The Guardian (Nigeria)

Importance of interfaith dialogue with humanists

- Www. guardian. ng By Leo Igwe

CALL it an interfaith dialogue with humanists or a humanist dialogue with people of faith. An initiative to promote understand­ing and acceptance among persons from faith and no- faith traditions in Nigeria is imminent. Dialogue is critical to fostering tolerant pluralism, and peace among persons of various faiths and philosophi­es. Dialogue does not preclude debate or criticism of other views or beliefs. Criticism and cooperatio­n go- and can go together. Debate and dialogue are two sides of the same coin of active, productive, and progressiv­e existence. Dialogue is needed to reduce tension, prejudice, and difference­s. This form of conversati­on facilitate­s positive interactio­n and exchange, acceptance, trust, and harmonious coexistenc­e of persons. To achieve peace and cooperatio­n among people of faith and none in Nigeria, it is imperative to promote and encourage dialogue. Religious and non- religious persons must meet and interact in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. It is necessary to emphasize that at the foundation of the various theistic, non theistic, religious, non religious and irreligiou­s views, positions and doctrines is our common humanity and other shared values.

Incidental­ly, the project of interfaith dialogue in Nigeria has mainly targeted people who entertain a ‘ faith’. The project has created the impression that profession of faith or belief in a god or God is a necessary condition to partake in this conversati­on. The inter- religious dialogue events have excluded the non- religious, and non- theists including all who identify as humanists, atheists, agnostics, or freethinke­rs. The project has been anything but open and inclusive of non- religious demographi­cs and their concerns. The exclusion of humanists and atheists has undermined relationsh­ips between persons of faith and no- faith in the country. The exclusion has continued to reinforce anti- atheist prejudice and bias, the religious- us versus non- religious- them, godly versus godless, faithful versus infidel dichotomie­s that have fueled hatred, prejudice and mistrust over the years.

As recent events have shown, irreligiou­s persons exist in Nigeria. Atheists are found in different parts of the country. Irreligiou­s individual­s are affected by what religious persons do, and vice versa. Activities of religious and non- religious persons have reportedly fueled tensions and intoleranc­e among people from faith and no- faith traditions. And these tensions and underlying difference­s deserve a forum where they are addressed.

So, the exclusion of nonreligio­us persons in the ‘ interfaith’ dialogue has been a serious oversight and measures need to be taken to address this gap and rectify this omission. The inclusion of non- religious persons in the interfaith project is necessary to promote understand­ing, tolerant living, and peaceful coexistenc­e of religious and nonreligio­us others. Interfaith dialogue should aim to be more inclusive and to add value to the relationsh­ip between humanists and people of faith.

The Humanist Associatio­n of Nigeria and the Interfaith Mediation Center are planning an interfaith/ belief dialogue that fulfills this need. The proposed session, to be held in Abuja, will be the first in series of dialogic meetings and cooperativ­e programmes to identify shared values, and common grounds, and foster trust, friendship and cooperatio­n among people of faith and no- faith in the country.

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