By Huzaifa Jega
If it sounds like I have raged for 2000 words, it is because I have. But for a reason. First, to vent constructively, for as a Sudanic Muslim living in the New Millennium, I have more to complain about than many. Second, to make a reverse point by getting a rise out of the subjects the ‘other side’ might read into this ‘tantrum’. But reason with me please: why should I continue accommodating, as it would seem I have done a lot of, even when refused reciprocal gesturing? Why should I not only condone but also accept the abject and systematic deprecation of so much that defines me, when the slightest such provocation going the other way round will be met with the full wrath of the 21st Century.
Personally, I am perfectly okay with the status quo, as skewed as it is. I just happen to foresee a great big dark cloud over where the world will stand in the near and far future because this dynamic is clearly unsustainable – the telltales are up in the air. This is a call to action.
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Two thousand years ago Christ Jesus the son of Mary was born in Bethlehem to a virgin maiden of the Israelites. He was the messiah, the comforter, sent to wipe off the tears from every wet eye, to calm the storm and give every tired mind rest, to be the light that leads belaboured souls where they will find peace again.
He has two sets of followers: those who believe he was the begotten essence of the Most High, and those who believe he was another loop in the unbroken chain of divine prophethood. When Europeans conquered the Sudan, they brought with them the former system of belief, obviously as a smokescreen to pacify the conscience of their own people and legitimise their roughshod imperial appetite. This is a fact because their own people rightfully believe that the Christian system of belief was the only wellspring of salvation that would finally bring light to the Dark Continent. But then, Muslims also firmly believe in the exclusivity of their own path to salvation.
This was the first point of contact between the two in the Sudan even though Christianity and Islam have been in actual contact since the earliest days of Islam. As a religion, which began after the time of Christ, and therefore after the New Testament had been completed, Islam has always presented a theological challenge to Christianity. The history of Christian-Muslim encounter is highly complex. Christians have viewed Islam in a variety of ways. For example, the attitudes of Christians in what is considered the traditional base of Christianity by most Muslims: Europe and North America, living until recently at a distance from Muslims, have differed from those of Christians who lived historically amidst or in proximity to Muslims.
The experience particularly of Christians living within the Muslim world has varied widely from time to time and from place to place. There are examples of harmonious, fruitful exchange as well as of conflict. The former includes situations where Christians and Muslims have collaborated in struggling towards shared political goals – for example in the cause of early Arab nationalism, and to a symbolic extent, during Nigeria’s independence struggle against the British. In many instances, however, political, economic and theological aspects of social life have combined to polarise Muslims and Christians into mutually antagonistic communities.
False images of the other developed in both communities which have resulted in fear and misunderstanding. Consequently, Christians and Muslims have often inherited ideas, images and stereotypes, mostly negative, which marked their mutual perceptions.
Christians have often (but not always) perceived Islam as a political, economic and theological threat, and have painted Islam in negative hue, in contrast to their own positive self-image. Muslims, likewise, are inclined to regard Christianity and Christendom – identified most times with each other and with the West – as engaged in an ongoing crusade against the Muslim world.
Recently still, in the last couple of decades, dialogue between Christians and Muslims, such as that initiated by the World Council of Churches and the Vatican, as well as Muslim organisations at both international and national levels, has seen the beginning of a new understanding based on a reciprocal willingness to listen and learn. But dialogue is not only about conversation (or dialogue of ideas) but is also an encounter between people (as in dialogue of life). This depends so much on mutual trust, reciprocity, demands respect for the identity and integrity of the other, and requires a willingness to question one’s own self-understanding as well as an openness to understand others on their own terms.
Yes, dialogue is primarily an encounter of commitments. The World Conference on World Mission and Evangelism expressed the Christian commitment as such: “dialogue has its own place and integrity and is neither opposed to nor incompatible with witness and proclamation. We do not water down our commitment if we engage in dialogue; as a matter of fact, dialogue between people of different faiths is spurious unless it proceeds from the acceptance and expression of faith commitment … In dialogue we are invited to listen in openness to the possibility that the God we know in Jesus Christ may encounter us also in the lives of our neighbours of other faiths.”
Muslims sometimes express reservations about dialogue, considering it as a converted form of Christian neo-imperialism or as intellectual colonialism. Also, there are Christians who consider dialogue with Muslims as naive romanticism, which fails to confront the perceived threat of Islamic fanaticism. Although such criticisms may be understandable, seen from particular current or historical situations, they are not justifiable as generalisations.
But, am I actually right – thinking what I think, saying all I have said? What share of the blame should fall square on my own shoulders? How do I know that I am in fact right, and the imagined antagonists of this tale absolutely wrong? Who will be the judge?
Jega, a management consultant, lives in Abuja