We stumbled upon this piece written by Professor Wole Soyinka. It is an open letter to Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, the 11th Emir of Ilorin. The letter was necessitated by the recent crisis over Isese Festival in Ilorin, Kwara State.
Read this piece below and share your thoughts!
Your Royal Highness,
So soon after the Muslim season of spiritual purification, it is sad to see the ancient city of Ilorin, a confluence of faiths and ethnic varieties, reduced to this level of bigotry and intolerance, manifested in the role of a presiding monarch. The truncation of a people’s traditional festival is a crime against the cultural heritage of all humanity. Year after year, Ramadan has been celebrated in this nation as an inclusive gathering of humanity, irrespective of divergences of belief. Not once, in my entire span of existence, have I encountered pronouncements by followers of any faith that the slaughtering of rams on the streets and marketplaces is an offence to their concept of godhead. Vegetarians hold their peace. Buddhists walk a different path. Prior to Ramadan, non-Moslems routinely join in observing the preceding season of fasting as a spiritual exercise worthy of emulation.
Perhaps this is another occasion for self-introduction. I currently teach courses in Abu Dhabi in the Emirates. That is the region of Origin, all others are mere appendages. I was there just before Christmas. I passed through again in the countdown to Ramadan. On both occasions, the streets, businesses, hotel lobbies and other public spaces were lit up with the same festive spirit. Only the symbols within the designs were different. The mood of celebration was equally pervasive and inclusive. Painfully, my mind could not help but travel back home, and some years past, recalling for instance how a procession of Corpus Christ was once attacked, some killed, by a brood of Moslem fanatics, for daring to process along the streets of that same Ilorin. Needless to say, such abominations have become routine. Community is sacrificed to bigotry.
It may interest you to know that, in Abu Dhabi, numerous programmes are pursued, at government expense, for the evolution of a humanized community based on religious tolerance and mutual respect. By contrast here, several tiers removed from Origin, must we turn the turban of enlightenment into a crown of bigotry? And in a society whose very constitution that supposedly governs us all guarantees freedom of belief, association and movement?
Your Royal Highness, it is conduct like this that has bred Boko Haram, ISIS, ISWAP and other religious malformations that currently plague this nation, spreading grief and outrage across a once peaceful landscape, degrading my and your existence with their virulent brand of Islam. It is conduct like this that has turned, before our very eyes, a once ecumenical city like Kaduna into a blood-stained mockery of cohabitation. It is conduct like this that makes it possible for a young student, Deborah, to be lynched in the very presence of armed police, on mere allegation of having belittled the image of a revered prophet. It is action of this nature, perpetrated in obscure as well as prominent outlets of the nation that turns a young generation into mindless monsters, ever ready to swarm out and kill, kill, kill. Simply kill for the thrill of it but under the presumption of religious immunity. It is conduct like this that then nerves one extremist to wake up one day in a Scandinavian country, publicly announce his intention, and proceed to make a bonfire of copies of the Qur’an. Reprisals follow, equally mindless, trapping humanity in an ever-ascending spiral of costly but gleeful violence.
This continent has endured centuries of disdain and despoilation at the hands of alien religions – Christianity and Islam at the forefront. Both religions have been sanctimoniously deployed as justification for unspeakable atrocities, for the dehumanization of the black race. Do I need to teach you your own history, or is it that you prefer to forget? To encounter, in this century, a convert to alien spiritual dogma, appropriating the cloak of piety to impede the observation of our antecedent spirituality is not just racial treachery but an assault on civilized conduct as a universal aspiration of humanity, where every discovery, every new encounter usher in new propositions of enlightenment. Humanity builds on the past, preserving alternatives of world views, not destroying that past which, in any case, is indestructible. Your conduct is an affront to my sense of racial being, and that holds true for millions beyond these national and continental borders, stretching into the Americas and the Caribbean. There you will still encounter ISESE and allied spiritualities. There, ISESE still exerts its hold on the human spirit. Visit Brazil, go to Columbia, explore Cuba, and be humbled by the tenacity of this spirituality among the descendants of black humanity.
Even the sturdiest of thrones crumble. Long after you and I are gone, generations will continue to endure the effects of present anomalies, pretensions, and hypocrisies, and will continue to harvest the bitter fruits of the seeds of discord being sown by their forebears. I, therefore, urge you to rein in those agents of division, of triumphalist intolerance, such as the Majlisu Shabab Ulamahu Society. There is a thin line between Power and Piety. Call Yeye Ajasikemi OIokun Omolara to your side, make peace with her and make restitution in whichever way you can for this grievous insult to our race. We know the history of Ilorin and the trajectory of your dynasty – but these are not the issues. The issue is peaceful cohabitation, respect for other worldviews, their celebrations, their values and humanity. The issue is the acceptance of the multiple facets of human enlightenment.
The greatest avatars that the world has known were not without human frailties, flaws, and errors of understanding. You are NOT Omniscient. And you are not Omnipotent.
Credit: Professor Wole SOYINKA
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