The seventh anniversary celebration of the Association for Black Humanists (ABH) deserves commendation because embarking on this myth-bursting and stereotype-shattering initiative has not a mean feat. It’s an astounding achievement. So hearty congratulations! Humanism is a universal outlook that speaks to every race, colour and ethnic group. While the term humanism is English, what it represents beats in the heart of every culture, every society, yes, every human being. An association that emphasizes black humanism relates this universal message to the specific but not necessarily exclusive needs and challenges facing black people. History is replete with instances of dehumanization and other forms of violation of humanist principles in the ways that black people treated themselves, or have been treated. Instances abound of how religion and superstitions have been instrumental to the oppression, subjugation and exploitation of blacks by blacks or blacks by others.

Humanists in Nigeria and Africa are enthused over an initiative that speaks to this social and historical reality. They are so delighted by this milestone that the ABH has attained. That despite all odds, this association has continued to weather the storm, and grow in strength, number and reach. ABH remains a beacon of hope to young Africans who are sick and tired of religion. Many young Africans find religious answers to be untrue, mistaken, outdated or unsatisfactory and are earnestly searching for meaning and answers that are compatible with reason, science and critical thinking. These young Africans yearn for the gains of intellectual liberty, rationality and freethought. This is because religion has maintained a stranglehold on the minds and future of individuals across the region. Religion has been used to legimitize exploitation, and to sanctify the abuse of young people.

No incident has better demonstrated this vicious impact than the recent discovery of an Islamic school in Northern Nigeria where hundreds of children have been abused under the pretext of teaching them how to recite the Quran. Northern Nigeria is dominantly muslim and sharia is implemented in most of the states. Quranic indoctrination is often the first mode of instruction that children and young people receive. Images from this islamic school have shown children and teenagers who have been brutalized, inflicted with gaping injuries by their so-called Islamic teachers. These young people are going to live with the scars and traumas of this horrific treatment for the rest of their lives.

Look, the incident in the Islamic school is not an isolated case, in fact it is not peculiar to Islam. Maltreatment and abuse of children at Islamic schools and other religious centres have been widely reported. Incidentally, these abuses happen because Islam has been shielded from critical examination and inquiry. Violence and threat of violence have been used to silence critics. Fear of being fatwa-ed by the Sheikhs, Mullahs and Imams; fear of being accused of Islamophobia or blasphemy, fear of being killed by marauding jihadists for offending religious sensibilities-insulting Allah, Islam or prophet Muhammad- have prevented the foregrounding of the excesses of Islamic religion. And this has to change.

Thus young Africans find themselves in a very difficult situation. They are held hostage, religiously hostage by cultures and societies that coerce them to be religious and do not permit them to think outside the religious box, or to question religious propositions. Young African minds are constrained by indigenous faith and dogmas that are essentially tied to their identity, by western Christianity and Middle eastern Islam that claim to be better religions, the true religions, unquestionable pathways and veritable means to civilize Africans. Embedded in these religious formations are layers of racism, hatred and denigration of black people and other narratives that are not consistent with the canons of black humanity and universal humanism.

From Cape Town to Cairo, From Mauritius to Mauritania, young Africans are largely living in religious prisons constructed and controlled by adults. They cannot freely choose or change their religion. Young Africans are brought up to think that there is no alternative to dogmatic religions, to their family religion. Many of these young persons end up being radicalized and transformed into merchants of death and destruction.

In fact, in many parts of Africa, humanists cannot freely meet or associate without putting their lives at risk. People cannot openly express themselves as atheists or skeptics, as ex muslims or exchristians, they cannot post their ideas and thoughts on their Facebook pages or on twitter without endangering themselves.

However, the situation is changing. There is some hope in the horizon. The African religious landscape is undergoing a slow but significant shift. Humanism and freethought are making inroads in many parts of the region. A new wave of critical awakening is sweeping across the continent thanks to the social media. The social media have liberated Africans from religious monopoly of information, knowledge and truth. The internet has provided young people alternative connections, communities, networks and fellowships. The impact of the social media has rattled the islamic establishment to the point that in September, a Centre for Islamic Civilization and Interfaith Dialogue at Bayero University Kano, organized a seminar on Social Media and the Rise of Atheism Among Muslim Youths in Northern Nigeria.

So, young Africans are fighting back; they are resisting religious tyranny and dictatorship. Even with all the risks involved, African youths are questioning aloud religious dogmas and misconceptions including provisions in the sacred texts such as the Bible and the Quran. African youths are forming humanist and freethought societies online and offline. They are using Facebook, twitter and instagram to express their heretical views, and voice out their blasphemous opinions. Some have started humanist/secular schools, for instance in Uganda. They are taking on the religious establishment, challenging religious orthodoxy and superstitions, and countering the violent campaigns of witch/demon hunters in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. It is important to note that while some progress has been made, a lot of work still lies ahead. But know this ABH, what you do to make humanism happen in the UK inspire Blacks everywhere. It inspires people who suffer religious oppression or persecution. Young Africans look to this association for inspiration; they draw strength from ABH’s resilience and doggedness, from its defiant, assertive and taboo breaking humanism. Congratulations once again, the Association for Black Humanists. I wish you many more years of proactive humanism.


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