Hope Quickly Gives Way to Despair in Africa – Professor Hussein Solomon
Hope Quickly Gives Way to Despair in Africa
By Hussein Solomon
RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 3 (March 2017)
With the rise of Muslim-Christian conflicts on the African continent, I felt hope and optimism when I noted the “Freedom and Citizenship” conference hosted by Cairo’s Al Azhar – a venerable Sunni institution in the Islamic world. The aim of the conference was to promote peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians. Given the escalating tensions between Muslims and Coptic Christians in this troubled country, I could not think of a better place for such a conference. Who could forget the December 2016 bombing of a church in Egypt in which 29 innocent congregants were brutally killed?
At the conference the Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II called on all to combat “extremist thought with enlightened thought”. The head of Al Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Tayeb called for an ending of the mistrust and tensions between religious leaders. The hope I felt was quickly dissipated the very next day however when Sheikh Tayeb attacked those who advocated human rights and global peace and went on to condemn globalization as posing a threat to the “unique [read Muslim] character of different nations”. Sheikh Tayeb went on to declare that the West condones other religions’ terrorism whilst only highlighting acts of violence undertaken in the name of Islam. How, I asked myself, could a rapprochement occur between Muslim and other faith leaders when one of the bastions of Sunni Islam holds these views?
The sheikh’s statements made a mockery of Islam’s own history which contributed much to processes of globalization. As for leaders of the West condoning acts of violence committed by non-Muslims, is he unaware of the Canadian Prime Minister’s speech declaring that an attack on a mosque in Quebec was a terrorist act?
There are three other problems with Sheikh Tayeb’s statements. First, he ignores that Muslims remain the overwhelming victims of Islamist violence. This was borne out in Burkina Faso. At the very time that the sheikh made these statements, jihadists of Ansaru Islam attacked several official buildings in Baraboule and Tongomayel, killing the innocent in the process. The victims of Ansaru Islam’s violence are overwhelmingly fellow Muslims.
Second, the statement undermines the work of those Muslims seeking to promote a more peaceful Islam. In Niger, for instance, a local NGO – Action for the Renovation of Non-Formal Education (AREF) – seeks to assist Koranic schools with the development of a curricula stressing tolerance as well as incorporating vocational education. The message from one of Sunni Islam’s leading sheikhs is that tolerance is not a problem in Islam. The problem is with the West for portraying a violent Islam.
Third, the sheikh’s statement provides succour to the most conservative elements of the faith and frustrates efforts at reform. In Sudan, for instance, a courageous female journalist, Shamael al-Nur, wrote in her column published by Al-Taryar newspaper that Sudan’s Islamic regime seems to be more focused on how Islamically women are dressed as opposed to a failing health and education sector. She went on to note that only three percent of Sudan’s budget is allocated to health with the result that ordinary Sudanese are paying a horrible price. For her concern, Sudanese Islamists like Mohamed Ali al-Ghazouli has condemned her article as anti-Islamic and has called on the authorities in Khartoum to determine if it is a case of apostasy. Apostasy carries the death penalty in Sudan. Shamael al-Nur’s concerns regarding access to quality health care for her fellow citizens, a human rights consideration, has resulted in her being labelled as an enemy of Islam.
With leaders of the ummah like that of Tayeb and al-Ghazouli, an overwhelming despair and dread overcomes me as I contemplate the future of Islam.