The parable of the Good Samaritan is told by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (10:25–37). It is about a traveler who is stripped of clothing, beaten, and left half dead alongside the road.
First a Jewish priest and then a Levite comes by, but both avoided the man. Finally, a Samaritan came across the traveler, bounded his wounds, took him to the hospital and paid his bills. This Samaritan went beyond the boundaries of ethnicity and religion to help someone who was in need. His kind gesture has significant theological and moral lessons in the field of interreligious dialogue, especially in the context of the hostilities between the Jews and the Samarians at the time of Jesus. His action should inspire both Christians and Muslims in our Nigerian context to always go beyond primordial sentiments in their relationship and in fostering creative co-existence.
Compelling reasons for change
Dialogue of action: Christian-Muslim relationship
Inter faith dialogue has a long history, scholars and experts have written many books in the field of inter faith dialogue: Two among such scholars are: Anton Wessels, whose work is titled: The Torah, The Gospel and the Quran: Three Books, Two Cities and One Tale. Discussing the Bible and the Qur’an in one breath will surprise some Jews, Christians, and Muslims. But Anton Wessels argues that all three traditions must read the Scriptures together and not against each other. As his book title suggests, the three books, in the end, are actually one tale. Wessels accepts Muhammad as a prophet and takes the Qur’an seriously as Holy Scripture along with the Old and New Testaments — without giving up his own Christian convictions. Respectfully reading the Torah, the Gospel, and the Qur’an together, he argues, is of crucial importance: our world often sees these religious books as the cause of conflicts rather than the solution tothem.
The second book of interest I have read is titled: Summoned from the Margin By Lamin Sanneh. tHe tells the fascinating story of his journey from his upbringing in an impoverished village in West Africa to education in the United States and Europe to a distinguished career teaching at the Universities of Yale, Harvard, Aberdeen, and Ghana. He grew up in a polygamous household in The Gambia and attended a government-run Muslim boarding school. A chance encounter with Helen Keller’s autobiography inspired his life journey and taught him that education and faith are the key to overcoming physical and personal hardship. Burning theological questions about God’s nature and human suffering eventually led Sanneh to convert from Islam to Christianity and to pursue a career in academia. Here he recounts the unusually varied life experiences that have made him who he was.
This week we draw our inspiration from the recently published book by Rev Fr Dr Gerald Mamman Musa titled: Dialogue of Action: Christian-Muslim Relationship. And I find his work unique and interesting because, his approach resonates very practically with the problems of dialogue in Nigeria. He highlighted very vivid examples and contentious issues that can transform nationalities into a nation, if it is handled very frankly and sincerely. The seven chapter work, with a 174 pages is a library of rich information that is mixed with knowledge, pleasure and history. In the first chapter Fr Musa dealt with the issues of Philosophical foundation and dimension of dialogue. In the second chapter; the author delved in to the historical overview of Muslim-Christian relationship and Nigerian Initiatives. In the third chapter, Fr Musa brilliantly articulated the challenges of Christian-Muslim Relationship. The fourth chapter highlighted the role of authentic dialogue in managing diversity. In the fifth chapter the author outlined the prospects for a dialogue of action. The sixth and the last chapter of his work dissected the whole philosophy of social transformation and dialogue of action. Fr Musa, A Lecturer of Communication at the Catholic Institute of West Africa decided to delve into the murky waters of Muslim-Christian relation, in this age of suspicion and mistrust; both at the global, national and local level.
In John 10: 1-6 Jesus opined that he is the great shepherd that guides all through the gate. This is a troubling assertion in our Christian-Muslim relation, which Fr. Musa brilliantly navigated. John 10:1-17 carries a twin idea called the inclusive/exclusive theories of dialogue, where Jesus sounded both exclusive and inclusive in his invitation. This have been a problem in the field of dialogue; Saint Cyprian captured this teaching in the third century when he said: Extra ecclesiam nulla salus (No salvation outside the church). The works of Martin Buber, Mihail Bakhin, Hans Georg Gadamer Emmanuel Levinas set the tone of dialogue as an open and sincere conversations that has a transforming power. These authors looked at dialogue from different perspective as inquiry, as an egalitarian relationship, as socio political action, and as communication.
Historically, we came close to climbing to the great heights through dialogue and communication. “During the early years of Islam, the relationship between Muslims and Christians can best be described as one of reciprocal kindness. Inspiring events that took place in the days of the Prophet Muhammad defined the period. For instance, when a delegation from Najran visited the prophet he offered them the mosque (Masjid-e-Nabwi_ to pray, similarly, when the prophet was persecuted by the people to whom he preached, he found support and encouragement from waraga Ibn Wawfal, a Christian scholar and cousin to his wife Khaijad. Soon after that, the early Muslims were persecuted in their own country and were forced to seek refuge in the Christian Kingdom of Axum or Abyssinia (G Musa, 2020). The love and mutual respect experienced in the days of the prophet got lost in the course of time though the expansionist activities of the Ottoman Empire especially with the introduction of the devshirme, the practice of forcing young Balkan children to convert to Islam and conscripting them into the military. European exploration and colonization created an eternal wound in the psyche of the Muslim-Christian relations. Their role is always mentioned as those who aided and supported the work of Christian missionaries from Europe. This will remain a big area of debate in Christendom because the experience of the missionaries is far from been assisted by the colonial masters whose interest was really economic and mineral exploitation.
Fr Musa’s work placed in proper context the nature of the current crises and violence in Nigeria. The tension can never be viewed by one particular prism: and for all interested peace builders; these elements most be placed at the table: The historical dimension, the political dimension, the religious dimension and the Ethnic and Economic dimension: All these points were extensively discussed by the author. He provides an insight that should be at the front burners of discussions in all major interreligious focus groups. The book itemizes some of the contentious issues that have always generated heat in our polity and systems when he addressed the historical dimension of the conflicts in Northern Nigeria: In 1987 the Donli Panel identified 15 key complaints from the memoranda it received. These complaints provide a useful summary of the various issues between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. They are as follows (1) Nigerian’s membership of the Organization of Islamic Conference; (2) The secularity of the nation; (3) Sharia (4) dismemberment of the nation (5) religious Education (6) Breaking up Kaduna State (7) Religious Militancy (8) The Role of the Federal Radio Cooperation (9) The role of traditional Rulers (10) The role of the Police (11) The recruitment into the police and Army (12) The location of the places of worship (13) The location of hotels .
Authentic dialogue can dare to address some of these issues; although difficult but possible. Most times dialogue programs are devoid of real issues that affects the ordinary citizens. In his research, he examined the great effort in history to revive the old friendship and alliances between Muslims; Christians and other Faiths through the formation of global and local bodies; like World Council of Churches and World Faith Development Dialogue. At the local level over 41 faith based organizations were highlighted by him, only to find out that about half were not functional, a scenario that speaks about the inconsistencies of dialogue practitioners. To all Inter Faith groups in Nigeria and beyond: KAICIID, IDFP, CAN, JNI get a copy of Fr Gerald Mamman Musa’s work (firstname.lastname@example.org) Let the Dialogue of Action continue.
Fr Stephen Ojapah is a priest of the Missionary Society of St Paul. He is equally the director for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism for the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, a member of IDFP. He is also a KAICIID Fellow.