I want to listen, but their words hit my ears and stab my consciousness. I want to read, but what I read nudged my curiosity to utter what their ears didn’t want to hear. I wondered who was wrong and who was right. Now, I want to write, but I trust my pen.
One day at dawn, when temperature drove to a single digit and the weather shrouded every soul and wind didn’t have mercy while passing through the nostrils; I dared the weather and went out – to the shop – at early at 7 p.m. None of my neighbours had arrived. They were still in the cage which the weather owns the keys.
After I arranged the shop, sipping tea that I ordered on my way coming, then my Igbo customer walked in. His smile waves at me before he releases the words of greeting. He sat on the customer’s chair, adjusting his wool cap to prevent cold from sneaking into his ears.
“My guy, how far?” he asked.
I answered him with a smile while sipping the remaining tea in the mug. Anytime he came to my shop; before jumping into business, we used to digest Nigerian politics which was cooked by religion, and ethnicity. His eyes encountered the book on my table as his hand rushed to grab it. “Martin Luther King On Leadership,” he read the title before channeling his eyes to me. “Why are you reading a Christian book?”
In most of our arguments, we opposed each other’s opinion. At first, he saw me as an Islamist or ‘Quietist Jihadist’ as Joas Wagemakers put it. He never became angry with me. He used to laugh at me, addressing me as part of the Nigerian problem among the other Northern Muslims who had been held the progression of the country. Anytime I agree with him on an issue; he uses it as a tool, trying to prove his points on the other issues that I didn’t agree with.
“Why shouldn’t I?” I asked him, in confusion.
“Don’t you know he was a pastor?” he replied, with confidence as if he defeated me in yet another argument.
What he told me had been roaming in my mind for the whole day and exhausted my brain. I never read something about Martin Luther King saying he was fighting for only Black people; talk less of distancing himself from other religious faithful. Why did this man think I have no right to read a Christian book?
I came to realise that: religious extremism was playing the same role as white supremacy in America. Both the former and the latter: discriminate, segregate, and consume the lives of other parties. I didn’t only continue reading Martin Luther King, rather, I bought books that were written by Christian authors like: Joyce Meyer, Joel and Victoria Osteen, and Rev Yusufu Turaki among others. I also listen to Daniel Ubong on our local radio station.
One book that plays a significant role in my life was Joyce Meyer’s Never Give Up. She hooks the reader from the title, but most of my Muslims friends reject the content. “Why are you reading such stuff?” they used to ask, angrily.
One evening as I went back home from the shop, exhausted. Mom welcomed me with delicious jollof rice with beans – my favourite meal – and asked me to take a bath before dinner. I went to the bathroom; my saliva was sneaking from my mouth as the picture of the meal hung itself in my imagination. While eating – that was after Isha-prayer – my phone rang, it was my elder brother on the line.
“Assalamu Alaikum,” I answered the call.
“Walaikumus salam,” he replied. “I guess you are at home close to mom, means not watching football today, right?”
I grinned, looking at mom. Everyone knows that only a football match could separate me from her at that very moment. “Yes, I am with her, eating her delicious meal which you can’t get access to.”
He laughed, then jumped into the reason he called me. “Do you know how much is the registration of Al-Bayan?”
His question left me dumbfounded. I know he knows that I don’t know anything about that Sunni Islamic School. But why was he asking me? he had an easier access to know than me if he wanted to know.
“No! I don’t know,” I said.
“Alright, please check it for me tomorrow,” he said, and ended the call.
I don’t mind checking anything.
The following day when we met, he told me that it was me that he wanted to go to that school, because at that time when he called me, he was on Facebook where he saw my post as I quoted the wise saying of Martin Luther King. Now instead, he wants me to be posting the saying of Prophet Muhammad Peace Be upon Him and his companions. “I felt sad and ashamed when I saw you posting a Christian wise words instead of our beloved Prophet whose words sound even better,” he lamented.
Confusion buried my words as my soul was chained by guilt; yet my thought fought back, but my tongue was heavy: unable to react. I decided to end the conversation; deep inside me, I didn’t agree with either my feeling or what my brother had said.
Few days later, I bridged the gap between my thought and my feeling. Then, I swam in the ocean of Jalaluddin Rumi and Shams of Tabrizi. The duo washed my soul and cleared my doubts. They also lured my heart to fall in love with life and religions. I then began to feed myself with a meal from every religion and I felt healthier than ever before. In another conversation with my brother; he told me that I need to change my way of thinking. “This thought will gradually lead you to Shia, from then, it will drag you out of Islam – to become a free thinker.” he said, fear covering his face.
This time, I didn’t immerse myself in the mud of doubt or allow guilt to chain my soul.
“Are Shias not Muslims or free thinkers not humans?” I asked, grinning at him. “Salman Paris, the companion of our beloved Prophet searched for truth, he passed through many religions and became one of the smartest companions of the Prophet. So, if you believe Islam is true, don’t bother yourself, that’s what I’m seeking.”
My brother heard me, but didn’t believe with what I had said. He challenged my thoughts; I defended my points.
One day, I was a little busy at the shop, then I log on my Twitter to connect with other parts of the world. There was not much notification – for the unpopular learner as I am. The one among the three notifications was a mention by a local radio presenter. He tweeted that: he wishes one day to attend a Muslim Congregational Prayer in a mosque – not as a Muslim, but as a Christian – so that to build a mutual relationship/understanding with Muslims, and he want Muslims to do the same.
