Buhari and the Politics of Religion By Abubakar Evuti
No politician, I understand, has been a victim of religious bigotry as Muhammadu Buhari. He, Buhari, in my opinion is the most misconstrued politician. Loved by many in the North of Nigeria for many reasons —including,and perhaps especially for, the fact that he is a Muslim and largely disregarded in the South for some reasons but largely because he is a Muslim.
Muhammadu Buhari has been accused (unofficially of course) of having a secret plan of Islamizing Nigeria, of saying that, at the polls, Christians should vote Christians and Muslims, Muslims and several other statements with the theme of religious bigotry.
I have argued, perhaps too fiercely, each time I hear such stories. I have hollered questions; why did he say it? When did he say that? Where did he say that? And the answers have always being; “you never heard that story before?”
The 2011 elections, more than other elections, saw more attempts of mud-throwing at the name of Muhammadu Buhari. And till present day, the government, through its spokesmen- especially the loquacious Mr. (or is it Dr.?) Doyin Okupe – has tried to paint a picture of a politician, a bitter loser and a religious intolerant man with the face of Muhammadu Buhari.
Doyin Okupe has intentionally caused the name “Buhari” and “Boko Haram” to appear in headlines. He, Okupe, has implied a lot of things —among which is that Buhari, at least by inaction, has allowed the continuous reign of terror by Boko Haram. Okupe has being going forwards and backwards, attacking here and attacking there, vomiting words and, when circumstance demands, eating back his vomit. Personally, I don’t want to protest against him or his polity-tensing statements. I have taken my measure from his statements and I am of the opinion that he is a man of low integrity. I suspect that his ambition is not to be seen as one of the “attack lions” of the Jonathan-led government but THE “attack lion” of the Jonathan-led government.
But Okupe- his vain attempts of mud-throwing at Buhari- is not the concern of this article. We are concerned about Muhammadu Buhari- his religious belief, his perception of Christians and Christianity and his idea of how the two major Nigerian religions can exist in peace.
Muhammadu Buhari, as we all know, is a Muslim. I have being examining his speeches and his understandings of Nigeria- her two major religions, their tense relationship- and I have seen that they are worthy of examination and reflection. Below is a part of the speech he made at the 4th Annual Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial Lecture on February 15, 1998:
(All emphasis mine)
“Religion is the anchor in the lives of the majority of our people. Besides giving meaning and direction to us, it serves as a means of succor and support against the turbulence and vicissitudes of life. It gives people a value system that inculcates a sense of right and wrong and which ultimately becomes a more effective anti-crime savior than any armed police force. Somehow, unfortunately, despite the attachment of our people to the letter of their faith and their readiness to defend it with all their strength, there is no corresponding concern with its spirit; and, consequently, this has not translated into Nigerians becoming their brothers’ keepers. And nowhere is this failure so glaring as in the way and manners officials treat matters entrusted to them by virtue of their public office. Yet they are not shunned by religious leaders. Our Ulama and priests will pray for and bless every charlatan, bless every accursed occasion or deed so long as there is someone to foot their bill. Our society must reject this and quickly put these miscreants and pseudo-scholars out of business.
More importantly, WE MUST ALSO FORCEFULLY RESIST THOSE WHO WISH TO SET OUR SOCIETY ON THE PATH OF RELIGIOUS CONFLICT. The recent past was unfortunate, the present is not good enough; and it is our duty to create a future that should become a model for all multi-religious societies. We must get together or we shall all get it together. Our principal religions share a heritage that ought to be used to forge links between Muslims and Christians. Both are revealed, monotheistic faiths that teach tolerance and peaceful co-existence. The recent visit of the Pope was a good sign of tolerance and mutual determination to put past mistrust aside.
Christianity preaches love and is founded upon love and true belief in the one true God as the life of Jesus Christ (AS) symbolizes. Islam means peace and submission to the will of the same one true God. The life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW), who ,during his lifetime ,interacted ,received and discussed issues of theology with Christian priests right inside Masjid an-Nabawi, his mosque and the second holiest sanctuary in Islam, should be sufficient as an indication to the type of brotherhood and tolerance that Islam teaches, demands and practices. If nowadays this type of interaction doesn’t exist, Muslims must search their souls, and ask themselves if they indeed copy the example of the Holy Prophet in their dealings with the People of the Book, as Christians are called in Islam. In the same vein, our priests must be able to know that Islam is very deferent from what missionary education teaches, and to distinguish between the agenda of Christianity and the agenda of western imperialism. The Qur’an teaches Muslims that among those closest to them are the Christians.
Perhaps it can with justice be said that the problem of leadership is most acute in the domain of religion; because, more than in other areas leadership in the religious sphere tends to lead from behind. Leaders seem to wait to determine what the mob wishes to hear, and they tell exactly that. But the mob is frequently a blood-thirsty creature which has no place in the scheme of any of our civilized monotheistic faiths.
WHOSOEVER THEREFORE IN THE NAME OF EITHER RELIGION PREACHES INTOLERANCE IS CLEARLY AN ADHERENT OF NEITHER, AND OUR SOCIETY MUST EVOLVE A WAY OF UNMASKING THE HIDDEN AGENDA AT WORK. We must understand provocation while it is being planned and stop it before it happens. We must educate our zealot to learn that his right ends where those of his neighbor begin. Everyone must be made to accept that we are all one vast family under the lordship of God; and it is He alone who can pass judgment over his bondsmen.
Knowing this, we should try to heal the wounds of past conflicts whether caused by provocation, sour memories of history, external instigations or plain accidents. For the future, I wish to suggest that Christians and Muslims must break down the barrier of suspicion, hostility and misunderstanding; and the best way of doing this is by directly talking to each other. It is certainly time to begin a dialogue between Christianity and Islam at all levels – individual, communal, national and even international – to reassure ourselves, save our present and preserve our future, and have a basis for hope here and the hereafter.
We must always remember whether we believe in destiny or not, we will all die. Whether we believe in the hereafter or not, we will all go there. And whether we call ourselves secular or whatever, the truth is that ours is a very religious society, however short on example and however long on precept. And we should be proud of the fact that we are religious. We are not one bit impressed by the evolving legacy of this modern permissive godlessness which wishes to reject all kinds of authority. Freedom must limit itself or be limited by force when anarchy threatens to result. In obedience to God we recognize and must always uphold the necessity of the existence of the family unit, of the indispensability of organized society and leadership; and we accept the authority of parents, elders and those in constituted authority who promote justice.”
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