Religion as a chastising rod

Kenechukwu Obiezu

Kenechukwu Obiezu

At what point does religion become a reason to kill? At what point does religion become a rod with which to beat others to death? At what point does religion provide both a license and a lance with which to kill?

Nigeria was recently cast into a soot of sorrow and horror when Ms. Deborah Yakubu a student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education  in Sokoto State Nigeria was killed and then burnt for alleged blasphemy. The murderous mob which killed and then burnt her corpse took umbrage at a WhatsApp voice note she made that was  deemed blasphemous.

In the wake of Ms. Deborah`s murder, while the Sultan of Sokoto, who is the leader of Muslims in the country, has strongly condemned the attack on Ms. Deborah, some Islamic scholars have chosen to offer some shockingly unhelpful and unfortunate statements to put it mildly. Stopping short of justify the heinous murder of Ms. Deborah, they have helped to further heat up the polity, thereby further alienating non-Muslims who have always tried to maintain a balanced view of Islam in spite of mounting Islamophobia across the world.

Nigeria is a secular country. By extension, every state in Nigeria is a secular state. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria irreducibly guarantees the rights of every Nigerian including the right to freedom of speech. If and when anyone unduly takes leave of this right to commit any offence, the law necessarily provides measures which can never include any form of mob justice.

With the killing and burning to death of Ms. Deborah Yakubu, it does not take a soothsayer to divine that the gulf between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria would only deepen. It is a thing of the mind, and once an impression is left, it is difficult to delete.

Many of those who practice Islam readily say it is a religion of peace. Many of them live the peace in the way they treat people of different religions with an abundance of dignity and love.  But it appears that in Nigeria, there are also many who use Islam as a cover for their iniquitous crimes. These people must be seen as criminals and nothing more.

It is also where those who in Islam have the responsibility to teach must step in to properly guide all those for whom the first resort in defence of their religion is to kill. There surely is some other way.

Over many years, a deeply religious country has somehow perfected the art of falling over its own sword and the swords of those who kill in God`s name; of those who call the name of a benevolent God who abhors blood shed as they take the lives of others; of those who hypocritically cast the first stone while they are knee-deep in alligators themselves. There can be no doubt that they are killers and no more than that. They are not religious. They know nothing about religion.

As Nigeria has continued to lurch farther and farther into the wilderness of dysfunction, religious intolerance and ethnicism have emerged as two practically intractable problems. In a country of about 250 ethnic groups divided   predominantly between Christianity and Islam, alongside a handful of other religions, ethnicism and religious intolerance have continued to play  highly disruptive roles in national life.

Those who use religion as a cudgel to drive people apart are criminals and nothing more. Clothing their killer outrage and indignation in the cloak of religion does not exonerate them in any way. They have no place in Nigeria.

Nigerian Muslims should be supremely concerned about the actions of those who give Islam a bad name in Nigeria. In a world of rising Islamophobia, those entrusted with propagating the Islamic faith and building a world where people can live together in peace and harmony must be alarmed by the actions of those who gleefully do everything in their power to thwart their efforts.

When in 2009, Boko Haram drew from its pouch of potions and poisons to cause Nigerian`s protruding paunch to begin to putrefy, the terrorists said they wanted a society built on the tenets of Islam. This has remained the case with ISWAP.

In Africa and even beyond, many of the terrorist groups which devastate innocent people and their communities presume to profess Islam when they go on their murderous rampages. In a world of astounding diversity where many people see differently, when religion or creed is blasphemed, defamed or derogated in any way, common sense should dictate that the person in the wrong should  be corrected with love. It is only when the person proves incorrigibly recalcitrant that other measures can be taken which should never include the kind of stomach-churning measures taken against Ms. Deborah Yakubu. The offender can always be handed over to the authorities so that the law will take its course.

Nigerians will always remember with gratitude the Imam who saved hundreds of Christians from certain death in Plateau State in June 2018. But there can be no doubt that those who murderously choose to depart his celestial example can have no place in Nigeria.

While no one should blaspheme religion, to extrajudicially kill anyone for that remains a grievous crime and the law must take its full course.

Kene Obiezu,

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