Forgotten Covenant; between Muslims & Christians

By Ahmed Yahaya Joe

There is an overwhelming need to improve inter-communal harmony that has become so toxic in our dear nation. Religious hatred is a mainly product of ignorance and mischief. Both sides of the divide are very much guilty particularly against the background of political grandstanding. We currently live in tumultuous times. The ravages of the Coronavirus pandemic is no respecter for religious difference. Its economic fallout will not spare anyone while the political will be all encompassing irrespective. We therefore need a bird’s eye view on issues to pull through.

I asked the first Israeli I ever met, why the dickens Jews and Arabs in that highly combustible nation haven’t been able to work out an acceptable peace agreement between them for decades? She replied that the problem wasn’t actually religious as I had presumed but more about international power play, control and manipulation of spheres of influence as such it will be extremely difficult if not impossible to resolve the fundamental issues between them due to the various conflicting interests beyond their borders.

I still find my conversation with that secular Jewess in far away Singapore 31 years ago instructive as far as Nigeria is concerned Najran is the capital of the a southern administrative division of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of the same name. Before 1902 there were 4 monarchical Sheikhs of 4 regions which Abdulaziz Al Saud of Nejd emerged superior and became overall King in 1932 up to 1953. All subsequent monarchs in Saudi Arabia to date are among his 36 sons that survived him based on seniority.

I first heard about the Pact of Najran through my good friend Ahmad Ramadan, a extremely brilliant legal mind who back in the mid 1990s was a practitioner at the chambers of Aliyu Umar Esq, later Aliyu Umar SAN now of blessed memory.

On the al-Masīḥiyyūn al-ʿArab in the historical Arabian Peninsula the background narrative is; “The visit of the Christians of Najran to the city of Medina in 631 is perhaps the most important noted interfaith interaction between Christians and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). At this time Muhammad (pbuh) had sent letters to different communities and their leaders, encouraging them to embrace Islam. In the case of the Najran, who lived near Yemen, about 450 miles south of Medina, the Prophet sent Khaled ibn al-Walid and Ali ibn Abi Talib to deliver the letter.

At the time of this diplomatic endeavor, Najran Christians had a highly organized religious system. As such, after considering Muhammad’s (pbuh) letter, it is unsurprising that few Christians embraced Islam. In reaction to this “failed attempt” of conversion, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) sent another representative to Najran, Mughira Ibn Shu’ba, who was meant to elaborate on this new religion called Islam. Intrigued by Ibn Shu’ba’s message, the Najran Christians sent a delegation of sixty people to visit the Prophet in Medina. The delegation consisted of about forty-five scholars and fifteen assistants.

When the Christians of Najran arrived to Medina, Muhammad allowed them to pray in Nabawi mosque where the Muslims also prayed. This invitation was not only the first example of Christian-Muslim dialogue, but it was the first time that Christians prayed in a mosque. While Prophet Muhammad and the Najrans were not able to reach common ground on all theological issues, he nonetheless gave them a place to stay near his home, and even ordered Muslims to pitch their tent.
Upon leaving Medina, the Najran Christian leaders told Muhammad (pbuh):

“O, Abu al-Qasim, we decided to leave you as you are and you leave us as we are”. But the Christians nevertheless left Medina with a pact (written guarantee) that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) would protect their lives, property, and freedom to practice Christianity.”
No doubt the visit of Najran Christians to Medina is an example of religious pluralism. If so why are Al – Mu’minin (Muslims) and Ahl – al – Kitab (Christians) so historically daggers drawn? There is need to highlight the Pact of Najran;
“I hereby declare that my horsemen, my foot-soldiers, my armies, my resources, and my Muslim partisans will protect the Christians as far away as they may be located, whether they inhabit the lands which border my state, in any region, close or far, in times of peace as much as in times of war. I commit myself to support them, to place their persons under my protection, as well as their churches, chapels, oratories, the monasteries of their monks, the residences of their anchorites wherever they are found, be they in the mountains or the valleys, caves or inhabited regions, in the plains or in the desert.
I will protect their religion and their Church wherever they are found, be it on earth or at sea, in the West or in the East, with utmost vigilance on my part, the People of my House, and the Muslims as a whole.
I place them under my protection. I make a pact with them. I commit myself to protect them from any harm or damage; to exempt them for any requisitions or any onerous obligations and to protect them myself, by means of my assistants, my followers and my nation against every enemy who targets me and them”

Agreed there is controversy over the applicability of the he Pact of Najran beyond that specific Christian community the treaty was sealed with. Understandably, through the eras of the Abbasids, Fatimids, Ayyubids, Mamluks, Safavids, and so on Ottomans right down to the Maliki revival of Sheikh Othman Dan Fodio a lot of water has passed under the bridge, lest I forget the intervening Crusades that spanned 175 years from 1096 – 1271.

