LONG READ: You’re not really saved, you’re a Christian because you were born in the East

Religions relate humanity to what anthropologist Clifford Geertz has referred to as a cosmic “order of existence and is defined as any cultural system of designated behaviours and practices, world views, texts, sanctified places, ethics, or organisations, that relate humanity to the supernatural or transcendental”. A bulk of the world’s conflict – in modern and even older times were as a result of religious intolerances from the Arab invasion of Europe, then the Christian Crusade, ISIL, ISIS and at home the Boko Haram. While putting the fanaticism of religion displayed by humans on an innate desire to believe and long for something greater and bigger, religion in itself is a social construct and mostly a political tool. Case in point – Nigeria; there are two main religious groups and these groups swear to whatever god they believe in that their god is the one and only true god, but the gods are actually imported and there are a lot of African and Nigerian gods. Colonialism and earlier attempts to conquer and capture independent communities gave us the gods that are served in modern day religion relegating the ‘Oromiyans’ and the ‘Amadiohas’.

Move of Christianity to Europe

During the Middle Ages nearly all the lands of Europe converted to Christianity. Starting with the Apostles and first followers of Jesus Christ, Christianity spread out into the Middle East and along the Mediterranean Sea to other parts of the Roman Empire. Although believers faced periodic Roman persecution, the religion would grow, with some scholars suggesting that its idea about the resurrection of the dead and immortality of the spirit were appealing theological ideas, while others believe that the practical efforts of the church to help the poor was important in its increasing popularity. When the Roman Empire collapsed, Christianity had not spread far beyond the Mediterranean area. Most people still clung to the old gods. The task to convert, or change from one religion to another, such people to Christianity fell to priests and monks who traveled across Europe as missionaries. By the beginning of the fourth century official persecution of Christianity had ended in the Roman Empire, and support for the religion grew even among elites. It was under the reign of Constantine I (306-337) where Christianity became an official religion of the empire. Constantine himself had been introduced to the religion by his mother Helena, and according to Christian sources, he himself witnessed a miraculous cross in the sky before a battle. While Constantine himself did not become a Christian until he was on his deathbed, he supported the Church financially and oversaw its administration, even judging which religious beliefs were to be followed. There was a Christian presence in Ireland by the year 400, and it is believed that during the 5th century that St Patrick, a Romano-British man who was once captured by Irish pirates and served as a slave, returned to Ireland and led efforts to convert the population. Through the work of him and others, a thriving Christian community was established in the fifth and sixth centuries, with Irish monasteries becoming centres of learning and many missionaries leaving Ireland to spread the Christian faith in the British Isles and continental Europe. The baptism of Clovis I, ruler of the Franks, which took place on Christmas Day, 496, was an important milestone in the establishment of Christianity in continental Europe. Medieval historians have pointed out that conversion of efforts of Christian missionaries were often a top-down process, in which they looked to convert the leaders of various peoples, with the hopes that the lower classes would gradually fall in line.

Islam in Europe

Islam began spreading with the Arabs in the dark ages, when they conquered most of Northern Africa and even some of Europe. The Islamic religion was designed to be a uniting force between the Arabs and the people they conquered. To this extent, it was designed to be able to adapt to pretty much anyone at the time. To convert to Islam, all a person had to say was “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah” thrice in front of the witness that was already a Muslim. The convert needed to get a mat to pray facing Mecca five times a day and this could be done from anywhere and finally, a pilgrimage to Mecca was and still is required once in a lifetime for all Muslims – that in itself was a move to enlarge the Arab empire as all Muslims had a point – a central point to come together. Islam got into Europe in the form of conquests that started as sporadic tribal raids. A proper army was probably not organised before 634 , but once formed, it made expeditions eastwards towards the Sasanian empire and northwards to Palestine and Syria against the Byzantine empire. The expanding Muslim army was at first only composed of Arab tribal groups, mostly infantry and some cavalry forces. Gradually it transformed itself by recruiting locally during its campaigns. The role played by the mawali that were the converted non-arabs like Berber warriors in the western campaign to Spain and, eastwards, Persians and Turks, is well-known. The Umayyad armies relied on elite Syrian corps and increased the role of the cavalry and especially of units in armour, though the infantry was predominant. The first Abbasid armies, on the other hand, relied mostly on Khurasani elite forces and, by the early ninth century, the cavalry became clearly dominant. From the eleventh century onwards the horseback archery techniques of Central Asian and Turkish origin began to play a major role in Muslim warfare. The reasons for embracing Islam ranged from a desire to come closer to the new masters and share their privileges, to an acknowledgment of, or belief in, the tolerant and syncretistic nature of the new faith. Tolerance, however, could only be granted to the Ahl al Kitab (‘the people of the Book’) that is, those people whom the Qur’an cites as having received revealed scripture: Jews, Christians and the ‘Sabians’.

Islam in Nigeria

Muslims in Nigeria are predominantly Sunni in the Maliki school with a significant Shia minority, primarily in Kaduna, Kano, Katsina and Sokoto State and a very small sect of the Ahmadiyyah. Religious archives showed Islam had been adopted as the religion of the majority of the leading figures in the Borno Empire during the reign of Mai Idris Aloomam, although a large part of that country still adhered to traditional religions. Alooma furthered the cause of Islam in the country by introducing Islamic courts, establishing mosques, and setting up a hostel in Mecca. Islam also came to the southwestern Yoruba-speaking areas during the time of the Mali Empire. Islam came to Yoruba land centuries before Christianity and before churches were built, Yoruba came in contact with Islam around the 14th century during the reign of Mansa Kankan Musa of Mali Empire. According to Al-Aluri, the first Mosque was built in Ọyọ-Ile in 1550 A.D., although, there were no Yoruba Muslims, the Mosque only served the spiritual needs of foreign Muslims living in Oyo.

Christianity in Nigeria

Christians are dominant in the southern and central region in Nigeria and Nigeria has the largest Christian population of any country in Africa. Benin and Warri came in contact with Christianity through the Portuguese as early as the fifteenth century and other missionaries arrived by sea in the nineteenth century through the colonial masters operating through the south of Nigeria especially the Eastern part of Nigeria. The South West had been penetrated by Islam already. Due to high cultural and tribal diversity of Nigeria the missionaries used village converts to encourage further tribe members to join them in spreading Christianity.

Who do you really serve?

There are people with personal convictions and real truths about how the god or God they serve is the one true god. There will be a general assumption that a god will love the idea of uniformity and when there are personal convictions, it is easy to say – You all from Nigeria, your way to the much desired promised land is through the Christian or Muslim way. But this is not the case, instead it says something different “You are saved only by geographical area you were born and the family you were born into.” Does this mean there is no true God and religion? Does it mean a bunch of people or entirely the whole religious world is in on an elaborate lie? Or maybe religion is a tool. To enforce modesty, to demand a type of behaviour, to stifle sexuality.

We might never know.

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