The peace and quiet of Pamromkoh, a largely Temne settlement at Calaba Town outside Freetown, was disturbed a fortnight or so ago. Something happened that is as rare in our country as it is potentially dire.
In a country of so much crime and so many criminals, so many corrupt people and tribalists – of course there are very good citizens here too – Sierra Leone has never gone down the path of sectarianism. The country’s two dominant religions, Christianity and Islam, have coexisted without rancour or a threat to the peace. That is not to say that a few zealots here and there did not attempt to raise the stakes in the past.
However, the inner religious tolerance in us was relegated to the backburner on Friday 5 September. Of recent, I have noticed a potential friction between the two factions with the advent of some overzealous fanatics on both sides. On the one hand, some Sheiks trained by some Iranian-trained clerics are too radical for our homogeneity and meekness; hinting at the futility of other faiths. Invariably, some young Christian Born Again preachers do not think there is anything good in Islam – and they are showing it and saying so in public. This can ignite fervour.
If our politicians have eaten up their consciences and cannot put up with each other, the pulpit and the altar should be the two platforms that should reign in on the Cow Boys. So if the Imams and the Pastors cannot or will not restrain their congregations to show tolerance and respect for each other I wonder what the inter-religious council will tell the APC and the SLPP when they misbehave.
But to the events at Pamronkoh; a place where I lived for five years until two years ago. In my view, it was a matter of when, not if, sectarian violence would break out. First, a very tolerant Pa Santigie gave the top floor of his unfinished two-storey building to one George Davies. I believe he did not know he was an evangelist. Very soon, Mr Davies started using the apartment as a church. I remember at some point telling him that a rickety old generator he was using, sitting it right on the top floor overlooking my apartment, was making so much noise that I could barely hear myself in my sitting room. He made conscious efforts to repair the generator. I think he even changed it to a less noisy one.
I remember some people in the neighbourhood capitalising on my generator protest to incite Pa Santigie against his tenant. The Muslim old men wanted him to evict the now-pastor George, since he was evangelising at his residence. But this is a landlord who did not care. I am not sure it had to do with his level of tolerance, but he did not yield. I think crucially he could be better off with the rent money. Pastor Davies and his congregation have expanded their activity and extended their church to include a makeshift structure close by. That is no more.
During my visit to the area two Saturdays ago, the makeshift church structure had been ripped off by rocks. Rocks pelted, according to the churchgoers, by their Muslim neighbours. When I asked the neighbouring followers of Mohammedanism, they denied they threw stones at the church, but would not tell me who it was that unleashed violence on the church. My investigations prove they did do it. Probably some young and irate Muslims.
And this culture of violence in politics, sports and now in religion is one that must be dealt with unequivocally. The image of Islam today, rightly or wrongly, has been enmeshed in the violence taking place in many parts of the world all in the name of the religion. Suppression is forcing them to so be, some argue. But did the Blacks in America achieve what they did through violence, or constructive engagement and dialogue?
Having said that, the worshippers at the Achievers Church, I believe, triggered the situation at Pamronkoh. The very small church, with only one house separating it from the mosque, mounted very big and loud speakers in the Muslims’ holy month of Ramadan. This, literally minutes before their evening fast-breaking prayers for the Muslims. Where tolerance and respect for each other’s religion exists, they would have waited until after the prayer time of 8:30 PM as I gather was proposed by the Muslims.
Since Adam and Eve were kids, Wellington in the east of Freetown has had a Pentecostal church and a mosque separated only by a fence. They have coexisted in peace and in harmony. James Street via Regent Road has neighboured a church and a mosque whose congregations have hugged in those years when a Muslim Pray Day has fallen on the Christian Sabbath day – Sunday.
I believe, like I say, it has to do with some of these new evangelical or charismatic churches who hardly even tolerate some of their fellow Christian churches let alone other religions and the largely uneducated young and overzealous sheiks or imams. Is it not the Bible that quotes God as urging that we must not be judgemental? And what does one of the Hadiths (sayings and deeds of the Muslim prophet) say? Alya Thudu, la ya Thudu. Wal Inthana, laya Dhuumu. Loosely translated, it means that those who detest others do not progress, and even if they do their progress will be short-lived. And Islam goes beyond achieving your worldly ambitions. It also means attaining heaven. So why must we hate each other to the extent of wanting the other dead?
The strides taken by the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone to resolve the situation is a commendable one and I hope the sense talked into the heads of the two Pamronkoh groups will stick. In my view, religious conflict is never justified. God can fight for Himself and His religions. Otherwise He would have come down to avenge the killing of Christ or to crush those who sought to persecute the prophet Mohamed. While Christ always appealed to his followers to not revenge for anything, according to Christians, Muslims on the other believe that when God wanted to avenge the hell Mohamed was put through, he asked Him to forgive them for they knew not what they were doing. So what high ground has any Muslim or Christian to fight in the name of safeguarding their faith?
The incident at Pamronkoh is one to watch as it has the proclivity to have a knock-on effect in other parts where evangelism and preaching by some Muslims and Christians may make the adrenalin boil over in some. By Umaru Fofana