Saturday, January 23, 2010

Religious Clashes in Nigeria

It seems lately that any big international story that is not about Haiti is about another conflict between followers of Islam and followers of Christianity. In each case it initially appears easy to objectively assign blame but a deeper look reveals how subjective and multi-casual these conflicts are. Sadly, there seems to be enough blame for everyone involved. The latest conflicts making the news involves the citizens of Jos Nigeria.

Rioting broke out after a conflict between some teens. Initial reports were of 65 Christians and 200 were Muslims killed. The total number of deaths now exceeds 300. Further, the International Red Cross estimates that 18,000 people have fled the area.

Nigerian troops secure ravaged town

The easy thing is to blame on side or the other, to make this simply a case of religious intolerance. Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, the Archbishop of Jos, states it is not that simple at all. In fact, he worries that the media is simplifying the causes of the conflict and in the process making a bad situation worse. The bishop sees the current conflict as the result of political and economic stressors. Jos is located in an area of Nigeria that straddles the predominately Muslim north and the predominately Christian south. Besides being in the middle of two competing religious groups the city has a history of ethnic unrest. This is all complicated by the fact the President of Nigeria has been in Saudi Arabia receiving medical care since November. The President is Muslim. The Vice President is Christian. The Vice President has been reluctant to perform as the acting-president. The military was not initially called in. This power vacuum probably added to an already volatile situation.

At this time the situation has calmed down. The military has restored the peace in the city. However, churches and religious buildings had already been attacked and some burned. Christian youth counter attacked. The conflict may be over for now but people in the area have memories and it appears not everyone trusts the government to seek justice.

Nigeria Calling – Trailer

Nigeria is one of the most important nations in Africa. This is a nation of 126 million people. It is a diverse nation with over 250 different ethnic groups. 50% of the population is Muslim, 40% are Christian and the remaining 10% follow traditional African religious beliefs. This is a nation whose natural resources are important to the rest of the world. It is everyone’s interest to find a way to live side by side. However, changes in the past decade make that a little more difficult.

Sharia, Islamic law was re-instituted in northern Nigeria after the defeat of the Nigerian military government. This appears to be partially a reaction to corruption and high crime rates. While this may have brought stability to the Muslim citizens of the north it has also increased tension with the Christians. Further, many in the West associate Sharia with radicalized Islam. Sharia is practiced in Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia.

However, the conflicts in Nigeria are a Nigerian problem. They need to find out how they can accept their differences peacefully. One way advocated by the archbishop is to create public service projects that benefit all and that require that Christian and Muslim youth learn to work together, side by side. The archbishop is a wise man. He is correct, the situation is not black or white. Sharia is a response not to Chrsitianity but to a government that did not govern and an attempt to address corruption. Now the question is, can people deal with behaviors and not simply blame one another or resort to religious name-calling. Let us pray for calm and clear heads on all sides of this issue. Let us pay for Jos and Nigeria.

Agatha Moses - Nigerian Praise 1

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