LOUD WHISPERS: As We Begin The Ramadan Season

Two years ago I was at a traditional engagement ceremony in Lagos.  The couple were from Yoruba families, so I could simply have said it was a Yoruba engagement ceremony. However, since a lot has been changed and modified over the years, what passes for an engagement ceremony according to Yoruba tradition is now a syncretic mix of actions as dictated by the hired facilitators of the ceremonies. What used to be a 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 norms 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. Perhaps I will write another article specifically about current trends with Nigerian weddings, but this piece is about religious tolerance.

Back to my experience at the engagement ceremony. 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, was 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 famous 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 at Ramadan. At Christmas, they all came over to celebrate with us. Part of the legacy of the contemporary global religious fundamentalist conflicts is now a local culture of intolerance, fueled by politicians and religious leaders alike.

Last week one Mrs Bridget Agbahiwe was murdered by a group of youths in Kano State. She had been at odds with a Muslim co-trader over his habit of performing ablutions in front of her shop. On this fateful day, she challenged the man again on the same issue, and he threatened to teach her a lesson. He proceeded to incite a mob against her, claiming she had blasphemed against the Holy Prophet Mohammed. The case is under investigation, so the exact details are yet to be verified. What we do know is Bridget Agbahiwe was hacked to death. What could possess a group of young people to vary out such a vicious, mindless attack on an unarmed woman? Is cruelty the new religion? I hope there is justice for the late Bridget, we cannot continue to see people being slaughtered like cattle all in the name of religion, in a country that is supposed to be a secular nation.

When I was the First Lady of Ekiti State, during every Ramadan season, I organized an Iftar program for the 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’. Point is, 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 three years ago, there was an Anglican Communion service, and the sermon was given by the Catholic Bishop. The sun still rose the next day.

As we approach the next Ramadan season, let us all reflect on what it means to live in peaceful co-existence with others. 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 faith 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, here is wishing you a peaceful Ramadan season. May all your supplications find favour with Almighty Allah.  I would like to share a saying from the Hadith (teachings and sayings) of Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him) which is instructive for people of all faiths: Religion is very easy, and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded.  Bukhari: V1N38

 

Let us continue to pray for our countries and ourselves.

May peace reign, may our burdens be lessened,

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, to the one God, however we choose to worship him.

 

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

  1. Femi Diipo June 6, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    When opening a bank account in Nigeria or registering for nysc, there’s a part in the form where you must fill your religion. Consequently, the laws and regulations of the country harbour some sort of religious differences and intolerance. What does a bank need my religion for? Even God must laugh sometimes at our religious ignorance and seeming hypocrisy. Happy Ramadan to Muslims and may God answer our prayers

    Reply
  2. Princess June 6, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    Beau write up but to start with Christianity is not a religion, it was Acts 11:26 that brought about the name CHRISTIANS meaning Christlike. Christianity is CHRISTOCENTIC that is CHRIST CENTERED, d issue of muslims keeling Christians in the north is totally unbearable. It is an abberation to human nature, I have never seen or heard that some Christians killed a muslim or whatever. Why is it that muslims are always bellicose in nature. Wetin no good no good, if they feel everyone is serving thesame God then why are they fighting and killing Christians in the north all because they feel they are fighting God’s battle for Him? Fiddlesticks!

    Reply
  3. Femi Diipo June 6, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    So Christianity is then a way of life? An ideology, just like feminism or vegetarianism? Christianity is a religion, just like Islam and we must all learn to tolerate each other. If you study history well, you’ll know that Christians have killed alot of Muslims and even Christians for religion sakes. It is time to just serve God and leave out all these hatred and differences

    Reply
  4. Ebonychyqui2 June 6, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    May God help this generation of ours. We don’t have to kill each other all in the name of religion now? Religion or no religion both Christians and muslims should learn to live peacefully and respect each others doctrine and with that no one will be put in a state of magnalogtomy. May God help our understanding

    Reply
  5. Daniels Tobi June 6, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    @Femi and Princess, Do we need such argument? No! We don’t. There is a right to Life and religion. We should be intellectual about this, Let us start preaching the gospel of acceptance. Digging up unhealthy history is not the way forward. Let us stand as one. We can have our preferences but for the sake of Unity and Humanity, Let’s accept, condole, tolerate and Love eachother.

    Happy Ramadan.

    Reply
  6. precious. June 6, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    all I have to say is that both christians and Muslims should love and live peaceful they should all understand that its same God and they can also celebrate together. But I got to understand something about Muslims that in their religion they have different believe and understand of their religion. its not all Muslims that kill or support killing of people. just saying according to my understand and research work not like I’m a Muslim.

    Reply
  7. DSEED June 6, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    So to say, religion is a life style. Bringing a terrible issues out of this is what baffles me expectially in this despensation where as killing one self all because of religion is no longer new. The fact is that i have never heard where by Christians gather in killing of Muslims but always among the Muslims. Am saying this not because I am a christian but the fact must be stated. Let us allow peace to reign. Walking in love solve it all. The God we both claim to serve is love. God will see you through as you witness the Ramadan season. Amen. Always remember our country especially our leaders in your prayers.

    Reply
  8. Harryrrah June 6, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    What we need in Nigeria now is peace and tranquillity to move this nation forward not some religious bull crap. I remember when I was a teenager and even during my undergraduate days I literally fight my muslim classmates over Salah meat if it didn’t get to me. All is well! And for those of you who are muslims, please complete your fast. No be the one wey una go dey steal water and soda drink and still pretend to be fasting oooooooo #wink# I know what am saying because I have caught several of my muslim friends in the very act.

    Reply
  9. Utibe June 6, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    Religious tolerance is something a lot of Nigerians need to learn. We ought to respect other people’s views, opinions & religions even when we don’t believe or partake in them. Only by this can we function effectively as individuals & citizens.

    Reply
  10. Bamisebi toluwalope June 7, 2016 at 2:30 am

    May God almighty help us in this country. Ramadan Kareem to all our Muslim brethren. May we come to the full understanding of knowing God for ourselves be he a Muslim or a Christian. Religion is a way of life and what we believe. Not until we come together as one, United in his Love we won’t completely Enjoy the peace of God in our lives and nation. And religious discrimination won’t stop until we all understand that we have one father and have been created in his image and likeness.

    Reply
  11. Olakunle Olajide June 7, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    Another inspiring write up ma’am. Well, i grew up in the estate where a mosque is situated at my backyard. So i was privileged to have both Muslim and Christian friends. One thing i understood was that we got along quite well because of the training we had from our respective parents and we still keep in touch till date.Strongly i feel it is not about the religion but about the knowledge that is being passed from generations to generations because i have also seen Christian and Muslim fanatics that i heard to withdraw from.My prayer basically is that God reveals Himself to us in other to have peace with ourselves and other peole. Ramadan Mubarak to my Muslim friends.

    Reply
  12. maveedah June 9, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    Ramadan kareeem to our muslim brothers and sisters

    Reply
  13. Hyebeekayy June 9, 2016 at 8:46 pm

    Love and tolerance are much needed in this country where selfishness and hate thrives. Some people don’t even have the patience to listen or tolerate their fellow humans’ opinions in simple matters. Religion is one phenomenon that never ceases to lead conflict. Can’t people just serve their respective Gods and live in peace? It’s so ironical that people use violence to propagate religions teaching peace.

    Reply

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