In Nigeria, Even Thieves Are Very Religious, By Ahmed Oluwasanjo
…religion is not the problem, but bad people using religion as a cover for their atrocious acts. This is the same reason criminals, killers, pen and armed robbers and kleptomaniac politicians in Nigeria attempt to pass off their atrocities under the guise of religion.
My upbringing, in a home where both parents practice different faiths, taught me how to be tolerant and respect other people’s faith. Childhood was fun. Celebrating both Christian and Muslim festivals was a memorable part of growing up that I can never forget.
If there is another thing I cherish about my upbringing by parents of different faiths, it is the fact that it makes me see people, first, from the prism of humanity, not religion. People could be bad or good, regardless of their religions.
In other words, having enjoyed love, acceptance, care and support from parents, siblings, relations, neigbhours, schoolmates, colleagues and friends of different faiths, I can relate with people, no matter their religion.
God is not a fanatic. If he were, there would be only one religion and, perhaps, there would be no cause for the unnecessary suspicions, the antagonistic relationships and unhealthy competitions between people of different faiths.
To a large extent, religion is not the problem; but extremists, who arrogate to themselves the supreme power of God, using religion to manipulate, exploit, oppress and intimidate others. As a result, they portray God, their professed faiths and other people who practice their faiths in bad light.
This brings me to a recent incident. Though it is a personal one, its message would resonate well and be easy to relate with, with regard to religion and hypocrisy in our society.
On January 14, between 2.00 a.m. and 3.00 a.m., the mini estate where I stay, somewhere within Abuja Municipal Area Council, FCT, was attacked by armed bandits.
They were five in number. One of them held a local pistol, while another held a sharp two edged machete. While they raided our flats, they were “nice”. I say “nice” because they did not physically assault any one of us. However, they stole our belongings.
That’s not all. They also left a very strong message in my neigbhour’s flat, which I would share shortly.
After the bandits had fled, my neighbour, a nice devote Muslim, shared his family’s ordeal in the hands of the bandits. He said, “While they were searching the house, looking for money and other valuables, when they saw my Al-Quran, they shivered”.
According his wife, “When they entered my room, they searched my bag, stole the monies I had therein, and demanded for my jewelries; my gold. I told them I don’t have jewelries. To convince them, I attempted to swear by the copy of the Quran in my room, but I was sternly rebuked by the bandits. They said, I should not go near the Quran or swear by it.
“They collected my car key, but when they saw the sticker on my car, with the picture of Sheikh Ibrahim Niass, they reconsidered and changed their mind. Before they left, however, one of the bandits, who was the guy holding the local pistol, turned to me, and in a subtle whisper muttered, ‘Sorry we never knew you are a Muslim. We will not come here again’”.
Mind you, at gun point, these same bandits stole my belongings.
Yet, since my neighbour shared his experience with me, I’ve been pondering over the following:
Why were the bandits so scared at the sight of a Quran, but found nothing wrong in stealing; a wicked act that Islam and the Quran forbids? Why did the bandits revere the picture of Niass, “the leader of Tijani Sufi order of Islam in West Africa”, but didn’t feared Almighty Allah who created Niass and abhors stealing?
If the picture of Niass could dissuade them from stealing my neighbour’s car, why couldn’t contemplation of an Almighty Allah compel them to repent and drop all they had stolen from me? Were they trying to appeal to their other victim, as brothers in Islam, by telling him that they would not return to raid his house again?
The simple answer is not farfetched. Like I wrote at the beginning of this piece, religion is not the problem, but bad people using religion as a cover for their atrocious acts. This is the same reason criminals, killers, pen and armed robbers and kleptomaniac politicians in Nigeria attempt to pass off their atrocities under the guise of religion.
Had it not been so, the likes of James Ibori, former governor of Delta State, a man who according to reports, graduated from stealing building materials to looting Delta State treasury, would not be able to stand in a church, in the presence of ‘men of God’ who often call unfaithful tithers robbers, claiming that he is not a thief and go unchallenged.
As much as the religiosity of Ibori’s descendants who attacked and robbed my estate left me asking so many questions, Ibori’s recent statement left me bereft.
Ahmed Oluwasanjo writes from Abuja.