A South African Muslim Theologian, Professor Farid Esack, has made a strong case for that school of thought that says no country should be categorized as belonging to Christians or Muslims.
According to Prof. Esack, if a group of people in a community, considers themselves as belonging to one religion or the other, that position will not be out of place, but that notion should not be extended to a country, which constitutes different people and backgrounds.
The University of Johannesburg Professor, who teaches Islam and served as Professor of Contemporary Islam at Harvard University, made this observation on the sidelines of The Sanneh Institute inaugural lectures, held at the University of Ghana (UG) on Saturday February 29, 2020.
Also, he pointed out that a country by it leadership, can have a particular religious values, but it must not be seen to be doing the bidding of one religion, as that position breeds division and discrimination among the people.
“Majority of people in a territory maybe Christians or they may be Muslims, that’s fine and it is important for communities to know that they belong to those communities. However, when it comes to a country, we must understand that while the leadership of a country can be informed by a Christian values, or Muslim values, the country as a whole is never a Christen country, the country as a whole can never be a Muslim country, it is never a Christian country”, he said while engaging the media.
His comment contradicts some religious groups like the Boko Haram of Northern Nigerian, who have been killing and maiming people, just because among others it wants Nigeria to be made an Islamic country. The world has for years, faced the challenge of people of different religious backgrounds trying to impose their beliefs on others for different reasons. But the university lecture rebukes such thinking, saying countries must exist for all and not some because of religion.
In his view, countries must be all embracing by accepting the different religious groupings to foster unity and tolerance. He emphasized that countries must necessarily respect and “look after the interest of all of it citizens”, rather than discriminating and making other minority groups look like they are not part of the entirety of the country.
He charged “A country must look after the interest of all of its citizens. If countries prefer one religion over the other religion in a country, then it ends up oppressing or marginalizing minority communities”.
Countries, he posited, can have leaders that make statements that are shaped by one religious values or the other but those leaders, must not parade the country as though it belongs to oris superior to the rest of the religious groups.Prof. Esack said, Africa and for that matter the world, need not think along that line as it will not augur well.
“And so I want political leaders and government statements to be shaped by Christian values, and to be shaped by Muslim values but you cannot go round and say that our country is Islamic country, or Christian country.
You can say that I wish a Christ-like spirit to exist in our country, I like for Islamic spirit to exist in our country but once you say that this is a Muslim country, this is a Christian country, you are actually saying that citizens of minority religions must be treated as second class citizens and I don’t think that this is the way for our continent to go.
I don’t think that,this is the way for the world to go, we have to treat citizens as equal citizens for equal right in our society”. He said Christians and Muslims as well as other religious groups must love each other and respect the choices that people make with respect to religion instead of fighting and antagonizing each for the sake of religion.
Speakers at the lecture underscored the need for all to accept and live in harmony no matter the religious affiliation. It shared insights on the significance of peaceful coexistence in our societies especially among Christians and Muslims in Ghana and Africa as a whole. Dr Ernestina Afriyie, a University of Ghana lecturer, hoped the lecture will help participants understand what “true peace” means.
According to Dr Afriyie, often, people tend to antagonize those who break away from their religion to the other, saying that choice, should not be opposed, but accepted though “it is not easy”.She said, accepting to live with people of different religious persuasions, is what all must work towards to bring world peace.
She said, if both Christians and Muslims believe that God created human beings in his own image and so “everybody is important to God”, why must these same people fight each other just because they worship God differently?DrAfriyie called on all to always reflect on the scriptures to guide their ways.
The Sanneh Institute (TSI), a Christian initiated and led research institute was established in Ghana to advance research into issues of religion and African society. TSI is an independent institute housed at, and affiliated to the University of Ghana, to work in close collaboration with the Department for the Study of Religions and in partnership with Yale University. The institute is dedicated to the equipping and resourcing of religious leaders, theological students, young scholars, academic institutions, policy makers and the wider African society through advanced inquiry for fresh insights.
It is named after the late Professor Lamin Sanneh – D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity at Yale Divinity School and a professor of History at Yale University.
The late Prof. Sanneh, was a Gambian national who taught at the University of Ghana in the mid-70s where, in his own words, “we made great friends at the university, and through them we got to know and love Ghana; it became our spiritual home”. The Institute is a tribute to Professor Sanneh’s distinguished contribution to scholarship in the missions and histories of Islam and Christianity in Africa.
Borne out of a longstanding vision to establish an African Centre for the advanced study of Islam and Christianity, The Sanneh Institute is positioned to provide academic leadership in raising a new generation of religious figures with theological humility and intellectual curiosity in the other under the leadership of Prof. John Azumah, the Founding Executive Director.
This is in line with our vision statement of “Pursuing scholarship as a tribute to God, with the religious and non-religious other within hearing distance, for the transformation of society”; and our motto: “Our roots are deep as is our love of neighbor”. In addition to research, TSI will organize seminars, workshops and conferences on pertinent issues at the intersection of religion and society in Africa.
The Institute commenced work in July 2019 and formally inaugurated it at a ceremony on Saturday 29th February 2020, at the University of Ghana, Legon, with Dr. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and Prof. Farid Esack, of the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, delivering the inaugural lectures.
The inaugural ceremony was preceded by a three-day international academic conference from February 26 to 28, on the theme: “Territoriality and hospitality from Christian, Islamic and other perspectives”The inaugural lecturer also had Dr. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury.
By Gifty Arthur