By Varney M. Kamara
Islamic leaders and followers in the country have taken their rhetoric against the problematic proposal seeking Christianity as a state religion to a new high with vows of secession and threat of instability.
On top of this, the Inter Religious Council of Liberia that has historically been key to religious tolerance in Liberia is on life support as the Muslim Council suspends membership in continuation of protest actions.
First Sheik Akibu Sheriff, of the National Muslim Council of Liberia warned legislators “Muslims will be totally out of Liberia” should making Liberia a Christian state is made a proposition for the pending referendum and that there will be no peace between Muslims and Christians.
Now, a group calling itself The Consortium of Muslim Youth Organizations has threatened that Islam dominated counties would secede from the rest of Liberia, unless the Christianization of Liberia proposal is abandoned, terming the proposal as a clever attempt to draw the country back to the days of Apartheid.
“We called this news conference today to state our position on the ongoing so-called Christianization of our country by some separatists and extremists. We see this as the beginning of the establishment of the Apartheid state in the name of religion. This is an attempt of alienation and exclusion, and we state here in no uncertain terms that this has the potential to undermine our peace, unity and stability,” declared Semah S. Kamola, President of the CMYO (Consortium of Muslim Youth Organizations).
Rather than focusing on religious confrontation which might further divide the country and ignite deep hatred amongst Liberians, the CMYO called on those behind the Christianization of the country to focus their attention on the basic well-beings of Liberians which include better health care facility for the population, education, water and electricity, as well as addressing the issue of poverty and corruption.
While the matter is being debated at the legislature, the local Islamic youth group has announced series of proactive steps aimed at deterring any Christianization of the Liberian state, including the plan to make Muslim dominated counties to separate from the rest of the country.
“We all are aware of what religion did to Sudan. It’s because of religious conflict that we have South and Northern Sudan. Hundreds of thousands of people died in that conflict. The people there continue to suffer,” Kamola warned. Adding: “For this reason, we are advising the Legislature not to even put this issue for referendum because, if that happens, we’ll call on all Muslim dominated counties in this country to secede.”
The group warned that it will do anything and by whatsoever means to stop such referendum from taking place in all predominantly Muslim Counties across the country.
“We are saying this and we are very serious about this. We’ll not allow such unconstitutional, divisive, highly discriminatory and undemocratic law to be passed in this country,” the Islamic youth vowed..
The CMYO latest comments came 48 hours after the National Muslim Council of Liberia announced the suspension of its membership from the country’s Inter Faith-Religious Council (IRCL).
After years of enduring sacrifice in bringing Liberia’s warring parties together in order to harness genuine peace and stability to the country, the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia, a highly respected cross-boundary religious group which contained leaders of both Christians and Muslims, has finally split with the National Muslim Council of Liberia announcing suspension of its membership from the IRCL (Inter-Religious Council of Liberia) with immediate effect.
“The NMCL maintains that it has become unequivocally clear to the Muslim Community of Liberia over the last few months that the LCC has embarked on a carefully crafted plan to creating a “Christian State.” This plan aims at imposing all the features of prejudices against all other faiths as well as to awarding accompanying preferential treatments of national life to the Christian Religion. As the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia was founded to foster ideals contrary to those now being pursued by the LCC, the NMCL is compelled by prevailing realities to suspend its participation in any future activities of the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia,” Sheikh Akibu Sheriff, Secretary General of the National Muslim Council of Liberia reading a prepared text at a press conference over the weekend, announced.
By embarking on such pursuit, NMCL accused the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC), another founding member of the Inter-Religious Council, of going contrary to the original ideals of the cross-boundary religious body, a highly respected group in the country.
“The Inter-Religious Council of Liberia (IRCL), the Muslim Council of Liberia been a founding member of the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia, IRCL was established by Liberia’s legendary religious leaders, the distinguished personalities of Arch-Bishop Michael Kpakala Francis, Sheikh Kafumba F. Konneh and Arch-Bishop Nah Dixon, and as a monument to assist post war Liberia to engender religious tolerance and human fraternity,” the NMCL statement read. Adding: “According to the National Muslim Council, it finds it unfortunate at this critical juncture in our post conflict history that the Liberia Council of Churches(LCC) will take an institutional position to support “Liberia’s national identity as a “CHRISTIAN NATION”, as articulated by Reverend Arnold Hill, heading a seven-man delegation at the hearing conducted recently by the House Joint Committee of the National Legislature headed by Chairman on Good Governance Representative Larry Yanquoi of Nimba County.”
The National Muslim Council of Liberia (NMCL) said the decision to suspend its membership from the IRCL was derived after extensive consultation within the Muslim Community and with the larger Liberian society, following an extra ordinary session over the weekend in Monrovia.
The NMCL pronouncement came amidst rising tension over a debate whether or not to make Liberia a Christian State. ‘Christianizing’ Liberia and deviating from its current secular state is one of several proposals currently before the national legislature which could appear for the pending national referendum seeking reform to the country’s 1986 constitution to reflect competing demands of the population. Some leading Christian leaders including the Catholic Archie Bishop of Monrovia have reject the ‘Christian nation’ proposal while threats from Muslims leaders to argue against the potential proposition have been denounced.
Previous CRC (Constitutional Review Committee) stakeholders’ discussions on the proposal have already witnessed intense confrontations between Christians and Muslims in the country. As the debate over Liberia’s religious identity rages, there are fears that some proponents of the proposal may use it for their own political gains as the 2017 legislative and Presidential elections draw closer.
The latest crack within the country’s multi-religious sector appears to be a worrying sign for the resolution of potential conflicts in the country; given the group’s vital role it played in breaking deadlocks to restore peace to the country during the civil war..
The IRCL, which was founded in 1990, played a remarkable role in bringing the country’s warring factions on the peace table in order to end one of Africa’s brutal civil wars, a bloody conflict which left over 250,000 people dead and sent more than 300,000 refugees across the West African sub-region.
The country’s current constitution calls for a secular state, where religion is clearly separated from state function. Those opposing the ‘Christianization’ of Liberia have argued repeatedly that the proposal has no significant bearing in the country’s post-war development..
Meanwhile, the LCC when contacted through its former Vice President, Rev. Dr. Korto Brown, denied the NMCL charged, and termed the Muslim Council statement as highly presumptuous.
“That’s not the official position of the LCC. The definition you heard about ‘Christian State, which came from the committee that was set up by the LCC’s National Executive Council, is only a recommendation that they’ll be submitting to the LCC’s General Assembly. That’s not the final position of the LCC on this matter. LCC has not announced its official position on this matter yet. For that to happen, it has to meet the consensus of all the churches in this country,” Rev. Brown told this paper via mobile phone on Sunday.
The Christian State proposal is amongst several recurrent views currently before the National Legislature for consideration. If the Legislature deems it fate, the proposal could be part of others that will appear in the coming national referendum, which is expected in seven months. When legislated, the proposal would be submitted to the President for her approval. Nonetheless, New Democrat has received credible reports of intense lobbying with lawmakers by contending parties to the debate.
Varney M. Kamara