I am writing to extend warm greetings to all Muslims across the country on the occasion of Eid-el-Fitr, being aware this message may come as a surprise to many of you.
But it should not, especially for those who understand the history of humanism and atheism in the country. Humanism is not against Islam. Atheists are not against Muslims. Almost all members of the humanist/atheist community are very well versed in Islamic, Christian and various other religions. Most of us have religious ties. We have connections to Muslims; as friends and family members as parents and children; as husbands and wives; as brothers and sisters; as uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews; as colleagues and bosses; as business partners, as tenants and landlords, and as fellow teachers and students – but more importantly – as fellow citizens of Nigeria. We cherish these connections and want them preserved and celebrated, not destroyed. Nigeria being a nation that is religiously diverse is a country of believers and non believers, theists, polytheists, pantheists, atheists, and people who identify as none of these. Nigeria is a country of traditionalists, Christians, Muslims, religious minorities and also the non-religious. It is important that we as citizens be mindful of diversity in our everyday dealings.
I know that the past weeks have been the one of the most tense periods in the history of the relationship between the muslim community and the humanist/atheist non religious community in the country. The post that Mr Mubarak Bala reportedly made on Facebook and the reactions by muslims; his arrest and detention without access to a lawyer, have tested and strained that relationship. But know this all muslim friends and fellow citizens of Nigeria, we have had similar incidents in the past that tested the relationship between Muslims and Muslims, Muslims and Christians, Muslims and traditionalists. And just as we overcame those and continued to live in peace and tolerance with one another, we shall overcome the current crisis.
Atheists and Muslims will once again begin to live side by side in peace and harmony. Atheists and humanists do not seek conflict with Muslims in this country, whether in the North or in the South. This country has had enough mindless religious violence and bloodletting. We cannot afford to spill any more blood in pursuit of a needless religious vendetta. Humanists and atheists want to live and relate with Muslims in a way that is marked by equality, dignity and respect; in a way that ensures their right to freely express their thoughts and beliefs. To this end it is important to underscore the fact that people are bound to say things that could annoy or provoke. In fact atheists/humanists say things that Muslims deem insulting, and disrespectful as in the case of Mubarak Bala. Muslims make declarations which some atheists and humanists may consider offensive or disrespectful. Please try to understand that offensive comments are not justifications for death threats, such as we have witnessed in the case of Mr. Bala.
So let us all, as Muslims and atheists learn to tolerate offensive remarks. Let us learn to live in peace and harmony with one another. Once again, warm Sallah greetings. Eid Mubarak.
Leo Igwe holds a doctoral degree in religious studies from the University of Bayreuth in Germany and chairs the board of trustees of the Humanist Association of Nigeria.