God and religion can be aptly described as household phenomena in the world. People anywhere, everywhere, anytime, every time discuss God and religion. Even those who call themselves atheists and the freelance, either from the conscious or sub-conscious region, discuss God and religion.
This is because God is one and universal. And in every normal human being created by God, there is the element of the divine. Consequently, interest in religion is generated inevitably throughout the world.
Anything that exists that performs no function has no business existing. Thus, religion exists because it performs functions.
Therefore, religion is a living organism that exists in the abstract. Religion performs several unique functions both to the society and man. Man’s world is full of complex uncertainties coupled with several existential problems.
Religion, therefore, plays a very vital role by providing emotional aid and encouragement to man. In this regard, religion provides consolation and reconciliation. When one is confronted with disappointment, religion provides consolation, and when alienated from societal goals, norms and values, religion provides reconciliation between man and society.
In times of defeat, distress and impossibilities, religion provides emotional support for revival and survival. Religion provides support by establishing values and goals, reinforces morale and, at the same time, it provides immunization against disaffection. Religion supports and encourages growth and maturation of the individual in society.
It provides the ingredients for development, autonomy and self direction. In Nigeria and elsewhere, religion is closely connected to family structures.
Infact, ethical norms governing interpersonal behaviour within the family are often given religious sanction.
From the above, it is abundantly clear how religion influences peaceful co-existence in society.
But inspite of this, and despite the fact that the Nigerian constitution provides for religious harmony and peace, religious intolerance still abound in some parts of the federation.
The intolerance is occasioned by religious exclusiveness, thus leading to occasional religious crises as a result of the unwillingness of religious adherents of divergent belief to accommodate the point of view or belief of one another.
Against this backdrop, Christendom on Sunday April 4, 2021 celebrated Easter regarded as the foundation of the Christian faith, with Christ’s resurrection, signifying his victory over death, the triumph of good over evil and the completion of God’s salvation of mankind.
There were messages of congratulations and admonishment across the globe from political and religious leaders. Among those who sent messages were President Muhammadu Buhari, the Catholic Pontiff, Pope Francis, erstwhile Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, Borno State Governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, and the President of the Union of Islamic Communities of Italy, Yassine Lafran.
Governor Zulum in his message said he was “very proud of Christians and Muslims in Borno State for maintaining peaceful coexistence in the state despite facing tough challenges”. Emphasising the need for religious inclusiveness and tolerance as means of ensuing continued peaceful co-existence and harmony between Christians and Muslims in families, communities, schools, markets, sporting activities as well as at political and social gathering’s, he lauded interfaith leaders for being role models and further stressed the need to nurture and preserve the prevailing peaceful harmony to facilitate development.
Pope Francis in his message regretted that “there are still too many wars and too much violence in the world” and called for peace in several conflict areas particularly in Africa, describing armed conflict and military spending during a pandemic as “scandalous”.
On his part, Lafran undertook an interfaith visit to the Catholic Archbishop of Bologna in Northern Italy, Matthew Zuppi, during which he said that Christians and Muslims in Italy lived with a common spirit, pointing out that the Christian lent and the Muslim month of Ramadan, united adherents of both religions in invocation, reflection and love of one God and stressing the need for further strengthening of inter-faith relationship by religious leaders and organisations across the world to promote global unity and stability as well as enhance cordial relationship among various religions and nations.
The example of Italy’s interfaith leaders and that of the Borno State Christian and Muslim communities should be emulated and encouraged by people of all religious faiths and cultures for Nigeria to move forward and enhance peaceful coexistence.
Nigeria as a multi-religious pluralistic society, characterised by complex diversity of cultures and traditions, the strongest instruments to be used in achieving religious tolerance, peace and harmony are cross-cultural and religious visits, contacts, dialogue and mutual collaboration.
All religions in Nigeria must understand, embrace and tolerate one another. And adherent of religions must practice religious inclusiveness, appreciate and recognise one another in good faith.
Just as Easter among Christians signifies peace and salvation of mankind, it should be realised and appreciated by all that to bring growth and prosperity in a society, the path that is open to wiser people is peace and harmony, without which it is impossible to achieve political strength, economic stability or cultural growth.
Iyalla is a journalist and theologian.
By: Chris Iyalla