In the wake of the Garissa university attack, Kenyans are feeling helpless, irritable and many are unable to sleep or enjoy a meal. We are undeniably facing a state of anxiety and depression on a large scale.
The whole nation feels wounded and angry. Yet even in this state we can hardly comprehend the state of anguish of the families that lost their dear ones. We say our condolences even as we acknowledge that you are inconsolable.
This attack has left us with many questions.
The reality however is that no single group or person has all the correct answers to the questions arising out of terrorism especially when it is presented to us dressed in the colours of a religion. However we need to begin proposing solutions and even originating initiatives that will deny the al shabaab human and financial resources.
One such initiative is a genuine dialogue on our religious texts and doctrines. What is the role of religious leadership in giving guidance to aspects of religion whose strict and literal interpretation may cause harm to individuals and society?
The founding figure of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ who is also mentioned in the muslim book of faith as prophet issa whose revelation is referred to as Injil. It is written in the gospels that he fasted for forty days without water or food. Now from a purely medical point of view I would strongly advice anybody against going for that long without a meal. Only the extreme Christian (barring the possibility of a mental condition) would set himself a goal of fasting for forty days without food or drink.
Religious leaders in Kenya need to educate their followers that in most cases we belong to our religions on account of birth. If your parents are muslims, 98% chance is that you end up a muslim. If they are catholic another 98% probability that you will be catholic.
It is therefore important to appreciate that whatever religions we belong to may be a result of both circumstance of birth and ignorance of other religions. As a young Christian boy I was always curious about religion. I started off believing that the small church in my village was the only way to a life after death and that anybody who did not join in to practice my faith was doomed including some friends with whom I often played soccer the whole day.
The minds of the young are malleable but once certain spiritual doctrines are learnt, they may last a lifetime even if the individual becomes a professor later on.
I was lucky to have interacted with islam very early in my life hence it was not very long until I began thinking beyond my small church. I was generally perturbed by a prayerful culture that had its differences from Christianity but pleasantly surprised by the similarities between the christian patriarchs/ prophets and their muslim equivalents. Jesus was Issa, John- Yahya, Abraham – Ibrahim, Joseph – Yusuf, Mary – Mariam, moses-musa , Solomon – Sulaiman etc.
This early interaction with a different religion inculcated in me a sense of acceptance and tolerance. I could not understand why we had different practices but had to content with the reality that the religious universe had many solar systems and the possibility of life outside my earth undeniable.
A few years later I came across a certain secular song that seemed to provide some answers to my spiritual questions. The powerful analogy presented therein even though it might not gain entry into mainstream theology, can serve as a good introduction to a world of diverse religions.I am happy to share with you the first stanza of the song, ‘God is One’ by Alpha Blondy.
“Some call him Allah,
Some call him Adonai
Some call him Jehovah
Jesus, Hiave, Buddha, Krishna
But he is one, yes He’s one
Like a tree with many branches
Many in one.”
At this difficult time, KENYA must begin a conversation geared towards creating harmony between the religions. Right from the village level to the national. A genuine debate involving Christian and muslim top scholars who understand both the Bible and the Quran must be given space in mainstream media to debate and answer tough questions. These debates are happening elsewhere in the world.
In November 2010, a crowd of 2700 packed an auditorium to listen to a debate between Tony Blair ( a former PM and catholic) and Christopher Hitchens(author, journalist and antitheist). The topic of discussion then which could mean controversy if imported to Kenya today was ‘ Is Religion a force for good or evil?’
If there are any sections of the religious texts (Christian or islam) that seem to glorify death or violence or hatred, the scholars must find the correct theological interpretation that will guarantee a peaceful co-existence.
We have prominent national Islamic organisations and their Christian counterparts.They need to hold dialogue and send out joint newsletters (on a weekly basis) to all the believers under their respective umbrellas.
The elders must emphasise to their believers that Kenya is a secular state with religious freedom. You are free to worship whoever you want, whenever and wherever. Only that in the process of that worship do not insult your neighbor, harm her or yourself.
The Kenyan government seems to have a lot on its plate. However the ministry of education should seriously consider scraping off the teaching of specific religious studies in schools and replacing it with a new subject – World Religions and Ethics (WRE).This will mean that in as much as a child learns about the parents religion at home, their minds are opened up to the existence of other belief systems that deserve to be tolerated.
Adult Kenyans who are past school age have no excuse for remaining within the confines of their religions with regard to general knowledge. It would be pleasant to see persons of different religions exchange their religious books. If indeed one is grounded in their own faith they should have no fear of acquainting themselves with the faith of their neighbor.
Lastly I wish to quote from an ancient writing which I believe has as much significance today as it had thousands of years then,
‘”Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee. Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm. Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways.
P/S – Dedicated to the fallen comrades of the #GarissaAttack.