An old but disused approach to peace might regain large scale currency in Nigeria if a proposal by a leading traditional and religious leader is picked up and operationalised across the religious identities. That is marriage between Christians and Muslims. Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar 111, the Sultan of Sokoto pushed forward the approach at the weekend, believing that it will serve the cause of peaceful coexistence among adherents of different religions in the country.
The Sultan argued that peace is worth every price and urged Christians and Muslims to think of the implausibility of frequent clashes should adherents of the two religions be so mixed through marriage. The platform was a peace and unity training programme put together by the Christian Youth for Peace and the Inter-Religious Peace Initiative. It took place in Abuja where other religious leaders present expatiated on the imperative for inter-religious harmony among Christians and Muslims.
This would be a second major intervention from the Sultan within a short time. Penultimate week, the Sultan also told Muslims that the only condition that could be the basis of disharmony is if anyone set out to stop them from practicing their religion. Christian reaction to this advocacy on marriage cannot be predicted. The standard belief hitherto is that it is Muslims who do not accept marriage of Christian men to Muslim women. Otherwise, many Muslims are married to Christian women. In the few cases that a Muslim woman had married a Christian man, those have been cases of where love has been too powerful to be blocked by religious identity.
Professor Dahiru Yahya, a Bayero University, Kano Historian once told the defunct TSM, (The Sunday Magazine, January 17th, 1993, p. 19) that Muslim resistance to the marriage of Christian men to Muslim women is a baggage from the contestation between the two religions historically. According to him, having preceded Islam, Christianity tends to contest it, making Muslims feel that a Christian man cannot protect a Muslim woman whose religion he tends to contest. Muslims, on the other hand, feel that a Christian woman is safe under a Muslim man because a Muslim accepts the reality of Christianity. They argue that the conversion of Christian women married to Muslim men is a matter of personal convenience than force.
Whatever reasons actually explain the crease in the Nigerian context, the Sultan’s move might have put on the table a challenge for Christian and Muslim leaders to clarify and re-conscientise adherents on both sides. Who knows? This could be a Nigerian contribution to global peace in the 21st century.