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Idrissa Kabore

Can Christians and Muslims coexist?

KOKOLOGHO, Burkina Faso — In this poor African village, Christians and Muslims unite against a common enemy — the arid, unyielding soil.
Side by side they toil in this landlocked nation plagued by drought. Using drip irrigation, they grow cucumbers and manioc — a starchy root vital to the West African diet.
The 20 members of the co-op learned the gardening technique from Tapsoba Mathurin, who trained in Senegal at a seminar hosted by Tennessee-based Healing Hands International. He shared what he learned with his countrymen — Christian and Muslim.
“We’re all one family, and in this together,” said Mathurin, a member of the Patte d’Oie Church of Christ in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou.
Muslims and Christians across Africa share that sentiment, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Researchers compiled data from more than 25,000 face-to-face interviews conducted in 19 countries of sub-Saharan Africa.
The majority of respondents said they see freedom of religion as a good thing. Christians and Muslims said they hold favorable views of each other and consider each other tolerant, honest and respectful of women.
While most Africans support religious tolerance, the study also found evidence of tension between the continent’s two predominant faiths.
On the average, 40 percent of Christians surveyed said they think of Muslims as violent. About 20 percent of Muslims said the same of Christians.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has been a flash point for conflicts between groups claiming Islam and Christianity as their faiths.
Francisca Ike, a Church of Christ member in Orlu, Nigeria, described Islam as “a religion of hate” and said she has a hard time trusting her Muslim neighbors.
Missionary Ron Pottberg said he saw evidence of anti-Christian violence during a recent trip to Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, where Churches of Christ have converted many Muslims.
One Sunday Pottberg witnessed the baptism of a young Nigerian — whom a group of Muslims nearly killed two days later.
“They beat him, kicked him and almost cut off his left ear,” Pottberg said of the Muslims.
“I don’t care what anyone writes or says,” he added, “They are not tolerant and, in the end, they will not be peaceful.”
In Nigeria, 58 percent of the respondents to the Pew study said they see religious conflict as a very big problem. In Rwanda, the same percentage agreed.
But most Africans said such conflicts are modest compared to issues including unemployment, crime and corruption.
Though the degree of concern about religious conflict varied from country to country, it tracked closely with the degree of concern about ethnic conflict, according to the study.
In Africa, conflicts often contain elements of religion, tribalism and economics, said missionary Steve Worley, who works with the School of Biblical Studies in Jos, Nigeria.
In recent months Jos, a city at the crossroads of Nigeria’s predominately Muslim north and Christian south, has been an epicenter of violence. Hundreds have died, including Theodore Essemo Ebulla, a student at the School of Biblical Studies, who was massacred by machete-wielding rioters.
“There has been no shortage of frames for the perennial orgy of bloodletting in Jos,” Worley said. “Some have framed it as a religious conflict, primarily between Muslim and Christians. Others have framed it as an ethnic conflict. … Still others have framed it in economic terms as a conflict between farmers and pastoralists (ranchers).”
In Uganda, tribal identities often are closely linked to religion, said Grace Nyanga, who works with Churches of Christ in the Ugandan city of Jinja.
“In fact, to a big extent, religious groups are becoming the new tribal identities in Uganda as the old ways are dying off,” Nyanga said. Some “holy wars” are simply old tribal conflicts, repackaged for a new era.
Politicians often use “religion, ethnicity and anything else” to fuel conflicts, said Arthur David, a minister in Liberia, a nation that endured 14 years of civil war. “Religion is used as a cover-up to get others to blindly support their campaign,” he said.
When Africans commit atrocities in defense of their faith, they are “actually fighting for a hidden motive unknown to the majority of them,” David said.
The Pew study did not include respondents from Sudan, where a conflict between the Muslim north and Christian south raged for nearly two decades.
Peter Lasu Ladu, minister for the Juba Church of Christ in southern Sudan, said religion was a major factor in his country’s war. But Christians should be willing to foster healing in communities divided by conflict, regardless of the source of the conflict, he said.
“The Church of Christ can help these communities through peace-building initiatives and conflict mitigation — for example, training, workshops, seminars and rallies,” Ladu said.
Peace-building is one outcome of the workshops sponsored by Healing Hands International, said David Goolsby, the ministry’s agricultural director.
In 2008 the Wulari-Jerusalem Church of Christ in the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri hosted a food preservation workshop, attended by Muslims and Christians.
“Muslims saw that Christians also desire to better feed their families,” Goolsby said. “Christians saw that not all Muslims are terrorists.”
The next year, gangs of radical Muslims swept through Maiduguri, burning churches and killing pastors. But the local Muslims protected the church members from the gangs, Goolsby said.
When Mathurin left his home in Burkina Faso for the workshop in Senegal, he didn’t know anything about drip irrigation — or any kind of gardening. He thought he was attending a conference on evangelism.
In a way, he was.
When a small group of U.S. Christians visited the co-op in Kokologho, Muslims and Christians gathered to show off their crops and thank Mathurin.
“In spite of the difficulties, he is still humble and courageous,” Raymond Kiettyetta, head of the co-op, said of the church member.
Idrissa Kabore, a Muslim leader in the village, told the visitors that God had used Mathurin to bless the community.
“Thank you for showing God’s true love,” Kabore said.
RELATED BLOG POST: Pronouncing “Ouagadougou” and other challenges

  • Feedback
    And what of the ‘Great Commission’? Or do we, as Christians, simply ‘coexist’ with the feel good, spiritually relativistic, results of the so called ‘Pew Study’? Do we sit back and ‘respect’ one another’s ‘religious freedoms’ while forgetting who we are? Sort of a like singing a song of Kumbaya, wholly unconcerned about just who the Lord and Creator of the Universe is, while we go about with adversarial believers, working happily together on the more pressing matters of daily life? Don’t be misled: Islam openly denies the divinity of Jesus Christ. Let us, as Christians, not be lulled into misleading ideas of ‘coexistence’ with evil while forgetting just why we are Christians – John 14:6. To ‘Coexist’ is simply ‘compromise’ for me.
    Dale H. Leach
    Jersey Village Church of Christ
    Houston, TX
    May, 11 2010

Filed under: Global South

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