My home is far from exempt. Being raised in Kaduna State introduced me at a young age to violence that took the form of incidents such as the Sharia Crisis of 2000 and the Miss World Riots of 2002, both of which were largely rooted in religious tension. Yet, when I speak and engage with local Christians and Muslims who comprise the two major religions in our state, the ideas, hopes, and aspirations they share often run parallel to or overlap with one another.
Today, World Religion Day, invites members from all religious beliefs and backgrounds to find this type of common ground, easing the tension and transforming the sometimes violent conflict that springs from disagreements. Whether or not we are all able to see it in our daily lives, I firmly believe this is occurring with increasing consistency and impact in Kaduna State and throughout Nigeria.
Especially in settings like ours, where large populations of different religions not only experience violent conflict, but also live in close proximity to one another, increasing tolerance and understanding of different religious views is an important step in building sustainable peace. We must take the time to learn about those who we believe are different from ourselves. In doing so, we create the opportunity to find a unifying common ground, allowing us to see each other not merely as one who practises an opposing religion, but as Nigerians and, indeed, humans.
These lessons of tolerance and unity through increased mutual understanding and trust are ones that I have witnessed first-hand time and time again. As a volunteer with Generations For Peace (GFP), an organisation that puts on programmes that empower grassroots peacebuilding and conflict transformation throughout Nigeria and around the world, I have been able to contribute to and experience behaviour-change in individuals and their communities.
Here in Kaduna, GFP implemented Advocacy and Dialogue For Peace, the success of which made way for the newly launched Arts and Advocacy For Peace Programme. Addressing ethnic and religious differences, the programmes bring those of differing backgrounds, such as Muslims and Christians, together in a safe space to learn about one another and build peace in the process. Through these programmes, the message of World Religion Day – of finding unity and peace through understanding – is one which I have received and learned to pass on not just on this holiday, but on a daily basis. And I am not alone.
I have witnessed countless stories of transformed conflict, perspectives, and relationships. A young Muslim man whose brother was killed and whose home was destroyed during the Sharia Crisis of 2000 has been able to re-build his trust in the Christians he once blamed for many of his life’s most difficult losses. He speaks of how he formed his closest friendship in the advocacy programme with a young Christian who he at one time would never have expected to connect with on any level.
“We were paired and asked to share a story of how our identities have affected us positively or negatively. Coincidentally, in her sheet she wrote, ‘I am a Christian, but I am not a terrorist,’ and I wrote, ‘I am a Muslim, but I am not a terrorist.’ That was how we started talking, and I shared my story with her, and she said something that really touched me. She said, ‘Although I have never experienced something like this, I do empathise with you. No one deserves to go through something like this.’”
This is what World Religion Day is about: creating opportunities to learn about one another, despite differing or even opposing backgrounds, finding commonalities and fostering tolerance that build peace. However, we must remember that these efforts should not be limited to a single holiday.
GFP’s collective programmes using all five of its peacebuilding tools are reaching almost 7000 beneficiaries in Kaduna and around Nigeria. Like World Religion Day, they promote the celebration of all religions and the peace they can help build if we find the common ground between them at every opportunity.
There is indeed hope for sustained peace in Kaduna State and in Nigeria on the whole, and when we come together and use our beliefs to promote unity, that hope only grows.
Written by Hassy Peter Bonnet, Assistant Administrative Officer at Generations For Peace Nigeria