LOUD WHISPERS: As We Begin The Ramadan Season

Three years ago, I was at a Yoruba traditional engagement ceremony in Lagos. What used to be a beautiful ceremony full of symbolism, traditional music and poetry performances, overseen by those who have the required experience as women of the household, has now been turned over to commercial hands. With varying degrees of knowledge and (mis)understanding of Yoruba protocol and values, these engagement facilitators popularly known as ‘Gagers’ are the ones who lead both families through the process of introducing one another and getting down to the business of the day

The ‘Gager’ asked the head of the bride’s family to pray for the couple. The bride’s father was a Muslim by birth but converted to Christianity. His Uncle, the head of the family, is a Muslim, so he proceeded to pray for his niece and her husband. As the old man was praying, the ‘Gager’ was muttering something into the microphone she was holding. I couldn’t make out what she was saying, till she moved close to where I was. That is when I realized she was ‘speaking in tongues’. I asked the lady next to me why she was doing that, and she said, ‘Because she wants to counter whatever demonic influences might come with the Muslim prayers being said in Arabic verse’. I was shocked. I felt like grabbing the microphone from the Gager’s hand and giving her an earful. Praying the Islamic way is now no longer acceptable in South West Nigeria, a part of the country respected for its religious tolerance? Sadly, the landscape has changed, both globally and locally. When I was young, we would run off to the homes of our Muslim friends to eat fried meat during the Sallah celebrations. At Christmas, they all came over to celebrate with us. Part of the fall out of the contemporary global conflicts is now a local culture of intolerance and insecurity, fueled by politicians and religious leaders alike.

When I was the First Lady of Ekiti State, during every Ramadan season, I organized an Iftar program for Muslim women. I would attend prayers at the mosque and break the fast with them after that. I got one of my Muslim staff members to teach me the correct protocols to observe in the mosque and during prayers. A female pastor acquaintance of mine asked me once, ‘When you bow down to pray with them, do you know who are you bowing down to’? I knew where the question was coming from and where it was heading, so I responded calmly but firmly, ‘Yes, I know. I am bowing to God’. You should have seen the look on her sanctimonious face. I do not take kindly to all those who claim to be holier than the Pope or more knowledgeable about human beings than Jesus Christ himself, the same Jesus who opened his arms to all kinds of sinners.

I was brought up in a home where there was tolerance for all forms of religious expression. I had a father who was born a Baptist, and even though he never stopped being one, he enjoyed attending other churches either for ceremonies or his own spiritual upliftment. One of his favourite events of the year was the annual Christmas carol concert of the Apostolic Faith Church in Lagos. Dad was an exemplary human being – a wonderful father, devoted husband, incorruptible professional, philanthropist, a role model in every way. He embodied all the values and principles of a good Christian without all the self-serving hypocrisy. My mother had a brief stint at the Celestial Church of Christ. She once brought her people from the church to bless our house, as was customary with new members. We were asked to close our eyes for prayers, (a welcome relief from the smoke of the heavy incense) and at some point, when I could not make sense of the screeches of the woman who had ‘gone into the spirit’ I opened my eyes, only to see that my father had his eyes open too, staring with amusement at the jerking motions of the woman. We looked at each other and he winked at me and bowed his head down again. I had to muster all the self-restraint I could to stop myself from laughing out loud!

My mother stopped attending that church after six months. She told us that she did not like the hypocrisy of the leadership and did not think it was the path to salvation. She found another path encouraged by my younger sister, through the Christ Apostolic Church (CAC) which she seemed to like a whole lot better. I am an Anglican (attending an Anglican school had a lot to do with that) and I married a Catholic which I always say makes me an ‘AngliCath’. My father raised us to place more emphasis on being decent human beings, respecting the rights and dignity of others, selfless service to humanity, and doing things that would find favour in the eyes of God. Whether you do this in an Anglican, Catholic, Baptist, Celestial, Redeemed, Sunni or Shi’a space is entirely your choice. On my 50th birthday four years ago, there was an Anglican Communion service, and the sermon was given by the Catholic Bishop. The sun still rose the next day.

The Acting President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, recently gave a speech in which he advised Nigerians to stop relying on prayers alone and start working. Some people thought it was wrong for him to have said that because there is nothing more important than prayers. Yes, prayers are very important, but so is hard work (when you can find it) and rational thinking. Of what use are prayers alone if you can’t afford to send your child to the high school or University established by the owner of the church you attend? A school that was built using your donations and tithes?

