by Femi Owolabi
Sometime in the year 2002, I left my Ilorin home on an adventure to Agbeyangi village. The rocky Agbeyangi is a suburb in the north side of Ilorin. It is a community whose popularity then, was earned by the only secondary school there, Agbeyangi Community Secondary School. The community secondary school did not only serve students who were resident in Agbeyangi, it admitted even more students from the city, Ilorin.
The news that students who sit for their WAEC examination in Agbeyangi Community Secondary School have fine results had reached a couple of my friends, as at the time we were being promoted to the final class. And these friends left the city-school for Agbeyangi. Adventuring on the other hand, I was in Agbeyangi, on my friends’ continuous request for a visit.
It was a Friday. I arrived at my friends’ hostel at about 1pm. I met them, preparing for Jumat. They are all Muslims. And Agbeyangi is predominantly an Islamic community. After hailing each other, Yusuf — the closest to me of these friends — reminded me that they were set for mosque. And, unsure of how to put it to me, the words, nevertheless, eventually left his mouth. He asked if I could join them. He said, almost everybody in the hall would soon leave for mosque and it is rather unsafe that I stay behind alone. I didn’t think about it. I obliged immediately.
We got to the mosque, and the process started with ablution. Yusuf got me a kettle and staying beside him, keenly watching, I did all he did that was the ablution. We entered and joined in prayer. My right eye was on Yusuf. Anytime he stooped, I stooped. Anytime he rose, I rose. Anytime he raised his hands to the sides of his head, I did likewise. When the prayer was drawing to an end, we sat on our crossed-legs. Our palms on our knees. And then people started muttering in Arabic. Yusuf took his right hand off his knee and pointed his index finger upward, muttering in Arabic. I pointed my index finger, too, in the direction of heaven, and when I couldn’t pick what Yusuf was muttering, I, instead of being mute, started muttering Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…
On our way back to the hostel, Yusuf said while we were praying, he saw my lips moving and he asked what it was that I was saying. I told him it was our Lord’s prayer. And we all laughed and laughed. As we walked on, we continued to find the similarities in the two religions. We discovered that Ibrahim’s story in the Quran is Abraham’s story in the Bible. Bible’s David is Quran’s Daud. Quran’s Musa is Bible’s Moses. We went on.
About a year later, Yusuf came to spend a few days at my Ilorin home. And once, he asked to join me for an evening church service. It was a communion service. And while the bread and wine tray was being passed, I pinched Yusuf, telling him that he must ask God for forgiveness if he would share in the communion. If he would drink from the blood of Jesus. He nodded and rubbing his palms, he started muttering Astagh-firol-lahal… He would later tell me that one’s sins can be forgiven if he offers Astagh-firol-lahal 101 times to Allah.
Today, Yusuf’s beliefs are still rooted in Islam. Today, I am still waxing stronger in the Christian faith. And Yusuf and I are brothers than we are friends. We have a mutual regard for each other’s beliefs. And over the years, we keep asking ourselves; why exactly do people blindly and stupidly fight in the name of religion? We didn’t choose our parents. We were just born. I had imagined how much of Muslim I would have been if I were born by Muslim parents. My friend, Yusuf is a staunch listener of Sam Adeyemi, a Christian preacher. He says he doesn’t miss his show on radio. I am a fan of the popular and humorous Islamic preacher, Buhari Ibn Omo Musa.
It is, however, unfortunate that some of our religious leaders sharpen their congregants’ minds to hating the other religion. An Imam would tell his followers that Christians are the kafiruns, the unbelievers that the Quran talked about. The Pastor, to his folks admonishes them that the Bible says we shouldn’t be unequally yoked with the unbelievers, the Muslims. And everybody becomes sentimental. A Christian landlord would not lease out his house to a Muslim, not because he doesn’t have his rent, but because he is just a Muslim. And vice-versa.
Last week, as I walked under the bridge in Ijora, Lagos, I got pressed and luckily I spotted the toilet immediately. Moving closer, I saw what was written on the doors to both the Male and Female toilets. Muslims Only. I shook my head. I am madly pressed. And my urine does not understand any terms and conditions different from flush after using the toilet. Ijora under bridge is a fish market and I imagined how many human beings that would have been denied entrance into that toilet, just because they are non-Muslims.
In the film My Name Is Khan, the protagonist– Rizvan Khan, during the Hindu-Muslim riots of 1983 overhears some people planning a reprisal attack on the other religion. He returns inside and starts to repeat what he overheard, each one of them should be shot dead mercilessly. His mum, hearing him is shocked. She rushes at him and asks him to shut up. Then, she pulls him over to a seat. She brings a book and a pen and she starts to make a caricature; she says Rizvan, this is you and this person beside you is holding a stick and he’s beating you. Rizvan immediately rebukes the beater. Beating is bad, he says. The mother makes another caricature; she says, Rizvan this is you again and this person beside you is holding a lollypop, and he gives you the lollypop. Yes, it is good. Lollypop is good, Rizvan says, nodding and smiling. The mother then gives the drawing to the boy and asks him; now between these two people, which is Hindu and which is Muslim? He looks at it and he says they look alike. The mother brings his head up and says; there are two kinds of people in this world. Good people who do good deeds, and bad people who do bad. That’s the only difference in human beings. There’s no other difference.
In our world today, our relationships have been crippled by our religious sentiments. Churches are currently being burnt in Egypt, and strange enough, it is people of same Islamic faith that now go in solidarity with their Christian brothers to guard a church when a service is being held. You begin to imagine the diverse understanding and interpretation of religions. And then, you begin to imagine a world without any religion.
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