According to Timothy 1:5-7 NKJV “ now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm”. And this is coming from a Muslim, to remind Evangelist Victor Ajisafe, about one of the teachings of Christianity, which he seemed to clearly abandon in his recent rant about the world renowned Muslim Mufti Menk, on the latter’s visit to Sierra Leone. It is enough to say that his remarks have not only been ill judged but ill thought as well. One of the questions baffling everyone is “what drove this man of God, to go to such lengths as to throw such a religious grenade among us?” His recent utterances did not only put the Sierra Leone social media at risk of a meltdown, but even had Mark Zuckerberg complaining.
For some unknown reason, Victor took on himself to give us a lesson in our history; that “there is nothing like Islam in the history of Sierra Leone”. Here is a gentle reminder; “In the early 18th century Fulani and Mande-speaking tribesmen from the Fouta Djallon region of present-day Guinea converted many Temne of northern Sierra Leone to Islam. During the period of British colonization, attempts to spread Christianity were mostly ineffective”. Among other reasons, Islam easily spread because it blended traditional beliefs with the religion, whereas Christianity struggled because converts were required to abandon their age old traditional beliefs and “small small gods” for a new found white mans’ religion( that’s how our ancestors saw it).
But let us not be distracted by his erroneous attempt to re-write our history and look at the issue at hand. Sometimes, it is difficult to fathom the audacity with which this guy tried to test our hospitality. It is an undeniable fact that Sierra Leone is not a Muslim country. There is a difference between Islam having the highest number of followers and Sierra Leone as a Muslim country. Victor is known to be the founder and Pastor in Charge of the Christ Revival Evangelist Ministries, but does that give him the audacity to go to such extremes? Victor professes to heal the sick, make the blind see, make the cripple walk, and drive away demons. I wonder who has been possessed here.
It is a sad day for us all, when a man in such a position tries to misuse it. It is an open secret that our country is one of the most religiously tolerant societies on the face of the planet. We may have our numerous difficulties. When we had our decade long war, there were some miscreants who tried to give it a tribal and religious flavour but failed. Despite our difficulties, intertribal and inter-religious marriages are common place. As a Muslim, like many others, I know more about the bible than the Koran, because my education was not only determined by my religious persuasion. Like many Sierra Leoneans, we mutually celebrated Christmas, Easter, Eid ul fitr and Eid Ul Ada etc. in equal measure. Our religious tolerance has been so much that some of our Christian brothers often joke that the Ramadan period was the off season for most bars in the country (astaqfulai) Religious tolerance has always been a cornerstone of our culture.
Watching the video of Victor, even his congregation was visibly very embarrassed by his protestations. He may have expected his speech to be followed by loud applause; but rightly the embarrassment of his congregation was palpable. Ironically embarrassing was that, while the Mufti stressed and extolled the virtues of, and similarities between Islam and Christianity; that the Virgin Mother Mary (Mariam) and Jesus Christ (nabilahi Issa) are some of the common denominators, Victor was busy castigating Islam as “idol Worship”.
There is no point repeating his rants here; thereby dignifying the whole sorry episode. The swift action of the Government, and especially the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and children’s Affairs, under the guidance of Dr. Sylvia Blyden has been laudable. The press release by the government and suspension of his license was a timely intervention by the “social fire service”. Since this unfortunate incident, there have been understandably, a lot of vexation, anger, frustration, disappointment and condemnation flying around.
Equally, there has been, and rightly so, clarion calls for calm. Victor is Nigerian, and by virtue of that, he is a brother and we belong to the same ECOWAS. When our country was in dire need, Nigeria was there for us. Sierra Leoneans will never forget what Nigeria, as a country did for us; especially president Abacha. We even renamed one of our famous streets after him; ABACHA STREET as a show of gratitude. But that should not pass for an excuse for what Victor did. In the grand scheme of things, the hope is that both nations will value what brings us together than the actions of one person. Some times in life, one may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel.”
