Protection of Holy Sites: The Role of Religious Leaders, communities and govt.

A Non-Governmental Organization, The InterFaith Dialogue Forum for Peace (IDFP), on Tuesday, 15th February 2022 in Abuja gathered stakeholders drawn Civil society groups, Women Wing of Christain Asociation of Nigeria and Muslim Asociation, the Youth Wing of Christain Asociation of Nigeria and Muslim Youth Asociation as well as the members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm among other relevant stakeholders to A-One Day workshop on Protection of Holy sites.

The Communicator On-line Newspaper reliably gathered that the aim of the workshop is to help promote awarness and acceptance of the United Nations Alliance of Civilization (UNAOC) plan action to safeguard religious sites among religious leaders and policy makers that have the ability to influence and ensure wide acceptance of the principles that Holy sites should be safeguarded as havens for peace and reconciliation rather than targets of descreation or destruction during violent conflicts.

In their welcome address to declare the ocassion open, the IDFP Co- Chairs, Alhaji Isah and Bishiop Dr. Sunday Ndukwe Onuoha also noted the workshop becomes imperative to promote awareness on how religious leaders can help to protect holy sites which are suppose to be made safe havens for worshippers.
” globally, we are seeing a menance wave of religious intoleranace and discrimination which has led to hate-base violence targetting worshippers of many faiths, sadly, and disturbing such vicious incidents are becoming all too familar.

“In recent times, we have seen Muslims gunned down in moaqies, their religious sites vandalized; Christains killed at prayers, their churches burnt down.

According to them, Houses of worship are holy sites, and indeed must be safe havens for worshippers, protected by the law with strong rationale that therein lies the principles of religious freedom.

The also called on all those who on insist on using religious differences to divide communities to henceforth desist from such act adding that diversity is the richness and strenght and never be seen as a threat.

“Our statutory laws affirms the concepts of full citizenship, justice, and right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the rights of individual and communities to manifest their religions and beliefs in teaching, practice, worship and observance. Religious discrimination is a menace to everyone and we all must fight to eliminate it in our society.”

“We must promote our holy sites by uniting our voices for good, countering messages of hate with messges of peace, embrace diversity and protecting human rights everywhere. We must reject those who falsely and maliciously invoke religion to build misconceptions, to fuel division, to spread fear and hatred which instigate the destruction of holy sites. We must step up to stamp out discrimination and incitments”.

The National Chief Imam Al-Habibiyyah Islamic Society, Imam Fuad A. Adeyemi In his paper presentation tittled ” The Nigeria’s experince on Protection of Holy Sites: the Role of Religious Leaders and Communities- Islamic Perspectives” described the importance of holy sites as one that plays an important role in the lives of its worshippers.

According to him, holy sites most of the time is is the symbol of religion which attaches a lot of emotions in the minds of its worshippers.

“They believe when they are inside or around the house/site, they are close to God/ deity they are worshipping. Their holy sites most of the times is the symbol of their God, and so what ever anybody does to that site affects them emotionally”.

Imam Adeyemi further lamented factors such as division between muslims and Christainty, lack of information or right education, unhealthy competition between Christain and Muslims as well as scarcity of resources are now being used by both politicians, ethnic and tribal bigots to cause more harm and crises which also leads to destruction of Holy sites in the country.

He however maintained that Islam does not support destruction of holy sites for any reason ” Islam seriousely frowns and crinimalizes destruction of holy sites and symbols. Islam made the Protection of mosques, churches, synagogue, temples and any other Holy sites a must at all times.

“No wonder, almost everyone that was present when the Holy Prophet Muhammed (SAW) took over Makkah accepted Islam, apart from prerogative of mercy that he employed to forgive all those who fought him and the muslims, the way and manner at which he treated their holy site, now Kaabah. He respected the holy sites, he cleaned it and made it more spiritual, these convinced peope of Makkah at the time and attracted Islam to them.
He also called on religious leaders to use their pulpit in sensitizing and educating their followers on th need to respect holy sites and should not be destroyed for any reason.

