Devastated Nigerian church denomination conducts Interfaith Peace Conference




The High Table at the Interfaith Peace Conference
Photo by Zakariya Musa

The High Table at the Interfaith Peace Conference

by Zakariya Musa

Devastated church denomination Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) has organized a day-long Interfaith Peace Conference in Yola, the state capital of Adamawa State. President of the denomination, Joel S. Billi, spoke at the occasion urged participants from the major religions, Christians and Muslims, to be ambassadors of peace.

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The EYN president showed concern that “peace has gone beyond the reach of many Nigerians, people are panicking because of lack of peace.” He said that in the past, Christians and Muslims lived not just in relative peace but total peace. “I don’t want to apportion blame to anybody, but lack of peace today in our nation; if I have to apportion blame, I will...apportion huge blame to religious leaders,” he said.

“I am so happy today seeing Muslim brothers and sisters seated side-by-side with Christians. You have made my day. All of us, the participants of the conference, must go out to be ambassadors of peace at the end of this conference,” he reiterated.

The Adamawa State governor was represented by commissioner for Trade and Commerce, the Hon. Augustine Ayuba, who called the conference “timely” and urged participants to pay attention to the presentations. 

Speakers at the event, which brought Muslim and Christian scholars together to discuss topics of peace, included Yakubu Joseph, country coordinator for Mission 21, who based his presentation on a social science perspective, challenging the government to work on feedback from citizens to address real situations in the country where he said elites take and own the best of everything. Relying on oil, he said, is not helping matters and we should embrace new technology and stop the game of “who comes to the center takes the best where the national cake is being divided.” He said sacred texts are misunderstood by religions. He advised the federal government to stop sponsoring the “hajj,” an annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, and the Jerusalem pilgrimage, and feeding people with government money during Ramadan. Rather, they should sponsor humanitarian activities. “If we don’t take care of our children here in Nigeria, those we train abroad will in the future not sleep with two eyes. There cannot be peace without justice,” he concluded.
 
The paper was discussed by participants, with some of the following points:
-- Religious leaders hide under some reasons and are refusing to tell political leaders the truth.
-- Let’s teach our children to be good Nigerians, not Christianity or Islam.
-- Take the conference message to the grassroots.
-- Politicians have spoiled the youth; religious leaders should call on politicians.
-- People are using religion as a stepping ground.
-- Orient people on whom to be voted during elections.
-- Change the ways extremists indoctrinate our children.
-- The lion’s share of shaping our children’s behavior is in the hands of the parents.
-- All we want as Nigerians is inscribed in Nigeria’s emblem.
-- Take responsibility and don’t shift blame.

Bashir Imam Aliyu of the Islamic Studies Department, Federal College of Education, Yola, spoke on “Religion as a Resource of Peace: An Islamic Perspective.” “So also Allah instructed Muslims to be kind to the people of other faiths so as long as they do not fight us nor drive us away from our homes. Allah says in (60:8-9) Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes--from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly. Allah only forbids you from those who fight you because of religion and expel you from your homes and aid in your expulsion--[forbids] that you make allies of them. And whoever makes allies of them, then it is those who are the wrong doers.” 

Dr. Imam in his paper suggested that the aggrieved parties instead of carrying weapons against each other should sit down around tables and settle their grievances by reflecting on the abandoned injunctions that encourage peaceful living with one another. He advocated that there shall be a joint team of elders from both faiths who will sit with the aggrieved parties to settle them. “Islamic teaching has never instructed its followers to shed blood or cause any harm to any member of their religion just because of his/her belief. Any Muslim seen doing so is doing it as a result of his ignorance of Islam.”

Banner at the Interfaith Peace Conference sponsored by EYN and Mission 21

Daniel Y. C. Mbaya, the EYN general secretary, talked on the topic “EYN as a Peace Church: Unpacking the Brethren Peace Heritage.” He gave background of the denomination, which he called “No Creed but the New Testament,” a denomination that teaches simple life. Church of the Brethren is “one of the three historic peace churches which include Quakers and the Mennonites. Peace heritage of EYN is beyond just the right teaching or right doctrine (orthodoxy), but correct practice or correct behavior (orthopraxy). Nationally and internationally, people have asked the question, ‘What is the secret of the resilience of EYN in the midst of violence and how they have reverted violence?’ It is not a hidden fact that EYN had been at the epicenter of violence only in the recent times but even in the past.”

Mbaya reiterated that despite the level of devastation, no single EYN member has taken to vengeance or retaliated. The peace heritage has made EYN to be a church that is involved in peacemaking and peacebuilding efforts across the globe. He mentioned some few practical demonstrations of EYN’s peace heritage: “There was a time when EYN members assisted Muslims in rebuilding their destroyed mosque. During violence in one of the northern states there was a Muslim Hajiya who was lodged in one of EYN’s guest houses. EYN have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly but maintained peace and continued to uphold nonviolence and pacifism.”

Patrick Bugu, former EYN director of Education and now pastor in charge in Yola, discussed “Religion as a Resource of Peace.” While emphasizing the topic, he said, “Religion teaches between people of different races and status, and teaches all adherents to live in harmony with one another. Those who blame religion as initiator of conflict should remember that religion is not a human being who is envious of their fellow men. Wars and conflict are the handiwork of bad people who only use religion to get what they want. Religion then, is a powerful tool for peacemaking and ending violence.”

The historic Interfaith Conference, which was sponsored by Mission 21, a mission based in Switzerland, was meant for 120 participants. It was successfully concluded with an open Focus Group Discussion on elections in Nigeria, titled “Should Religions Have a Role in Our Election?”

Participants were presented a certificate of attendance. In attendance were top Adamawa State government officials and people from the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and from the Muslim Council of Nigeria, theological scholars, and EYN top officials. The participatory discussions made the conference so interesting, which the organizers hope will give abundant fruit to promote peaceful co-existence and restore the lost trust among Nigerians.

-- Zakariya Musa is on the communications staff of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria.

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