I was born Muslim, so automatically I was expected to follow Islam. I guess this is true for most Nigerians and as with all things that come easy you take it for granted. While at university, I decided to research into my religion and draw my own personal conclusions. At the time, I was becoming increasingly frustrated with answers I got from learned folks (which were usually men), especially when it came to questions regarding women and I needed to decide if Islam was the path I wanted to follow. I remember telling my uncle that an Iranian friend quoted a few disturbing things from the Quran. He said to me “you have a degree and you acquired that degree by studying and researching”. So do that about your religion. I did just that!
I learnt that Islam is truly a religion of peace, tolerance and forgiveness. Islam symbolizes Peace. A Muslim should be first and foremost peaceful. To be a Muslim is to be faithful, generous, peaceful, kind, understanding, tolerant, patient, and grateful. Every verse in the Quran warns us of the last day and reminds us of a very merciful and forgiving God. The Quran reminds me that Jews and Christians are part of me. This fact is one that makes me proud to be Muslim today.
With events like 9/11 and the recent (and past) religious violence in Nigeria, it is hard for people to see how Islam is a religion of peace. I really do not blame them. I think is up to Muslims to change the way we are being perceived. But I believe also non Muslims should educate themselves and realize that it is the minority that causes these problems. They should understand religion is the easiest and greatest weapon. Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction, and this is true for all religions.
As a non hijab wearing Muslim, I don’t get judged instantly but once people find out I am Muslim, the non Africans try not to offend me by being “too politically correct”. But my fellow Africans are too quick to judge me and quote things they read on the internet. I remember when the Mutallab incident happened, I walked into the office and the first thing my Igbo catholic colleague asked was what kind of crap does the Quran teach? I was shocked! I could have told him that the Quran forbids killing anyone. I could have asked him to pick up the Quran and learn more about Islam. I could have pointed out that the incident happened due to brain washing and lack of knowledge. Besides, I am sure that the plane Mutallab was intending to blow up had Muslims on it, as well as Christians. I could have argued that Catholicism has had its fair share of “bad apples” where people who had murdered a whole city where given absolution by the Bishop. I didn’t say any of this because most people have made up their minds about what they believe Islam is about and will refuse to see a different side.
I really do believe, we as a nation need to come to a place where we learn to respect each other’s faiths. I remember once a Nigerian colleague said the phrase “Inshallah” which means by the grace of God. Another colleague then asked her if she was Muslim and she responded “God forbid” and I was standing right there. I asked her if I had given a similar response when asked if I was Christian, how would she feel? She didn’t respond. Since I have so many friends of different faiths, I think it’s my responsibility to learn about their faith, support them in it, or at the very least respect their rights to their own personal belief systems. I have had so many discussions with people of other faiths and tried to point out similarities that we can all celebrate but people are bent on focusing on the differences. As long as we focus on these differences we will always be at logger heads.
I think there is a great need for dialogue with Muslims who have a sound knowledge of the religion to clear misconceptions on Islam. Above all, Islam is a religion of peace and that should be what is at the heart of every Muslim.
Peace Be Unto All.
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