The arrogance of the catholic bishops and the freedom of muslim students

Wed, 11 Mar 2015 Source: Mohammed, Inusah

Of all the reactions of the human repertoire given to the arrogance of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference’s statement last week, surprise was not part of mine. I was never surprised because it is an emblem of their intolerance towards dissent to their faith, doctrines, decisions and held beliefs. It is deeply entrenched in their belief that everything must conform to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Pope Leo XIII (1903) stated succinctly in Libertas: "It is not lawful to demand, to defend, or to grant unconditional freedom of thought or speech, or writing, or religion, as if these were so many rights given by nature to man." And it has run through from the dim recesses of history. This intolerance of theirs mostly was towards an entrenched truth which they were vehemently against.

In the year 1517, Martin Luther, A German Friar and Professor of Theology came out with his Ninety-five theses to protest against the established abuses in the Catholic Church which included nepotism, usury, sale of church offices and roles (also known as Simony), pluralism and the sale of indulgences (practice of making sinners purchase the freedom from God’s punishment with money). This incurred the wrath of the Catholic Church and in a characteristic style and fashion he was excommunicated by the Pope and condemned as an outlaw by the emperor.

Notable among such cases was the case of the man who had to spend the last nine years of his life under house arrest after being handed life imprisonment just because he stated a truth denied by the Catholic Church. In the year 1614, Galileo Galilee was vilified, insulted and all sorts of vituperations heaped on him by the Catholic Church which later led to his condemnation as a heretic because he argued in favor of the Copernicus Heliocentric theory that the sun was at the center of the universe. The illogical notion held at that time was that the earth was rather at the center of the universe (a notion that is as backward as the minds that held it).

Parnili was killed for stating that blood run through the veins. A truth that took the Catholic Church centuries to accept.

Rebecca A. Sexton, a member of a group known as Former Catholics for Christ writes, “Anyone who opposes Roman Catholicism is immediately labeled as a bigot, intolerant of other religions or a hate-monger.” And that is the absolute truth and nothing else.

In the not too distant past, Hans Kung, a Catholic Theologian, had to go through untold suffering because his works went against the teachings of the Catholic Church. He had his works catching dust on the shelves of libraries and silenced stemming from his rejection of the doctrine of the infallibility of the pope.

This intolerance reared its head strongly on our local scene last week when the Catholic Bishops issued a statement threatening the President of the land whose ‘offence’ was his reiteration of what the laws of our land state. The Preamble of their acerbic statement reads:

“We, the members of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference have followed with grave concern the recent developments in our dear nation with respect to calls for unregulated religious practices in our schools. We note in particular, the unwarranted threats of sanction coming from Government circles. Needless, we are stating that no citizen in Ghana should allow him/herself to be cowed down by any intimidation or threat of sanction from any individuals.” The statement is if not foolish, stupid. If not disturbing, infantile and must be condemned as such. As part of the Catholic DNA, they just do not understand why others should be given their constitutional freedom.

We Muslims are citizens of the land also and will not allow ourselves to be cowed or wavered by any intimidation from any misguided group such as the Bishops’ conference. The call by the President in his State of the Nation Address is not something absurd or weird. Neither is it a call to anything illegal or unconstitutional. Rather, it is a call to sanity, a call to parity and a call to equity which will make all citizens uphold the spirit and letter of the 1992 constitution, a call to peaceful and harmonious living and a massive wavelength of civility. Muslims in this country have been tolerant enough. We have stomached all sorts of illegal discrimination and undemocratic oppression in our schools for too long.

I attended O’Reilly Senior High School. During my three years stay on campus, I had to compulsorily sing hymns I do not believe in at every morning assembly and sometimes made to jump to catch a spirit I never caught. Sometimes, it was the then headmistress, Miss Janet Chinebuah who came down to lead in the hymnals under the scorching sun. I had to endure my freedom whittle away just because a group of people have blinded their eye to the constitutional provision that no one should be subjected to a faith he does not subscribe to.

I remember the unfortunate day the headmistress in a derogatory manner said during a school gathering “I was calling them and they were still washing their noses” in reference to an ablution exercise she witnessed. This sent the whole school into a state of hilarity. I wished the earth swallowed me up that day.

There is this particular insensitive teacher called Rev. Kathleen Parker Allotey. This woman had on countless number of times showed her strong antipathy towards Muslims in the full glare of the public. Once upon a time, she asked a class why they allowed the Class Prefect and his assistant to be Muslims. She asked non-challantly “How”?

In another instance, a former Assistant headmaster of the school, Mr. Danquah, once came into the Science class when the class was in total disarray. The first statement he made was “I know it is the Muslims in you that are making the noise. Because if they are praying, you can never tell who is speaking and who is quiet.” And this was a class of about 60 students with about six Muslims. What warrants this if not the intolerance and insensitivity towards the rights and feelings of Muslim students?

The most grueling one I will never forget is one that had to do with prayers. We used to pray where the pipes that drain the fecal and urinal substances of teachers were connected and we had to cope with that because our hands were tied. There was this day when a wicked Christian teacher came ordering us to stop praying. Steadfastness was a cardinal aspect of the Muslim prayer so we did not heed to her call. Surprisingly, she came with a cane and started lashing the Imam and the congregants. These were just a fraction of the unjust practices we had to go through.

You just cannot fault Muslims if we have woken up after a long slumber of negligence. To continue with the status quo in our schools is a violation of the supreme law of the land. With that the blessings of liberty are forever withheld from Muslims. The current practice is undemocratic; it is an odious system of theocratic tendencies and a deliberate, corporate strangulation of Muslims in educational institutions.

The Constitution of the land states unequivocally in Article 21, “(1) All persons shall have the right to- (a) freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media; (b) freedom of thought, conscience and belief, which shall include academic freedom;

(c) freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice; (d) freedom of assembly including freedom to take part in processions and demonstrations. (e) freedom of association, which shall include freedom to form or join trade unions or other associations, national and international, for the protection of their interest; ………. “

Therefore, we must not place the freedom of Muslims beneath heel of religious bullies.

It is of consequence that this issue came up in the run up to our 58 Independence anniversary celebration. In 1957, Martin Luther King Jnr, the civil rights activist delivered a sermon at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church after he witnessed the Declaration of Independence in Ghana. The speech was titled. “The Birth of a New Nation.” He stated:

“There seems to be a throbbing desire, there seems to be an internal desire for freedom within the soul of every man. And it’s there—it might not break forth in the beginning, but eventually it breaks out Men realize that freedom is something basic, and to rob a man of his freedom is to take from him the essential basis of his manhood. To take from him his freedom is to rob him of something of God’s image. To paraphrase the words of Shakespeare’s Othello: Who steals my purse steals trash; ‘tis something, nothing; twas mine, ‘tis his, has been the slave of thousands; but he who filches from me my freedom robs me of that which not enriches him, but makes me poor indeed.”

Inusah Mohammed

NB: The writer is a National Service Person with the Graphic Communications Group Limited.

Columnist: Mohammed, Inusah