What do they see that we don’t? The Case of the Inter and Intra Religious Tolerance in Ghana
He walked out calmly and stood before him. Then, they embraced; softly yet firmly. They stayed in each other’s arms for seconds long. It was as though they had yearned for such a hug all their lives. The intangible aura around their embrace was louder than what my eyes could envision.
Then he spoke. After he spoke, the other spoke. And as the other ended, he said calmly;
“I pray that one day, we as a people will come to understand that our diversity is not a reason for us to fight against one another, and that we treat kindly and be just to those who do not chase us out or wage war against us.”
At that point, I couldn’t feel my feet any longer. I was swooned…totally. It was as though I was listening to a Persian Nightingale. The atmosphere was choking with heavily honest orations from the two beautiful souls.
Over the week, I had the rare privilege of witnessing the visit of a high-powered delegation of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission to the National Chief Imam’s residence. The delegation was led by the Ameer of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission, Maulvi Mohammed Bin Salih for the purpose of celebrating with the Chief Imam on his 100th birthday and to congratulate him on his achievements in Ghana, as well as in the Muslim community. As if the weight of the privilege of being present there wasn’t cringing enough, I was the only young female in the room, with my tiny self hiding at the back and watching quietly, the pageantry that was unfolding before my eyes.
As is customary, Maulvi Bin Salih as the guest spoke first on behalf of the delegation. “My father,” he would address the Chief Imam as he spoke. He had no hesitation in acknowledging him as the Leader of the Muslim Community in Ghana. He expressed his gratitude to the Chief Imam for his endless efforts in improving intra-religious co-existence within the Ghanaian Muslim community. Awww, how beautiful his speech was. You just had to hear it to sense it. The climax of his speech was when they gifted the Chief Imam with a very sleek plaque. It was legendary.
Then, the Centenarian spoke…the National Chief Imam. Calm was his speech.
He referred to two key verses in the Qur’an (Chapter 49:13 and Chapter 60:8) as the basis for everything he has ever done and still continues to do (which of course, included his visit to the Christ the King Catholic Church on Easter Sunday). He spoke highly against making stereotypical comments and name calling of people who may not share similar ideologies, be it within Muslims or between people of different faiths. It was in this context that he made the quote which you saw in the intro of this writing. And you know what he did? He asked for the gathering to recite the ‘Faatiha’ chapter for the late Maulvi Wahab Adam.
Whoossh! At a point, I wished it aired live on TV (well, Muslim TV Ahmadiyya was there to cover the event).
As I sat there in my mesmerised state, I couldn’t help but recall very recently, few pictures that circulated on social media of the visit of the Ahlus-Sunna leadership to the National Chief Imam. I recalled inter-religious gestures, such as the painting of the Mosque of the Chief Imam at Abossoy Okai by Pastor Otabil, the visit of Most Reverend Charles Palmer- Buckle to the Chief Imam some years ago, as well as the most recent gesture, which was the Chief Imam’s visit to the Christ the King Catholic Church on Easter Sunday.
In the silence of my thoughts, I wondered…what understanding of religious co-existence (be it intra or inter) is it that these Men of God have that today’s religious youth, particularly Muslim youth, seem to be missing? With a section of Muslim youth who throw any other Muslim who doesn’t think the way they do into the nearest ‘Jahannam’ pit available, or a section of young Christians who think that every Muslim walks with a PhD in slaying the heads of ‘Kaafirs’, or a section of young Muslims who think that inhaling the air a Christian exhales is treason, will the deep understanding of religious co-existence these Men have be thrown to the dogs when they are no more? Where are we going wrong?
Did you have the chance to follow the ‘brouhaha’ surrounding the Chief Imam’s visit to the Church? Did you realise all of a sudden, the exponential increase in the number of ‘Sheikh Google Scholars’ who were throwing fatwas left, right, centre without understanding the purpose of the visit? (Seriously, since when are fatwas given in a vacuum?). And, mehnnn! The garbage of insults that some Muslim youth heaped on this noble man was unimaginable; some hiding behind the ‘Tijanniya – Sunni’ beef (ooo yes, we realised it) to either praise or condemn what took place. This latter point reeeeeally bugs me…intra-religious intolerance between young Muslim followers of different sects. Worse off, is when ‘intra-religious intolerance goes rogue’ (i.e. intolerance between young Muslim followers of different leaders within the same sect).
Let me attempt to propose the source of the problem; Conformity. This belief that we all have to think the same way, there is only one way of doing things and that somehow, one sect is the sole bearer of all the right answers…the rest can take a hike. But perhaps, the bigger source of the problem is the end result of not putting into practice that first word revealed to the Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him)…ignorance.
One just needs to iqra, i.e. read the seerah of the Prophet deeply enough to see the extent to which he upheld diversity of opinions and actions in matters. His only caveat was that such opinions should not defeat their purpose or a fundamental of the faith. He did this because he understood, people differ and so do contexts. He developed inter-religious relations and looked for ways and platforms to enhance such relations. It’s no news the mosque was a place non-Muslims at the time would come to meet the Prophet for different reasons. Do you know in his time, the Prophet granted a Charter of Privileges to the monks of St. Catherine Monastery which consisted of several clauses covering all aspects of human rights (including such topics as the protection of Christians, freedom of worship and movement, freedom to appoint their own judges and to own and maintain their property, exemption from military service, and the right to protection in war)? Yes, he did that. Can anyone say they understand diversity more than the Prophet?
Check out the history of our classical scholars (Jasser Auda’s ‘Maqaasid Al-Shari’ah: A Beginner’s Guide’, does justice to this); how they built on each other’s works to develop a framework for understanding Islam better, despite their different inclinations (and they each had their inclinations…some Shia, Sunni or Sufi). It will amaze you.
And don’t get me wrong. No one is advocating sacrificing the principles of a faith for the sake of diversity. All I am saying is that we look for those areas where we have common grounds and use that to work for the greater good of humanity or better still, share our worldview as Muslims with others. Probably, the problem is that some of us don’t realise that even that in itself is a form of Da’wah.
It has never been in Allah’s plan to have us be the same or to see each other as enemies just because we don’t share the same way of thinking. If that were so, Hujarat verse 13 would have been absent in the Qur’an. That is why for me, in thinking about how we can continue the legacy of these deep thinking religious figures, I am convinced, now more than ever that inter and intra faith dialogues at the regional and national level need to start taking place. We need to admit that there exists a ‘y3 ni wu siri kwa’ atmosphere and address the elephant in the room. As low as the basic level, we need to start having these conversations. Where there are issues of discrimination, we need to feel free to address them. Initiatives like ‘Open Mosque/Church days’ should be organised where people of other faiths can walk in freely to ask questions to understand the other’s faith. And particularly, young Ghanaian religious devotes need to be made to understand that neither asking questions about another person’s faith nor reading their religious scripture is a treasonable offence. We need to know each other fully to understand each other better. That is what helps us respect each other’s boundaries, even in the midst of sharing out message with the other. Zooming on the Muslim community, we need to encourage dialogues between different sects (intra-religious dialogues). What is really dividing us is not the difference in ideological orientation but rather, the lack of the proper understanding of those differences.
And whilst we are at this, may I kindly suggest that we take a thing or two from this proverb from the Yoruba:
“If you damage the character/reputation of another, you damage your own.”
What suffices, suffices.
Khadija Abdul Samed