Inter-religious Solidarity through Protest

Christians protecting Muslims praying during Nigerian protests against the removal of oil subsidies. Photo: Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde

A large portion of global current events coverage in the last year has been directed towards Arab revolutions and their subsequent political transformations–and rightfully so. But Arab Middle Eastern countries aren’t the only places where significant protests have arisen; from Moscow to Malé, Lhasa to Quito, Athens to Delhi, people have taken to the streets to voice their opposition to distribution inequality, ethnic/religious persecution, and corruption. One story that slipped largely under the radar earlier this year is notable for its multifaceted issues as well as some of its parallels to Egypt. Nigeria was the location. Like most of the Arab revolutions of the past year and a half, it was the local Nigerian population, not international actors, that catalyzed the opposition movement and was the source of the protest’s relative success.

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Sharia Courts in Nigeria

Sign for Zamfara State Sharia Court in N.W. Nigeria

Sharia, an Arabic word translated as “way” or “path,” is the code of conduct or religious law in Islam, and has been the subject of a number of recent hate rallies and growing prejudice against Muslims in the U.S. and around the world. A few countries with significant Muslim minority populations have experimented with various ways of integrating sharia into their legal systems, often using it in civil law situations involving divorce, inheritance, etc. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation with 156 million people, is a good example of the diverse forms of sharia implementation.

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Violence in Nigeria

In last week’s post about Muslim-Christian tensions in Egypt, I highlighted that I am troubled by the way that two connected faiths that call for tolerance are often manipulated for specific purposes. As a follow up to that post, I wanted to write about the violence last week between Christians and Muslims in Jos, which stands on the dividing line between predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria and predominantly Christian southern Nigeria. This is another unfortunate example in which religion is  manipulated and used to cover other longstanding problems between groups, rather than addressing those problems directly, problems which many times result from poverty, oppression by both groups, and unemployment.

The violence in Jos began on Sunday, January 17th, and has resulted in the deaths of hundreds. There are varying reports on what triggered the current wave of violence. The New York Times reports it began when Muslim youth attacked a church; The Christian Science Monitor says that it broke out after Christians protested the building of a mosque and Muslim protesters attacked a church; and Human Rights Watch indicates that some leaders say the violence resulted from a disagreement over the rebuilding of a Muslim home in a Christian neighborhood that was destroyed in 2008. Whatever the exact cause of this latest violence, it is important to note that unfortunately this is not the first time that this level of violence has occurred. There were violent riots in 2001 and 2008. Continue reading