Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

"Love One Another as I Have Loved You": The Place of Friendship in Interfaith Dialogue

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

"Love One Another as I Have Loved You": The Place of Friendship in Interfaith Dialogue

Article excerpt

PRECIS

Fifty years ago, the Catholic hierarchy gathered in an ecumenical council to reflect pastorally on how and where God is inviting the Catholic Church, as the world continues to reflect the religiously pluralistic realities brought about by migration and globalization. Unfortunately, the wind of change that blew over the Catholic Church globally during Vatican II has not always been reflected in the concrete encounters between the Catholic Church and other religions. The current religious tensions and negative polemics that have shaped interreligious relations in Nigeria have become a source of great scandal to all people of faith. An unhealthy desire to eradicate other religions through violence, intimidation, and aggressive apologetics has clouded the religious consciousness of many religious leaders in Nigeria. It is urgent to foster dialogue and to critique unfounded myths that deny religious freedom to those who are different.

Introduction

The growing tensions among peoples of different religions that seem to have engulfed current civilization makes it an urgent project for all religions to begin to articulate ways of engagement that are not only faithful to their own religious traditions but that also recognize the legitimacy of other religions as gifts from God to the human family. The Nigerian situation is particularly telling, because the religious tensions between moderate Muslims and Christians on one hand and the radical Islamic sect, Boko Haram, on the other urgent calls for dialogical models that restore trust among the members of the different religions. Without denying the fact that these religious tensions may have more complex reasons behind them, the fact remains that authentic engagement can sometimes lead to fruitful results.

This essay results from the study of the dynamics operative among the people of Ihievbe in Edo State in Nigeria. The town of Ihievbe has approximately 9,000 residents, a significant majority of them Muslim.' The town is surrounded by predominantly Muslim communities in the Owan East Local Government Area. However, the history of the introduction of both Islam and Roman Catholicism to the town reflects the conscious effort of the residents to create an environment of respect, appreciation, and affirmation of each other's religions.

I. Highlights of Interreligious Living among the Ihievbe People of Nigeria

In May, 2011, the author administered a survey questionnaires to 100 persons each from the three religions (Islam, Roman Catholicism, and Ihievbe Traditional Religion) present in Ihievbe and also interviewed fifteen persons each from the same three religions, with the aim of trying to understand why in this part of the country there has never been any tension related to religious differences, while most other parts of the country that are religiously pluralistic constantly experience tensions and violence. (2) A noticeable majority of those surveyed and interviewed demonstrated a very mature sense of interreligious appreciation and affirmation of the different religions. Though very few respondents among the Muslims and Catholics reflected an exclusivist attitude in their responses, all 100 persons surveyed and the fifteen interviewed among the members of the Ihievbe Traditional Religion had very open minds and appreciation for the other religions in their community. Furthermore, certain cultural and pragmatic elements that foster healthy interreligious living were noted by the participants.

The policies adopted by early Muslim and Roman Catholic evangelizers in this part of the country created a sense of an inferiority complex in matters relating to the cultural and religious affiliations of the people. From the surveys and interviews conducted, one can see a rejection of this colonial narrative and an affirmation of their cultural and religious pasts. This healthy collective self-affirmation by the people has played a role in their attempt to restructure the religious space that accepts the relevance of the different religions without legitimizing negative apologetics that often lead to religious violence. …

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