Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah is no stranger to controversies. But the one the bishop of the Sokoto Catholic Diocese stirred last month with his keynote address during a conference at the Fountain University, Osogbo, Osun State, would rank as perhaps his most provocative to date. Certainly it would rank higher than the very controversial Homily he delivered three years ago on December 20 at the Burial Mass of Mr. Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa, the Governor of Kaduna State, who died in a tragic helicopter crash in the Delta.
That Homily was more an attack on Muslims than it was a tribute to Governor Yakowa. The bishop used the opportunity to ride on his hobbyhorse of what he says is the use of Islam by the Northern Muslim elites to impose their hegemony not only on the North but also on the rest of the country. In so doing he denounced those he described as “riff raff and scoundrels” who were alleged to have rejoiced at the death of the governor. Such scoundrels, he said quite rightly, did not represent Muslims or Islam.
In denouncing the joyous riff raff and scoundrels the bishop took pains to praise both secular and religious Muslim leaders who felt only sorrow at the death of Yakowa. Sultan Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, he said, felt so despondent at the governor’s death it became his lot to cheer up His Eminence. General Muhammadu Buhari, then the country’s leading opposition leader, was also so “distraught” about Yakowa’s death he cancelled his 70th birthday celebration in mourning. Sheikh Yusuf Sambo Rigachikun, a national leader of Izala, also cancelled a huge congregation the movement had summoned in a show of respect for the deceased governor.
The bishop also praised former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, and former secretary of the Government of the Federation (SGF), Alhaji Gidado Idris, both of them Muslims, for respectively appointing Yakowa as the first minister and Federal permanent secretary from Southern Kaduna, a claim which is not entirely accurate because, long before Yakowa, Alhaji Aliyu Mohammed, Wazirin Jama’a, had served not only as a federal permanent secretary, but had gone on to serve as one of the longest serving SGFs.
Not only was the bishop full of praise for the Muslim leadership, he said even their followers behaved with compassion. “As we drove behind the Ambulances from the airport to St Gerard’s Hospital, I personally saw young Muslims genuinely wailing and waiving in sorrow on the highway in Tudun Wada.” He also said he had received sympathetic text messages from Muslims, “high and low.”
The problem I, for one, had with the bishop’s homily then, as now, was that after praising the rump of the North’s secular and religious Muslim leadership – and also praising much of their followership – as being compassionate, he would still go ahead to blame Muslims exclusively for the violent religious crisis into which has engulfed our country has for a long while now.
In his concluding remarks in that homily, he thanked President Goodluck Jonathan and those who advised him for creating “the opportunity that enabled Mr. Yakowa to keep his appointment with destiny.” As the bishop knew all too well, religion was central to the decision of the president to pick Patrick’s boss, Arch Namadi Sambo, as his Vice, when he became president, following the death of President Umaru Yar’adua. This was in a field with more experienced candidates for the president to choose from. As the bishop also knew, religion was central to the determination of the ruling party to retain Yakowa as governor in the 2011 elections, come rain, come shine, a decision which turned Kaduna State into the epicenter of the violent aftermath of that year’s elections.
If the bishop chose only to attack faceless Northern Muslims in his homily three years ago, last month he chose to attack not only Muslims, but their religion as well. As before, he accused their leaders exclusively of manipulating religion for their selfish ends. Boko Haram, he said, was the dire consequence of such manipulation.
Any attempt by any Muslim to distant the sect from Islam, he said, was hypocritical, if only because its adherents claim Islam is not only their religion but also the inspiration for their self-acclaimed goal of Islamizing Nigeria.
Yet the bishop says, quite rightly I must say, Christianity should never be held responsible for everything the West does, even though the former gave birth to the latter and even though many Western leaders claim many of the things they do, good or bad, are in the name of Christianity.
But to say Islam must be held responsible for Boko Haram is to say Christianity, more specifically the bishop’s Catholicism, must be held responsible for, say, the terrible things the Lords Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony has done in Uganda. After all, his father was catechist in the Catholic Church and his mother an Anglican and he himself says his goal is to turn his country into a Christian country.
As any scholar of religion knows, more terrible things have been done in the name of Christianity than in the name of Islam. For example, in a 2013 book titled WAR AND PEACE IN ISLAM –The Uses and Abuses of Jihad edited by HRH Prince Gazhi bin Muhammad and Professors Ibrahim Kalin and Mohammad Hashim Kamali, the contributors showed how out of a median death toll of 577.29 million from violent conflicts between 0 and 2008 CE, Christianity topped the list with 178.04 million while Islam came a distant 6th with 31.02 million.
The same book also showed how in terms of the frequency of belligerence, the three most aggressive religions have been Christianity, Islam and Antitheist, in that order; out of a total of 318 belligerences during the same period, Christianity accounted for 166, i.e. over half of such incidences, whereas Islam accounted for 79 which is under 25%, making it a distant second.
In spite of all these figures, I believe it would be wrong to blame the religions themselves for what has been done in their names.
By some curious logic, the bishop at some point in his speech, sought to make a distinction between what he calls Northern Islam and a Southern variety. The one, he said, is intolerant while the other is accommodating. To drive home his point, he used the sentimental subject of marriage. Here, permit me to quote him at some length because what he says is at the heart of his submission in Osogbo.
“In your part of the country as in other parts of the world,” he says, “I hear about families with Christians and Muslims living together, marrying and intermarrying and so on. In the North, this is anathema. Every time I bring this up, I hear people say that this is what Islam teaches, that the religion allows Muslim men to marry Christian girls (and hopefully make them Muslims) while Christian men cannot marry Muslim women. If this is not apartheid in broad daylight, I do not know what it is.” He said worse but even this was bad enough.
True, Islam does not permit Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men. But then so does Christianity forbid its women – and men – from marrying non-Christians. For, as the Bible says in the New Testament 2 Corinthian, a Christian, man or woman, should never be yoked together with any unbeliever. “Do not,” it says, “be yoked together with the unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”
As a scholar, it is disappointing that the respected bishop should resort to demagoguery in trying to frame Islam, more specifically what he calls Northern Islam, as suffering exclusively from superiority complex. If only he had searched enough he would have found that the injunction against a Muslim woman not marrying a Christian is not to discriminate against Christianity but to protect her rights as a Muslim woman in a way that Islam protects the rights of a Christian woman as a Christian. It says, for example, that the husband has an obligation to defend her identity as a Christian, including taking her to Church to worship. Nothing like this exists for a Muslim woman married to a Christian, since the Bible says any other belief is like darkness.
As we all know, injunctions are one thing, adhering to them, another. Marriages across religions may be more common in the South-West, but the bishop surely knows that it is not inexistent in the North, even though it may be taboo among Muslims in the region.
The bishop is right to accuse the country’s elites of manipulating religion for power and wealth. But he is absolutely wrong to blame only Muslim elites, especially those from the North, as the only ones who do so. To see how wrong he is in blaming only Muslims, he needs only to examine the fate Muslims wherever they are a minority in this country or to examine many of the decisions and policies of Presidents Jonathan and Olusegun Obasanjo.
Yes, sir, the manipulation of religion is not, and has never been, the exclusive preserve of any religion.