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Tuesday, December 25, 2012


CHRISTMAS MEALS FROM MY NEIGHBOURS AND A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE FROM ME@@@ By Dr. A. U. Tilde@@@ One gesture begets another. And when the gesture is good, it becomes all the more important in this moment of darkness.@@@ As I sat to take my breakfast an hour ago, my daughter told me that one of my neighbours has brought a Christmas meal. I saw knew it coming. As I was editing this article too, another neighbour sent in another dish along with some measures of raw rice from her harvest. We do not need to cook dinner, she said. I will enter the neighbourhood later in the day to distribute some few coins as happy Christmas to their children.@@@ May be I manufactured it. Last Sallah, I tried to revive the tradition of my family. I started sending Sallah meals to all my Christian neighbours. This is their turn. Happily, they have not failed me.@@@ I can't count the number of times I took Sallah meals to the Christian friends of my father. They were Afezere (Jarawa) whom he allocated land to when they moved from the Shere Hills where his own father once stationed his cattle.@@@ I remember carrying the Sallah meals to at least three families. They were those of the late Malam Danbauchi, Masinja Azi and Baba Carpenter Itse. On a day like this, they too would send to us dishes of their sumptuous Christmas meal.@@@ For some time now, the tradition has died out. I cannot remember any of my brothers or sisters sending meals to them on Sallah, neither can I remember theirs bringing any meal to us on Christmas. However, the importance of such gestures has suddenly dawn on all of us. I being the ward head of this section of the town, I should take the lead.@@@ Moreover, so long as they live here, I consider it a matter of duty to protect them, drawing from the commitment of my father to them. He invited them here. He gave them land. That trust between us has never been breached. They are not alone. There are many other families with whom such ties exist between us. That is why during the last post-election violence, while I was in transit to the US, my elder brother, 64, did his best to protect their houses - and succeeded. On my part, I advised my neighbours on phone to seek shelter in my house and to pack in their properties there. Many of them did. I was not alone in that duty. The entire Muslim population of the neighbourhood also came to their rescue. The neighbourhood was cordoned off and youths - who were unknown to almost everybody in the town and who have settled in the neighbouring villages after migrating from Plateau - that came to attack them were put off fiercely by the ring of Muslims there. Few of them in the outskirts were not so lucky.@@@ I am sorry for this digression. I am just revealing how passionate I am about my Christian brothers here. Their meals and drinks, whether as the 'asiri' or ‘tuwon accha’ that we used to take at Sarkin Rimi's house when we were tending our cattle as kids, have formed part of anatomy. Our stay together in primary and secondary school has contributed to my growth and would later moderate my perception of the world in no small measure. It is permanently there. I cannot dismiss it, even if I attempt to. I cannot delete it, even if I try to.@@@ I am extremely indebted to Islam for allowing me this degree of tolerance and accommodation. I remember once as a kid asking my late father whether it is lawful for us to eat the meals of the Christians. He said, yes. God has permitted us to eat their meals and marry their women. Later, when I grew up to learn directly from the source- the Qur'an - I discovered this golden verse - and its verses are indeed golden - that expressly gave that unconditional permit:@@@ "This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the People of he Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book revealed before your time..." (5:6)@@@ This verse is among the final verses revealed to Prophet Muhammad, coming after the one that said,@@@ "This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.." (5:4).@@@ Beyond food, I would have taken a Christian wife too, at least once, but my effort has always met with failure. I take it as fate. If the middle belt had given me Mary, that would have accomplished my dream. Mary, like others before and after her, was aware of our cultural differences and politely turned down my request.@@@ God has foreseen the interwoven nature of the fate of the three revealed religions. He knew that Islam being the youngest needs to be moderated with the understanding that the other two religions were also from Him. In many places, He expressly committed the testimony that He is the source of all the three. In many places, he calls for mutual dialogue and understanding in an atmosphere of mutual respect, using the best choice of decent words. Only with the People of the book has He gone this far:@@@ "And do not dispute with the People of the Book unless it be in (a way) that is better (with good words and in good manner, except with such of them as do wrong; and say (to them): "We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you; our God and your God is One (i.e. Allah) and to Him we have submitted as Muslims." (29:46)@@@ I am so grateful to Islam for this degree of tolerance that has paid off during the days of Muslim Caliphates. Muslims have lived with People of the Book in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa for centuries. Together they built the legendary centres of civilization and learning in Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo. An overwhelming number of civil servants during the Omayyad era, for example, were Christians. The Muslims from Arabia were hadn't sufficient writing skills and experience in managing empires. If Islam had prevented them from dealing with Christians, little would have been achieved. Likewise, on many occasions, Christian and Jewish physicians have served in the court of many Muslim princes. Nothing could have carried a heavier weight of trust. All these necessities were foreseen by God, hence the room for tolerance.