Is there Christian-Muslim fight in Ghana?

Recent events, including demonstrations by some Muslim groups in the Western Region, claiming the abuse of the rights of Muslim students (as reported recently in our national newspapers, is most disturbing. Even more disturbing is the Communication Minister, Dr. Omane Boamah’s hurried response to the unexamined claims. The issue was about removing the veil for photos to be taken for WAEC examinations.

Muslims and Christians in Ghana have lived together peacefully all these years. Many prominent Muslims in Ghana attended Christian schools, some even married Christians, etc. Christians, who make up almost 70% of the population, have been very tolerant over the years, sometimes, in the face of many provocations.

Churches’ musical instruments had been seized by traditionalists because they had imposed a ban on drumming. In 1993, in Nzemaland, churches were stopped from worshipping during the Kundum festival; and despite a court order upholding the Christians right to worship, churches were vandalised.

Christians in Ghana have not opposed Parliament’s decision to grant Muslims two public holidays in the year as would have been the case elsewhere. Few nations on earth with a Muslim majority allow Easter and Christmas as public holidays.

I share the view that, there must be freedom of religion, which is every one’s constitutional right. Hence, people should not be forced into a religion. So, every one should be given the free will to choose their religion.

Even as parents, we are to guide our children to faith, not force them. That is why in their Christian doctrine and practice, children are “dedicated” or “baptised”(depending on which one denomination chooses), and then at a later age, after clear teaching, they are made to decide to be Christians or not to be.

That is why not every child that had been baptised in a particular church, eventually, gets confirmed or admitted into its membership. In fact, even some Pastors’ children leave the church when they grow up! All parents do is pray that, one day, they will find their way back to faith in Christ, not necessarily to their church.

 

Schools

Every school in this country has a history. Embedded in this history is an ideology and purpose that, eventually, shapes the whole institution. Many parents, irrespective of their faith, will do anything they can to get their children into Mfantsipim, Achimota School, Aburi Girls’, PRESEC, etc.

All these “special schools” have been shaped by a certain philosophy, which, sometimes, even teachers wished were not there. They are not perfect institutions. But the principles on which they were built are sound. No wonder, we still talk of “Presbyterian discipline”.

Thus, all who decide to attend Mission Schools, built with a specific agenda and code of conduct, must be willing to abide by those codes. Mfantsipim School is a public school, but primarily, a Methodist Church school. In the same vein, TI Ahmadiya School in Kumasi cannot have anyone impose a Headmaster of another religion on it.

One loses some of one’s personal rights when one attends a school with its clear-cut mission. Though a Christian, I would not allow my children to attend certain acclaimed Christian schools because I do not agree or accept some of their doctrinal views.

 

Dressing

When it comes to dressing, we must all be clear that, in our country, there is no issue of “rights” or “wrongs”, except in cases of indecency. Specific locations and situations may demand certain dress codes, but those are only at social gatherings. As a secular state, we adopted the dress code of our colonial masters. Many years back, “formal” dressing for men to a state dinner, for example, meant wearing a full or lounge suit, with a flying or bow tie to match. Today, we are allowed to wear batakari, fugu and others to work, especially in places where there are no specifically-prescribed dress codes.

Banks, hospitals, etc., have specific dress codes that are strictly adhered to, and those unwilling to do so do not take those jobs. In the Ghana Armed Forces, Police, Fire Service, etc, which respect religious freedom, there is nothing like “Christian” or “Muslim” dressing. Everyone wears a uniform, beards are clean-shaved when one is on duty, irrespective of one’s religious beliefs.

Why don’t  footballers with different religious beliefs exercise their rights not to wear their team jerseys, but their own religious ‘jerseys’ in matches? It is simply because there are rules that govern the game. However, there is freedom of celebration of goals; one  can make a sign of the cross or bow down to Allah. These are permitted.

 

School dress codes

I see no problem in wearing hajib to social gatherings, or in the university, where there is freedom of choice in the attire one wears. I was surprised the other day to see my son come home from lectures in something I could not call a pair of trousers or a pair of shorts. In our days, that was an anathema.

But in first and second-cycle institutions, where there are prescribed dress codes, students do not have their individual religious choices. Even certain hair cuts are prohibited in secondary and primary institutions as part of the training and to check indiscipline.

Even in “free” America, many school boards have seen the big mistake in allowing students to wear clothing of their choices and are bringing back the “uniform”! So, one’s individual religious rites or rights cannot or should not be allowed to subvert the prescribed dress code.

Just a few days ago, we were teasing ourselves in a meeting. We could not wear shoes to school, even if we had them, because the majority of students did not have any. And in the interest of discipline and the public good, we all went bare-footed!

We, as a nation, should check this over-exercise or abuse of religious rights in order to keep law and order in our society.

 

Dangerous signs

What is beginning to happen in Ghana now with Muslims demonstrating over dress codes, etc., is just what fuels groups like Boko Haram. That is why the Communications Minister has no business meddling in this matter at all.

What shall we do as a nation, if all the children, whose parents belong to particular shrines, decide to insist that at specific hours during the day, even during lessons, they must be allowed to stop and drink a glass of akpeteshie, pray, jump ten times, etc.? And what if Buddhists, Rastafarians, Bahais, and all the thousands of religious groups and shrines in Ghana decide to demand a full public holiday? Will there be one working day left in any year, if all yam, okro, gari, plantain and beans festivals were declared public holidays? What if Muslims and some Christian groups insist that there should be no drinking bars, no liquor factories, etc., in our communities? They could, as in some countries, because they see them as vices.

But we have allowed them, rightly or wrongly so, in the interest of national peace and cohesion, knowing that, if anyone exceeds the legal limits of alcohol consumption, he is not allowed to drive a motor vehicle. If he does, he is arrested and prosecuted, again, believing that the police and other law-enforcement agencies will do their work well. But we have no rights beating up drunkards, tearing down drinking bars, or beating up homosexuals, etc.

It would be wrong for a policeman, fire officer or soldier to refuse to respond to a call to duty simply because they feel they shouldn’t or are compelled by their faith not to. That is why Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, do not join the army or the police because they cannot abide by the rules of the forces.

Our nation has more serious and complex problems than dressing. Indiscipline, massive corruption and disrespect for elders is a major problem in our schools already. Students are bribing seniors to avoid punishment or do ground work; parents are buying stolen question papers for their wards, etc. These are the same students who will grow up to fill our civil service, banks, government and courtrooms. Let us not complicate the matters by introducing religious trivialities.

God help Ghana focus on the real issues!

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