There is a sad truth that has emerged in the ways in which we worship God in contemporary Nigeria and to a large extent, the rest of the world. Today, our places of worship have become deeply polarized, with class, poverty, ethnicity, desperation, and greed playing a key role. Religions that were built on values such as humility, simplicity, honesty, love and compassion have now spawned impunity and abuse.

As we begin this Ramadan season, let us all reflect on what it means to live in peaceful co-existence with others, and what it means to truly serve God. If we do not respect the beliefs and faith of others, people will have very little regard for ours. Those who insist on depriving others of their fundamental human rights on the basis of their beliefs should fully examine the tenets of their chosen faith. None of the religious texts in existence preaches violence, hatred, murder or injustice. Any interpretations to the contrary are not inspired by anything from God – that is from human beings. We do not have to share the beliefs of others, but we can respect their rights to what they believe in, as long as our own rights to worship are not infringed upon. Religion should remain a private, personal matter and not be co-joined with State matters in any way. The laws of our land should also be enforced against those who hide behind religion to perpetrate and perpetuate atrocities.

For my Muslim brothers and sisters, Ramadan Kareem. I wish you a peaceful Ramadan season, may all your supplications find favour with Almighty Allah.

During this season, let us intensify our prayers for our country,

May peace reign, may our burdens be made light,

May the sick be healed, may our fields yield harvests,

May our children thrive, may the killing of innocents cease,

May the poor find succour, may the weak find strength, may the strong show mercy.

Let us say these prayers as one, however we choose to worship.

 

(This article was originally published in 2016. I have decided to share it again as we usher in another Ramadan season).

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

 

 

 

 

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11 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: As We Begin The Ramadan Season

  1. Oluwatosino May 30, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    Amen ijn…. Ramadan kareem to all my Muslim brothers and sisters. May all our prayers, supplications, and intercession be answered ijn.

    Our believe system is very strong and that’s why their is a big conflict in out religious system.

    Reply
  2. Femi Diipo May 30, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    This is a great piece about religious tolerance. some people take these religious things more serious even more than Jesus himself. Ramadan Kareem to all Muslims in the world and may all our prayers be answered, regardless of whatever means we choose to say them

    Reply
  3. Dom Dom May 30, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    This post seem really similar to the one posted around this time last year. Well done ma and may you continue to be blessed and enriched with these wonderful thoughts and ideas. If only most of us can imbibe these ideals and take active steps towards a peaceful world, rid of all fanaticism and religious extremism. Happy Ramadan to all Muslims

    Reply
  4. Olakunle Olajide May 31, 2017 at 7:13 pm

    I was about to make a comment that i had read a similar piece written by you until i saw the statement of its original​ date it was published. Thank you for the reminder ma’am but sincerely this religious belief and ethnic difference is getting worse by the day. I pray with don’t lose the essence of humanity which is love.
    May God continually bless you ma’am.

    Reply
  5. Olushola Aderanti June 2, 2017 at 7:39 am

    Religious Acceptability is what is needed the most in this country. Accept people and their religion no matter what, through that, we can live peaceably among ourselves

    Reply
  6. Bisola Cole June 2, 2017 at 7:41 am

    I truly love this. Ramaadan Kareem to all my muslim faithfuls

    Reply
  7. Maureen Adams June 2, 2017 at 7:43 am

    Yes! Nigeria should unite. No one is superior, we all together and whichever way we chose to speak to God is different. Accepting our religious differences is basic in this country.

    Reply
  8. Omolola June 2, 2017 at 7:44 am

    I am happy this was brought up again because sincerely, this is what we need. Ramaadan Kareem

    Reply
  9. Shola Ademide June 2, 2017 at 7:46 am

    Thank you for acknowledging us and thanks to all the wishes. May Allah honour all of you.

    Reply
  10. Akpegbe June 3, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    WHoooo nice write up. Thanks ma’am for this. Happy Ramadan Kareem to all Muslim folks!

    Reply
  11. Branny June 3, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    Thanks for the love ma I really appreciate the fact that you are not a fanatic. Happy Ramadan Kareem to all my Muslim brothers and sisters.

    Reply

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