Religious intolerance; a bane to Africa’s development

THERE HAVE been various causes and reasons for conflict in the world and even though some of them may seem very inconsequential, they have all had their share of damning consequences on societies and humanity as a whole.

People have fought over issues ranging from ideologies to the mere ownership of fowls. In Africa, most of these disputes have broken out on the back of some of the most irrelevant issues one can think of; land ownership or livestock.

What makes some of these conflicts more pathetic is the fact that the causes took place centuries before the warring factions were even born. Though these circumstances still prevail very much in recent times there is also a growing phenomenon which is also becoming extremely disturbing; the lack of tolerance among differing religious beliefs.

Religious intolerance is no doubt becoming a conundrum on the already impoverished continent of Africa where religion has become a major thread in the cultural fabric of the people. Day in day out, there are skirmishes in one part or of the continent or the other. Sudan (now split into Sudan and South Sudan) witnessed the bloodiest Christian–Muslim war ever recorded on the continent.

In Nigeria, religious scuffles between the Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south have now become the order of the day and with the advent of the extremist group, Boko Haram, the world has been exposed to some of the most heinous and atrocious crimes ever to be inflicted on religious groups.

But why has religion now become such a fear-provoking matter? The fact is, it has always been. Man from the beginning of the ages seems to have been inspired by certain belief systems which helps him assert his own existence- a belief he reveres and holds very sacred with unflinching dedication. He hardly makes concessions to any other form of belief and views it as a divine duty to preserve and pass it on to other generations. This in most cases puts him in a position that makes him view other faiths as inferior or disillusioned.

Adherents of most of these faiths therefore believe that one’s commitment to the principles and practices guarantees the salvation or damnation of the soul. These men and women subsequently see it as an ultimate good and “calling” to help save the souls of others by sharing and possibly converting them to avoid the damnation of their souls. In the process of all this some have met serious confrontations especially from faiths that guard violently against the encroachments of other beliefs and doctrines.

Some scholars have argued that these religions have only been built on the egos of certain personalities who claim to know the purpose of life and have been given the mandate by God or some sort of supernatural being to lead men safely to the afterlife. According to the proponents of these arguments, the fear of most people to secure for themselves a safe place after death is what drives them to cleave unto these faiths.

But whether religion is man’s creation to find sanity or security, truth or a god, it is obvious that they all have great reverence and admiration for whatever they believe in and quite many of them put up an imposing influence on others – the genesis of all the religious acrimony.

Again, the exclusivity of holding the key to the salvation of men puts these religions in a domineering and imposing posture which makes them egoistic in nature. In cases where they are trained to enforce their laws and beliefs through all possible means, obviously for the good of the people, the consequences are seen not to be far from what we have witnessed in Sudan and Nigeria.

The Issue in Perspective It is important for readers to know that the mere statement on the part of a religion that its own beliefs and practices are right or better than any contrary beliefs does not in itself constitute intolerance. Religious intolerance, therefore, is when one religion refuses to regard the practices, believes and activities of other religious sect to the extent of even preventing its practice. This normally takes the form of imposing belief systems and religious laws on the others. Some of these minority religious sects unfortunately do not only suffer cruel treatment but death when they fail to conform.

This religious bad-blood has unfortunately been the basis of most of such conflicts on the continents even though they have only served as a precursor of setting the stage for major political feuds perpetuated by misguided followers of some of the faiths whose real intentions are not to assert their religious beliefs but to advance, most times, a political agenda.

In some other cases too it has just been the spillover of the ego of one religion against the other. In Egypt, Coptic Christians are on a regular basis harassed by their Muslim brothers, majority of the very people who have made the Tahri Square the freedom center, demonstrating to knock out despotic rule and regimes. Still fresh on our minds are the gruesome bomb killings of some Christians by the militant Islamist group; Boko Haram. The continent continues to witness some of the bloodiest and most horrendous religious confrontations yet no serious attention seems to be given to this thesis on the causes of conflict.

The militant group has carried out similar attacks to register their demands with the aim of securing the implementation of the Sharia law across the whole of Nigeria. They have been ruthless with their critics and sometimes even on moderate Muslim clerics for criticizing them.

The question I believe many well-meaning people have asked is, can this be possible in a country that has a clearly diversified religious population? And yet painful as it is, these groups are normally founded by a few disgruntled politicians who parade themselves as people who seek the welfare of their people. They conveniently shield their intention behind religion, wasting innocent and precious lives along the way.

Though there is no attempt to accuse any single group, I believe such situations have also been made possible as a result of the lack of proactive considerations by earlier policy makers who obviously regarded some areas more developmentally expedient than others. Partly to be also blamed are our colonial masters who due to greed for power and wealth scrambled the continent arbitrarily without any religious, ethnic or cultural considerations.

It is therefore in this regard that it has become imperative for African nations, where the grounds have been proven to be more fertile for such conflict, to take more practical measures in dealing with this albatross around the neck of the continent.

Curbing the Problem International civil societies and human rights organizations should take this issue up and demand for more compliance to the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by governments that have clearly failed to adhere to the provisions. No man is born to be controlled by another man but to live and contribute to a society that believes in natural laws and upholds basic human rights.

Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country and supposedly one of top ten countries in the world noted for religious tolerance is a model to be emulated as it is working tirelessly to open up its society to embrace other religions. This move undoubtedly is yielding dividends through an improved economy.

Though some people may hold the view that the world is full of moral garbage and thus the need to protect the people from it idiocy, it is also important that all restrictions are implemented to reasonable conclusions and not to stifle others just because a people do not share in that belief.

Free men crave for an opportunity to choose their own beliefs, provided it is not detrimental to the fulfillment of our physical lives here on earth. After all, the choice to go to heaven or hell should be the sole prerogative of an individual and not some religious leader or group who feel they are in the best position to decide for the souls of others.

Conclusion In secular states, there are equal rights to worship since ample provisions are made for all religious interests while room is created for others. Theocratic nations which have entrenched positions with almost 100% of its population practicing the same religion should also take a cue and make some reasonable adjustments.

They must be lobbied into the understanding that no matter how sacred they uphold their beliefs, there should be provisions for the observance of other faiths. There is no country in the world without a significant minority of a particular religion and therefore the need to respect minority religious interests as theirs are being respected elsewhere.

Governments should not take it lightly and assume that these confrontations are only happening in backward parts of the continents. The peace in some part of the continent should not be taken for granted as has been characteristic of most peaceful African nations.

There should be healthy inter-religious symposia organized as part of curricula in schools at all levels on the need for religious tolerance and accommodation. Missionary schools established during the colonial era should be reoriented to accept all students regardless of their religious backgrounds.

These students should also be made to observe their religious obligations while opting out of those they share no interest in. Those that choose to opt out from such orientation and maintain exclusive identity should be tagged as religious schools and be regarded as such. They should give out caveats in their admission forms so as to avoid the confrontation of beliefs.

Religious associations should on regular basis sensitize their followers on the need for tolerance. Members should be encouraged to refrain from attacks on other religious bodies and should guard themselves from all forms of active political engagements.

We cannot ignore the harm already caused by our politicians who for the desperation of holding on to power have always played the religious or ethnic card. It is time for major actors on the continent to pay serious attention to this phenomenon dragging other countries backwards and put strategic policies and measures in place to forestall such contingencies.

MOSES KANGAH africansglory@yahoo.co.uk

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