Giving hope to persecuted Christians since 1995
Select Page

Muslim, Christian leaders try to heal Nigeria by being ‘theological firemen’

ICC Note

Muslim and Christian leaders are working hard to stem religious based violence in Nigeria . Most of the violence occurs in Muslim dominated part of Northern Nigeria where Christian minorities are targeted by fanatic Muslims.

By Michael Gerson

05/24/2009 Nigeria (Erie Times News)-It is not every day that one dines with the Sultan of Sokoto — a direct descendant of Usman Dan Fodio, who was declared “Commander of the Faithful” in 1804 and founded a caliphate that reached from what is now Burkina Faso to Cameroon .

His Eminence Alhaji Muhammad Sa’adu Abubakar III is a thoroughly modern man of military bearing — and perhaps the most influential religious figure you have never heard of. The sultan is spiritual leader to 70 million Nigerian Muslims. At home, he points out, a dinner at a restaurant is “quite impossible,” because he would be mobbed by coreligionists.

He speaks quietly, condemning religious “firebrands,” and only showing unguarded enthusiasm when speaking of the Nigerian military, in which he served for decades as an officer, peacekeeper and military attache.

In America , religious leaders have difficulty making news even if they disrobe and juggle in the pulpit. In Nigeria — half-Muslim, half-Christian and prone to violent rioting — the wrong word from a religious leader could result in the death of thousands.

So it is symbolic that we are also dining in Washington with John Onaiyekan, the Catholic archbishop of Abuja . Together, as co-chairmen of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, the sultan and the archbishop represent about 95 percent of their countrymen. They have known each other since Abubakar was a young officer (“We met soon after the attempted coup,” reminisces the sultan). Now they travel together to speak on interfaith cooperation and tend to complete one another’s sentences.

The two leaders are often forced to act as theological firemen, putting out the sparks of local conflict in Nigeria before they blaze. “When people start fighting,” explains the archbishop, “it is rarely for religious reasons.”

Both the sultan and the archbishop blame broad social challenges for Nigeria ‘s tinderbox atmosphere — frustration with government, poverty in the midst of plenty, even the unreliable electrical grid. But they also see what the sultan calls a “religious intensification” — Pentecostals, gathered in camp meetings of hundreds of thousands, predicting the end times; Wahhabi Muslim influence from the Middle East; the advent of the Nigerian Taliban, imported, the leaders argue, from places such as Chad and Niger .

[Go to the Full Story]