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Religion, Politics and Ethnicity-1

Sat, 25 Jul 2009 Source: Opare-Asamoa, Yaw

Yaw Opare-Asamoa


The big question is demographically-speaking how does one define the word “Muslim”? Muslim does not denote an ethnic group; neither does it define a political entity. It is supposed to represent practitioners of the religion of Islam. But the world over “Muslim” has come to represent something more than that. The President of the United States found it necessary to make a major policy speech particularly directed at Muslims. Under what specific definition or usage of the word “Muslim” did that event take place? Are we going to have a similar speech for Christians and for that matter Buddhists and Hindus and all the other religious sects? Why were “Muslims” singled out? When did the name “Muslim” transform from being religious to becoming political? Back home in Ghana the story is quite similar. A Muslim delegation paid a ‘courtesy call’ on the President and the Chief Imam was reported to have implored the President to involve Muslims in his government (administration). We did not hear any such ‘requests’ from the leaders of the Christian Council or did we? If Ghana is not a theocracy then we should delineate the boundaries very clearly. The government is supposed to be for the people; it has a responsibility to ‘hire’ the most competent and qualified. Religious affiliations or beliefs should have nothing to do with it.

Let’s look at the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Why should a purely religious matter become such a ‘headache’ for the government year after year after year? Politicians being politicians would always capitalize on any situation to their advantage. To avoid any backlash from the Muslim community (?), politicians jump over each other to go to Kotoka Airport to ‘share’ in the predicament of stranded would-be Hajj travelers. When the organizers fail to ‘lift’ travelers to Saudi Arabia, it becomes government’s responsibility to ‘hire’ aircraft for them. Who pays for such expenditure? The taxpayer? Why? What happens to the fees collected by the Hajj organizers? Has any of them ever been prosecuted? Have monies paid ever been refunded? Nobody should get me wrong; government can always play a role. But that role should be limited to the Foreign Affairs ministry with respect to the facilitation of visas and other diplomatic provisions. The taxpayer cannot be saddled with debt incurred from a purely private enterprise! And still on this subject, what would the general reaction be if the Christian Council decides to organize annual pilgrimage to the Holy Land? And what if they ‘solicit’ government involvement as we see with the Hajj? Then again should the government be ‘involved’ in ‘transporting’ members to any international conference or gathering should Traditional Religion practitioners so decide to have one?

I don’t know the number of Ghanaians who are familiar with the ‘customs’ of our traditional slaughter houses. These are exclusively operated by people of the ‘Muslim’ faith. For this reason pigs are not allowed in these slaughter houses. Mind you these slaughter houses were constructed with taxpayer money through the District Assemblies! So why can’t people, who so desire, take their pigs there to slaughter? Muslims do not recognize meat slaughtered by non-Muslims. In certain areas even if one is a Muslim but does not worship in the same mosque with the others, one is denied access to the slaughter house. Now, do we seriously think that Muslims in this country would allow such a situation to prevail if it was perpetrated by Christians? But here we are nobody says anything about it and we are all supposed to accept it. What would happen if non-Muslims decided not to patronize meat slaughtered by Muslims? If that would be unacceptable why then is the status quo acceptable? Yes I know there would reactions all over to this but these issues need to be discussed. We cannot pretend to be seeking a ‘perfect’ society when there are so many ‘disjointed’ areas. Those who benefit from the situation as is would find something wrong with this article and come firing away. But when there are so many examples the world over to show that if the situation was reversed, the same group of people would fight it, then the situation as we have now should also not be acceptable to all well-meaning Ghanaians. Fair is fair is fair!!!

Wherever Muslims find themselves in the minority, their mantra is “We are all God’s children and we worship the same God; let’s live together and in peace” This mantra changes the instant they become the majority in any society. Suddenly some of God’s children become ‘infidels’ who do not deserve to live. They are either killed or forcibly driven out. This has been the story throughout the Middle East and in almost all Islamic countries. President Obama, in his speech to the Muslim world, talked about the flourishing of Islam in the United States. He stated that there were so many mosques dotted all across the United States. Yes that is true but what he failed to mention was the absence or disappearance of Churches in Islamic countries. Recently four churches were bombed in Iraq. Reports indicate that the number of Christians in Iraq has diminished significantly. Why can’t Muslims tolerate Christians, and other religious groups, in their societies? There used to be a very significant Jewish population in Egypt; not anymore! Whatever happened to the ‘Golden Rule’?

