Sul­tan Sa’ad Abubakar: Hero of in­ter­faith har­mony

Daily Trust - - VIEWS - By Dele Olowu

In Nigeria, group iden­tity is such an im­por­tant re­fer­ral it is per­haps no sur­prise that re­li­gion has com­monly served as an in­stru­ment of pol­i­tics as well as a trig­ger for so­cial con­flicts. How­ever, reli­gions are not by them­selves, in­her­ent pur­vey­ors of vi­o­lence or ha­tred. All re­li­gious con­fes­sions are in­deed driven by the power of Divine Love. When, as of­ten as it does hap­pen, reli­gions pro­duce ha­tred or con­flict, it is be­cause its ad­her­ents have mis­in­ter­preted the guid­ing prin­ci­ples. In­deed one golden rule is to judge reli­gions, not by what their ad­her­ents do, but by what their Sa­cred Books pro­claim.

All reli­gions pro­mote so­cial good in prin­ci­ple. How­ever, be­cause all re­li­gious faiths are author­i­tar­ian, they tend to con­tain po­ten­tials for con­flict and dis­agree­ment with other con­fes­sions. Lead­er­ship amongst the faiths must there­fore shoul­der the re­spon­si­bil­ity for sus­tain­ing peace and con­cord amongst men and women of ri­val faiths. In Nigeria, in­ter re­li­gious con­flicts have flour­ished, and it’s most de­press­ing ex­pres­sions, in the last five years have oc­curred in the plateau and the north east. Still im­por­tant voices have been heard from var­i­ous parts of the coun­try, con­demn­ing big­otry and ex­tolling peace amongst the people of our land.

Cur­rently, one of the most out­stand­ing of these voices is that of Al­haji Muham­mad Sa’ad Abubakar, CFR mini, the Sul­tan of Sokoto. He has trav­elled the length and breadth of Nigeria and be­yond, call­ing for re­li­gious as well as civic peace. His peace ad­vo­cacy car­ries a unique flavour, be­cause it also in­volves a stun­ning amount of col­lab­o­ra­tion with Nige­ri­ans of other faiths. Only re­cently, the Sul­tan of Sokoto played a cru­cial role at the launch­ing of a book in Abuja, writ­ten by John Car­di­nal Onaiyekan him­self the Arch­bishop of Abuja. Quite ap­pro­pri­ately, the book is ti­tled “


The Sul­tan not only sent a high pro­file rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the launch, but also made a sig­nif­i­cant do­na­tion and in ad­di­tion wrote a very mean­ing­ful, pro­found and flat­ter­ing for­ward for the pub­li­ca­tion. This ges­ture, had it come from any point in the con­fes­sional di­vide, would be con­sid­ered sig­nif­i­cant enough. But com­ing from the Sul­tan of Sokoto, the revered spir­i­tual leader of Nigeria’s Mus­lims, the ini­tia­tive de­serves spe­cial ap­plause.

But, the Sul­tan of Sokoto’s col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort should not re­ally sur­prise those who know him. His train­ing, ed­u­ca­tion and reach, have in­vested him with a thor­oughly met­ro­pol­i­tan out­look. With his well known pan-Nigeria con­nec­tions, it is hardly sur­pris­ing, that he is able to find com­mon grounds, even with people of other faiths. Work­ing with, and forg­ing a friend­ship with John Car­di­nal Onaiyekan, is per­haps a nat­u­ral route for the Sul­tan of Sokoto. In­deed the Sul­tan and the Car­di­nal may be re­garded as ide­o­log­i­cal sta­ble mates. Both of them have been No­bel Prize nom­i­nees in the past, and both of them have con­tin­ued to work as­sid­u­ously for peace among our dif­fer­ent faiths in Nigeria. Car­di­nal Onaiyekan’s book, ““Seek­ing Com­mon Grounds” through its es­sen­tial thrusts, com­ple­ments the ide­o­log­i­cal out­look of the Sul­tan of Sokoto. The book af­firms re­li­gious pluralism and ac­cepts the right of reli­gions to ex­ist as an es­sen­tial el­e­ment of the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. More cru­cially, the book ac­cepts that ev­ery in­di­vid­ual has the right to wor­ship God in what­ever way they choose. This par­tic­u­lar el­e­ment is im­por­tant as it speaks di­rectly to the re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance that has con­tin­ued to be­smirch parts of our coun­try.

The tol­er­ance, re­li­gious plu­ral­ity and friend­ship across faiths, af­firmed by the Sul­tan of Sokoto and John Car­di­nal Onaiyekan are very im­por­tant to­kens. If these two em­i­nent lead­ers can em­brace one an­other in friend­ship and col­lab­o­ra­tion, why would people who be­long to the same faith as them, see con­flict in each other’s re­li­gious con­fes­sions. All reli­gions are one in love as well as in their com­mit­ment to a com­mon hu­man­ity.

The Sul­tan of Sokoto is a hero of in­ter­faith peace and re­li­gious lead­ers every­where would do great credit to them­selves and their faith by em­u­lat­ing his il­lus­tri­ous ex­am­ple. It is per­haps worth re­mark­ing, that Sokoto en­joys a glit­ter­ing distinc­tion. Even though Sokoto is the high­est point of Moslem or­tho­doxy in Nigeria, it has never in any sig­nif­i­cant mea­sure, been in­volved in re­li­gious ri­ots or con­flicts. This is an im­por­tant fea­ture and It is per­haps be­cause it’s an­ces­try is trace­able to the his­toric Caliphate, which was not only mul­ti­eth­nic but also showed great tol­er­ance for people of dif­fer­ent faiths. It is this multi eth­nic­ity and tol­er­ance for other faiths, along with other states­man­like im­per­a­tives, which suc­ceeded in mak­ing the Sokoto Caliphate one of the most so­phis­ti­cated state sys­tems in African his­tory. Sul­tan Muham­mad Sa’ad Abubakar, as heir to this great her­itage, is em­i­nently qual­i­fied to launch the cam­paign he has em­barked upon, call­ing for re­li­gious tol­er­ance and co­op­er­a­tion amongst Nige­ri­ans of dif­fer­ent faiths.

Some of us will con­tinue to strug­gle with the puzzle con­tained in this seem­ing con­tra­dic­tion. If Sokoto can preach and prac­tice re­li­gious tol­er­ance and and is also able to es­tab­lish peace, why would they be strife in other parts of the land. Ad­di­tion­ally, if John Car­di­nal Onaiyekan can be com­mit­ted to peace as well as to a prospect of a peace­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion with people of other faiths, why would strife make sense to any Chris­tian?

The com­ing to­gether of the Sul­tan of Sokoto and John Car­di­nal Onaiyekan must bode well not only for their re­spec­tive faiths, but also for the civic space called Nigeria. For far too of­ten, re­li­gious and ri­val eth­nic sol­i­dar­i­ties have been al­lowed to serve as the ba­sis for the al­lo­ca­tion of power. It is im­por­tant that this un­help­ful tra­di­tion is toned down and re­placed by a new civic con­scious­ness in our pol­i­tics and more pluralism in our re­li­gious es­tab­lish­ments. The ex­am­ple of the co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the Sul­tan of Sokoto and John Car­di­nal Onaiyekan is im­por­tant and should be em­u­lated by Nige­ri­ans from the var­i­ous di­vides which con­tinue to chal­lenge our na­tion.

Olowu wrote from Abuja

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