A Catholic Priest who works in one of the dioceses in North-Eastern Nigeria had an unforgettable experience. The parish where he works is a suburb that is sandwiched by Muslims. About ninety-five percent of the residents who occupy houses leading to the parish are also Muslims. What this means is that each time he goes out or returns from work, most of those he meets are Muslims. This routine made it easy for him to acclimatize with the environment and also make friends with many children in the vicinity who often shout Fada each time they see him passing.
Interestingly, the majority of the Muslims who live in the area moderate Islamists who are peace-loving and easy going. One fond memory he has is their haste to go for prayers each time he is going out or coming into the community. Their regular exchange of pleasantries with the resounding echo of “As-salāmu ʿalaykum” which means “Peace be upon you” is worth recalling. Sannu Fada “Greetings Father” or Barka da zuwa Fada, “Welcome back Father” sufficed each time they saw the priest drive past.
In a region that is often characterized by religious violence, the community is one that is serene and peaceful with no history of religious crisis. The Muslim majority have always lived in peace side by side of their Christian minority. To reinforce peaceful coexistence there, they often engage in common self-help projects like fixing a bad road, renovating a public school and having meetings where issues affecting the community are resolved through dialogue and mutual understanding.
To further concretize the existing peace in the community, both the Imam and the Priest visit each other occasionally. This is to exemplify to their followers the indispensable place of peaceful coexistence in a secular society. The leader of the Muslim community and the local chief to meet regularly to address common concerns like youth rascality, few cases of theft or youth rascality. To be sure, this dialogue of experts assisted in quelling perceived tensions or seeming marginalization in the community.
All seemed well and good for the priest in that community until one day when something shocking happened. The priest had just bought a “new” car. On this fateful day, he was leaving home to the city centre where he works in the diocesan chancery when the unforgettable occurred. A group of Muslim boys and girls were playing on the road. As usual, he did not horn for the children to give way but drove past slowly. Just then, one of the boys took a stone and threw it directly at the windscreen of the car. The car was just two weeks old.
As soon he boy did that, all the children ran into their houses. What was this visibly angry and shaken priest to do in the circumstance? He did not know which particular child did it. Even if he knew, how was he to demand that the parents of the reckless kid pay for the damage they did not cause? Anyway, by the time he came out to examine the crack on the glass, the seeming busy street was silent as a graveyard. The long and short of the story is that that day, going to the office was a bad experience for the priest.
On his way back from the office that evening, a parishioner told him that the father of the shoddy boy was informed about what his child did. By this time, the priest had contemplated reporting the affair to the mai anguwa, local chief or the police. After a second thought, he decided to wait and see if the child’s parents would show up to express regret for what their son did. Well, they never showed up till the priest was posted out of the parish.
Consequently, some questions that the priest kept asking himself include: Are these not the same children shouting Fada each time he drives past? How come one of them suddenly threw a stone at his car? Was it just out of greenhorn? Did anyone incite the mastermind to act in that manner? Well, truth is, it takes courage, patience, and magnanimity to manage tensed situations like that. What is crucial is the fact that the priest was convinced that the bravest revenge is forgiveness. This is because it liberates both the offender and the offended.
The lesson of this story is encapsulated in the popular saying: “it is when all seems well that the worst happens.” As such, Christian-Muslim dialogue is not a destination but a journey. This reinforces the fact that peace is not an end in itself but a process. As such, we should be ready to rehearse how to respond when provoked. If we are able to master how to handle extreme provocation, no situation would be able to control us. Dear reader, by way of letting the cat out of the bag, the masquerade in “the untold story of a Priest and a Muslim boy” is the author. He was able to serve the supposed “reckless boy” with “sweet revenge.” If we are able to do some or even more, our country would be that paradise we all hope for. God bless Nigeria!
Fr. Justine Dyikuk is a Catholic Priest and Researcher who combines being the Editor of Bauchi Caritas Catholic Newspaper, Communication’s Director of Bauchi Diocese with his job as a Lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Nigeria. He can be reached through – firstname.lastname@example.org.