This is cheap Calumny! I never attacked Islam cries Bishop Kukah

I am unable to understand what I have done to someone I consider to be a friend, namely, Mallam Mohammed Haruna, to warrant his rather acerbic and scurrilous attacks on my person and my integrity, as witnessed in his recent article wherein he accuses me of attacking Islam. I find this particularly offensive given the efforts I have consistently made to promote respectful relations and deeper mutual understanding and collaboration between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria and worldwide.

The address which Muhammad claimed to be critiquing was one which I gave to a gathering of Muslims in an Islamic faith-based University in Osogbo, called the Fountain University. I had never heard of the group called the Islamic Welfare Foundation until I received a letter from them inviting me to deliver a keynote address at their Conference under the theme: The Muslim Agenda for Nigeria: Challenges for Development and Good Governance billed to hold on the 22-25th November, 2015.

I was rather humbled to receive the invitation and even in my paper, I stated that I was pleasantly surprised that I would be asked to contribute to a conference on The Muslim Agenda for Nigeria!

So, first, I think it is important to note, since this shaped the content of my paper, my audience was an all Muslim gathering in a Muslim University. I therefore believed that it was necessary to confront them with the challenges of Islam as I saw it.
My intention was to provoke a debate and hope that in the course of the Conference, the organizers would address some of the issues. If I focused on these issues, it was because my audience was strictly a Muslim one.

When I discovered that the feast of Christ the King fell on the November 22nd, I called the Sultan whom I had assumed would be at the Conference to find out how he planned to travel. He told me he had not been invited to the Conference. I called the organizers to ask if they could shift my presentation as there was no way I could leave Sokoto before Monday morning.

They said mine was the Keynote address so it could not be shifted. I told them I had a draft of my paper and since obviously I could not make it, I asked would they let someone read it on my behalf. They were quite pleased by this. Next day, both the priest who read it on my behalf and the hosts called to thank me profusely and said that the paper had been well received.

The newspapers characteristically cast provocative headlines. The Sultan called me to ask about what he had read. I told him I would be glad to send him a full text of the paper. The next morning, I sent him a printed copy. He never called back to say he was offended by any part of the paper.Not unexpectedly, I received a lot of reactions from people by way of text messages and telephone calls. No one accused me of bad intentions or misrepresentations.

One person who seemed worried had only read the newspapers but a good number of people who genuinely wanted to know the issues asked for and I sent the full text to them. TheSunday Trust newspaper ran the full text of the paper for two Sundays.

I have spoken about the paper to three serious Muslim scholars who are northerners and who read the full text. The three told me separately they did not see anything wrong with the paper except that it was frank. A northern governor told me that I should understand that those who are critical of what I said are those who refuse to face the truth and that he had read me long enough to know where I was coming from.

My short, Keynote address dealt with five key themes which I titled: The scarred face of Religion after Boko Haram, Contested Histories, Narratives and Identities,Managing Pluralism, Bible, the Koran or the Constitution and finally, Interfaith Dialogue and Making Nigeria safe for Democracy. As with keynote addresses, the idea is merely to provoke discussions by identifying the themes of the conference and pointing in a direction for further reflections.

Rather than approach the larger issues in the paper, Mohammed seems  to have decided to create a pantomime of thin straw. First, he said I attacked Muslims and Islam and accused them of being responsible for bringing Boko Haram.

Yet, he neither quoted the said attack in my text nor did he say how I did this. In all my writings, because of my limited knowledge, I have been careful not to quote the holy Koran or critique Islamic doctrine. I have however written copiously aboutNigerian political power mongers and entrepreneurs who have used the religion to extend their economic and political goals.
I have spoken about this to both Muslim and Christian audiences. I have often addressed the fact that in northern Nigeria this manipulation combines region and religion and I have consistently illustrated that in the process of these manipulations, the elite have left a legacy of abysmal misery for their own people and brought the religion to disrepute.

