At first, it seems a surprising sight: inside a two-story mosque
in sub-Saharan Africa's largest metropolis hangs a life-size
portrait of Jesus Christ.
Yet worshipers at "The True Message of God Mission" say it's
entirely natural for Christianity and Islam to cexist, even overlap.
They begin their worship by praying at the Jesus alcove and then
"running their deliverance" - sprinting laps around the mosque's
mosaic-tiled courtyard, praying to the one God for forgiveness and
help. They say it's akin to Israelites circling the walls of Jericho
- and Muslims swirling around the Ka'ba shrine in Mecca.
This group - originally called "Chris-lam-herb" for its mix-and-
match approach to Christianity, Islam, and traditional medicine - is
a window on an ongoing religious ferment in Africa. It's still up
for debate whether this group, and others like it, could become
models for Muslim-Christian unity worldwide or whether they're
uniquely African. But either way, they are "part of a trend," says
Dana Robert, a Boston University religion professor.
Amid intense sectarian violence in this half- Muslim, half-
Christian country, these groups serve as tolerant peacemakers. Also,
with widespread poverty and health concerns here, people are seeking
practical, profitable religion more than rigid doctrine.
Before Islam and Christianity arrived in Africa, people here
"believed in deities being close" - in gods who resided in trees or
rivers and helped or hurt locals daily, explains Kamaldeen Balogun,
an Islamic studies professor at Olabisi Onabanjo University in
"You in the West are satisfied with one hour of church on
Sunday," says Mr. Balogun. But for people in Africa, who he says
need so many solutions, "This is about a practical way of life,"
about a willingness to combine Christianity or Islam with their own
traditions to "see if they can make something new" - something that
Worshipers at the "True Message" mission say unifying the two
theologies has made a major difference in their lives.
A slight woman with a quick smile, Kuburat Hamzat says she came
here in 1998 with a severe menstruation problem. She was embraced by
the mission's "man of God," a soft-spoken, bald man named Samusideen
Saka. He told her, "Dancing will not kill you" and prescribed 91
laps of "running deliverance" each day. He also explained the
commonalities of the great faiths to Ms. Hamzat who had grown up in
Islam. That understanding, she says, changed her. "Because I
understood that in my mind, I got healed," she says. Her problem
hasn't recurred, she says. Others say they've been cured of
barrenness, mental illness, and other troubles.
Pastor Saka explains that his father was an herbalist and that
both Muslims and Christians would come to him for healing. Although
he grew up Muslim, and has been to Mecca on pilgrimage several
times, he couldn't comprehend Nigeria's sectarian strife. He now
considers himself a Christian, "but that doesn't mean Islam is bad."
Quite the opposite. Next to his mosque is a televangelist's dream
- an auditorium with 1,500 seats, banks of speakers, a live band,
and klieg lights. …