Being Muslim and Trying to Connect to My Nigerian Heritage: No Easy Task
I became Muslim a couple of years before I found my Nigerian father. I am grateful to members of the Nigerian community here in Ottawa for making it possible for me to reconnect with him. However, during those years of searching, I discovered that being Muslim and trying to connect with the Nigerian diaspora is no easy task.
Religious conflicts have been a constant in Nigeria’s history. Most Nigerians in diaspora are not Muslims but Christians. Many Nigerian Muslims have actually converted to Christianity while in diaspora. Islam is generally concentrated within certain ethnic communities in Nigeria, such as the Hausa. But the majority of Nigerians in diaspora are either Igbos or Yorubas. Southern Nigerians, who are predominantly Christian, are more highly educated than Northern Nigerians which has led to a great deal of class resentment. Because corruption and nepotism in Nigeria is widespread many educated Nigerians leave and settle abroad, often doing quite well for themselves.
Often when I attend Nigerian community functions or just end up somewhere where there is a lot of Nigerians, I get asked about my conversion to Islam. Almost all of the time, the conversation ends up leading to my interlocutor trying to get me to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour and abandon the “demonic” religion that has destroyed Nigeria. I politely refuse. I know many Muslims reading this will think: “How Islamophobic of those Nigerians to do that to you sister!” Well, the truth is, I get where they are coming from. I don’t think Islam has “ruined” Nigeria (Oh dear, now some Nigerian is going to write me a comment elucidating in great detail about just how Islam has ruined Nigeria…I’ve totally given them an opening.) However, I do believe that Islam has been used as a tool to manipulate people into committing acts of aggression against non-Muslim communities. It’s far more convenient for the Muslim religious and political leadership (remember the North of Nigeria is a caliphate) to distract their people from challenging their corruption and bad governance by blaming Christians for why they have no jobs and their region is so underdevelopped. If it wasn’t Islam being used to do this it would have been something else, like ethnicity or language. This is an old story.
Interreligious dialogue between Muslims and Nigerian Christians in diaspora would be really useful but unfortunately, most Muslims involved in this work really just want to talk to White Christians (I’m discussing the Canadian context, things might be different in the US…hopefully). Also, often it is only between such Christian denominations as Roman Catholic, United or Anglican. Pentecostals and other evangelicals are, it almost seems, purposely avoided. However, it’s these denominations that Nigerians and many other Africans often belong to. Also, if there is to be real interreligious dialogue between Muslims and African Christians, Muslims are going to have to leave off this whole triumphalist approach many of us seem to take when discussing our history. We often describe Islam’s spread from the point of view of the conquerors, not the conquered. That’s pretty imperialist. Yes, I said it…Imperialist! Certain Muslim communities have a history of imperialism and seem almost “put out” that the rest of the world refuses to recognize that they are the supreme rulers of the universe. To these Muslims I say: Get Over Yourselves!
Historically speaking, Muslims have not always been the “underdog”, sometimes we were the oppressors. This history has created a legacy of resentment and distrust between Muslims and many other communities. If we hope for reconciliation we need to get off our high camels. We need to be willing to look at our history and current politics as frankly as we demand that White Westerners look at their history and current politics. We will have to learn to speak about the slave trade carried out by Muslims in Africa frankly. We will have to learn to talk about the destruction of indigeneous African religions in the name of Islam frankly. Muslims always emphasize our respect for Christianity and Judaism but those aren’t the only two religions in the world!!! We will have to develop strategies for reconciliation, particularly if we are having a dialogue with people who have actually directly experienced violence in the name of Islam.
Sadly, I don’t know how many Muslims are ready to do this. I find that whatever religious violence happens in Black Africa is brushed off by Muslims who aren’t African as just a sign that Africans are barbaric animals and need to be taught Islam properly by their ethnic superiours. Thanks for the Racism! You are of course totally ignoring the brutal history of violence committed against Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Bahai and other non-Muslim communities by Arab, South Asian, Turkish, Malay, and Persian Muslims. When you actually look at that history it’s pretty clear that we Africans don’t have a monopoly on barbarism. So put that myth to rest right now people!
Nigerian Christians, as well as other African Christians need to learn too that Muslims don’t have a monopoly on barbarism either. I understand that for many Africans Christianity has represented many positive things like the abolition of the slave trade, education, respect for human dignity, and democracy. But that hasn’t been true throughout the history or even present practice of Christianity either in Africa or in the world. It’s all about context. Most violence and oppression happens because people want something the other has: land, food, money, natural resources, women, livestock, access to the sea or a waterway, etc. People will use whatever reason to justify their right to take this stuff from others…religion (ie: Sunni Islam in Afghanistan during the attacks against the Shia Hazara, Christianity during the conquest of the Americas, Protestants versus Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland, Hinduism during the Gujarat Riots), ethnicity, language, level of development, political system (ie: Bush’s “Democracy”).
Attacking Islam as inherently evil isn’t going to help there be reconciliation. Muslims aren’t going anywhere. We are all going to have to learn how to live together on this planet and Muslim and Christian Nigerians are going to have to learn how to live together in Nigeria without one community claiming supremacy over the other or desiring to erase the other’s existence. I’m committed to seeing this reconciliation happen. Are you?
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