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Published On: Sun, Oct 5th, 2014

This religious war is avoidable

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By Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua

On Saturday, September 19, 2014, I watched this documentary on Cable Network News (CNN) at 7.30pm: “Why Denmark is the happiest Country in the world”. In an open field adorned with green lawn, some Denmark citizens who were having holiday fun testified to the peace and happiness in Denmark. Their joy could be described as if the Danish genes and happiness are correlated. According to some of them, people with Danish ancestry have a positive outlook on life. This experience that is akin to a celestial rapture has the following reasons: Domestic Products, culture, religion, trust and the welfare that is provided by government.

The citizens are happy to pay their taxes because they get their needs and satisfaction from government. They work less hours and earn more because the political leaders do not use the public funds to enrich themselves. At the end of the documentary, I prayed that one day, every Nigerian would testify that Nigeria is the happiest country on earth. That one day, security and peaceful co-existence will not be very expensive. That one day, Nigerians would not prefer only the political dimension of life to professional fulfilment! That one day, Nigerians will be content with what they have and who they are! That one day, everything would not be used as a weapon to get rid of an opponent! That one day, Nigerians would know the value of holiday and rest! May Nigerians have happiness and joy to show for their labour! May we not sweat in vain!

It appears that the collective efforts of many Nigerians to provide security and happiness to Nigerians especially to the captives and displaced people in the Northern part of Nigeria, are giving way to a serious religious war. Many people are losing focus on issues to persons in the context of their religious affiliation. The best way to build a nation is never to forget the good aspect of a citizen in addressing his or her errors.

In any nation, religious war is avoidable if people develop healthy relationships without religious sentiments. Nigeria would do better if religion is delivered from political manipulations against opposition. Nothing should stop a Christian from voting for a Muslim if the candidate is credible and nothing should stop a Muslim from voting for a Christian if the candidate is credible. In an ideal situation, opposition is la crème de la crème of politics but in Nigeria, opposition is perceived as an enemy to be crushed by every available means. This explains why some Nigerian politicians see religion as one of the weapons to be used to destroy an opposing party and person.

I think it is normal for religious leaders to be close to political leaders for spiritual support but not as politicians. In the Old Testament, Prophets were close to the kings. They anoint and direct the kings as in the case of Samuel and Saul (1 Samuel 15). Samuel also directed and rebuked David (1 Samuel 16; 2 Samuel 12). Elijah could confront Ahab and Jezebel who were making life miserable for the people (1 Kings 18) because he was not a partisan politician. When the people saw the sign which Jesus had performed, they said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take him by force to make him king, withdrew again to the mountain by himself alone (John 6, 14-15). Later he would say to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders” (John 18, 36). According to Canon 285 of the Code of Canon Law, clerics are to refrain from “all those things which are unbecoming to their state, according to the prescripts of particular law.” In section 3 of the same code, “Clerics are forbidden to assume public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power.” Pope John Paul II called upon priests who hold public office to step down or resign from the clerical state. The primary duty of priests (pastors) is pastoral. What the world needs today is a priest (pastor) who is focused on his formal ministry and approachable as a minister instead of being a partisan politician.

Concerning the alleged insult on Jesus in the media, this should not call Christians to a religious war. Jesus does not need the approval of any person (John 5, 41). Even to those who physically attacked him, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23, 34). In Islam, for a Muslim to insult Jesus for any reason is haram. Any criticism or disrespect against other prophets goes against Islamic principles (Qur’an 2:285; 2:253). Therefore, any Muslim who insults Jesus does not represent Islam or the Muslim community. What such a Muslim deserves is dialogue and enlightenment. It is my prayers that the God of mercy and compassion hears our cry! In the words of Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, we need “peace not war” and in the words of John Cardinal Onaiyekan, let us work towards “founding common grounds”. We too, can be happy like the people of Denmark!

Prof. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua


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