Feature: Ghana doesn’t need any religious intolerance

The elimination of our Ghanaian traditional religious element from this year’s celebration of Ghana’s 54th independence anniversary is unacceptable. No one should attempt to justify it because it is a clear demonstration of waywardness. It is not only reprehensible but it suggests that our national leaders are indeed “lost.” Such characters cannot be relied on to sustain national unity or provide the impetus for growth and development. They confirm Marcus Garvey’s wise saying that “a people who do not know their roots are lost.”

It is within this context that I find the explanation given by Reverend Dr. Nii Amoo Darku, a member of the Council of State, as not only childish but unbecoming of someone who should have known better. He and those who share his sentiments are a disgrace to our Ghanaianness.

People of Dr. Darku’s type are making a mockery of themselves and attempting to arouse religious intolerance to divide our ranks. Ghana is a secular state and Ghanaians have long prided themselves on their ability to live in unity despite their cultural and religious diversity. We have remained united as one nation, one people, with one common destiny and become the envy of many countries for that matter. What happened at the independence square threatens that unique Ghanaian attribute and must not be tolerated.

Dr. Darku is completely wrong in every sense as far as the denigration of our African traditional religious nature is concerned. Of all the lousy reasons he adduced to justify the exclusion of libation-pouring on the occasion, his assertion that what happened at the Independence Square was “not meant for traditional purposes” confirms my fears that we have placed the wrong people in positions of trust and shouldn’t complain that the country is not making the required progress in the community of nations.

Unless he wants to tell me that he has a different understanding of the word “traditional,” I want him to rewind his mind back to the foundations of the Christian and Muslim faith that he sought to praise at the expense of the traditional Ghanaian conception and perception of religion. His blinkered approach to matters of religion is alarming. If he removes his so-called Christian blinders, he will see things better.
Our traditional African religions have their good aspects such that no one who truly knows his or her roots can repudiate them at will. One might ask for reforms to make these diverse African traditional religious practices compatible with modern times but to denigrate them outright as “traditional” and eliminate them from the national calendar amounts to a miscalculation that will have dire political implications. If the students were underage and could, therefore, not be expected to taste alcohol, what prevented them from using water for the libation-pouring? It will not be a rarity.
People like this Reverend Dr. Darku seem to have ulterior motives as they use the umbrella of Christianity to sideline our African traditional religions. They must not be allowed to foment trouble, thereby.

Before Christianity or Islam reached our shores, our people had known the value of religion and used their religiousness to advantage. Was it the missionaries or the messengers of Islam who gave us the concept of God? Since time immemorial, we have acknowledged the existence and workings of the Supreme Deity and given him different names in our local languages and dialects to reflect our relationship with him. How different is the Christian “God,” or Islamic “Allah” from my Ewe “Mawu” or Akans’ “Nyame,” “Awuarade,” “Nyankopon,” or Gas’ “Nyonmor”?

Belief in the Supreme God undergirds the faith and conduct of every follower of a religion. No one has seen God before to prescribe strategies for reaching him. If Christians have chosen Jesus as their medium and the Muslims look to their Prophet Muhammad as such, they should leave the followers of other religions to choose whomever or whatever will help them enter into communion with their God.

The problem is that some people will not. They have chosen to appoint and anoint themselves as God’s spokespeople whose sole right it is to determine how God should be worshipped. This holier-than-thou attitude is problematic and must not be allowed to enter Ghana politics at all. We already have too many problems to contend with. Religious intolerance has practical deadly consequences.

Regardless of some of its practices that might be considered as heinous and dehumanizing (e.g., twin or human sacrifice, the Trokosi system, unhygienic habits, etc.) our African traditional religions have always served their useful purposes and will continue to do so for as long as they continue to attract adherents even in this 21st century. If they were so useless, why haven’t they died out?

Every religion depends on “tradition” in the form of rituals to survive. Traditional African religionists have shrines (just as Christians have their chapels and the Muslims their mosques). Whatever liturgy guides Christian or Muslim worship is available in its own peculiar form in the shrines too. These are all human-created codes to guide conduct in the consecrated environment where religious practices take place.

The foundation of Christianity will be debased without the inclusion of the custom that Jesus established in several ways that have become traditional in all aspects of the ideology and consciousness of Christianity. These practices set Christianity apart.

We can’t fail to acknowledge the norms that Jesus established concerning prayer and all other traditions that characterize Christianity. For instance, the institution of the Lord’s Prayer and the events of Lent and Easter in commemoration of his life qualify as a “tradition.” We know that the culture of the Holy Communion and all other rituals or rites that make Christianity what it is were institutionalized to be practised as specific peculiar tenets of Christianity. Isn’t that a tradition?

Regardless of the diverse sects that constitute Christendom and their peculiar liturgical differences, we know that the only strand that binds them together in one faith is their doctrine and belief in the Triune God, especially the intermediary role of Jesus Christ. Thus, the foundation of the Christian tradition (what constitutes “faith”) is the belief that “Christ is the path and the light; no one can go to the father except through him.” Baptism is a practical demonstration of cleansing and one’s readiness to be accepted into Christendom. Is baptism not a traditional rite?

The re-enactment of the Nativity rites and the events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus every year is a clear demonstration of the tradition that undergirds Christianity. We see statues and all kinds of images depicting Jesus, his mother Mary, his Apostles, and the angels; and we know that these representations would have been degraded as “idols” had they not been based in Christianity.

