It is becoming increasingly fashionable to see our politicians gate crashing religious events and prayer meetings these days in Sierra Leone. With barely two months to the general elections in June, you can tell that “de game don big “especially when you see politicians donning their expensive “agbadas” and “oku lappas” to join the thousands of Muslims and Christians alike to, “worship” under the sacred minarets and spires of our mosques and churches respectively. Politicians are as human as you and me, and as such have every right to worship in the house of God. Asking for divine intervention is not an arrestable offence. It’s common to see political figures donate large sums of money and food items to mosques and churches all over the country. In times of need, and especially during occasions like the recently concluded Ramadan, Her Excellency and First Lady Fatima Bio is known to make donations to mosques and other needy groups year on year. As a professed Muslim, she is just fulfilling one of the pillars of Islam: Zakat.
I don’t usually see eye to eye with Leroy Kabs Kanu, the Publisher, Chief Executive of The Cocorioko Newspaper and one time Minister Plenipotentiary of Sierra Leone (2009-2018). To say that Kabs Kanu is a controversial journalist is an insult to controversy. However, in his recent article “Chase out the mullahs or the mullahs would chase Allah out of their mosques” (Cocorioko-April 23, 2023), I support his central view that religion and politics are fast becoming strange bedfellows in our country. Let’s be honest with ourselves before it’s too late; it’s a lethal combination. Like he said, there is no reason why politicians cannot attend our sacred houses. What is not acceptable is when we give our politicians the pulpit or minbar to make party political broadcasts. We cannot convert these places into political soapboxes.
We pray to Allah or our lord for many things in our supplications. Forgiveness is one of the main requests, and if anybody needs forgiveness from Allah or Jehovah, they don’t come much bigger than politicians. No one needs prayers more than our politicians. They need divine intervention to guide them on how to rule over their fellow man. They need divine intervention to have empathy, to rule with justice, to be fair and above all, they need wisdom and inspiration to make this Dunia worth living for all. They constantly need Allah to remind them that this world is vanity and to guard against gaining the world and losing their souls. If anyone needs our churches and mosques more than ever, it is our politicians and leaders. Think of the amount of suffering that is going on around the world today and tell me that it has nothing to do with politicians and leaders.
So, our politicians should be welcomed with open arms to these sacred places, not to desecrate but to worship, not to campaign or reign but simply to pray. But using these sacred places for political capital is simply sacrilegious. A politician does not need to be a Christian to attend a church service, nor a Muslim to attend Friday prayers. Although politicians try to be everything to everyone, every time, political discussions in mosques and churches should not be the Khutbah or sermon of the day. It is perfectly understandable that our religious leaders and especially the Imams have come under fire for this new brand of “religious tolerance”. If truth be told, it is misguided.
Lest we forget, these religious leaders are by default, regarded as moral custodians of our society. We turn to our pastors and Imams for many societal problems including marriage difficulties, wedding events, family disputes and many more. There have been instances of strife in our country and some of us can recall governments requesting the intervention of the “Council of Imams” or religious leaders. We cannot deny that these bodies have never intervened in the politics of our country. However, their interventions have been largely reconciliatory, advisory and supportive of the nation’s vision. The danger of having mosque and church leaders sharing the same beds with politicians does not only ruin their credibility but wipes away any semblance of the neutrality of their position, and especially on national issues.
Recent headlines on the international stage though plausibly true, have not been kind to our nation. Among others, our country was labelled as a nation with one of the hungriest and unhappiest people on the planet. That hurts. However, they cannot deny that we are one of the most tolerant people too. If we take away the political atmosphere of the last decade, our religious tolerance, inter-tribal relationships, inter-marriage practices, hospitality etc. are testament to the facts. But if we want to fully appreciate the potentially incendiary sides of the lethal cocktail of politics and religion across societies around the globe, places like Yemen, Iraq, Iran and many others are classic examples. The war in Yemen is a proxy one for religious dominance between Shia and Sunni Muslims in Iraq and Saudi Arabia respectively. Although both are Muslim countries, politics has put paid to that common denominator. Yemen has monopoly on famine, due to the war. More than 1.3 million pregnant or breastfeeding women and 2.2 million children under 5 require treatment for acute malnutrition (Unicef-23 March-2023)
Before we rush to condemn the Imams, is it worth thinking of how much pressure these imams could be subjected to. How difficult could it be for an imam to decline a request for a visit from leading politicians? Our Imams and Priests might seem forced to become appeasers who feed the crocodile, hoping it will eat them last. Fatima Bio should know that talking to the congregation from the front of the mosque is not clever; not to mention politics for that matter. We know her for her philanthropic character; giving alms to the needy but taking front row in the mosque is not “halal”. In all fairness, the onus is on our political leaders to recognize the incendiary nature of when religion and politics get too close for comfort. Our religious leaders should also know that no science is immune to politics and the corruption of power.
It is one thing to have a Fullah, Mandingo Mende or Themne mosque. But it is an entirely different conversation to have a mosque or church associated with or called APC or SLPP mosque or church respectively. Such a nomenclature would be a hand grenade in our communities. Some of us can cope with not being able to wear a red or green attire these days, thanks to default association by the political fashion police. Not even my Manchester United jersey? Chai. However, not being able to go to a particular mosque or church because it has been designated as a specific political party leaning institution is something Sierra Leoneans could ill afford. In a political environment where “you are either with us or against us” is becoming trendy, let us remember that “any politician who can be elected only by turning Sierra Leoneans against other Sierra Leoneans is too dangerous to be elected.
In case we forget, religion or the misuse of it has had its fair share of negative and destructive influences across the globe, and to some extent especially Africa. That does not mean that religion has not been beneficial. History teaches us that religion was used as the harbinger for the colonizers of Africa. They gave us the Bible and asked us to close our eyes. When we opened them, we had the bible in our hand, and they had the gold and diamond in theirs. Chinua Achebe once reminded us about a similar phenomenon; “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”. Let us not allow the political knives on the things that hold us together. Irrespective of our religious bias, we traverse between churches and mosques during weddings, funerals, christening etc. Politics has the potential to destroy that.
Having said that, this is not an attempt to attack the religious integrity of our leaders. If anything, and just like all of us, our leaders need religion and the intervention of our maker to instill empathy, fairness, justice, wisdom, humility and above all peace, as they reign over us. Some of us believe that leadership is a God -given blessings from above. We pray that their liaison with the celestial is not mis-used as a tool for political capital. Let’s keep these sacred places sacred and sacrosanct. When religions become united with governments, they become inimical to liberty. They become compatible with liberty when separated. Religions all over have the potential to create fanaticism. Without exaggeration, our country has been teetering on divisive politics in the last decade. We don’t need religion to add fuel to fire. When we mix religion and politics, our beliefs and convictions become second hand, without examination. That is a dangerous formula. You don’t need Pythagoras Theorem to figure it.
May Allah guide us all.
Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.