By Leo Igwe
Allegations of blasphemy by Muslim and Christian believers have been in the news. In the past few years, persons accused of insulting Christian or Islamic religious gods or prophets have been threatened, attacked, killed, or imprisoned. These allegations have generated so much controversy and tension because allegers seek judicial or extrajudicial sanctions for supposed blasphemers. Allegations of blasphemy by Christians and Muslims in Nigeria are clear testimonies of the lack of knowledge and understanding of their faith (ignorantia fidei). Let us examine two recent ones. First, in its Easter message, Sterling Bank made a post that compared the resurrection of Jesus to Agege Bread: “Like Agege Bread, he arose”. In its reaction, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) described the message as “provocative, ungodly, insensitive and wicked”. CAN has called for the removal of the chief executive officer of Sterling bank.
In a related development, a court in Kano convicted Nigerian Humanist Mubarak Bala, over a post wherein he compared Prophet Muhammad and Prophet T B Joshua. He described the prophet of Islam as a terrorist. He was also convicted for making other statements that disparaged the religion of Islam. Some Islamist lawyers led by S S Umar petitioned the police over the post. In their petition, they stated that refusal to prosecute and sanction Bala would lead to a breach of law and order. After almost two years of arbitrary detention, the court convicted Mr. Bala after a sham trial. Anyone who understands the history of these two religions would shudder at the penchant to accuse, penalize and threaten to sanction or kill those who supposedly insult Christian and Muslim faiths, Gods, or prophets.
First, both Christianity and Islam are foreign religions introduced to Africa and Africans by those who demonized and disparaged African traditional religious icons, practices, gods, and prophets. Christian missionaries did not treat African traditional religion with the respect and sensitivity that CAN and many Nigerian Christians are demanding today. Look, Christian missionaries denounced African indigenous religious worship. They treated it with uttermost contempt. And the tradition of contempt for indigenous religious beliefs persists in the Nigerian, African Christendom to date. Truth be told, Christians lack the moral basis to accuse anybody of blasphemy because speaking disparagingly of other religions is the main driver of the growth and spread of Christianity.
Christian clerics often describe African traditional religious worship as a fetish, and African indigenous gods as demonic and human-made idols, that have eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear. I mean, who makes provocative, insensitive, and insulting declarations about other religions and other gods, more than Christian pastors and believers? One of the popular songs in Christian churches is: Jesus na you be Oga. Jesus na you be Oga. All other gods na so so yeye. Every other god na so so yeye. Going by the Christian and Muslim standards of blasphemy accusations, is this song not insulting? Is this song not provocative?
Similar Christian songs rendered during services unequivocally disparage other religions and other gods. The Christian scripture is replete with verses that ‘insult’ other faiths and gods including non-believers in god. Psalm 14 verse 1 states: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’ “. Many Christians allude to this verse when arguing with atheists and non-believers. They read and declare this verse as the word of their God at assemblies and fellowships. Christians do not regard this verse as insulting, provocative or insensitive. But when someone compares the resurrection of Jesus to Agege bread they become incensed. Christians accuse the person of blasphemy and want the person sanctioned. Meanwhile, blasphemy is at the root and origin of African Christianity. Blasphemy constitutes part of everyday Christian worship and practice.
The same applies to Islam and Muslims. The case of Muslims is even worse because, unlike Christians, violent attacks and killings, are part of the Islamic package. Muslim scholars who introduced Islam to Africa spoke disparagingly about traditional religious gods and personalities. Muslim clerics still do. Jihadists denounced indigenous African gods; they attacked and killed those who professed other religions or revered other gods apart from Allah. Muslim clerics insult, blaspheme and make offensive remarks as part of their everyday preaching at various mosques and worship centers. The Muslim holy book, the Quran, is filled with ‘offensive’ propositions that ‘insult’ other religions and other gods; statements that are critical of other prophets, and injunctions that provoke or incite violence against non-Muslims, and non-believers. So, Nigerian Christians and Muslims who accuse others of blasphemy are ignorant of their various religions and how they spread. Hence, they have refused to apply the same standards of provocation and insensitivity that they ascribe to others and their religions. If they do, they would surely understand that allegations of blasphemy are senseless. These allegations are rooted in mischief, oppression and tyranny. Without blasphemy or speaking disparagingly about other religions and other gods, there would be no religion, no Christianity or Islam, as we know it in Nigeria today.
