Religious Tolerance And Understanding, By JD Ephraim

As I watched the Television some days ago, I saw a clip on an organization with the name “The Abrahamic Religions”. Then I saw, as its motto, “religious tolerance and understanding.” The Inter-religious Affairs Council of Nigeria seem to be preaching the same thing. Both print and electronic media seem to carry the same message when discussing religion, with reference to the two major religions-Christianity and Islam, in Nigeria.

In most political discussions in Nigeria, there is hardly any one that would not mention, either religion, or tribe, or both, and how they have been potent tools, to unite, but mostly, to divide Nigeria. Nigeria is still a country, it is not yet a nation, and the above two, remain only, as potent tools in building Nigeria into a nation. These are therefore, very important concepts which need proper analyses.
These two concepts, mean many things to many people, yet their effects transcend most aspects of life in the country, with very fundamental effects on the fabric of society.
To the extent this write-up succeeds in throwing more light on the subject, to that extent, we would be satisfied.
Be that as it may, we shall attempt a definition of the term, “religious tolerance and understanding.”

By religious tolerance and understanding, we mean, that practice, of a particular system of Faith and Worship, by the members, in this case, by both Christians and Muslims, in Nigeria, which tolerates, or allow something that one dislikes, or disagrees with, to exist, or occur, without interference and which mental process of comprehension, allows assimilation of the knowledge, opinion, or outlook, of each other, which together, form an informal contract, or mutual agreement. It expresses itself in the deep awareness of the suffering of another, coupled with the wish to relieve it. It exhibits empathy, tender heartedness, kindness and mercy.

We will begin our discussion with a quote by Williams David Spencer and Aida Besancon Spencer, in their book, co-authored by the duo, “THE GLOBAL GOD: multi-cultural, Evangelical Views of God.”
The Quote has as title:
“Litaneia to the Great God” :

“ Giving gifts in unexpected places,
sharing rain from cornucopic clouds,
beckoning from unfamiliar faces,
making family members out of crowds,
sentiment against the day of sickness,
wearing mercy like on humble gown,
worthy from the wounds of late resistance,
breaking seals that bring the judgment down,
stretching hands that open an escape route,
potently, that holds all foes at bay,
comforting the lonely and the destitute,
lifter of the fallen on the way,
never rending source of information,
unfathomed profundity of thought,
opening to honest inclination,
working meaning in all wisdom taught,
striding in high holiness transcendent,
stumbling in the abject in the street,
immanent to all of life’s abundance,
sealing walls where love and chaos meet,
God who is the font of all creations,
source of beauty and all that is true,
work your purpose through our hesitation;
take our hands and form your world anew.
if we understand the Scriptures and believe, we will not depart from them.

To the best of my understanding, the primary purpose of religion, is to teach mortal man, about God, the creator, how to worship Him, our primary purpose on earth and how to live according to God’s commands. The teachings of the prophets, a historical account of the people of old ,the law, in preparation for salvation in the hereafter.
The centre-point for history is the middle-east.
For Christians, the Scripture says, “for it is by our faith that we are put right with God; it is by our confession that we are saved. The Scripture says, “whoever believes in him, will not be disappointed. This includes everyone, and not only Christians. “…………..everyone who calls out to the Lord for help will be saved,” ………….. and how can they call to him for help, if they have not believed……” (Romans 10:10-13.)

It will interest a lot of people that both religions are near to each other than far apart. It is therefore, out of ignorance and, or, mischief, for both followers to preach the contrary, as if the two religions are miles apart, and do not have similarities. There are only few doctrinal, though, sometimes, fundamental differences. These differences can be de-emphasised in the interest of the unity of the country. However, if both muslims and Christians, follow the commands of God, which are, love for God and love for our neighbbours, we would have little, or no problem.
We are particularly pleased with the Qur’anic teaching which says that the nearest to the Muslims are the Christians and the Jews and that for a person to be a Muslim, he must first be a Christian.

