Adam’s sons are body limbs, to say;
For they’re created of the same clay.
Should one organ be troubled by pain,
Others would suffer severe strain.
Thou, careless of people’s suffering,
Deserve not the name, “human being”.
— Saadi Shīrāzī, Persian poet (1184 – 1283/1291?),
translated by H. Vahid Dastjerdi
Today is Christmas. It is a day of love. Several days before this, and the next few days, up till the end of the year, Christians are expected – nay, required – to not only show love but to actually love one another. They must also love others, i.e. followers of other faiths. This credo further requires them to even love their enemies. Based on this long stretch of the meaning of “love”, St. Thomas of Aquinas defined it as “to will the good of another,” or to desire for another to succeed.
But love is not restricted to Christian theology. Other faiths have it at the heart of their belief. In Islam, the religion of peace, love is at the centre of humanity, a necessity for co-existence for mankind and between men and women, the holy Prophet and God. In fact, one of the names of Allah (SWT), found in Surah 11:90 and Surah 85:14, is “Al-Wadud,” or “the Loving One.” All Muslims are required to love one another, love the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and love God. They are also to love followers of the Abrahamaic faiths, such as Christians. So widespread is this requirement that a Muslim man is encouraged to marry a Christian woman. There is also a Prophetic tradition directing mankind to love one another. It emphasises that one should want for others what one wants for oneself. Similar blandishments can be found in many other religions, including Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism. Even animists and atheists believe in and show love to their ilk and for others outside the boundaries of their belief or unbelief.
In this season of love, there is need to take a pensive look at our condition as a nation among others in the world, with emphasis on how we practise the greatest requirement of the season. Personally, I see the clime darkening, hearts hardening and faiths being deflected from their original paths as love retreats from the horizon. Whether Christians, Muslims or animists, mankind appears to be trampling on the basic message of their faiths these days, relegating it to the backyard in their priorities, retrieving it only at festive seasons.
At home, where every day life begins and ends; at market places and offices, relationships are worsening at an appalling rate. The love of children for their parents and vice-versa; love between spouses, neighbours, siblings, office colleagues, school mates and even between lovers, is on a downward spiral. Many relationships are faked, garnished with deceit and backstabbing and inspired by selfish motives. Things are not as they used to be in the good old days of our childhood.
One of the biggest ironies of our time is the depth of our people’s religiosity and their savagery, all at once. Nigerians are, undoubtedly, some of the most religious people on earth. They fill churches and mosques, spend quality time worshipping the Lord and donate generously to promote their religions. They even fund the erection of religious centres. They travel long distances to perform religious duties and visit historical sites in Saudi Arabia and Israel, spending their own money or government’s. With the growth of Pentecostal churches and suffocating televangelism, religion is now a big industry that makes nonsense of Nigeria’s claim to secularism.
In spite of this, however, Muslims are scarcely each other’s keeper, and Christians do not “turn the other cheek”. Mutual intolerance is increasing. There is absence of good neighbourliness. We listen with rapt attention to the words of the preachers but, then, we forget about them as soon as we leave our worship centres. The result is the rise in criminality and immorality in the country. The character assassination we see in the media, especially between politicians seeking elective offices, the cheating in the markets and garages, the negligence of duty in work places, the corruption and love of the flesh, the lies, untruths and deceit, etc, are the products of our departure from the right path, the path demarcated for us by the Almighty God, the path of His love. The politicians instigating the sectarian violence in places like Jos, Maiduguri and the Niger Delta are avid claimants to some hallowed pedestals, but they are stone deaf to the cries of death, blind to the wanton destruction and insensitive to the acrid smell of blood that accompanies those bursts of man’s inhumanity to man.
So, where is the love that we always promise each other within and across our individual faiths? We do not love each other as much as we should because the love of the Lord has departed from our hearts. We are captive to our lusts, victims of our narrow-minded desires for self-ennoblement and losers of the divine essence. We gamble too much of our souls, frittering away the messages of our faiths that order us to toe the path of love if we want to succeed in life and gain the dividends of our present actions in the hereafter.
If we want to become whole again, then, we must recoup the essence of our humanity by returning to the roots of our faiths. As some of us celebrate today, we must appreciate the fact that love should not be seasonal, mercantile or even a religious milestone. It should be the core of our everyday existence, the salt of our humanity. Let us make amends. We should stretch out hands of friendship to not only those with whom we worship but also to those who worship in places we scarcely care to peep into, i.e. the believers of other creeds. That is how we can bring love back into our lives. That is how we can build a nation, based on mutual trust and respect, a multi-cultural nation the like of which was seen in the good old days of genuine Godliness.
Published today on back page of LEADERSHIP WEEKEND