Another name for this culture of blaspheming or making critical comments about other religions, gods and prophets is freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression. Christianity and Islam owe their dominance to the exercise of these rights. Now they are in the majority, Christian and Muslim believers seek to outlaw these human rights. Christians and Muslims should not be allowed to criminalize the exercise of these freedoms anywhere in Nigeria. Instead, let us all join efforts to stop allegations of blasphemy and repeal all blasphemy laws.
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The Treacherous Notion Of Insulting Religious Sensibilities
By Leo Igwe
I have been campaigning vigorously for the release of Mubarak Bala, who has been jailed for insulting the religious sensibilities of Muslims, some Muslims in Kano. In the past two years, I have engaged the notion of contempt for religion as a crime or an offence that warrants any sanction or penalty. I am of the view that criticizing religions and highlighting their misconceptions, shortcomings and absurdities is a moral and intellectual duty. I have encountered many religious apologists and fence-seaters who have tried to defend the notion that insulting religion is a transgression that should be punished. In this piece, I want to reiterate the implausibility and unintelligibility of the treacherous notion of insulting religion.
As expected the brutal murder of Deborah Samuel for making supposedly blasphemous statements has reawakened the debate on insulting people’s faiths. I have seen some educated Nigerians tacitly justify this obscenity implying that the alleged remark by Deborah Samuel constituted a punishable transgression. Sometimes they put it expressly stating that they do not support making disparaging remarks about others’ religious beliefs. Look, those who try to justify the notion of insulting religion either do not understand the nature of religion or are not good students of history especially the history religions in Nigeria and Africa. Do not get me wrong, I understand that people feel hurt when their well-cherished religious or philosophical views or icons are challenged, criticized, questioned, or ridiculed. But that is what is, and what it means to live in a free and open society.
And this open-society feature is not peculiar to any people or culture. In a pluralistic society like Nigeria, people hold diverse views and opinions. These views may be offensive, hurting, or insulting to others’ beliefs and sensibilities, positions, and propositions. Some people’s religious sense is others’ religious nonsense. A person’s religious food is another’s religious poison. Clear and simple. People are bound to find other people’s religious or philosophical views and opinions objectionable and disagreeable. That is normal and should be expected. Nobody should expect to live in a society where there are no opposing or contradictory views and ideas. So instead of urging against insulting other people’s religious beliefs and sensibilities, which is a pretext for oppression, repression, and suppression of other religious and irreligious ideas, a case should be made for tolerance -tolerance of other religious and non-religious ideas and notions. A case should be made for respect for the rights of others to freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of expression, not respect for others’ religious notions. Ideas should not be respected. Human beings should be respected.
It is disingenuous to accuse people of disrespecting a belief or a religion, or to expect everyone to respect a particular religious icon. That is tyranny. That is a totalitarian tendency. Religious doctrines are to be believed or disbelieved, debated, confessed, and professed. Religions are made to be entertained, embraced or abandoned, renounced, examined and analyzed, accepted or rejected. In matters of faith, respect or disrespect is a factor of belief or disbelief. Christians who treat the Bible with respect do so because they believe that it is the word of God. Muslims respect Muhammad because they believe or are made to believe that he is the messenger from Allah or the greatest prophet of all times. Now, non-Christians and non-Muslims do not share these beliefs.
How does one expect an individual to respect a belief or doctrine that he or she rejects? What does it mean to insult a belief, that one thinks is mistaken, false, or untrue? Unfortunately, religion is replete with myths and misconceptions about the universe, nature, and how nature works. Many religious teachings are outdated and incompatible with many scientific and philosophical views. To be specific, how does one expect non-Muslims to treat the prophet of Islam with respect when they do not believe in his prophethood? How does one think that a non-Christian who is of the notion that Jesus never existed would treat Jesus with respect? The mistake many believers make is to expect non-believers to treat and respect their beliefs, objects, and personalities as they do. And as Germans would say: Das gehts lieder nicht(Unfortunately, that is not possible). That is not applicable. That is not healthy for society. Yes, that is not how religions operate.