In view of the above, we need religious tolerance and understanding, from both the Christians and the Muslims.
We may now ask, what is the Islamic perspective on the topic in discussion?
From the book, “Inner Dynamics Of The People Of Hizmet,” by Fatih Degirmenli (2013), we can gain an understanding of the Islamic perspective.
Degirmenli says, in his book that ,
“tolerance and simplicity,play a major role, in the Islamic faith.”
It is God’s command: to be tolerant and approach people with gentleness.
People of tolerance live a life of Devine favour for the now, and the future and would always gain and not lose. They are also the inheritors of the world beyond. (Gulen, M. Fethulah, P. 193) 2011.
A believer will always eliminate evil with kindness and will ever heed to gentleness and be forgiving towards those who act unfavourably.
The Islamic culture is that which allows forbearance. He went on to say that both God and the Prophet call on all “to live without offending others and to be a civilization of tolerance.”
Millions of decent, educated and disciplined, people, according to the Islamic Faith, and most especially, the prophets, have always exhibited the culture of tolerance and forbearance, in the most excellent manner.
Even in terms of the clear punishments in the Quran and the Traditions of the Prophet, they recommend forgiveness. Islam is compassionate, and gives importance to forgiveness, mercy, tolerance and ease.
The Prophet was tolerant. The Prophet’s wife is reported to have said, of the Prophet, that “he never spoke evil of anyone. He never said, or did anything improper. He would not raise his voice and not respond to evil but he would forgive.”
The Prophet always chose tolerance and dialogue. To establish the environment for peace, he accepted the Treaty of Hudaybiya, inspite of the difficult conditions. The verses of the Qur’an say,that “God does not FORBID you to be kind, or act with equity, to those who do not make war against you, on the account of your religion, nor drive you away from your homes.”
“… God surely loves the scrupulously equitable”. (Al-Mumtahana 60:80);……. and “so long they remain true to you, be true to them (At-Tawbah 9:7) .
Degirmenli says, “there are seven points to note, on tolerance in Islam:
1. Even if their ideas differ from ours, we must be tolerant towards others and show them respect.
2. It is not our duty to destroy souls, but rather to cleanse souls.
3. We must remember that we are the community of the messenger of God, who, even, towards those who beat and wounded him, prayed, “ O God! forgive and guide them to the path of truth, for they do not understand the problems this important man faced ” (M. Tethulah Guilen).
4. The demand in this period, is not a new religion, composed of the various world faiths, but tolerance and respect, among the members of the different religions.
5. The golden rule of conduct, is mutual toleration, seeing that we will never think alike and we shall always see the truth in fragments and from different angles of vision (Ghandi).
6. When a person looks at a flower, how can he experience the beauty that flower spreads, if he goes back to the past and observes the ugly visions in his imagination.
7. Instead of complaining that the rose bush is full of thorns, be happy that the thorn bush has roses (Goethe).
Therefore, we can see that Islam preaches peace and tolerance. This has been well illustrated above. But it is doubtful if all individual Muslims follow ,scrupulously, the above teachings. A good illustration of intolerance is the reaction of Sheik Dahiru Bauchi, an Islamic Imam, who is reported to have reacted, on being told of the killing of some Muslims, who were returning from a religious function in Bauchi, but were unfortunately way-laid in Jos and killed, this way : “…. we will not forget; we will not forgive; we will revenge ……” In view of our discussion above , this is un-islamic,as it goes contrary to its teachings.
The second illustration is the importation of religion, by both the police, the security organisations and relevant publics into a purely criminal acts of murder and arson. Nigerians now make criminals and terrorists to carry both tribal and religious toga. There can never be progress and development in this situation. A nation can never be built in this way.We should treat criminals as criminals and apply the law, equally.
Finally, I plead for religious understanding and not merely toleration. In a multi-religious country such as Nigeria, religious understanding is to be preferred instead of just “religious tolerance” . There would have been no quarrel with this, if Nigeria were to be a country of one major religion only.
The Qur’anic teachings were based on the assumption of one dominant religion, Islam. Secondly, Nigeria professes not to be a religious country, an even if religion was to be imported into its laws, it will not just recognise one religion but at least, the two major religions, and they are to be treated equally . If so, then why the use of such a word as “tolerance”? Who is tolerating who ? It smacks of superiority and negativity in an otherwise equal and supposedly neutral environment.
It is in view of the above, I advocate the expunging of the inappropriate word, although, maintaining the substance of the use of the word, in the Islamic scriptures and scholarly writings, that have to do with the whole of Nigeria. But they can remain in the Qur’an.
I believe, it is this misunderstanding that Muslims have tried to avoid , by maintaining the Arabic scripts in its original form, rather than taking the risky translations into other languages that are not Arabic, the original language of the glorious Qur’an.
But we are not to be misunderstood, as being against the substance, as contained in the Islamic scriptures. The only point we are making, is that, for Nigeria, and Nigeria alone, where the word “tolerance”, appears, which is meant to refer to members of the two major religions, the word, “understanding”, or
” religious understanding “, is to be preferred, and this is with all due respects.

Joshua D Ephraim writes from Abuja

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