As a people, we should remember that the highest result of education is tolerance. Conversely, intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. Sierra Leone is blessed with an unlimited sense of tolerance, especially to foreign people. Many people would like to see this as a weakness. Victor had been allowed to live in the country as a man of peace, doing the work of the Lord. The government and other religious bodies, including Christians have all roundly condemned his actions. What he has done is so un- Sierra Leonean that, he has left our Christian brothers and sisters very embarrassed. Nevertheless, we should not ignore the impact and potential of such a divisive act. Victor would do well for the Donald Trumps of this world and he would be a welcome disciple to his fold; where divisiveness is the staple food and daily sermon. As a Nigerian, he needs no reminder of what religious intolerance can beget. We all know what religion and tribalism have done and continue to do to Nigeria. As we speak, there have been recent rumblings taking place in Nigeria; as very effort is being made to rekindle the Biafra war, which represented nationalist aspirations of the Igbo people, resulting in millions of Nigerians killed. God will spare us such a Nigerian luxury Insha Allah.
As Sierra Leoneans wait with clenched teeth and bathed breath to see what further actions the government is going to take, the hope is that our heads will rule our hearts. There seems to be a consensus calling for his immediate deportation from the country. Many now feel that he has outlived the nation’s hospitality and it’s time to check out of the hotel. The emotional value of such a conclusion is understandable. His lapse (I am being kind here) of judgment is unforgiveable, and like many, a deportation seems to be the most appeasing outcome. As a country, unlimited tolerance is one of our major exports. But we must be careful not to allow our unlimited tolerance to lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. If Victor is allowed to get away with this, he would have set a precedence, and our tolerance of intolerance could be interpreted as cowardice.” As a nation we should never bow to the shrine of intolerance or admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others.
Nevertheless, we should not be blind to the fact that the likes of Victor are present in every religion. Every religion has those who drape themselves in the mantle of belief and faith only to distort its most sacred teachings, preaching intolerance and sometimes resorting to violence. We see it around the world in Islamic countries, in Israel, Germany, and most recently Rohingya-Burma. As Muslims, we see extremists using the religion to propagate dastardly devastations across the world, much to the annoyance of many who feel that their religion is mis represented. Many Christians in Sierra Leone would be feeling the same way today. Religious fanaticism and intolerance share the same DNA. Fanatics convinced of their own rights intolerantly impose their will on others.
What baffles many people is the fact that the Mufti held the first and only gathering in Sierra Leone. Many people are still grappling with trying to understand our country’s penchant to attract chaos and disasters. The visit of the Mufti was a welcome coincidence to many; especially to those seeking divine explanation and intervention. Victor is known to conduct monthly “crusades”, (notwithstanding the historical implications of the word CRUSADE,) at the beginning of every month at the same venue. What did the Mufti do different? Did Victor feel threatened to go on such a rampage? Even when some people feel that his “crusades” seem conveniently timed to the end of the month (hmmmmm), his followers still continue to worship with him. Yes we know that everything we own, our careers, and our tithes belong to Jesus. I wonder who collects for Jesus. It is a common theme that when a faithful adherent of a religion fails to convince those that believe in another religion, they resort to hatred. It is difficult to apologise for Victor.
Like I said earlier, it is times like these when we should allow our heads to rule our hearts. Irrespective of his recent moment of misguidance, there is a respectable percentage of our brothers and sisters who seek celestial guidance from him. Many will swear and give testimony (I did not say test di money) about the changes he has brought to their lives. As a nation of tolerant people, are we going to deprive them of such Christian “deliverance” by deporting him? Would it not be nice to see Victor take to the media, via the tabloids, television, Whatsapp, Facebook, twitter etc. to offer an unreserved and unadulterated apology to all God’s children? Would it not be an epiphany of faith to see the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone (IRCSL?) lock arms or take the knee (with Victor included) in solidarity? What better way to reject religious bigotry? What better way to reinforce our religious tolerance?
Belief is a wonderful way to pass the time until the facts come in.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter (M. L. King).