6:00 P.M. EST December 21, 2010 | JALINGO, Nigeria (UMNS)
The Rev. Abenatus Hamman
UMNS web-only photos courtesy of Dauda Marafa Goding.
One hundred Nigerian Muslims and Christians came in peace to Taraba, where they sought ways not only to coexist but also to work together to improve the lives of their beleaguered fellow citizens of all faiths.
The Rev. Abenatus Hamman put the groundbreaking nature of the gathering in perspective when he noted that the religions have not been known for working together in the past. “This cycle of fear … the fear of coming close together” has kept Christians and Muslims at odds not just in Nigeria but around the globe, he said.
Tensions between the religions have flared into violence in Nigeria in recent years. While history cannot be overcome in three days, the restorative justice seminar — held at the Christian Association of Nigeria Secretariat, Jalingo, Taraba State, Nigeria — was a start.
The October gathering drew 30 Muslim and 70 Christian delegates as well as other leaders interested in exploring how bridging the religious gap could help Nigeria advance.
Differences in faith were mandated by God for the purpose of teaching harmony rather than discord, according to Mallam Sani Sule Sale, a Muslim participant at the gathering sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.
Mallam Sani Sule Sale
“If God had wanted us to belong to one faith, he had all the powers to make us, (but) he created us differently for us to understand one another, not to fight each other,” said Sale.
As director of the Taraba State Ministry of Information, he attended because of his interest in “knowing beyond” his own religion and learning, among other things, how the religions can coexist and work together.
“I think (The United Methodist Church) is doing a very good job” of helping tear down the historic barriers, he said. All religions and denominations “should be doing the same thing: We need to bring ourselves closer to each other,” he added.
While praising the groundwork laid by the United Methodists, he said the task is too difficult for one denomination. “I know (The United Methodist Church) cannot cover all aspects, so others should complement.”
The idea of helping the nation thrive by attempting to rid it of religious intolerance was the driving force of the three-day seminar, officially titled “Conflict Resolution among Christians and Muslims in Nigeria.”
United Methodist officials opened the seminar and pointed out that poverty is a primary reason for the nation’s woes and that Nigeria’s two major religions can work together to help all citizens.
For example, The United Methodist Church is strengthening programs that focus on rural health, agricultural development, education and leadership.
An effort toward peace
Alhaji Sani Abubakar Danladi, a Muslim, stressed the significance of having this first seminar in Taraba State, where he is acting governor.
The meeting was “a great manifestation of the peace posture of our state,” he said.
Continued teamwork between the two religions is a key to advancement, he noted, stressing ongoing efforts in Taraba should enable the faiths to “work hand-in-hand as partners and (share) similar hopes and visions.”
The reactions of those gathered lived up to the hopes and prayers.
Focusing on what is shared rather than what makes the religions different offered new hope to Mariyam Edwin, a United Methodist from Nigeria’s Southern Annual (regional) Conference.
She said Islam and Christianity always have had much in common, but “all that destroyed us is ignorance.”
An immediate impact of the seminar would be sending members of both faiths out into the communities, where they could “educate the people that we need each other to move, develop ourselves and our communities.”
Retired professor Zachariah Silver, an Anglican, said he came to the conference to find ways “to help my brothers and sisters in Nigeria” work together to deal with the social and economic tumult.
As a result of the seminar, he said, he is — for the first time ever — convinced that Muslims and Christians can peacefully meet face-to-face and take the giant step of working together to solve common problems and improve a nation in crisis.
Hope for all people
The location of the seminar instilled hope for all people of faith, said Abdulhamid Isa Kushi: “See this is a Christian headquarters, yet we Muslims freely prayed, slept and did all things without any problem. … We need each other, based on lessons learned from here.”
Abdulhamid Isa Kushi
An imam who works in a wide area of Nigeria recommended these seminars be continued, with the message carried into forums for local imams and pastors.
Others said that the seed of coexistence and what it can achieve should be planted in local schools and youth groups.
Hammam — the minister who said the cycle of fear is the historic obstacle to coexistence — noted that both faiths can shift their focuses in the wake of this seminar.
“Peace is the bedrock of the society,” said Hammam. “My coming to the seminar made me know that the Muslims share similar things with us Christians that we can exploit for peaceful co-existence.”
*Goding is a United Methodist communicator in Nigeria.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.