Indeed, had I been invited to speak to a Christian audience, I would have spoken about the need to avoid the manipulations of religion by Christian politicians. Had it been an ethnic umbrella, I would have raised the same anxieties about the manipulation of ethnicity.

My paper focused primarily on how to protect religion (here Islam), from manipulation by politicians. I produced evidence to show how Muslim politicians had done this under our Democracy. I concluded that it was this manipulation that created the condition for the emergence and claims of Boko Haram.

That Is not the same as saying Muslims brought Boko Haram. To further compare this with John Kony’s criminal misadventure was a diversion which totally missed the point. Kony was a common criminal not an elected politician, Sir. To dredge up the tragedy of the crusades again was a mistaken diversion. The crusades were empire building and land grabbing exercises and not battles for religion.

 Indeed, it is because Christianity has learnt from these mistakes that we are encouraging dialogue in the management of plural societies such as ours. The late Bala Usman spent his life drawing attention to this threat to religion and until recently, my friendLamido Sanusi, now the Emir of Kano, was even more strident and clearer on these issues.

To resort to cheap calumny and rabble rousing as Mohammed has donein this article is no substitute to logic and reason. By accusing me of attacking Islam and Muslims, Mohammed seems to wish to raise a torn curtain of doubt about my credentials and honesty of scholarship.

This is odious. In my views of religion and politics, I have never equivocated over Islam or Christianity. Had this been the case, why was I attacked by some of my own Christian brethren when I parted ways over the issues of whether Boko Haram was about religious conflict or whether the Government should dialogue with Boko Haram.

At the height of this crisis, after the attack on St Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, in 2012, I issued a Statement titled, Be Still and Know that I am God. It was an appeal for calm and the need for us to stand together to save our country.

I believe my records speak for me on these issues. Had anyone told me that they were offended and said how I offended Islam or Muslims in my Osogbo address, I would not have hesitate to apologise, if my mistakes were pointed out to me.

Mohammed quarreled with my choice of marriage to make my case and seems worried about my regard for its practice as I see it in the Southwest. When I used the word apartheid, I did not make a mistake. The Dutch root of the word itself is apart-ness,separate-ness. Mohammed seems to prefer to hide in the sands of self-deception than to confront the issues.

There is nothing to suggest that young Muslims or Christians will start marrying one another en masse tomorrow if the curtain were lifted. However, while around the worldsome few communities are still holding on to the type of argument that Mohammed is espousing,I know that our children are already pointing in a different directions.

My argument is that we must find a way to celebrate our differences whether in social status, ethnicity or religion. We cannot live by two sets of rules without provoking further separation and distrust among our people.Mohammed’s attempt at quoting the Bible and saying;As the Bible says in the New Testament 2 Corinthiansis a gallant show of ignorance as nothing of the sort exists.

Both Islam and Christianity have been and are sources of inspiration and of guidance to billions of good-living and committed people throughout the world. Both have helped and continue to help billions of people positively develop their relationship with God, with themselves, with other human beings and with all of creation. Both religions however have been and continue to be used and abused for selfish and evil motives.

I am a committed Christian, a Catholic priest, and it is because of my faith that I continue to be committed to the promotion of peaceful coexistence of Christians, Muslims, and people of all faiths and of none. I have benefited from deep friendships across the divide in Nigeria. It is an honour I do not take lightly.

I have never had a problem with Islam or Muslims, but I have had problems with those who seek give religion a bad name by using it to make their selfish political claims. I called on Nigerian Muslims to speak to themselves about their faith. We must learn to love and respect one another because only unconditional love and unarmed truth guide can reward us.

I will remain relentless in working towards a society where human dignity and religious freedom of each one of us, no matter our status can be respected and protected. Had Mohammed been ready for a debate, we could have had one.

However, his bigotry in matters of religion and region beggars belief.  It badly colours and taints what is otherwise some extremely good piece of writing.

Daily trust.
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