The Ministry of Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs has met stakeholders in the Central Region to solicit their inputs into a proposed National Policy on Religion intended to enhance social cohesion and peaceful coexistence.
The policy, driven by article 21 (1) (C) of the 1992 Constitution, aims at addressing the challenges and opportunities emanating from religious coexistence in Ghana while protecting the rights and freedoms of all religious groups.
It also seeks to provide a framework on the prevention and resolution of conflicts induced by religious differences.
The Regional Stakeholder Consultation, therefore, engaged religious and traditional leaders, civil society organisations, academic institutions, media outlets, security services, government agencies and other interest groups in a rigorous and engaging exercise which evoked a raft of concerns and recommendations.
Working in groups, the stakeholders identified various issues, expressed how they affected society and proposed solutions to them.
Some of the issues identified included the proliferation of churches, fake prophets, forced worship, dress code, discrimination, the use of intemperate language and religious bigotry.
Mr Joseph Abbey, Director for Policy Planning, Budgeting, Monitoring and Evaluation, Ministry of Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs, said the meeting was crucial to develop a comprehensive and inclusive policy to sanitise the religious landscape and promote harmony.
“When we pick these inputs from the participants, we are going to have a larger group in Accra that will be on the validation of these proposals before it is forwarded to Cabinet for consideration and decision,” he explained.
Nana Kodwo Eduakwa V, Chief of Atonkwa and Akwamuhen of Edina Traditional Area, proposed that education on religious tolerance must start from schools where some students and pupils were forced to worship against their religious practices.
“If a Muslim child goes to school and says he will not be part of the routine Christian worship, he should not be punished for that and that also applied to the Christian child,” he said.
However, he said he did not see any problem with a Muslim willingly visiting a church or a Christian visiting a mosque, indicating that it strengthened peaceful coexistence.
“I consider this meeting very important, and we are hoping that in future we won’t hear intemperate language from one another again because we want to make sure that we co-exist peacefully,” he added.
Madam Fatimatu Sahaabi, representing the Islamic Charity Centre for Women Orientation, expressed concern about some impediments put in the ways of Muslim children in the practice of their religion in school.
She observed that some Muslim students in the various educational institutions were not allowed to practice their religion as they should.
She said the wearing of hijab, for instance, was still a major issue in many schools because they claimed it violated certain school rules.
“If we should come together and educate ourselves that as a woman you should be covered because you are a valuable material, we will understand and love one another.
“So, we should come together and learn about the various beliefs and practices of the various religions, and I think we can live peacefully and that will help the nation to develop,” she said.
For his part, Rev Father Joseph Takyie, representing the Catholic Archdiocese of Cape Coast, reminded the nation that peace was a commodity that should be cherished and protected at all costs.
Describing the engagement as a step in the right direction, he maintained that Ghana could not afford to lose the peace it had.
“It is important that we promote each other’s religion and try to recognise the fundamental value of each human being so that we don’t try to look down on people,” he added.