Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Muslim and Christian Leaders Working Together: Building Reconciliation in the Sierra Leone Conflict

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Muslim and Christian Leaders Working Together: Building Reconciliation in the Sierra Leone Conflict

Article excerpt

Introduction

Sierra Leone struggled through a decade of turmoil and gruesome atrocities perpetrated by warlords, but today peace has emerged from the ashes of war. This article explores how Muslim and Christian leaders worked together and formed the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone (IRCSL) during the civil war. My ongoing interest to Sierra Leone began in 1998 when I worked for a few months as youth coordinator in Freetown. This study is based on interviews conducted in 2013, documents of IRCSL, and my personal observations. To protect the identity of the participants, I have mentioned few details of their backgrounds, apart from my main informants, the founding members of the IRCSL: Sheikh Abu Bakarr Conteh and Reverend Moses B. Khanu. I traveled to different parts of the country to conduct the interviews: the capital city Freetown, as well as up country to Makeni, Bo, Nonkoba and the Lunsar area. The field work was funded by a grant from the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI) in Uppsala.

According to recent comparative study of religion there are elements and traditions in Islam and Christianity that support peace-building and reconciliation (Abu-Nimer 2003/2001; Appleby 2000; Johnson & Sampson 1994; Lederach 1995). Religions are often involved in conflicts, and interest is growing in the role of religions in peace-building. The importance of interreligious work for peace has been obvious in the conflicts of Northern Ireland, the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East. Religious leaders may bring a spiritual dimension and create a sense of commitment to peace-building efforts (Abu-Nimer 2001, 685-687).

Faith-based peace building is possible when actors are committed to their own religions but also understand and respect other traditions. The challenge for religious actors in peace building is to build common ground between religious traditions (Johnston & Cox 2003, Portaankorva 2014). Non-violent conflict transformation through dialogue and reconciliation are central to peace building efforts. Personal motivations as well as commitment to peace building and reconciliation across religious boundaries are import to religious leaders (Appleby 2000). Reverend Moses Khanu comes from an Islamic background and has a good understanding of Islamic culture, thus, his words show respect for his ancestors:

   It is not difficult in Sierra Leone as we look at the background of
   the tolerance. Because I come, well I could say not so much from a
   Christian background, but today I am a pastor. But my mother was a
   Muslim and father was a nonbeliever. I came from that kind of
   background. I have to have a certain level of sympathy to Islam
   because my mother was a Muslim so it is because of that, but it is
   not without criticism (2013:1).

The process of reconciliation has many phases. It begins with ending direct violence and accepting the status quo in order to make conflict resolution possible. The peace process continues with reconciling enemies, dealing with past atrocities publicly, and learning to forgive and forget. Often ritual healing and other indigenous traditions involving public cleansing ceremonies and pardons are needed to build a societal consensus. In this sense the following definition of reconciliation is useful: 'Reconciliation--restoring broken relationships and learning to live non-violently with radical differences--can be seen as the ultimate goal of conflict resolution' (Ramsbotha, Woodhouse & Miall 2005, 231-245). Hence, what was the multifaceted expression of reconciliation in the work of IRCSL? What was the role of religious leaders in inter-religious peace-building? In answer to these question, I note that this study has its limitations, as the sample size is small and the results cannot be generalized.

Literature Review

The work of IRCSL has been discussed in recent studies. Prince Conteh (2011) describes how Muslims and Christians worked together and provided relief for war victims. …

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