In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful



26 January, 2008

MPAC Statement on the Religious Clash in Kano State

Nigerians woke up on the 8th of February to witness another orgy of violence, an inter-religious clash in Sumaila town, a village about 50 kilometers east of Kano city which cost two lives, including a police officer, and many more injured. The violent clash was caused when, an SS II student of the school in Sumaila, on January 24, was caught by his colleagues after he allegedly wrote and distributed a blasphemous article on the person of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). The apprehended student was handed over to the school authorities by some senior students who intervened to prevent bloodshed. The student, an indigenous Christian, was suspended by the school authorities after investigations showed that he indeed wrote and distributed the said offensive materials.

Thirteen days after, pressure mainly from the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Kano on the state Ministry of Education forced the school authorities to rescind the suspension on the student. The student returned to the school on Wednesday last week after the ministry ordered the principal to readmit him.
Kano state, like a few other states in the Northern part of Nigeria, is infamous for religious upheavals. Late last year an indigenous Christian student wrote a similar offensive article in Tudun Wada local government, leading to violence with many casualties. These incessant tragedies compel one to wonder what sort of ideologies of hate produces in young boys the yearning to craft such extremely abhorrent articles. Who is teaching these young boys the criminal ideologies and what are their motives? The distressing fact of this latest incidence however is that the issue of the student in Sumaila resurfaced in the same week that an exhibitionist group of 17 Danish newspapers, in shared aims with Jyllands-Posten which published on 30 September 2005 a set of caricatures to espouse a deep-seated hatred of Islam, reproduced the notorious ‘Muhammad cartoons’, thus fitting the Sumaila incidence into the perceived global attack on Islam.
This attitude of a marginal extremist group within the Northern Nigerian Christian population stands in poor contrast to the deeds of most Nigerian Christians and also against a praiseworthy act, in the same week, of Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury who in his recent lecture at the Royal Courts of Justice, on Thursday, February 7, 2008, explained his vision about accommodating the Islamic Shari`ah law within the British law from a highly legal perspective. He invited the UK “to think a little harder about the role and rule of law in a plural society of overlapping identities.” Although the suggestion has been slanted, ably aided by the British media, into a facile controversy rather than a rigorous debate that it was meant to generate, the Nigerian hate-preachers who are bent on polarising communities should definitely learn from this Christian leader of sterling qualities.
Muslim Public Affairs Centre, MPAC, utterly deplores the sentiments and motives behind this crime as well as the crime itself. Islamophobic rhetoric inevitably translates into acts of bias, discrimination and ultimately violence against Muslims. In fact, being a Muslim in public life for most Nigerian Muslims, whether in seeking education, in seeking employment or public service, already attest to the truth of this fact. The constant, and provocative, drumbeat of anti-Islamic rhetoric, which is quite common among an element of the Nigerian Northern Christians is poisoning the hearts and minds of their youths as the resulting violent clashes are destroying our society. The Christian leadership should not feel comfortable to watch this extremist group continue to breach the law. It cannot be valid for followers of Christianity to expect a certain standard of behaviour from the Muslims regarding the treatment of Christians and Christian faith while failing to uphold similar standards. Consistency, we dare say, would be a virtue.
MPAC therefore affirms the rights of Muslims to hold aloft, defend their religion and the honour and respect of their prophet against foolish and unprovoked attack. However, we strongly state that no provocation warrants or justifies violent response or the taking of human life as engagement in such an act always amounts to leaving the field of legitimate complaint to enter one of barbarity and short-sightedness. It is in this light that MPAC wishes to make the following statements:
  • This incidence is, once again, a clearly sad case of mismanagement of a crisis situation, which would have been nipped in the bud, had the security agencies, working closely with faith communities, developed reliable intelligence to detect, with all the clear early warnings, any criminal acts that will cause loss of any human live.
  • The Kano State educational authorities, had it acted in the interest of public good, could have resisted the pressure and lobby to get the boy back to the same school, at a time that tempers were still flaring.
  • The adherents of the two dominant faith groups in Nigeria, namely Islam and Christianity, must avoid incendiary publications (print, electronic) and the attendant violent reaction.
  • The Kano State Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), which acted as an insensitive lobby group in this case, could have staved off this crisis if it had taken into consideration prevalent feelings and sentiments, or worked closely with the local Muslim leadership for a common ground in resolving the crisis.
  • Needless attack on and killing of policemen who are innocent of the goings on is patently wrong and should be considered a criminal attack on all of us. We hope that the perpetrators would be apprehended and held to the full wrath of the law.
  • MPAC calls on the Christian Association of Nigeria to call the extremists within its fold to order as the escalating trend of attacks on the Qur’an, the Prophet (SAW) and Islamic symbols are almost exclusive to the Northern part of the country. Failure to do this will amount to colluding to breach the law.
  • There is need for proper and on-going re-orientation and enlightenment of the citizenry on the following two crucial issues:
  • Respect for God, for His prophets, for religion, religious books, religious practices, places of worship and religious symbols.
  • Respect for the value and sanctity of a human life, any human life.
The murder of an innocent human being anywhere is condemnable and inexcusable, regardless of that individual’s tribe/race, religion, gender or social class. This is a lesson that must be reiterated by the Imam, the Pastor, the Church, the Mosque, everyone.
MPAC believes that Nigeria is well blessed to have the overwhelming majority of its citizens belong to the two faiths that have resources within them to promote peace, understanding and non-violence. MPAC does not call for common doctrines between Islam and Christianity but we believe that our two faiths, though different, already hold enough common grounds to enable us to live peacefully in mutual respect.  It is time for faith leaders to act courageously and responsibly to tackle the extremists and bigots in their midst. To deny that these marginal elements do exist within the faiths is a dangerous notion that will play into the hands of the extremists, and at best naïve. It is time for all good people of the two faiths to reject the demons of intolerance and bigotry that are needlessly causing us the loss of innocent lives.
Notwithstanding the provocations, the MPAC reaffirms that the rule of law is the surest guarantee to defeat the ills of extremism and bigotry. The political leaders, security agencies and the media should now step in to prevent a spill over or reprisal.We trust that the faith leaders and religious organizations would rise to the occasion and reassure the ordinary worshippers that this sort of crime is rejected by the faiths and will not be tolerated.
At a time that the two faith groups are coming together to seek joint efforts and tackle the ills of a globalized world like witnessed recently in the direct and constructive exchange and engagement epitomized by a ‘Common Word’ the barbaric attack and the nature of the reprisal attack in the case of Sumaila village show how much progress has yet to be made in Nigeria.

Disu Kamor
Director of Media & Communications
Muslim Public Affairs Centre, MPAC

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