In Nigeria, Christians and Muslims have lived together in harmony for decades. In those days, they mingled and harmonized peacefully without discriminating against themselves, either on the basis of religion or tribal affiliations. At that time, the country itself was viewed to be among the peaceful nations in the world, writes Muhammad Ibrahim, in Kaduna.
Today, the story is different as they hardly coexist because of hatred for one another. In Kaduna State for example, in the past, Muslims and Christians saw themselves as one but in the last few years, they have gone their separate ways. They now live in different communities with Muslims and Christians assuming that the north is exclusively for Muslims and the southern parts exclusively for Christians.
Several efforts were made by previous governments in the state in making them live together in harmony even as Non Governmental organization have also joined in complimenting government efforts towards achieving same goal.
Among such groups is the ‘Peace Revival and Reconciliation Foundation of Nigeria’, under the leadership of its founder, Pastor Yuhana Buru.
The group visited some Muslims Scholars recently, such as Shaikh Dahiru Usman Bauchi, Malam Ibrahim El-Zakzaky as well as the Sultan of Sokoto, Abubakar Sa’ad lll with whom they broke the Ramadan fast. Buru also did same with the Chairman of Northern Governors, Dr Babangida Aliyu of Niger state all with the aim of promoting religious harmony.
Pastor Buru’s love for peace led him to take his advocacy across Nigeria’s border to Niger Republic on 20th of July 2014, although it was not the first time of being in that country to meet with Muslim and Christian leaders to brainstorm and learn how they have been co existing between themselves since time immemorial.
Niger Republic, which is a French speaking country has Muslim majority but yet never witnessed any crisis between Christians and Muslims in that country. This is why Pastor Buru and his entourage decided to embark on the journey, to learn from them the magic behind their peaceful relationship.
Amongst Buru’s entourage to Niger, were Malam Lawal Maduru (known as Malam Nigga) Malam Idris Musa Shatiman Tudun Wada, Barister Solomon Darlung, Pastor George and ten others as well as journalists from different media organizations.
The Nigerian entourage was received by the Sultan of Gobir Land, Alhaji Abdou Bala Marafa at his palace on their arrival.
The Sultan later organised a breakfast dinner for the guests at his palace because the journey was undertaken during the just completed Ramadan. In attendance were the Deputy Governor of Maradi State, Alhaji Yahaya Godi, Deputy Speaker of the state’s Parliament, Muhammad Suraja Musa, the leader of the Christian community in Maradi, Reverend Sani Noma, Maradi Commissioner of Police, Islamic Scholars of the Niger republic and some citizens of the host country.
In his speech at the grand occasion, Pastor Buru said the visit was his third to Niger as he was there in 2012, 2013 and 2014, saying each time he went he was always happy with the reception accorded him.
He said that the visit was pay homage to the Sultan of Gobir and to join Muslims in Niger, in breaking of the fast during the Holy month of Ramadan.
“We only came here to see each other and to breakfast with you. We believe Islam is the religion of peace just like Christianity.
“We believe Nigeria and Niger are one and whatever happens to Nigeria happens to Niger. We were only divided by the colonials but we are one. We will continue to live together as one.
“We want to learn your experience because we need peace in Nigeria. We want you the Sultan, to please ask your people to pray for peace in Nigeria.
“If there is no peace in Nigeria, Niger too will not be spared. We want people to understand each other particularly Nigerian Christians and Muslims. This is our mission to your country to learn from your experience,” he said.
Barrister Solomon Darlung, also on the entourage pointed out that Muslims share almost the same history with Christians. He recalled many stories that share same meanings in the Holy Books, adding that there was no compulsory in religion, “Those who go after people killing them for no reason, what are they trying to achieve? He asked.
“We pray for continued peace in your land. We want the President of Niger to know that the development of democracy in your land should continue because without peace there would be no development. Muslims and Christians must know that the two religions are from God,” he said.
He further blamed some Pastors and Imams as being responsible for most of the crises across the world.
“God said you should preach the gospel of peace to the people not to divide them. But the sad aspect of it all is that some people interpret the religion the way they like for selfish interest,” he said
Malam Nigga, on his part only prayed that Niger Republic doesn’t witness the insecurity challenges Nigerians are facing right now. He also spoke on his rehabilitation centre which he said comprised of Muslims and Christians youths who got involved in drug addiction and are undergoing treatment in his palace in Katsina state, including youths from Niger Republic.
Leader of the Christian community in Niger, Reverend Sani Noma told the gathering that Niger Republics may be a poor country but it is a peaceful country.
“We have peace in Niger. We love Nigeria and we pray for peace in both their Churches and Mosques. We know that prayers solve problems. As people of the book we must continue to pray because whatever touches Nigeria touches Niger.
“We are happy to receive you in our land. Let me tell you, Maradi is one state that comprises people of different religions and we live in peace. If I want to showcase my religion I do that through my good works”, he said.
The Christian cleric therefore advised Nigerians to learn to respect their leaders, saying no society can develop or live in peace if it doesn’t respect its leaders.
The Deputy Governor of Maradi, Alhaji Yahaya Godi who studieds in Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria in the 60s, said If Allah had wished he would have made all people Muslims or Christians but He did’nt.
He added that as a people of faith “We are all looking for paradise and we also know that all the Prophets including Jesus and Muhammad (SAW) are prophets of Allah.
Therefore, “We are worried about what is happening in Nigeria, particularly the killings. We in Niger Republic are free to choose our religion. In fact, it was even stated in our constitution because we know Peace is the key to everything.”
Deputy speaker of Maradi Parliament Alhaji Muhammadu Suraja Musa described the visit by Nigerians as a victory to Niger, as according to him, in Niger there is no much discrimination between followers of the both religions.
“We attended this gathering to show you how important you are. Our people have been saying that Nigeria and Niger are same people. The White men divided our boarders but we know we are the same people,” he said.
On religious tolerance in Maradi he said, “We have never thought of fighting each other in Maradi because of religion or ethnicity. We are aware of all that is happening in Nigeria, and we know that politicians are responsible for crisis in most countries, including Nigeria.”
The Sultan of Gobir land, who was the host, pondered about why Muslims and Christians fight despite the fact that they believe that the two religions they practice are from God.
“We know that ignorance is responsible for the crisis. Most people don’t even know the basis of their religions. While God Himself said we should know him before we worship him.
“I am always amazed when I hear that people fight each other because of differences in their religion. I am happy that you people deemed it fit to visit us in Niger to see how Muslims and Christians coexist,” the Sultan of Gobir, in Niger Republic said.
The Sultan said “on behalf of the government and people of Niger , both Christians and Muslims, we thank you for the visit. We pray to Allah to continue to protect us and the people of Nigeria against the crisis happening there.”
No doubt, Niger is a small country but the journey was an eye opener for the Nigerian entourage as they acquired very important lessons, particularly on the need for Muslims and Christians to embrace each other and live in peace.