Christians reinforce their beliefs with the claim that Christ was the only one to have died and resurrected. Anybody who holds any different opinion or harbours anything other than this foundational belief can’t be a Christian. To give legitimacy to that tradition, Christians regard the Holy Bible as the Word of God inviolate. This intellectual justification for the faith makes Christianity an attraction to its followers. You cannot claim to be a Christian without believing in Christ and the Holy Bible. It’s as simple as that.

Thanks to the Conference of Nicea in 328 in our Common Era and Emperor Constantine’s foresight, Christians can today boast of their faith in Christ as the Head of the Church. Christianity is traditional too, if the Reverend Nii Amoo Darku cares to know.

Just like Christianity, Islam is also built on tradition—as we can infer from our interpretation of the Qur’anic precepts, injunctions, and prohibitions as well as the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad as captured in the Sunna. In practical terms, the five pillars of Islam constitute the foundation of the faith even though a sixth one, which is the defence of the faith (apparently, what fuels the jihad against those the Muslims call “infidels”) also exists. Muslims believe in angels too.

The annual pilgrimage to Mecca is a tradition. Rituals that take place during the Muslim hajj and the very fact that the Ka’aba (Black Stone) still stands tall in Mecca for the faithful Muslims to visit and draw inspiration from should tell us that the element of “tradition” cannot be removed from anything that qualifies as “religion”—a human institution. Legitimacy is given Islam by its intellectual foundation rooted in the Qur’an.

Just like Christianity, Islam also has its followers split into numerous sects (the Shiites, Sunni, Tijaniyya, Al-Suna, Ahmadis, etc.) but all of them profess to be adherents of the faith despite their doctrinal differences. The pillar of Islam is the Prophet Muhammad, whom the Muslims regard as the last Prophet.

Muslims consider Jesus Christ (Issah) as one of the prophets and have doctrinal problems with Christians only when Christians equate Jesus Christ to God. The religious riots in Jos as well as the imposition of Sharia law on Sokoto in Nigeria are clear indications of how religious intolerance can tear a country apart.

All the other religions worldwide have their foundations in tradition and whatever shapes or influences the conduct of the adherents is rooted in something historical. At least, something happened in antiquity to establish the religion, which the adherents celebrate in diverse ways. Of course, traditions die hard.

It is on this score that I want to caution those who hide behind their faith to create confusion all over the place. I am particularly incensed at the behaviour of those so-called leaders who project themselves as Christians and want to impose their will on the society.

President Mills, particularly, comes to mind. He must be told in clear terms that what he uses his Christianity to achieve can be equally realized by others through their own religions. It is absurd, therefore, for him or any other person in charge of such national events to relegate followers of other religions to the background as if their religion can be judged as garbage by mere human beings and consigned to the dumpster.

I pity those in authority who want to play God. If they really understood the meaning of religion, they would hasten slowly in their attempt to play God. For purposes of clarifying my position, let me tell them in clear terms that religion means nothing but “a tool with which human beings find meaning to their lives on earth.”

That being the case, if Christians think that Jesus is the answer to their existential problems, let them turn to him for sustenance. To the Muslims who depend on the Prophet Muhammad for guidance and who survive by the mercies of Allah, let them not try to ram their religion down anybody’s throat.

In the same vein, those who subscribe to other religions and depend on them to find meaning to their lives on earth should not be derided or taunted into the kind of situation that might create unrest.

Ghana is a secular state and has been so since its creation. Recognition has always been given to the disparate religious institutions that have existed and will continue to exist long after we are gone.

Of all the problems that have the potential to tear countries apart, religious intolerance is the most dangerous. History has recorded the gruesome effects of the Crusades and other religion-influenced mayhem. This is not the time for us to re-enact those “Crusader” days.

Ghanaians have always cherished their diverse religious attributes and benefited from the unity-in-diversity accolade that has influenced their peaceful co-existence. No one should try to undermine anybody’s religion. It hasn’t worked before and won’t do so today.

I want to caution President Mills to be wary of the extent to which he wants to carry his Christian religious fervour in the handling of national affairs. Religion is an individual’s own affair. It becomes problematic if it is extended beyond all reasonable bounds as we are beginning to witness under President Mills’ so-called preference for Christianity.

In all sincerity, I want to point out to President Mills that what will help Ghana develop in practical terms is not a dogged adherence to Christianity or any religious dogma, for that matter. God has long since stopped raining down manna for people to live on. He has given us all the faculties we need to use to improve our living conditions. The stark truth is that we have failed to use our faculties and shouldn’t deceive ourselves that God will descend from the heavens to change our living conditions.

We will be able to get out of the woods only through our own determined efforts under the guidance of effective leadership. We have to put our shoulders to the wheel and exert the required amount of pressure for it to turn. If we continue to rely on the Transcendental to do so for us, we will slide very fast into further abject poverty and disgrace. Let nobody in government divide our ranks on the basis of religion.

We can’t do without religion but we must not make ourselves slaves to any religion to the extent as to hinder progress and peaceful co-existence. Enough of this waywardness already!

Written by Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

One comment

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Mills should quit imposing his religion on all Ghanaians. Ghana’s 23 plus million citizens belong to diffrent tribes and religion and when it comes to national celebrations all must be represented NOT some!!

Leave a Reply