name is changed, the child is automatically considered a Muslim and forced to become a Muslim, whether the parents want it or not. That is sharia for you.”

According to a September 29 news release from Open Doors, Dutse’s Christians believe the attack against them was fueled by “provocative remarks against Christianity” broadcast over the radio three weeks earlier by Sheikh Yusha’u Abubakar, Jigawa state’s director of religious affairs. Mocking the Christian concept of the trinity, Abubakar told all Muslims to “get ready to fight the Nigerian Jews”