Thursday Column with Mohammed Adamu
I grew up in an area of my town called ‘Limawa’ (literally meaning ‘imamate’ or harvest ground for imams); it is one of the oldest parts of that colonial gold-prospecting town, ‘Minna’ which name, origin-myth claims was from the corruption of the word ‘miner’, by migrant Hausa-jobbers of the 50s while on the trail of colonial resource hunters; even though the natives claim that ‘Minna’ was rather a corruption of the Gbagyi word ‘mina’ or stone, describing a rocky part of the town around which they said their ancestors once lived and farmed.
But be that as it may, the Limawa or imamate section of this now sprawling Niger State Capital and birth home of the Babangidas and the Abdulsalamis, at least up to the 70s when we were growing up, was still your typical conservative Northern Islamic Hausa town, with all the goings and comings of donkeys-ridden farm goers or market-bound traders communing as they traversed mosques and madrasats, amidst the exchanges of ‘salams’ and ma-assalams.
Plus, five times a day a miscellany of voices of Muezzins from the minarets of several built-up mosques or even from the more numerous open-air ones at virtually every turn of the town, had rented the air, calling the faithful to prayer. Needless to add that twice a day too, except Thursdays and Fridays, Quranic schools at virtually every corner of Limawa, had also rented air with the cacophony of solo recitations of the Quran by sedentary ‘almajirai’ (namely us who attended from our parents’ homes) and by the regular nomadic ones brought usually from ‘gabas’ -or the ‘far North’.
It was, we were told, largely owing to a combination of some of these religious characteristics of Limawa that most of Minna’s Chief Imams were probably drawn from here –hence the name ‘Limawa’ or, like I had earlier said, the harvest ground for imams. And it was also on account of the holistic Islamic character of this imamate Area then, that it was well nigh impossible to imagine that any non-Islamic avenue of worship, could exist anywhere near Limawa, let alone, in fact, to imagine a Church entrenched for ages right in the bosom of this community.
But there it was, the ‘New Salem Church Of The Lord’, probably a denominational branch of the American ‘New Salem Baptist Church’ or some other affiliate of the latter. Except that this particular one, if memory serves right, was run by a Yoruba family almost in the Celestial -or should I say in the ‘cele’ tradition of service: long, flowing white garments adorned by floppy, up-to-shoulders-collar, a dangling mega-size crucifix on the neck and lots and lots of drumming, singing, dancing and….. hold it! Could that have been what I had grown much later to know as ‘speaking in tongues’? This one definitely in the vernacular.
In fact this Church was not only situated almost in the heart of Limawa, it was exactly adjacent yours-truly’s mud family house at some less than stone’s throw distance; so near each other that sometimes it had felt like the entire Church and its rambunctious band were right in my mother’s dingy, bamboo-ceilined-room. For as long as any service had lasted poor mom and children had to really more than ‘Soro So ke’ to hear each other above the din and clatter from the Church.
And to the best of my knowledge, even though my parents had moved to Minna from Kaduna when I was barely three or four, I had grown to see this Church where it was and in fact even as I write this piece I must confess I do not know when and how it had found its way right into the bowels of a conservative, trado-religious Hausa community virtually run then on the code of the Islamic Shariah. But that was not all, because this Church also had the freest imaginable rein to conduct its services however noisomely it deemed fit and no matter how many hours of the morning, day or night it had decided to hold.
I have not the faintest recollection that any of the Church’s six immediate neighbors, including yours-truly’s and especially a particular one that physically shared a fence with it, had ever raised an eyebrow no matter how much the elasticity of their patience was daily stretched, sometimes. As a matter of fact, as children, we were always quick to notice an unusual flurry of activities around the Church during what we would later come to know to be ‘Thanks Giving’, and, away from the prying eyes of parents, we were not averse to sneaking in to the Church in twos and threes to grab a bowl of jelof rice and hopefully a bottle ‘Tango’ to share.
This was the sixty’s and seventy’s classic case, if you will, of true inter-faith tolerance -first by a Muslim community, not only for welcoming a Church right in its midst, but also for allowing it uncensored rein to test the forbearance quotient of our good-natured parents. And it was a test they had passed with flying colors –of welcoming, tolerating and protecting the lawful interests of members of the Ahlul-Kitab or ‘People of the Book’. But it was no less a classic case also of pure-hearted Christian faith and trust, by our Christian Church-neighbors, in the sincerity of our parents to keep and to protect them.
And which, to the best of their ability, our parents had done, at least up to their graves. It had to take a whole generation of some intemperate youths thereafter, on some so called religiously-motivated reprisal missions in the year 2000, to plunder and to set ‘The New Salem Church Of The Lord’ on fire, even as some good-natured Muslims neighbors, I was told, still had the mettle of old to brave the situation by offering refuge and sanctuary to its fleeing members.
It had taken this latter-day generation of narrow-minded, fanatical and intolerant youths, to breach the unwritten covenant of protection and to betray the ancestral trust bequeathed to us by parents and patriarchs.
To be continued