@@@ Never in the history of Islam, unlike that of Christian Europe, were The People of the Book, other than those expelled for the Arabian Peninsula in the early days of Islam. It is to the credit of Islam that whenever Jews were expelled form Europe - and it did so three times - it was the land of Islam that has given then sanctuary. It is to the credit of Islam that its conquerors were the most tolerant in the administration of the Jerusalem for example. Salahuddin or Saladin that is so much respected for his noble conduct as a conqueror by the Christian West was a product not of his native Kurdistan but of Islam. Umar bn Al-Khattab has done it before. Unlike the Christian crusaders that went about killing hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Jews at the holy city a century earlier, not a single drop of blood was let when he regained the city. Compare this with the present apartheid treatment of Jews to Muslim and Christian Palestinians and you will not fail but behold the tolerance of Islam. That is not to say that there were no periods of trial, most of which were created by Europe, anyway. However, coexistence as envisaged by God, has prevailed during the tenure of Islam except for the brief times of conflict.@@@ Relationship between Muslims and Christians is strained since Europe came into contact with Islam. Here at home, in Nigeria, relationship between Muslims and Christians especially in the North has gone sour especially after the civil war, the politicization of the church and the arrival of less tolerant strains of Muslim sects in the 1970s which even refuse to acknowledge the 'Christianity' of our Christian brothers, much less their right to be seen and treated as People of the Book with the respect, cooperation and understanding that God has ordained in the verses we quoted above.@@@ There just so many factors at play: politics, geography, history, climate, poverty, name it. Most important on the Christian side is the politicization of the faith to serve as a tool for assertion of identity and power acquisition; the instigation of Christians from outside the North - especially from Eastern Nigeria to generate a civil war in the region; the eagerness of the south generally to support northern Christians in anything including massacres in order to weaken the region and override it politically; the provocation by undignified utterances and abuses by a section of the Muslim population; encouraged by some two Presidents with the ulterior motive of dividing the opposition in the North and remaining in power forever; etc. These factors are what precipitated the Christian offensive which started manifesting itself in the late 1980s.@@@ On the Muslim part, the militant Christian response has generated the feeling of genocide persecution, which undeniably exists but certainly only in the minds of a few Christian leaders in the region. It is true that about 40 Muslim settlements have been wiped out violently on the Plateau, for example. But it is also true that the Muslims, since the importation of those intolerant strains of Islam, have failed to live up to the tenets of the religion that demands for respect, decency and dignity in relating to the People of the Book. A testimony from a Christian contributor, Wilfred Lawrence, on my Facebook page, reveals the truth about how unguarded and uncensored utterances of Muslim preachers that are openly aired in megaphones and sold on the streets of the Plateau contributes so much to its sectarian crises, a point I have mentioned times without number. Lawrence: @@@ "There two categories of hate enhancers: the politicians and the theologians. There was a day I heard a taped sermon through a horn speakers kai that day I did not sleep because of the hate message that was relayed and some youths were saying they would see it to the end. As long as we have such then the soldiers are going be here for a long time to come."@@@ I could not have put it better. I cannot count the number of times I have deleted comments that refer to my Christian brothers as "arna" on my wall and in any page or group I am made an administrator. In fact I make it a point of duty to ban such "friends". Haba. This is shameful, derogatory, un-Islamic and extremely provocative. This is not Islam. It is something else. Where then do we place the fact that "our God and your God is one" which Allah attested to in the Quran? By calling me "arne", you are not inviting me to Islam; you are repelling me. That is the greatest disservice any Muslim can do to Islam.@@@ If our past scholars have behaved so in the 1900s, there would not have been so many converts to Islam now among the tribes of central Nigeria. The moments of their success is still fresh in my mind, like when my father convinced late Pastor Barde to convert to Islam in 1971 (?). A special gathering was made under the Chairman ship of late Sheikh Ahmadu Arabi at our primary school. Those were the days of constructive theological debates between Muslims and Christian in the Northeast and North-central Nigeria. Those moments of positive work for Islam are now turned down.@@@ I also remember clearly his explanation to me when as a kid I asked him on a Christmas day about the Muslim stand on Christian food. He said then, "Ai su ba arna ba ne. Arne shi ne wanda ba yi da addini. Amma su kirista mu na ce musu Ahlul Kitabi." i.e. "Note that they are not pagans. A pagan (arne) is he that is not a follower of a divine religion. But Christians we call People of the Book." May his soul rest in peace. That tolerant species of ulama are now replaced with terribly intolerant strain whose commentary and jurisprudence can only lead to bloodshed.@@@ I hope, as a matter of duty, the Muslim community will wake up and fight this trend of intolerance with all its force. This is alien to us. We must do all we can to stop it. It is far more damaging than Boko Haram. And it starts here. Let anyone who believes in Allah and the last day say good or keep quiet. Let him address our Christian brothers with dignity. Let no one again print the word 'arne' anywhere in reference to them. What harm, for goodness sake, would it cause to call someone a Christian?@@@ Sorry, this simple Christmas greeting has taken too long a space here and too much of your time. These are the frustrations one has been faced with in his attempt to build a modern, tolerant and peaceful nation. Frustrations are rampant from every corner and every quarter. There is not anywhere a reformer would find respite in this country, not among his people, not among others. Solace is impossible, the obstacles abundant. Must we give up?@@@ No. Our life is a chance accorded us by the Almighty to make a difference, even if it would be for a just a day: by helping someone, by saving his life or property, by relating to him, by understanding him, and by wishing him the best. It is with this spirit that I live with my Christian neighbours. With it too I pledge to continue working for a better Nigeria. With it I will close this discourse and move on to my dining table to enjoy the meal sent me by my Christian neighbours. And With it I say happy Christmas to my Christian brothers.@@@ 25 December 2012