Now think about it, the religions which demand respect are Christianity and Islam. Meanwhile, these are not the only religions and philosophies that exist in society. Why is it that believers, Muslims in this case, feel entitled to not be offended? Meanwhile, they espouse views and notions that going by their standards insult religious and irreligious beliefs and icons of others. For instance, Muslims claim that making disparaging remarks about the prophet of Islam is a red line. Understood. They claim that nobody should cross the redline without serious consequences. Fine. But in their everyday preaching and profession of faith, they cross the redlines of others; they make disparaging remarks about prophets and propositions of other religions and philosophies. In their profession of faith, Muslims dismiss other gods as non-existent; they downgrade other prophets. Don’t Muslims know that the recitation of Shahada is offensive, insulting, and provocative to many out there?
Muslims tell us that they love their prophets more than their parents, in fact, more than any human being. They tend to forget that people of other faiths and beliefs have a strong emotional attachment to their religious and philosophical icons too. And if people were to respond violently as Muslims often do to those who scorn their faiths and beliefs then there would be no peace in the world. There would be no Muslims or Christians, no believer or non-believer to respect or disrespect religions and philosophies.
It should also be noted that Christianity and Islam are faiths that missionaries, jihadists, and scholars from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia introduced to the region. These two religions owe their spread and dominance to the activities of those who ‘insulted’ and still ‘insult’ African traditional religious gods, prophets, and beliefs. So how does one make sense of the fact that the religions whose members ask that their icons be respected are out there relentlessly lampooning other religions and beliefs as a matter of divine mission and mandate? For centuries missionaries and proselytizers have in some cases, through physical and structural violence, and impertinent insolence toward African traditional world views and identities been furthering the cause of Christian and Islamic faiths.
The idea of insulting other gods, religions, and beliefs is embedded in the religious enterprise. Insulting religious beliefs is not alien to religions. Every religion blasphemes against other religions. Each religion claims to embody absolute truth and divinity as opposed to other religions that are fake or inferior, or custodians of minor/marginal gods. Interesting no religion is monolithic. Every faith is characterized by a plurality of views and doctrines; by competing and opposing sects, denominations, and traditions. These traditions have doctrines, and they make propositions that other faith traditions consider insulting or disrespectful. So insulting religious beliefs is part and parcel of the religious business. It is what religions do as a matter of fact. Instead of urging against insulting religious sensibilities, which is often a demand from members of a particular religion wherever they are in the majority, tolerant pluralism should be encouraged and fostered. Believers and non-believers should be urged to condone other religious and irreligious views. If anyone finds a view offensive or insulting, the person should challenge it, criticize it, scrutinize it, denounce it, examine it, and yes debate or debunk it. People of all faiths and beliefs should learn to accommodate and civilly engage positions and propositions that insult or disparage their faiths or beliefs whether they are in the majority or in the minority.
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The Killing Of Citizen Deborah, Our Own Malala
By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
Last week the video of a body set ablaze by a mob went viral on social media. It was preceded by the still picture of a lady dressed in red lying on the ground in a grotesque manner. Life was no longer in her. She had succumbed to savagery and jungle justice by overzealous morons who accused her, found her guilty and executed her in a most barbarous manner reminiscent of the Stone Age. She died a most horrendous death at the hands of her class or school mates. She was stoned to death by students at a College of Education. The barbarous act was carried out by some teachers of tomorrow. What kind of educators would these teachers be in future? Do they recognize Nigeria? Do they realise that Nigeria is not an Islamic Republic, that is, supposing an Islamic Republic will tolerate such a murder? How are the killers better than bandits or terrorists currently plaguing the northern part of Nigeria? We have allowed a monster out of religion, fighting wars for God who obviously did not ask us to fight for Him!
It turned out that it was the body of Citizen Deborah Yakubu, a student at Shehu Shagari College of Education Wamako Sokoto, who had been murdered because, according to her traducers, she blasphemed the name of Prophet Mohammed. In a class WhatsApp platform, she had complained that the platform had been inundated with religious posts and that the platform should be used for what it was created for. Her traducers claimed she made some uncomplimentary remarks about Prophet Mohammed. Later a sweaty nincompoop, with the dark looks of a savage, released a video in which he claimed gleefully that he was the one that killed the lady in question. This in 21st century Nigeria? This is unacceptable. It is indicative of the deep division between world view of extremists in the north and the rest of the country.