It is very interesting to note that Muslim solidarity is only energized when the opposition is non-Muslim. Did we hear any backlash from the Muslim world against the Islamic regime of Iran for all the post-election violence against its people? What about atrocities being perpetrated by the Taliban against women all in the name of the Islam? But there would be world-wide demonstrations by Muslims against a cartoon portraying the holy Prophet Muhammed. Nigeria would be denied the first ever Miss World pageant on African soil because an article in a newspaper was perceived to be ‘insulting’ to the holy Prophet Muhammed and for that Christians were attacked all over Northern Nigeria. Supporters of Hon. Muntaka Mubarak go on rampage and destroy property belonging to the NDC because they do not agree with the President’s decision to accept the minister’s resignation. I seriously do not understand any of this and I need some ‘education’ on these matters.

We in Africa often wonder why reparations have not been paid by the West for slavery. When Africans talk of slavery they inevitably mean the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Is this a true representation of the practice in Africa? What about the Arab (Islamic) slave trade? Muslims were enslaving black Africans long before any slave ships sailed for the New World. Muslims were taking and making slaves all over the lands they had conquered. Wole Soyinka maintains that if we, as Africans, are going to demand reparations from Europeans then we should also claim same from the Arabs for their part. In fact, Black Africans were transported to the Islamic empire across the Sahara to Morocco and Tunisia from West Africa, from Chad to Libya, along the Nile from East Africa, and up the coast of East Africa to the Persian Gulf. This trade had been well entrenched for over 600 years before Europeans arrived, and had driven the rapid expansion of Islam across North Africa. By the time of the Ottoman Empire, the majority of slaves were obtained by raiding in Africa. Shamefully slavery has been documented to be still present in the African republics of Chad, Mauritania, Niger, Mali and The Sudan. I am yet to hear the Chief Imam speak out strongly against the atrocities being perpetrated by the Islamic government of Al- Bashir against the people of the Darfur region of The Sudan. What about the Arab League? What has the Arab League done so far about the situation in Darfur?

During his tour of the Cape Coast Castle President Obama talked about the capacity of humankind to do evil. I heard him repeat the fact that there was a church built right on top of the slave-holding dungeons. The message he wanted to convey was very clear. In deed the Church is not blameless when it comes to slavery. It is a fact of history that the Church actively or passively condoned slavery. Again, Apartheid in South Africa was supported by the Dutch Reformed Church. But once again the President of the United States failed to point out that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was abolished mainly through the efforts of Christians in England (Wilberforce, Clarkson) and America (the Abolitionists, primarily Protestant). Admittedly, Christendom has had its fair share of atrocities but there was something that happened to Christendom that is yet to occur in Islam; and that is exactly what Islam needs. At the time that the Church was all-powerful, under Catholic rule, and the word of the Church was law, there arose a Martin Luther. He openly challenged certain practices of the Church which gave rise to the Reformation movement. The moderate Muslims who are worshipping their God in peace are too silent. There may well be the majority but their voices are crowded out by those of the ‘radicals’. Islam therefore needs to go through its ‘reformation’ where the so-called authority of the Imams and Mullahs and others would be challenged. Wrong interpretations of the Qu’ran should be challenged and the ‘false prophets’ should be called out for what they are. Until that happens there is little chance changing the status quo. Nobody is an ‘infidel’ and that should be made clear to everyone. A non-believer has the right to live and worship as he/she chooses. After all is God not the one to judge us all? Enough of the hypocrisy! Enough of the double standard!! “He who comes to equity must come with clean hands” We cannot demand one thing from one group and then turn round to do something else. If we are all God’s children worshipping the same God then let’s make that evident in our words and deeds. Let’s treat one another fairly and tolerate one another. Written and submitted on July 19, 2009

Columnist: Opare-Asamoa, Yaw