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21.06.2022 Feature Article

Free Speech, Tolerance, and Equality for People of All Faiths and None

Free Speech, Tolerance, and Equality for People of All Faiths and None
21.06.2022 LISTEN

Humanists in Nigeria are using the occasion of World Humanist Day to call for peace, tolerance, and equal treatment of people of faith and no faith. This call has become necessary following rising tension between humanists and people of muslim faith, especially in Northern Nigeria. This growing tension is rooted in religious indoctrination, fanaticism, and ignorance of humanism and what humanism stands for. People of faith have often been misinformed about non belief and non believers. They are taught to demonize non belief, and regard nonbelievers as those to be converted, conquered, or enslaved. They have been made to treat humanists, atheists, and those who hold dissenting and critical views with contempt. Muslim clerics incite violence and hatred of nonbelievers as part of their everyday preaching.

Many muslims are of the notion that humanists and atheists deliberately make remarks, posts, and comments to offend their religious sentiments. This is not the case. Unfortunately, this mistaken impression that humanists are out to offend the religious sensibilities of others has fueled so much hate and hostility towards humanists and other nonbelievers in the country.

It is important to recall that the relationship between muslims and humanists across the country has worsened since 2020 following the arrest and disappearance of Nigerian humanist, Mubarak Bala, for allegedly making posts on Facebook that disparaged the prophet of Islam. As a matter of faith, many muslims make similar posts, remarks, and comments about other religions and religious icons. But they are not arrested, berated or prosecuted as in the case of Bala.

Since the arrest and incarceration of Bala, there have been reports of harassment, threats, and intimidation, online and offline, of humanists and atheists by people of the Islamic faith. Many muslims have been up in arms, monitoring and censoring social media posts of atheists and humanists in northern Nigeria and beyond. Many muslims continue to mischaracterize humanists as those whose main mission is to mock or ridicule their faith. Some Muslims have threatened to attack or harm humanists for any posts that supposedly insult their prophet or disparage their religion. Some have taken up the role of stalking humanists and freethinkers, policing their Facebook and social media pages and accounts.

On a day set aside to celebrate humanist ideals and values, it is pertinent to educate and enlighten muslims and get them to abandon their misunderstanding and misrepresentation of humanists and humanism. Atheists, agnostics, and all who seek to live ethically without a god call for an end to the tensed and unhealthy relationship between humanists and people of the Islamic faith. Like Muslims and other people of faith, humanists want to live freely and in harmony with their muslim country men and women. Humanists want to think and freely express their opinions and ideas. Humanists believe that in a free society, individuals must be able to say whatever they think and write whatever they like about anything, any personality or object, sacred or profane without fear.

Muslims must realize that all religions or philosophies including Islam are founded on critical and disparaging ideas about other religions and philosophies. Muslims should be aware that all faiths including the Islamic faith blaspheme others. They should understand that many believers and nonbelievers think that Islamic teachings as codified in the Quran and the Hadith contain outrageous propositions that are incompatible with civilized norms. Millions of people are of the view that the Shahada and the Islamic notion of Jesus ridicule and make a mockery of their faiths; that many Quranic injunctions offend and violate their religious sensibilities. Thus Muslims must be aware that blasphemies are embedded in Islamic faith and prophetic declarations. Muslims in Nigeria should not forget that Islam is a foreign religion, introduced by jihadists from North Africa and the Middle east who disparaged African traditional religious beliefs, objects and icons. Muslim jihadists killed and enslaved past generations of Nigerians in furtherance of their faith. If non muslims in Nigeria indulged in allegations of blasphemy and resort to violence as muslims often do, there would be no Islam in Nigeria. There would be no muslims in Nigeria. And yes there would be no peace in the country.

Humanists aim to foster human rights, tolerant pluralism, rational, ethical, and responsible living. Humanists are not out to offend or violate the religious sentiments of Muslims and other persons of faith. Like Muslims, humanists say and want to say what they think and believe. Just as humanists tolerate statements by muslims that disparage and ridicule nonbelief, godlessness, and "infidelity", muslims should learn to tolerate statements and expressions by humanists and atheists that seem to ridicule or disparage their faith and prophetic icons. The main problem is that muslims want to be tolerated especially in regions where they are in the minority but in places where they are in the majority, they impose sharia law, act with impunity, and with total disregard for the rights, liberty, and humanity of others.

People of all faiths and none are equally human. They are equal before the law; equal in dignity and right and should treat one another accordingly. We must do away with traditional religious, christian and islamic privileges.

Humanists are using the occasion of World Humanist Day to call for the release of fellow humanists, Mubarak Bala, and others who are in prison for blasphemy charges. Blasphemy is a victimless crime. Muslims are the only set of believers in Nigeria that sanction and engage in hanging, beheading, and burning alleged blasphemers and desecrators of their sacred texts. The attack, murder, or imprisonment of persons for blasphemy does not speak well of Muslims and the region of Islam. It reinforces the notion that muslims are intolerant and Islam is a violent religion and ideology.

Humanists are calling for a dialogue with muslims and other people of faith on the issues of blasphemy, apostasy, and desecration of the Quran. Nobody should be denied his or her humanity because of some religious transgression. No one should be attacked, killed, persecuted or imprisoned, declared and treated as a mental patient for renouncing Islam or for saying what they think about any religion or prophet. Nobody should be treated as less human because of the person's religious belief or unbelief, theistic, or atheistic views, ideas, and expressions.

African enlightenment makes no sense if Africans cannot freely speak about all religions and their prophets; if Africans cannot critically examine the teachings of Islam, the life and times of prophet Muhammad, and other religious and prophetic traditions.

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