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The ugly news has not been carried by cable network stations. If it happened in Afghanistan or the Middle East, her death would be on the airwaves. Fortunately, and appropriately, the Sultan of Sokoto, leader of Muslims in the country, has spoken against the murder. But he should not stop there. We expect him to personally get involved and ensure that the killer is paraded before the press as a common criminal. Except he does this, we would see the condemnation as mere lip service. The irrepressible Father Matthew Kukah has also condemned the murder and called on the government to fish out the perpetrators for the right punishment, stating that ‘’the only obligation that is owed her immediate family, her fellow students and the school authorities is the assurance that those who are guilty of this inhuman act, no matter the provocation, are punished according to the laws of the land’. Writer Gimba Kakanda wrote on a Facebook post: ‘the barbarism that transpired in Sokoto today has no basis in Islam, and it indicts us all. This culture prevails because past self-appointed punishers of blasphemers got away with their crimes. Whether in Islamic jurisprudence or our secular law, there’s no place for jungle justice, no matter how any offended mob feels’.
But the misguided zealots don’t feel any remorse. Some posts which followed the gleeful announcement on social media are instructive. The killer whose photograph is prominently displayed on social media boasted: ‘I killed her. I burnt her. You can see the matchbox I used in setting her ablaze’. One Muhammed Mode Gagi wrote, just as Bilyaminu Ladan, Sirajo Isiya and Balkisu Umar Ibrahim that: ‘You have done well, may God increase the status of Prophet Muhammed (s.a.w). Sufiyenu Yabo then concluded it: ‘Praise be to God. May Allah reward you with paradise! Which God? My question is if the head of Muslims has called it murder, from which book did the young Muslim boys and girls learn that to inflict jungle justice on a woman who supposedly blasphemed is carrying out a divine injunction?
I must state from the outset that no one has the right to insult another religion, either directly or indirectly. Christianity and Islam are the two major religions in Nigeria. Adherents must know their boundaries. To insult Prophet Mohammed is unacceptable. But it is also unacceptable for an individual to take the life of another citizen in the name of religion. This is how religious wars start. Pause for a minute and imagine what it would be if Christians in Sokoto decide to take the life of a Muslim youth in vengeance. Or if in the Christian-dominated south a Christian family carries out a reprisal attack. An endless cycle will start, the end of which no one can predict. Therefore, the Sokoto State government must rise to the occasion and bring the culprit to book.
There had been other killings in the name of religion in the past. In 1995, one Gideon Akaluka was decapacitated by Muslim fanatics for blasphemy. Nothing came of it in the form of punishment on her killers. In June 2016 Mrs. Bridget Agbaheme was brutally murdered by suspected Islamic extremists in Kofar Wambai market Kano state, over allegations that she blasphemed the name of the Holy Prophet. Except the government takes a decisive action against such criminals, more of such acts will occur in future.
The killing is most incendiary. It is provocative. It could trigger off sectarian war. As we know, religious wars are difficult to contain. The Christian Association of Nigeria should get actively involved to ensure that Deborah does not die in vain. Justice must be pursued to serve as a deterrent. The NBA and allied associations must rise to the occasion. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN) has urged NBA-SPIDEL not to hold any conference in the state where a Nigerian citizen has ‘been brutally murdered and burnt to death…we should make a statement to the government by cancelling the conference and hold it in a neighbouring State in the North’.
What has given Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai an international stature? It is the attack on her person by religious extremists because of her stance on education. Deborah is our own Malala, and she should be accorded that status. Her death at the hands of ignorant and defiant zealots diminishes all of us. I expect the president, the state governor and high-ranking state officials from the North to condemn the killing and order the arrest of the killer. The college management should suspend the suspect pending full a investigation. There will be no love lost between the killer squad leader and other Christian members of the class and indeed all other Christian students in the college. Some acts, small as they are, help to define a nation. Except the government punishes the killer, the government would inadvertently be promoting the emerging narrative that there is no ‘One Nigeria!
POSTSCRIPT: After submitting the essay, further developments made me return to my submissions. The culprits were appropriately arrested, leading to mass protests. There have been riots in Sokoto, with houses and property belonging to non-Muslims being targeted. Alhaji Atiku has withdrawn his condemnation of the killing of Citizen Deborah. He has lost votes, thereby. The state government has imposed a 24-hour curfew. But soldiers ought to be drafted to quell the riots that have led to the destruction of lives and property. This is no way to grow a federal republic! Government must stand firm! Mr. President must condemn the arsonists.
Professor Eghagha writes from the Department of English, University of Lagos.
