By Muhsin Nuwagaba Kaduyu
February 1 – 7 is World ‘Interfaith Harmony Week’ that seeks to spread the message of harmony and tolerance among the followers of different faiths.
This day was launched to promote harmony among people of different faiths at a time when interreligious conflict is claiming lives and livelihoods all over the world. This week is timely for Uganda considering that February is also the month when the general elections will be held in the country and, therefore, messages of harmony and tolerance among all the political contestants and everybody should be promoted.
In Uganda, this day is being commemorated in Muyenga on February 1, by the Nile Dialogue Platform, an organisation promoting interfaith and intercultural peaceful coexistence.
This day is very relevant to Uganda because research shows nearly nine out of 10 Ugandans say religion plays a key role in their lives.
The survey, conducted by the US-based Pew Research Centre shows that Uganda is one of the most religious countries in the world, with nearly nine out of 10 people saying religion (Christianity or Islam) plays a key role in their lives. Titled ‘Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa’, the report shows that Uganda ranks 15th in Africa and 20th worldwide in the ‘most religious’ tables. This precisely indicates that Ugandans live a God-centered life. Such a life, a life of “For God and My Country” is absolutely opposed to violence.
A God-centred life, where God is paramount and where we all regard ourselves as faithful servants of the divine master should be an antidote to the culture of violence that is so prevalent in the world today.
A ‘culture of violence’, according to S. Bastanov, refers to a mentality that presupposes that human life is expendable In the name of some holy goal, or even without such a goal, and that any institution, group or individual, in a position to do so, can resort to coercion by force to deal with other institutions, groups or individuals that have different values of ways of life.
As a Muslim, I understand a God-centred life being one that is more than simply adhering to a dogmatic list of beliefs or performing ritual actions. It is a way of going beyond perfunctory religiosity to put God at the heart of one’s human consciousness and the centre of one’s hopes and motivations.
The vision of such kind of a life resonates so well with my limited understanding of Christianity and human existence. In the most basic Christian catechism we read that men and women were created to “know, to love, and serve God”. Thus an ideal of the God-centered life is a point of convergence that should unite all Ugandans, especially Muslims and Christians.
The preamble of the constitution of the UNESCO states: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that defenses of peace must be constructed”. Thus, as believers and true Ugandans, we should build a culture of peace flows from a commitment to respond faithfully the mission of all the Prophets, who were chosen by God to help build better social relations, regardless of who the "other" is.
A person’s actions proceed from the inclinations of his heart and emotions and from sensibilities and needs of his spirit. If those basic drives are left unchecked, one’s emotions can easily lead him to either spontaneous or premeditated violence. However, “For God and My Country” should place in our hearts and minds, a permanent ‘prohibitor.’ When sinful desires emerge from the soul, they are repulsed and declared forbidden. In this way, the violent impulses that arise from our emotions and sensitivities can be controlled and held in check by our religious convictions before they lead to aggressive and destructive behavior.
Religion teaches the sacred dignity of each person. A sincere believer in God, a true Ugandan for that matter, cannot consider another person’s life expendable for any reason. He cannot even violate the dignity of others by forcing them to accept his idea, beliefs, or behavior.
Finally and most importantly, I call upon the religious leaders to use this opportunity and model for our people a helpful and peaceful way to coexist with each other. The ability of the religions to thrive and foster development in Uganda will depend upon our ability to live with and cooperate with those from other faiths without abandoning our own identities.
The writer is a peace promoter at the Nile Dialogue Platform