We however have a monumental reference point in our own clime in the groundbreaking letter written by Shehu al- Hajj Muhammad al – Amin al – Kanemi (1776 -1837) on the 23rd day of Rabee-ul-thani, 1238 AH to the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Bello (1781 – 1837) who was Amir al – Mu’minin, Commander of the Faithful from 1814 -1836. After the usual polite and often flowering greetings, felicitations and best wishes the Shehu of Borno that was born in Murzuk, in present day Libya stated;

“Hence, the cause of writing this letter and the purpose of its lines, is to acquaint you that the bearers are English travelers; whose nation, out of all the other Christians, has maintained with the Mooslemeen uninterrupted treaties of religious amity and friendship, established since ancient periods, which they inherited from their forefathers and ancestors; and on this account, they penetrate into Mooslemeen countries whenever they please, and traverse all provinces and lands in confidence and trust, without fear. They came to our country, sent to us by our virtuous and accomplished friend, the Lord Yousuf Pasha, master of Tripoli, to see and delight themselves with the wonders of the Land of Soodan, and to become acquainted with its rarities, as lakes, rivers, and forests (or gardens) ; equal to which are seldom seen in other countries.”
The accomplished cleric and sovereign of the Borno empire that was of Kanembu ancestry of present day Tchad who upstaged the Sefuwa dynasty with its former capital in today’s Yobe state, ruled from Kukawa which he founded in 1814. Maiduguri was later established around Yerwa by the Ngadda River in 1907 after a treaty with the Germans, French and British.

He continued;
“You are well aware of what is stated in Alcoraanic sayings upon the subject of the observance of honour, dictated by our Lord, the Apostle of God; and that the true Mooslemeen have always avoided shedding the blood of Christians, and assisted and protected them with their honour. Be then attentive to these travelers, and cast them not into the corners of neglect; let no one hurt them, either by words or deeds, nor interrupt them with any injurious behavior: but let them return to us, safe, and may the high God bestow upon you the best reward for your treatment to them, and insure to us and to you the path of righteousness for conduct in this life.”

For me this iconic attestation that accompanied the English explorers Major Dixon Denham and Royal Navy Commander Hugh Clapperton from Kukawa to Sokoto in January, 1824 is sufficient proof of the historical covenant between Muslims and Christians before even Nigeria was crafted into being a nation. It is on that foundation laid 196 years ago we must build a new Nigeria!

In any case the conclusion of the Pact of Najran emphasized;
“Christians must not be subjected to suffer, by abuse, on the subject of marriages which they do not desire. Muslims should not take Christian girls in marriage against the will of their parents nor should they oppress their families in the event that they refused their offers of engagement and marriage. Such marriages should not take place without their desire and agreement and without their approval and consent. If a Muslim takes a Christian woman as a wife, he must respect her Christian beliefs. He will give her freedom to listen to her [clerical] superiors as she desires and to follow the path of her own religion.”

In conclusion; You don’t have to be Hindu to enjoy Indian films or an Inca to watch Telenovelas or indeed worship Shinto to drive a Honda or Toyota neither have no religion to patronize any Chinese product nor be a Korean Buddhist to use any Samsung or be an agnostic to admire Nelson Mandela. Must you own an iPhone or any Apple product if like Steve Jobs that produced them you don’t subscribe to any particular religion?

Less 48 hours or so ago America despite its present health pandemic and economic woes launched a space mission called Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover; “That will search for signs of ancient microbial life, which will advance the quest to explore the past habitability of Mars. The rover has a drill to collect core samples of Martian rock and soil, then store them in sealed tubes for pickup by a future mission that would ferry them back to Earth for detailed analysis. Perseverance will also test technologies to help pave the way for future human exploration of Mars” – yet here we are in Nigeria still dividing ourselves over religion!

