One of the most striking things about my visit to Nigeria was the way in which Christians and Muslims are working together. Coming from Northern Ireland where Christians often find it hard to work together with any consistency it was quite stunning to hear not only of existing interfaith projects for peace but also the call for more. There was a critical awareness of the need for faith communities to be part of the civil society infrastructure. The Nigerian representatives on the Forum for Cities in Transition told us that it is not enough for Muslims and Christians to work separately. In the face of the devastating violence and ensuing loss, grief and destruction, there needs to be a much stronger message coming from the faith communities. That message must, they told us, be against segregation and difference. It must be about peaceful co-existence. I confess I found the ambition of peaceful co-existence difficult. Some time ago we set that aside as an ambition and have looked for something more – integration, sharing, united community. But then again, peaceful co-existence was an honourable ambition for us once too when things were bad. It was a privilege to listen to Imam and Pastor talk about their interfaith project, an important NGO for mediation and building a community in which people of difference can live together. As they listed their models of engagement I found them strangely familiar. They included: Interfaith education in peace, formal and informal Peer mediation for students in schools and colleges African affirmative dispute restitution models Faith based Psycho-social therapy Interfaith peace clubs Media dialogue Young ambassadors medal Mediation tents or town hall meetings Meetings and meeting spaces at flashpoint areas, peace gates etc. to provide a metaphor for peace Early response systems using modern technology Peace matches Policy advocacy Peace declarations and affirmations And I didn’t write them all down! As I listened I remembered Rwanda and some of the things I had heard there. Faith-based psycho-social therapy was popular there too, as were some of the other models. But I also wondered if we sell ourselves short. Would we ever systematize what we do in Northern Ireland into a list of models for peace building? Do we think of ourselves as critical in the peace-making process? Have we, in the churches, yet understood how critical it is for us to step into the civil society space to work for the ambitions of integration, sharing and united community? Or are we still constrained by our differences? Are we too consumed with the past to seek the justice of a future in which things will be radically different from the past? Maybe we are leaving all the value-based arguments to those who were ‘actors’ in the past rather than grasping a value-based position right now to work for a future which looks nothing like the divided, violent, sectarian past which we lived through. The Nigerian call is for values which stretch us to working with others for higher ambitions rather than living in our own disputed past.
The Imam and the Pastor -see them on youtube