“Yeah, that’s good, but trust me, no Muslim can enter Church with such aim.” His fellow Christian replied to the tweet. That was when he mentioned me, telling the guy that I am one who he had no doubt that I could. The conversation ended on Twitter, but it dragged my thought where it never went. I don’t know why I never thought of attending a Church service. My curiosity began to itch my conscience.
It came as coincidence: at the second day of Global Leadership Summit taking place at Government House Chapel, Rayfield. I never knew Christians are having a Church service on other days not Sundays until that day. I went to the summit early, where I saw the ongoing Church service at the venue before the programme kicks off. I found a seat at the front pew, next to a young lady – almost the same age as I – who welcomed me with a smile that was dancing on her face. We all focus on the man that was talking, with a Bible in his hand.
After a while, another young lady came and sat next to me, being in the middle. Shyness and fear hit my heart simultaneously; when I turned back and glanced at the congregation, then I had a peace of mind as I saw other men in the middle of women like a jollof of rice and beans.
At the end of the service, someone commands everyone to stand up for prayer. Before the prayer began, the ladies held my hands as the rest of the people did to each other. Every eye that I looked at was closed. I didn’t feel any guilt – for being the only one whose eyes were opened – as the vibration from the hands of the ladies reminds me how it’s happened in the mosque, especially during Ramadan while praying Tahajjud. Some worshippers vibrated and shook the next person who had the body contact with, which was a mandatory to connect with person next to you via shoulders and feet.
The lady that I met first also came for the summit. We didn’t change seats when the summit began; we digested what the speakers were saying to the level of our understanding. She asked me about my goals.
“I want to be a writer,” I answered.
“Have you ever published something?”
“No, but I got a couple of rejection,” I said, grinning at her as if those rejections didn’t squeeze my heart.
“Never give up, have faith in Christ, he will take you to where you want to go. Very soon you will get an acceptance in Jesus name,” she prayed. For the first time, I heard a words of prayer for me says by a Christian.
Towards the end of the summit, that was when we remembered that we didn’t know each other by name. She told me her name which I couldn’t even pronounce – because it’s a tribal name – and I decided to tell her mine before asking her to teach me how to pronounce her name that punished my tongue.
The pair of an Arabic word words which be the names of my father and I hooked her soul as she stared at me like someone who wore his clothes inside out. She muttered something that I couldn’t guess what it was; she stood up and strode towards the door, leaving me with something that was scratching my brain.
Some Christians and the Muslims who heard that I attended a Church service asked me the same question, “why did you attend?”
“Why shouldn’t I?” I answered them with a question.
I had received several invitations from Christians to accept Christianity. “Your attitude wasn’t a Muslim attitude, rather, a Christian attitude, please, accept Christ as your Lord and Saviour.” Someone once told me.
“My attitude was moulded by the teaching of my beloved Prophet, Muhammad Peace of Allah Be upon Him.” I replied, as the man ended the conversation with a mirthless smile.
As life went on, I believe that one of the greatest blessings that ever happened to humans was diversity – especially cultural/religious diversity – which allows us to recognise each other as it stated in the Holy Qur’an.
My belief had been a barrier between me and my old friend. “I am sorry please, I don’t have the patience to continue being friend with an apostate.” One of my Muslim friend told me before he unfriends me on Facebook. While my Christian friend before blocking me said, “don’t come to my comment box, trying to depend Islam that only preach terrorism.”
One Sunday morning after I opened the shop; watching television as I usually do on Sunday. My neighbour walked in, intending to have a chat as his eyes went on the television where Rev Christopher Nnubiah was leading the Sunday Mass Service at St Mary Catholic Church Apo Dutse, Abuja.
“Why are you watching this?” he asked, grabbing the remote and changed the channel.
“Why shouldn’t I?”
“You should’ve watched Sunnah TV.”
I didn’t have to tell him that Sunnah TV was the last channel I had been watching before I slept and after I woke up. Sometimes I didn’t turn off the television as the words of the Holy Qur’an rhymed through my ears and calmed my soul.
“The pastor was saying that, ‘not to look people with suspicious eyes is part of charity,” I explained. “Do you remember that Prophet Muhammad Peace Be upon Him taught us that suspicious is a sin even if what you suspect was true?”
He nodded his head as his words ran away from my path. “Is true, but you should learn the truth from our scholars since Islam was the only true religion.”
I grinned at him, “why are we choosing the tongue that we want to tell us the truth? If a Muslim can say a lie, then a non-Muslim can say a truth and a truth is a truth and a lie is a lie no matter the tongue that utter it.”
He heard me; the rejection of what I said appeared on his frown face. I know he doesn’t want to hear my words. He knows I wouldn’t be angry with what he said. I didn’t bother about who was right or wrong. I only trusted my words as I felt happy with my own belief.
Bashir Abubakar is a trader at terminus market, Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria. He is passionate about words creativity and peace advocacy. His works were inspired by the relationship between people who shared different identities. If he is not with the customer at the shop, then, you would find him with a book, reading or a pen, writing.
Bashir also graduated from GSS Toro (TC Toro) in 2013 before stepping into trading and other social activities. He was considered a good friend by the Plateau Peace Building Agency – a government agency that preaches peace in Plateau State. To him: reading, writing, and preaching peace are hobbies.