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Nigeria : Spurned Suitor Triggers Violence

Muslim man responds to young Christian woman’s refusal with ‘blasphemy’ accusation.

ICC Note

“I saw that ECWA Church was set on fire, and they were also trying to set the pastor’s house on fire,”

Tuesday February 12, 2008 Nigeria (Compass Direct News) – A Muslim man’s frustrated desire to marry a young Christian woman resulted in him accusing her of “blasphemy,” triggering violence in this town in Bauchi state on February 2 that left one person dead, seven Christians hospitalized and destroyed five churches.

The Rev. Garba Gaius, pastor of the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) congregation to which the young woman belongs, told Compass that Paitence Yusuf was at home the night of February 1 when she learned that a young man was asking her to meet him outside.

She went out to meet with him, and he told her he wanted to befriend and marry her. Surprised at what she was hearing, Rev. Gaius said, Yusuf sharply declined his offer.

As she walked back into her house, the man, whose identity has not be disclosed, told her, “I beg you in the name of God and his apostle, Muhammad, to please accept me as your boyfriend,” Rev. Gaius said. He said Yusuf looked the man in the face and replied, “You are pleading in the name of a person I do not know. Jesus I know, but Muhammad I do not know.”

The Muslim man left, Rev. Gaius said, gathering friends and neighbors that night to tell them that Yusuf had blasphemed Muhammad.

“The following morning, the Muslim man took a group of other Muslims to the house of Yusuf, where they confronted her on the allegation of blasphemy against Muhammad,” Rev. Gaius said.

Sensing that the Muslims intended to kill her, Yufus escaped to the town’s police station, he said, where she was kept in protective custody.

“The band of Muslims went after Yusuf to the police station and demanded that she be released to them to be killed in accordance with sharia [Islamic law] for blasphemy,” Rev. Gaius said. “The police declined to release her, and there and then they attacked the police men on duty and burnt down the police station.”

Police defending the station fired into the crowd, killing one man in his 20s. Shortly after, hundreds of Muslims took to the streets armed with guns, machetes, cudgels and clubs, attacking Christians and injuring many of them, Rev. Gaius said.

Five churches – Rev. Gaius’ own ECWA church, a Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), an Apostolic Church , a Roman Catholic Church, and a Church of Christ in Nigeria – were destroyed, along with homes belonging to Christians, he said. The number of people displaced by the violence reportedly reached 1,000.

Rev. Gaius said such problems have become common, with area Muslims using young Christian women as pretexts for attacking Christians. At the same time, he said, Muslim officials are increasingly making it difficult for area churches to obtain land.

Yusuf, an orphan, is still in protective police custody, the pastor said. She had been living with foster parents in Yana , working with an adult education program.

Muslims Try to Stop Violence

Adamu Shehu, a staff member of the pathology department at Shira General Hospital and a resident of Angwan Turankayi in Yana town, told Compass that he witnessed the burning down of two churches by his fellow Muslims.

“I saw that ECWA Church was set on fire, and they were also trying to set the pastor’s house on fire,” Shehu told Compass. “I and Sarkin Dungu, and also other Muslims in the Angwa, tried to put out the fire, but they attacked us, and I was stoned in the process. Then Sarkin Dungu insisted that our fellow Muslims should not burn the church, but they said, are we not Muslims? Why are we stopping them from burning the church?”

Shehu said he too learned that the rioting was triggered by an encounter between a Muslim and a young Christian woman.

“I learned it was a misunderstanding between a young Muslim and a Christian girl that sparked off the riots,” he said.

Shehu said he saw Christians brought to the hospital for treatment. “Seven Christians were injured,” he said. “Those brought to the hospital at Shira were one man and six women.”

Shehu said it was wrong for fellow Muslims to have attacked Christians for no just cause.

“We are all creation of God, and if we are created by God, it therefore means that Muslims must be prepared to live in peace with people of other faiths, including Christians,” he said. “We did not create anybody, and we cannot therefore say we cannot live in peace with others.”

Shehu identified three catalysts to recent Muslim attacks on Christians in northern Nigeria : undisciplined Muslim youths, politicizing of religion and drunkenness and drug abuse by many Muslims.

“Lack of parental training has led to what we now see,” he said. “How can someone’s child attack others without provocation? Muslim parents must learn how to inculcate godly discipline in their children.”

Local politicians have brought about some of the problems as they have used Muslim youths to perpetuate some atrocities, he said. “These youths are the thugs being used to cause religious conflicts in Nigeria . Politics is indeed poisonous to our existence.”

Drug abuse and drunkenness among Muslim youths has made it easier for authorities to get young people to do their bidding, he added.

“A lot of our youths are engaged in drunkenness and taking of hard drugs,” he said. “Taking of drugs by Muslim youths has contributed to such atrocities. The surprising thing is that some of our Muslim leaders give support to such acts of indiscipline.”

Shehu added that the Feb. 2 incident has caused local leaders to reflect on religious tensions, and that they have met at least three times on how they can be resolved.

“The government and our leaders must encourage dialogue and tolerance among all peoples irrespective of religious persuasions,” he said. “We Muslims must also endeavour to instill discipline in our youth and encourage peaceful co-existence.”

Police have said they are working to bring those involved in the incident to courts to face justice.