Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar: Hero of interfaith harmony
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 “
SEEKING COMMON GROUNDSINTER-RELIGIOUS DIALOGUE IN AFRICA”
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