Parliament of World Religions: Where faiths converge

Six Nigerians attended a training on interfaith and cultural conflict mediation at the Center for Interfaith and Cultural Conflict Resolution of Drew University New Jersey in 2016. For an in-house country girl like me, it was not just the first time I would be travelling to America, but also the first time I would be meeting a lot of people from different countries, cultures and faith.

For instance, as a northern Nigerian Muslim, the picture I had of Jews was completely different from the Jews I met during the fellowship. By
the end of the three weeks training, I had become friends with everyone,
including the Jews. A book gift by one of the Jewish participants, a rabbi, remains one of my most treasured books. One of the female participants still sends me photos of her wearing the hijab I gave her.

On returning to our countries, we have attained deeper and different levels of understanding people across culture and religious differences and established mutually respectful relationships.
Importantly, we understood the fact that regardless of what has been happening everywhere, people want and desire peace. No one truly wants to continue to live in chaos and anarchy. Peace is the ultimate desire of every human being.

This could be hard to understand especially when you consider the crisis, challenges and crimes that are perpetuated under the banner of religion all over the world. However, the truth remains that the real spiritually religious people desire peace.

I was one of 6 fellows selected as a presenter at the just concluded
virtual annual Parliament of World Religions conference.

The parliament was created to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities, and foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions in order to achieve a just,
peaceful and sustainable world. It was the first virtual conference, and the 8th parliament.
My co-presenters and I shared our experiences working in interfaith peace building, the success and challenges involved enumerating on the fact that despite the challenges therein, the world needs people of courage and compassion; especially in inter-religious peace building now more than ever.

And that was the title of our session.
I regard compassion as one of the greatly misunderstood and underrated
words in our society today. It is Latin for ‘to suffer together’.

Emotional researchers define compassion as the ‘feeling that arises.when you are confronted with another’s suffering and is moved to alleviate the person’s suffering’. Compassion is therefore quite a difficult task to undertake to have towards self, let alone others.
t requires courage to have compassion; lots of it. Indeed, it requires courage to engage in peacebuilding work, and the compassion to remain committed to it, especially interreligious peacebuilding.

Globally, religion is one of the most sensitive and volatile issues in every society hence one of the most common causes of conflict. This
makes interreligious peacebuilding work one that requires a lot of courage to engage in, and a lot of compassion to stay committed. The courage to be judged, misunderstood, criticized and even despised. And the compassion to understand that it is work that needs to be done.
Once urbane multicultural and metropolitan, Kaduna turned into a hotbed of ethnic and religious tensions since the 1999 shariah crisis.
What was once the center of the north and melting pot of the country gradually degenerated into a landmine of ethno-religious conflict.

The Kaduna state governor in 2016 proposed a bill to regulate religious preaching in the state, with the sole aim promote religious harmony and peaceful co-existence among the people. The bill generated so much dispute, opposition, debate, condemnation and criticism. It took over three years of gradual and through deliberation in the state house of assembly before finally passed in 2019. The passage of the bill and signing it into law is what catalyzed the establishment of the state interfaith regulation council and the local government inter-faith committee in each local government in the state that was recently inaugurated.

The religious preaching regulatory bill remains the most controversial bill to be debated by the Kaduna state house of assembly as well as the most disputed, criticized and opposed one. But despite the criticisms and oppositions, Governor Nasir Elrufai’s remained dogged and committed to ensuring the passage and implementation of the preaching regulation bill.
This is an exemplary act of courage driven by the compassionate belief that this bill is necessary even if it would compromise his political career.

“Religion is a relationship with God, not a bargaining tool for economic or political favours, and certainly not an excuse for murder, arson, destruction of property and other violent crimes against people who worship and pray differently.” -Nasir Elrufai
I used the Kaduna state governor as the case study for courage and
compassion in my presentation at the parliament of world religions 2021 virtual conference. He exemplifies courage and compassion; he was compassionate enough to have the courage to do what was necessary
regardless of the opposition.
May we have more leaders with COURAGE and COMPASSION.