Allegations of blasphemy by Muslim and Christian believers have been in the news. In the past few years, persons accused of insulting Christian or Islamic religious gods or prophets have been threatened, attacked, killed, or imprisoned. These allegations have generated so much controversy and tension because allegers seek judicial or extrajudicial sanctions for supposed blasphemers. Allegations of blasphemy by Christians and Muslims in Nigeria are clear testimonies of the lack of knowledge and understanding of their faith (ignorantia fidei). Let us examine two recent ones. First, in its Easter message, Sterling Bank made a post that compared the resurrection of Jesus to Agege Bread: “Like Agege Bread, he arose”. In its reaction, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) described the message as “provocative, ungodly, insensitive and wicked”. CAN has called for the removal of the chief executive officer of Sterling bank.
In a related development, a court in Kano convicted Nigerian Humanist Mubarak Bala, over a post wherein he compared Prophet Muhammad and Prophet T B Joshua. He described the prophet of Islam as a terrorist. He was also convicted for making other statements that disparaged the religion of Islam. Some Islamist lawyers led by S S Umar petitioned the police over the post. In their petition, they stated that refusal to prosecute and sanction Bala would lead to a breach of law and order. After almost two years of arbitrary detention, the court convicted Mr. Bala after a sham trial. Anyone who understands the history of these two religions would shudder at the penchant to accuse, penalize, threats to sanction or kill those who supposedly insult Christian and Muslim faiths, Gods, or prophets.
First, both Christianity and Islam are foreign religions introduced to Africa and Africans by those who demonized and disparaged African traditional religious icons, practices, gods, and prophets. Christian missionaries did not treat African traditional religion with the respect and sensitivity that CAN and many Nigerian Christians are demanding today. Look, Christian missionaries denounced African indigenous religious worship. They treated it with uttermost contempt. And the tradition of contempt for indigenous religious beliefs persists in the Nigerian, African Christendom to date. Truth be told, christians lack the moral basis to accuse anybody of blasphemy because speaking disparagingly of other religions is the main driver of the growth and spread of christianity.
Christian clerics often describe African traditional religious worship as a fetish, and African indigenous gods as demonic and human-made idols, that have eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear. I mean, who makes provocative, insensitive, and insulting declarations about other religions and other gods, more than Christian pastors and believers? One of the popular songs in Christian churches is: Jesus na you be Oga. Jesus na you be Oga. All other gods na so so yeye. Every other god na so so yeye. Going by the christian and muslim standards of blasphemy accusations, is this song not insulting? Is this song not provocative?
Similar Christian songs rendered during services unequivocally disparage other religions and other gods. The Christian scripture is replete with verses that ‘insult’ other faiths and gods including non-believers in god. Psalm 14 verse 1 states: “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God”. Many Christians allude to this verse when arguing with atheists and non-believers. They read and declare this verse as the word of their God at assemblies and fellowships. Christians do not regard this verse as insulting, provocative or insensitive. But when someone compares the resurrection of Jesus to Agege bread they become incensed. Christians accuse the person of blasphemy and want the person sanctioned. Meanwhile, blasphemy is at the root and origin of African christianity. Blasphemy constitutes part of everyday Christian worship and practice.
The same applies to Islam and Muslims. The case of Muslims is even worse because, unlike Christians, violent attacks and killings, are part of the Islamic package. Muslim scholars who introduced Islam to Africa spoke disparagingly about traditional religious gods and personalities. Muslim clerics still do. Jihadists denounced indigenous African gods; they attacked and killed those who professed other religions or revered other gods apart from Allah. Muslim clerics insult’, blaspheme and make offensive remarks as part of their everyday preaching at various mosques and worship centers. The Muslim holy book, the Quran, is filled with ‘offensive’ propositions that ‘insult’ other religions and other gods; statements that are critical of other prophets, and injunctions that provoke or incite violence against non-Muslims, and non-believers. So, Nigerian Christians and Muslims who accuse others of blasphemy are ignorant of their various religions and how they spread. Hence they have refused to apply the same standards of provocation and insensitivity that they ascribe to others to their religions. If they do, they would surely understand that allegations of blasphemy are senseless. These allegations are rooted in mischief, oppression and tyranny. Without blasphemy or speaking disparagingly about other religions and other gods, there would be no religion, no Christianity or Islam, as we know it in Nigeria today.
Another name for this culture of blaspheming or making critical comments about other religions, gods and prophets is freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression. Christianity and Islam owe their dominance to the exercise of these rights. Now they are in the majority, christian and muslim believers seek to outlaw these human rights. Christians and muslims should not be allowed to criminalize the exercise of these freedoms anywhere in Nigeria. Instead, let us all join efforts to stop allegations of blasphemy and repeal all blasphemy laws.