By Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua
ince the unfortunate tragedy of May 12, 2022 in Sokoto, I have received messages and calls to question the relevance of inter-religious dialogue in Nigeria. Fortunately, many Muslim scholars have reacted that the action of the killers in Sokoto is not the true teaching of the Holy Quran and therefore does not represent Islam. It is, therefore, easy to conclude that it is a case between government and the suspects who committed the crime of murder. Many people have asked: “How did we get to this level where human life means nothing”? Others have asked: “Where do we go from here”? For others, “How and when did we lose our humanity”? Perhaps, there is hope in our nation. Perhaps, we can fight ignorance with education to reconstruct the road to a new world. Education is a worthy instrument to conquer ignorance. “If you think that education is expensive, try ignorance! Education is imperative in every stage of life. To defeat ignorance is to travel a short road to peaceful co-existence. Freedom of conscience and self-determination call for enlightenment. Education must start from the cradle and end in the grave. To stop learning is to stop living. If education starts from the cradle, then what do parents teach their children from infancy? Good parenting is a short road to peace and freedom.
In African context, the child belongs to the community while in the global context, the child belongs to the society. Those who are responsible for child formation must not and must never indoctrinate the child to a point of teaching the child to kill as we recently witnessed in the videos where a religious teacher was telling the youths to kill extra-judicially. The teacher was teaching the youths to take laws into their hands. Children learn first from the parents and the surrounding environment. They acquire language through active demonstration and repetition of sounds. The brain of the child gets adjusted to the sounds in the first six years with the cognitive capacity. A child easily learns the language of his environment with the attendant culture and tradition. If a child grows with wild animals in the jungle, the child could behave like a savage being. The environment matters a lot in education.
Education inspires the child to aspire for greatness through self-actualization. We need role models in every society. The orientation of children who live in different societies, conditions, situations and environments from birth need teachers who can help the youth to focus on realistic goals and true values. To avoid the tragedy of street children, education is offered free in many countries. This was the case, once upon a time in Nigeria. Every child had the right and opportunity to education which the government could give freely for the sanity and security of the nation. Some of our political leaders today were beneficiaries of that olive branch. What must be acquired through sound education is the TRUTH. According to Winston Churchill, the truth is incontrovertible; malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, only truth can make us truly human. Otherwise, we create a world of anarchy with jungle justice.
To produce a healthy society, hope for the future must be assured through a functional system of education. It is those who do not have access to credible human formation that resort to the use of force and power instead of creative relationships. Education enables the mammal in the human person to be controlled and conquered. The fruits of ignorance are crisis, intra-personal conflict, inter-personal conflict, intra-community conflict, inter-community conflict, intra-religious conflict and inter-religious conflicts. No religion forbids education and formation. In the Holy Bible, the Sages counsel: “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). The bible expressed clearly the role of fathers in parenting (Ephesians 3:12-13; cf. Proverbs 23:13).
Every family is happy to see the children grow gracefully and to grow in strength and wisdom. Saint John expressed this sentiment in his third letter (3 John 1:4). Because Islam values child development, the Holy Quran says, “Kill not your children because of poverty” (Quran 6:151). Islam forbids the institution of street children. A man is like a shepherd of his own family and he is responsible for them (Bukhari and Muslim). The first message to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is Iqra (read) (Al-Alaq 96:1-5)! God teaches the human person what he does not know through human agents. The human agents are not to turn the children into slaves or beggars on the streets. The parents should pay for the education of the children and every parent should give birth to the number of children they can adequately cater for.
The Religious teachers assist the child to grow in vertical relationship with God and horizontal relationship with fellow human beings. If the youths are well trained and formed, they will be conscious of human rights. They will resist those who employ them to fight unjustly and conflict profiteers who finance violence. They will know that peace is a virtue that is deeply entrenched in Christianity and Islam. A well-educated person with a reasonable job would promote nation building because he has something to look up to. An enlightened person in religion and society is aware that it is God who fights for human beings and not the other way round. It is God who protects human beings hence the Holy Prophet of Islam did not order his followers to kill in his name. He taught his followers the value of patience in the face of insults (Surah Al-Muzzamil 73:10; Cf. Surah Qaf, 50:39; Surah Ta Ha 20:130; Surah Ali Imran 3:186). While dying on the cross, “Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23,34). Ignorance is akin to a dangerous and chronic cancer.
The Students who killed Deborah must have studied religion under ignorant teachers who indoctrinated them with erroneous and subjective interpretations of the sacred texts. They must have forgotten the teaching of the Holy Prophet that, “If anyone kills a person, it would be as if he killed the whole people: and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people” (Qur’an 5:32-33). This calls for religious re-education, de-radicalization and re-orientation to pave a short road to peaceful coexistence and a healthy society. This calls on every nation to provide educational system that is functional enough to provide the ideal person with admirable content of character. If you train the child well, you develop the nation.
The essence of education is success and happiness. A young man asked Socrates, an ancient Greek philosopher, the secret of Success. Socrates told the young man to meet him near the river the next morning. They met; Socrates asked the young man to walk with him toward the river. When the water got up to their necks, Socrates took the young man by surprise and ducked him into the water. The man struggled to get out but Socrates was strong and kept him under water until he started turning blue. The young man struggled hard and finally managed to get up. The first thing he did was to gasp and take a deep breath. Socrates asked, “What did you want the most when you were under the water?” The man replied “Air”. Socrates said: “That’s the most secret to success. When you want success as badly as you want air, you will get it. There is no other secret”. The short road to peace and freedom is the desire to learn and acquire the truth that can create space for freedom where justice will be valued. The easy and short road to peace and freedom is the desire to do the right thing to create a civilized society.
Rev. Fr. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua is the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) and the Secretary General of the West Africa Inter-Religious Council.