To all Muslims across the country, I send you once again my heartfelt greetings and salutations on behalf of humanists and atheists in Nigeria as you mark yet another festival in your religious calendar. I send you this message at a critical time in the history of the relationship between humanists/Atheists and Muslims in Nigeria. As you may know, in many parts of the world, Non-believers and Muslims live side by side in peace. They co-exist and tolerate one another, despite holding different views and opinions. This is my wish and desire for humanist/atheist-Muslim relationships in the country. Unfortunately, the arrest and continued detention of Mubarak Bala, president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria has led to so much tension and a deteriorating relationship between Muslims (in Northern Nigeria) and atheists/humanists across the country. Once again, I reiterate that humanists and atheists in Nigeria do not seek to engage in any conflict with Muslims. Nigeria has had enough of religious bloodletting and violence. Humanists/Atheists seek to live side by side with Muslims in equal dignity and respect.
Sadly in the past three months, we have witnessed inflammatory statements from Muslims who have openly and publicly called for the execution or imprisonment of Mubarak Bala for making comments on Facebook. We have witnessed situations where Muslims have threatened to deal with atheists.
We have also observed a deafening silence from the Islamic establishment and leadership in the country which is a tacit endorsement of the persecution of Mr. Bala and other people who hold similar views. As you celebrate your festival, I send you a message of hope, tolerance, and peaceful co-existence. I send you a message hoping that we would peacefully resolve this Mubarak’s case very soon and continue to live side by side in peace and harmony. In a society marked by diverse religious as well as non-religious views, we are bound to encounter ideas and expressions that are hostile and antagonistic to ours. We often find other persons’ views insulting, disrespectful, and annoying; we come across perspectives that offend our religious or nonreligious sensibilities.
Look, just as the views of Christians offend the sensibilities of many Muslims, the religious expressions of Muslims are largely seen as insulting and disrespectful of Christian religious icons. The expressions of religious Nigerians hurt the rationalist sentiments of nonreligious persons in the country. For instance, do you know that your Shahada offend the sensibilities of other religious and non-religious believers? Are you aware that when you declare that there is no other god but your Islamic god, you disrespect other people’s theistic or atheistic sensibilities? Do you realize that when you affirm that Muhammad is the greatest messenger you insult and disrespect other believers’ Rasulullahs? Do you know that millions of Nigerians do not recognize Muhammad as a prophet? Are you not aware that some people are of the view that the historical Muhammad is different from the prophetic Muhammad? Do you know that persons of other faiths or none have different ideas of your Rasulullah just as you have different and critical ideas of other religious messengers and prophets?
In short, do you know that Islam is a form of blasphemy to persons of other faiths or none in Nigeria? Are you aware that your religion, Islam, makes a mockery of other faiths and beliefs?
In a religiously pluralistic society like Nigeria we are obliged to tolerate blasphemous views and expressions including those that seem to insult or disrespect the various Rasulullahs. Tolerance is necessary for social cohesion and cooperation. But tolerance entails condoning beliefs, ideas, and expression that one dislikes or disagrees with. These expressions could be Christian, Islamic, or traditionalist; they could theistic or atheistic. Tolerance is meaningless unless it includes notions which one may regard as offensive, provocative, and disrespectful. In fact, as Muslims, you cannot claim to be tolerant when you sanction the persecution, prosecution, or execution of anybody who expresses views that offend your religious sentiments. Meanwhile, your Islamic expressions offend others’ sensibilities.
So as you mark your Muslim feast, I urge you all to learn to tolerate. Learn to accommodate persons of other faiths and none, so that others would learn to tolerate you. Try and make the proposition that Islam is a peaceful religion an everyday experience, not empty rhetoric that signifies nothing. Learn to tolerate non-Muslims including atheists in places where you are in the majority so that others would learn to tolerate Muslims where they are in the minority. Learn to tolerate views that you may deem insulting and disrespectful of your Rasulullah because your Islamic expressions disrespect other persons’ Rasulullahs. In short, learn to tolerate others so that others would learn to tolerate you.
*** Written by Leo Igwe.