Fake News is worst than Covid 19

By Ahmed Yahaya Joe

Did Melinda Gates claim to see dead bodies all over Africa? Is Bill Gates the Antichrist? The Fact check to the first question is courtesy of Kabir Adejumo while Simon Kolawole tackles the second in 5G and other Tales by Moonlight. Enjoy;

1. The bogus claim attributed to Melinda Gates has gone viral but it started when Femi Fani-Kayode wrote on his Twitter handle @realFFK at 3.47pm on April 12, 2020;

“I see dead bodies all over Africa”- Melinda Gates.

Horrendous vision from a horrendous lady with a horrendous husband. We reject it and return it to sender! The agenda of satan for Africa shall not stand. Those that have dug a pit for us shall fall into that pit themselves”.

But what did Mrs. Gates actually say? In a recent interview with CNN where she spoke about Coronavirus pandemic, she said;

“It’s going to be horrible in the developing world. Part of the reasons you are seeing the case numbers still do not look very bad is because they don’t have access to many tests”

She disclosed that when she…

“saw what China had to do to isolate an enormous part of its population. My first thought was Africa. How in the world are they going to deal with this.

“Look at what is happening in Ecuador, they are putting bodies out on the streets, you are going to see that in countries in Africa. I have been in townships all over Africa and slums. When we talk about physical distancing and hand-washing. If you live in slums who can’t physically distance, you have to go out and get your meals. You don’t have clean water to wash your hands”

Truth is Mrs Gates never said she “saw dead bodies all over Africa” the way and manner it is currently being portrayed in the Nigerian social media space. Rather, she’s urging the world to act fast to save developing countries like Africa from disaster. Mr Fani-Kayode stripped the Mrs Gates’ comment of its context. The former minister is layering his presumed refutation of Melinda Gates’ argument on a “spiritual” principle which is an exaggeration of the philantropist’s comments.”

2. Now over to Simon Kolawole;
“In case you are just tuning in, let me keep you up to speed. They say the fifth generation of wireless communication technology, known as 5G, was launched in China in November 2019 to weaken our immune system and infect us with the coronavirus. They say Bill Gates, the Antichrist, will then plant chips in our bodies to vaccinate us against the virus. They say he would then start controlling humans — the whole seven billion of us — through the chips using 5G. They say the world is on lockdown so that the 5G can be installed. They say the pandemic is a hoax after all. They even say the lockdown in Lagos and Abuja was to lay 5G cables for the coming of the Antichrist.

Let us say I did not go to school but, as my grandmother (God rest her soul) would say, “I may be uneducated but I have a brain.” For one, South Korea launched 5G in April 2019 and did not record a coronavirus case until January 2020. Also, we don’t need any lockdown for 5G to be installed because it rides on fibre optic cable — which we have been laying across Nigeria for over 15 years! In fact, MTN and Globacom have laid nearly 20,000km of fibre optic cable all over Nigeria without any lockdown. Meanwhile, 5G is not a cable. You don’t lay it underground. You only upgrade to 5G by installing radios, antennas and nodes on existing masts — not by digging the ground, dummy!

True, Gates, in 2015, spoke about a possible pandemic, but isn’t that fairly predictable? It’s like saying there will be religious conflict in Kaduna state or flood in Lagos! Incidentally, President Barack Obama warned about a pandemic before Gates. Epidemics and pandemics are as old as the human race. The Plague of Justinian killed 25 million people as far back as AD 541-542. We have had the Black Death, the Asiatic Flu, the Spanish Flu (during which churches and mosques were closed down, as Pastor Sam Adeyemi has helped us dig out) and, recently, SARS. China has been the epicentre of epidemics since 1855. Any idiot can predict epidemics. You don’t have to be the Antichrist.