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this enlightening piece. But what about telling a christian merry christmas? They say it means that you are also joining in the association of God with a son. What is your view please?

Esjay said...

Quintessential message of tolerance

husain ali said...

Its sure was nice reading your Chrismas greeting. Yet again you captured our thoughts on this provocative attitude of some of our Muslim brothers.That word "arne" has created a lot of problem if not the start of it.May Allah guide our people to the true teachings of Islam.

Anonymous said...

we need norhern opinion makers like you to keep spreading this message
The christians are not your enemies
no singular opinion or faith can dominate nigeria
We all must live together in peace or perish. Evangelism can never be by the sword and when conflicts arises, then dialogue and compromise is the balm for its resolution

jidda said...

This is about the best article you have written for a long time concerning intercommunal bridge building. I am surprised it has receive such little attention. People on both sides seems entrenched. There is a lot of work to be done.

Aminu Yusuf said...

Your article reminds me of an episode during the life time of Maulana Sheikh Inyass. In one of his sermons which are normally interpreted by some of the scholars thronging around him, he made reference to christians in arabic and the interpreter translated his wordings to that effect as "kafirai" a Hausa word for nonbelivers derived from the arabic word "kaafiruun".
Maulana quickly responded with a correction:
"Lalala masiih! Masiih! Masiih!" Meaning No no no christians christiens! christians!

tunwasaa said...

We will do well in extending the hand of friendship and tolerance across the religious divide;
we will do well to emphasize our common ground rather than our differences;
we will do well to encourage our kids to have from friends from all over Nigeria whether Christian or Muslim; we will do well ourselves by making friends irrespective of religious backgrounds;
we will definitely do well if we become moderate in our thinking,devoid of extremism, racial and religious hatred!! May God grant us this wish Ameen.

Ahmadu Abbas said...

thank you for this article