Tough Love with Islam …ldquo; Church in Nigeria May be Model of Dialogue

March 20, 2007

Author: John L. Allen Jr.

Source: Catholic Online/National Catholic Reporter

ABUJA, Nigeria (National Catholic Reporter) – On a sunny afternoon in early March, an unusual delegation arrived at Nigeria’s National Mosque in downtown Abuja. It was composed of Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, plus the Jesuit president of a local Catholic school and a visiting American Catholic journalist. For more than two hours, the group spoke with Abubakr Siddique Mohammed, a noted Islamic commentator, and several other leading Nigerian Muslims. The group included several Muslim women, one of whom took an active role in the back-and-forth.

Archbishop Onaiyekan and his Muslim hosts found much common ground. Yet they sparred too, especially over Shariah. One Muslim argued that since Nigerian civil law is based upon English common law, Nigerian Muslims are already subject to a Christian legal code, so it’s hypocritical of Christians to say that law and religion should not mix. When another Muslim said that Christians could take a case before a Shariah court, Archbishop Onaiyekan shot back, “That’s not a right we recognize. ... It’s not a right we want.”

Always, however, the conversation was civil and deeply respectful, and both sides repeatedly returned to the need for consensus.

After the meeting broke up, one of the Muslims escorted his Catholic guests on a tour of the enormous domed mosque, just as afternoon prayers were ending. Archbishop Onaiyekan was dressed in a red-and-white clerical gown with a pectoral cross. As the group stood in the center of the mosque, a knot of men approached the guide. They angrily demanded to know by what right Christian clergy had been invited into the mosque. One of them spit out a Hausa word which means, roughly, “abomination.” Before things could get out of hand, Archbishop Onaiyekan made a quick exit.