If people are genuinely worried that the 5G technology can cause health problems such as cancer, I can understand. We can begin to have an intelligent discussion around that. Fears have been raised, and are still raised, that the radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation that mobile phones or phone masts transmit can cause cancer. So far, no scientific study has backed this claim. All studies by reputable scientists have concluded that the radiation is non-ionising and does not have enough energy to damage DNA and cannot directly cause cancer. But to suggest that electromagnetic radiation can create a particle with genetic material is a completely different proposition altogether.
I accept that new technologies tend to get some people paranoid — and they begin to hallucinate.

This is common in Christendom. Any new thing has to be linked to the “end times”. For context, the Bible talks about a time when the entire world will unite economically and politically — one currency, one religion, etc — under the Antichrist. People will voluntarily align with the Antichrist and get the “666” code as pass to do business in his kingdom. People won’t be deceived into accepting the mark of the beast. The Bible says the Antichrist will eventually engage in a final war with Jesus Christ in the Battle of Armageddon and will be routed. That is the context.

Not surprisingly, Christians have invented several Antichrists to enforce the Apocalypse. Nero Caesar, the Roman Emperor from AD 54-68, was once named the Antichrist — based on the numerical interpretation that “666” is the equivalent of his name and title in Aramaic. In 1992, I read an article in the magazine of the Nigerian Christian Corpers Fellowship (NCCF) declaring the credit card as the universal transaction tool that the Antichrist would use to control the world. Christians were asked not to use the “evil” cards. When the World Wide Web (www) began to gain ground, eschatologists said the Apocalypse had finally arrived. The world was now electronically one!

With his Microsoft Windows operating system a monopoly on PCs, Gates was appointed as the new Antichrist. His name amounted to “666” in the computer code, they said, similar to what they said about Nero. It seems Gates did not perform well as the Antichrist. He soon fell out of favour. Pope John Paul II was also a nominee. The end-time experts said the pontiff was working hard to unite the entire world under the Roman Catholic Church, after which he would rule as the Antichrist and Jesus would come and finish him off. The Pope also failed to perform. Instead, he died. Other names have been touted, including Obama, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

Anytime an epidemic or war breaks out, the next thing we hear is that the world is about to come to an end “as predicted by the Bible”. Prophets have used the epidemics in centuries gone by — such as the bubonic plagues — to declare the end of the world. The Gulf War of 1990/91 was also supposed to end it all. But it seems we have finally found the answer. According to a popular pastor who said he took his inspiration from a 1984 movie rather than from the Spirit of God, 5G is the latest Antichrist tool in town.

Conspiracy theories are easy to propound: just join unrelated events together, adjust the facts and speak some clean English. You are set to go.
I must confess that I find the 5G technology astounding. It is said to be 20 times faster than the current 4G LTE. That means you can download a two-hour movie in three seconds! This would normally take six minutes on 4G and 26 hours on 3G. Some of these end-time pastors will soon start asking us to download their messages “in just one second” for $10 each using the 5G technology! Also with 5G, artificial intelligence (AI) will explode. It will enable smart homes and driverless cars. We are told that doctors can perform surgeries virtually. Videos won’t buffer. This is mind-boggling! But as a layman, I would rather seek more knowledge on it than mystify or demonise it!

With 5G and COVID-19 currently the hot topics, my brethren have gone back to the drawing board — or is it the cinema hall — and have come up with movie-inspired prophecies. The mantle of the Antichrist has been returned to Gates, who, they said, wants to give us digital identity chips under the pretext of vaccination against the coronavirus. We will then become zombies and he will begin to control us, using AI. So, we have been told to reject COVID-19 vaccines. This is the same way many northern children were stopped from taking the polio vaccine with the conspiracy theory that the US wanted to sterilise Muslims. Let us just say the “5G vaccine” is the Christian version.

When a pastor told me “vaccine digital ID” would eventually be a requirement to “buy and sell” under the Antichrist, I asked him: “Did you register for BVN?” He said yes. I said: “Then you already have a digital ID!” He screamed: “I’m finished!” The Antichrist has got him, poor soul! You cannot operate an account in Nigeria today without a BVN. If you ever gave your fingerprint to get a visa, be assured you already have a digital ID. If you have a mobile phone, you have technically received a “chip” that gives out your location per time. If you use an ATM or the autocorrect function on your phone, you are already under the influence of AI. Stop deceiving yourself!

