By Abubakar Bello
Excesses of spiritual leaders are numerous, as one was pointed out earlier, it may well be described as tip of the iceberg. Particularly when it comes to accordance of deserved acknowledgment and respect to the rights of others. Regardless of whether one is an adherent of such faith or not. Spirituality or religiosity is supposed to guide adherents on recognizing the right of others as against denying it. Even in mono-religious enclaves such as Makkah, Madinah or the Vatican, co-faith members have the right not to be disturbed on the course of performing religious sacrament by other members despite the fact that they all practice and believe in the same faith.
Religious rites or practices that constitute public nuisance such as dishing-out sermons and noisy incantations over public address systems in residential neighborhoods especially during early hours of the morning or late at night is not religiousness but deviation from religion and what it teaches. Some prayer centres or congregations stay up until midnight and even beyond preventing neighboring residents from having good rest with disgusting noise. If we are truly religious as we claim to be, then religious morals should poke our conscience that God will not be pleased with any prayer, incantation or rite that was offered to the displeasure or discomfort of others. Disturbing the peace of others and denying them serenity at retirement hours of the day with unbearable noise from loudspeakers regardless of whether those being bothered believe in God or not is insensitivity of the highest order. No justification can stand for any religious act that is offered to the detriment of others.
Many share this opinion of regulating religious excesses especially the ones that involve public inconvenience but because of the sensitivity of issues with religious tendencies in this part of the world, fear of possible ostracism or misinterpretation or deliberate misplacement of facts by those whose interest may be threatened would result in excommunication or libeling. It’s easy for one to be crucified or accused of hypocrisy or termed apostate for speaking-out particularly when your argument is deliberately misunderstood and given pseudo interpretation.
Public disturbance even if not in the name of religion must be controlled and discouraged by self-regulation and state authority. Ego and impunity are mostly the causes of such insensitivity that is gaining momentum because those who ought to speak up and stand against such outrageousness on public rights are mute.
No prayer house or congregation needed to be told that blaring sound in a residential neighborhood is an infringement on the rights of residents especially during the wrong hours of the day. Spiritual leaders are supposed to know that better, and ensure their subjects are educated on what constitute public nuisance and by extension disregard to the right of others –if they did not sanction it in the first place.
As mentioned elsewhere, infallibility is a reserved quality for prophets and angels which underscores the fact that any ordinary mortal being is susceptible to error and bias no matter their level of religiousness. Spiritual leaders are not exempted just like their followers, but committing an error out of mistake and forgetfulness is forgivable. However, when such deviation sprang out of shallowness of knowledge or sheer ignorance or ego and selfishness, then control mechanism must be enforced by the society as a collective entity or the state. This again calls for checks and balances between leadership and followership and between society and citizens in order to tame unwanted excesses.
If immoderations are allowed unchecked or neglected, a recipe for societal decadence and disaster is bound to engulf us all. Courage must be summoned by all and sundry including the state through its law enforcement agencies to clear our conscience and see the reality in every of our conduct particularly the socio-existence aspect. Our affiliation to certain faith or creed should not becloud our sense of good judgement and right-thinking towards rebuking excesses committed by members of our faith or other faiths, groups or sects.
It has become a free for all platform where religious gladiators of different sect stage their proxy fight by playing cassette of provocative tirades. This unacceptable use of public address system by prayer houses indiscriminately may have been the springboard for local herbalist merchants who storm public places with all sort of indecent marketing utterances and music blaring over loud speakers. Thanks to some regulation on that by Kano state government which is quite commendable.
The act of unruliness in our various ways under pretexts of worship is not different from what Shi’ite are known for which is the attitude of obstructing traffic during processions. Their impunity during processions such that cost them dearly in Zaria last year and more recently in Kano may be informed by the stance that what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. If some religious congregations will obstruct traffic on Fridays or Sundays and public address systems are used indiscriminately without recourse to public inconvenience, and law enforcement agents find it tolerable, then other sects or groups will have justification not to be prevented from what may constitute some manifestation of their religion too. Because sensibly, no basis of harassing and prevent one religion/sect and seeming indifferent to the other under the same law.
For clarity however, where it becomes necessary and generally acceptable and understood, such religious act as call to prayer (Azan) which in its essence and purpose is done aloud, no objection applies to that and it will not constitute public nuisance because of its brevity and precise nature. Either ways, no divine religion would sanction violation and intrusion into the basic right of others. To abuse the right of others, no matter insignificant or negligible it may seem, should not be treated lightly because it infringes upon the right of God Himself.
Let religious morals guide us in standing for the truth even where the buck of the pain falls on us. That way alone, many of our social problems would be solved. It will make us more positively sensitive and prudent in relating with others and ourselves. It will promote respect for the right of others be they adherents of the same faith or not.
Again, what moral ground do we have in piety and holiness if we cannot rebuke our excesses that trample upon the basic right of others? What level of piousness must we attain to feel the empathy of what denying the right of others is? Who will summon that courage to challenge our religious excesses and seek for redress? Who will feel morally pricked by such challenge from both the religious leadership and its followership and amend for the better? Who will call for checks and balances in our society for our common good? I think we do not need any form of compulsion from authorities before the right thing will be seen as really being right.
Abubakar Bello wrote from Jos and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org