Rev. Fr. Robert Achiaga (Lux Terra Foundation) in his paper tittled, “The Role of Christain leaders and Communities in the protection of holy site” also said Christians invest a lot of emotions, hopes and resources in their holy sites as they express revelation of God showing to be holy in addition to supernatural experiences which occured at the holy sites.

He maintained that for religious leader to ensure adequate protection of holy sites, they must take the differentiation of their holy sites seriously as it is a strategic measure for their protection in addition to Government and communities not make it unreasonably difficult for religious bodies to acquire, develop and use property for holy objectives adding that where governments and communities deliberately and discriminatorily make it difficult for religious bodies to own holy sites, their protection will also not be easy to come by. “Indeed, the protection of holy sites begins with the protection of freedom of religion with the right to own and use holy sites.

“Religious groups must also comply with requirements of law and common sense. Such requirements include Right of Occupancy, Certificate of Occupancy, payment of Ground Rent, approval of site plan by relevant institutions of state, due compensation/settlement, and socio-cultural sensitivity. Leaders must make sure of this, as failure to comply may result in disputes, want of goodwill from relevant stakeholders and even violence. A holy site that is a hotly disputed territory, having many interests to contend with, is more likely to be violated. Many Christian holy sites have been sealed, taken over, demolished or come under attacks on account of failure to do what is right by law and common sense. Religious leaders need to act with due diligence to prevent such situations.

“Faith leaders should also visit, support, and collaborate with their counterparts, and teach members of their congregations to do same. This is a sure way to create goodwill; and with goodwill, cooperation and intelligence relevant to the protection of holy sites are easier to get. The examples of Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye, the Sultan of Sokoto and John Cardinal Onaiyekan, etc., in Kaduna State are what we need for a safer society. Unfortunately, many faith leaders and communities are very unlike them. There are Christian leaders who despise other Christian leaders, hold them in suspicion and teach their congregants to do so. And many Christian leaders have no relations with the Imams in their neighbourhoods. They must realise that relationships count for protection.

“We must avoid of “unholy” uses of holy sites.Where holy sites become grounds for unholy activities such as drug/human/arms trafficking, fraud, hate preaching, radicalisation, militancy, partisan politics, money laundering, ritual killings, etc., their violation cannot be unexpected.

“There have been confirmed reports of various forms of criminality housed by some holy sites in Nigeria, especially places of worship. In some cases, it is the leader of a congregation that is reportedly involved in such criminality. In 2002, Mohammed Yusuf, an Islamic cleric, set up a religious complex in Maiduguri, which included a mosque and an Islamic school. This was the headquarters of his clerical work. Many poor Muslim families enrolled their children in the school. The mosque was also often well-attended. His radical views about Western education, institutions and values saw him and his followers at daggers’ ends with the state. Nigerian security forces eventually seized the site and arrested him. But by then, many young people had already been radicalised who would become members of Boko Haram at whose hands many Churches and Mosques have been destroyed.

“The same thing happened on September 9, 2021, where the Imo state police command said it uncovered a church located in an isolated area along MCC/Uratta road in Owerri North LGA of the state, which was being used as a baby factory where babies were being sold. Recently intensified efforts by National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) at countering drug trafficking are yielding much fruits with astounding revelations. Premium Times reported online that a 43 years old pastor in Lagos was arrested by officials of the NDLEA, for smuggling 1,978kg of heroin concealed in his luggage. Also, they reported that another pastor of a church at Agodo-Egbe, Ikotun, Lagos, was recently arrested over unlawful exportation of 174kg of narcotics to South Africa.” These reports leave you wondering – were they using their Churches for the crime?

“These forms of criminality should not be associated with holy sites or their management. For, they almost always generate ill-will from members of society.

He however called on government at all levels to always collaborate with religious leaders and all willing stakeholders on the task of protecting their holy places. “They will serve dedicatedly on any committee of government for peace building, conflict resolution, and the safety of lives and property.


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