Finally, let us now agree that these are the end-time signs. And so what? Why should any pastor be jittery, running scared and spreading panic? Pastors have been preaching that Jesus Christ is coming soon, so shouldn’t they be happy that their prophecies are about to be fulfilled? Are they afraid to go to heaven or what? What’s the point? Jesus said: “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” He did not say panic or resist it. Even then, can any preacher stop the Antichrist? Does the Bible say the mark of the beast will be given to you under a pretext? Some pastors certainly have more trust in movies than the Bible.

I’m not really worried if these myths and old wives’ fables are being spread by internet layabouts. But pastors? Many Christians are so gullible that, no matter the level of their education or exposure, they are easily misled. Pastors need to be careful.

As Apostle James wrote,

“We who teach will be judged more strictly.”

When pastors, who are supposed to be led by the Spirit of God, are misleading the people, the only scripture that comes to mind is what Jesus said in Matthew 18:6:

“If anyone causes one of these little ones — those who believe in me — to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

Easter Iscariot

Judas Iscariot was a traitor. But was that infamous act of betrayal specifically predestined to fall on him? This question is pertinent because the person he betrayed had foreknowledge of the act yet allowed it to happen. Is it misplaced to describe Judas as a scapegoat? Is there the possibility that he was a victim of circumstances that he neither understood nor had control over?

This is not an attempt to exonerate Judas or launder his image. It is my personal quest to better understand the political context and cultural background of his betrayal that led to a monumental death and resurrection that took place 2000 years ago we are today celebrating as Easter. Truth is without Judas there would not have been the arrest, trial, death by crucifixion and resurrection known collectively as the Passion of Christ which is the very foundation of the Church. Judas was therefore the historic means through which Scripture was fulfilled. The fact that he had degenerated from being an Apostle into an Apostate makes him a villain that acted with reckless abandon. That is irrefutable. We however worship a merciful God.

Anyway Judas was the son of Simon of Keroith which meant he was a Judean. The other 11 disciplines were Galilean. It is against this background that Judas became the treasurer of the group. Judea and Galilee were Jewish parts of Israel sandwiched by Samaria, a land of non-Jews called Samaritans. Politically Galilee was under indirect control of Roman conquest through King Herod meanwhile Judea including Jerusalem was directed administered by Rome’s representative Pontius Pilate.

The Judeans were more politically rebellious and religiously zealous; their concept of the Messiah was that of a military leader that would mobilize an army to overthrow Roman colonialism. On the other hand Galilee had vast agricultural and fishing resources therefore its citizens had a higher per capita income. It was also an area of Israel that was more cosmopolitan with lax religious observance than the more mountainous Judea which encompassed Jerusalem the spiritual capital of the Jews. The Galileans and Judeans all spoke Aramaic but with distinct accents. Judas’s ease in relating with the chief priests that facilitated a payment of 30 silver coins for his betrayal was not unconnected with the fact that Jerusalem’s spiritual hierarchy was dominated by Judeans. The grouse of the priests was understandable – Jesus Christ usurped their authority. Judas had both financial and political motivation for his betrayal apart from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like other disciples he had given up his life for a Master that was going to be arrested and willingly die in the hands of his captors without a fight.

For someone who had been in charge of the finances of a group of disciples that had limited funds, Judas was fully aware a precarious future. Being a disciple meant a life of struggle, harassment and no fixed address. The motivation to embark on self-help was therefore high. Irrespective of his incentive of 30 silver coins Judas embarked on a necessary duty. Interestingly he returned the money intact. Wrecked by guilt he committed suicide. He had left home, alienated his fellow disciples and run out of options. He had neither future nor master. I therefore fully sympathize with him.

The moral of my empathy for Judas Iscariot is anchored upon the Biblical injunction of our mandate to bless those that hate, despise and deride us. If we fail to extend compassion to Judas and indeed our detractors including real and imagined enemies, our faith is in vain. The implication being our celebration is meaningless. We must return to the true essence of Easter and the wisdom it entails, if not we shall increasingly lose relevance, purpose and direction.

“In a speech Abraham Lincoln delivered at the height of the American Civil War, he referred to the Southerners as fellow human beings who were in error. An elderly lady chastised him for not calling them irreconcilable enemies who must be destroyed. “Why, Madam,” Lincoln replied “do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”