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The Killing Of Nigerian Christian Student Has Everything To Do With Religion
By Leo Igwe
Humanists are outraged by the gruesome murder of a female college student in Sokoto in Northern Nigeria. Such a horrific act is a sordid reminder of the threat of Islamic extremism in Nigeria. Muslim students at Shehu Shagari College of Education accused a Hausa Christian, Deborah Yakubu, of blasphemy; they beat their colleague to death and burnt the corpse. Ms. Yakubu reportedly protested against posting religious messages on the student Whatsapp platform. Her protest angered some Muslim students who mobilized and subsequently killed her.
The brutal killing of Ms. Yakubu is not an isolated incident. Many Muslims and non-Muslims adjudged to have insulted Islam or its prophet have suffered a similar fate in the region. In 2007, some Muslim students in Gombe lynched their female Christian teacher for desecrating the Quran. There have been other violent attacks and murders of alleged blasphemers in Muslim-dominated areas in Kano, Niger, and other parts of Islamic Northern Nigeria. Persons accused of blasphemy have been sentenced to death by sharia courts in Kano. Others like Nigerian Humanist, Mubarak Bala, have been given long prison sentences. Muslim clerics and state officials have openly and publicly endorsed the execution of blasphemers.
For instance, in 2015, Islamic theocrat, Bashir Ahmad tweeted this comment after a sharia court sentenced nine persons for blasphemy: “I cannot pretend or keep silent. I support the death penalty for blasphemy. That is my belief and I will never support #SaveKanoNine”. So it is patently untrue and misleading for anyone to say that the brutal murder of Ms. Yakubu and other blasphemy-related attacks, sanctions, and bloodletting in Northern Nigeria have nothing to do with religion. No, they do. As the case of this Christian woman has shown, these bloodletters are usually motivated by their religious belief in the prophet of Islam; Islamic teachings and orientations, and by their quest to placate Allah and inherit the paradise in the hereafter.
So if Nigeria wants to end these horrific attacks and killings, it should take a critical look at how Islam is professed and practised in Northern Nigeria. Nigeria needs to determine if Islam is a religion or a death cult; if muslims operate within the law or above the law and if Islamic privilege is a state policy. Look, Islam has a history of violence and bloodletting that persists. The government must admit that jihadist Islam is entrenched and pervasive. Boko Haram militants are not only in the Sambisa forest. Islamic extremists exist and operate in several mosques, courts, police, and army stations. Boko Haram jihadists and their sympathizers are not a small minority as some people claim. They populate government houses, schools, colleges, and universities.
So it is high time Nigeria confronted this big elephant in the room, that is Islamic extremism. Muslim leaders should stop living in denial; they should stop pretending that jihadist Islam is not a huge problem. Muslim leaders should stop deceiving the world and saying that blasphemy killings and attacks have nothing to do with religion, in this case, Islam. No, these killings have everything to do with Islam as practised in Northern Nigeria. And the way Islam is preached and practised in Northern Nigeria must change. The government must address this toxic tendency and habit that makes muslims value their religious and prophetic icons more than human lives. Nigeria must tackle this savage and dreadful inclination of muslims to kill, attack or maim others at the slightest provocation. Nigerian authorities should monitor the activities of Muslim clerics because these religious actors use their preaching and Quranic indoctrination programmes to radicalize young Muslims and turn them into merchants of hate, violence, death, and destruction. The government should protect the rights of those who criticize the teachings and traditions of Islam and its prophet because it is through a critical examination of Islamic doctrines and practices that these extremist ideas and tendencies could be exposed and expunged.
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Nigeria should take measures to end impunity and ensure that those who indulge in blasphemy-related attacks or killings are brought to book. Those who carry out these barbaric acts should not go scot-free. They are murderers and criminals and should be arrested, prosecuted, and jailed to serve as a deterrent to others. Usually, when muslims attack or kill for blasphemy, no arrest is made, in cases where arrests are made, nobody is prosecuted; and in situations where some are charged to court, they are later acquitted. This culture of impunity must end if Nigeria must make progress in this 21st century. There should be serious consequences for blasphemy-related attacks. The Nigerian government should repeal blasphemy laws because as long as there are provisions that criminalize insults on religion, freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression will not be guaranteed and these savage attacks in the name of Allah or Prophet Muhammad will continue.
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