Religious tolerance key to achieving national unity – MURIC Director


National Director of Muslim Right Concern, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, in this interview with ZAINAB ONI, speaks on the issue of violence and injustice among Nigerians and the need for unity irrespective of religious or ethnic affiliations. Excerpts:

Uba Group

Recently, a woman of Igbo extraction, Bridget Agbahime was murdered by some Hausa muslim mob in Kano State over an alleged blasphemy against Prophet Muhammed. What is your view on the incident, which sparked international outrage ?
The killing of that woman was malicious and callous because nobody should take laws into his or her hands. Islam does not encourage lawlessness. When a crowd descends on somebody like that, it is considered as jungle justice and caution is thrown to the wind.
The Quran says in Chapter 4 Verse 59, “Obey Allah and obey the Prophet and those charged with authority among you.” This means that we should obey the laws of the land because it is those in authority that made the law in conformity with people. So, if the law is there, Muslims should obey that law. It is not sharia, granted, but this is not an Islamic state. Therefore, we should obey the laws of the land. By attacking the woman, those people did not obey the law of the land.
Mob actions should be discouraged. There have been too many mob actions in that part of the country, too much violence, which are mostly based on religion or ethnicity. A true Muslim would not have killed. So, we the Muslim Rights Concern condemn that killing or any form of violence.
We believe that violence is a form of squarepeg and justice is round hole; violence can never be equated with justice because what is destroyed will be more than what is being looked out for. Government properties that have been destroyed overtime took time to be put together. My advice to Nigerians generally is to calm down, and always allow the law to take its due course.
Also, people who are fond of sectionalising should desist from such acts. The media in particular should be careful in this regard. When issues concerning religion arise, we all need to be cautious because what is written in newspapers or said on the radio and television can set the whole region or country on fire. Another thing people should avoid is stigmatising Muslims. Over time, Muslims have been stigmatised and the act is still on.

What do you think is responsible for the stigmatisation of Muslims?
It is lack of tolerance, particularly by the western media. They always see Muslims as terrorists. On the other hand, when Israel took military tanks to mow down buildings and in the process children were killed, it was not considered as terrorism. But if a Muslim were to be in that Israelite situation, he would be labeled a terrorist.
This imbalance has been responsible for the provocation of a large section of the population of the world, particularly the Muslims. If people don’t see anything good in Muslims, then they are already being stigmatised. So, such profiling should be avoided. Muslims should be allowed to express themselves; they should be accepted into the community. That is, being properly integrated into the society irrespective of their ethnic backgrounds.
A lot of people do not want to see Muslims as humans. An example is the issue of hijab worn by Muslim women. When a woman wears hijab, she is being looked at as something else. She is being discriminated against. In the hospitals, they tell Muslim women to remove their hijabs before they are being attended to by the nurse or doctor. They might even call her a masquerade. This has happened on several occasions in the country; we need to unite and see ourselves as one. People should look at Muslims as their brothers and sisters.

In the future, do you see any possibility of peaceful co-existence between Muslims and other people across parts of the world and Nigeria, in particular?
In the world, unity cannot be achieved when people like Donald Trump becomes president of the United States of America. Trump will isolate America. In Nigeria, our leaders would achieve unity when they are able to integrate Muslims.
In all parts of the country, Christians should be allowed to live peacefully and practise their faith freely. The same goes for the Muslims too. That way, we will be able to achieve unity. But, as it is now, it is still very dicey.

Now that we are in the month of fasting, Ramadan, what advice do you have for both Muslims and non-Muslims ?
Muslims and Christians should continue to live in peace, love one another and coexist peacefully. Whether we like it or not, Muslims cannot eliminate Christians from the country, likewise Christians cannot eliminate Muslims. So, there is no reason to hate one another. Both Muhammed and Jesus preached love; it is both evident in their holy books. But we the practitioners are the ones bastardising their principles, especially the religious leaders of both religion. They should preach love to their congregation because they are very influential on their followers.