It is my pleasure to use this medium to inform you about the concerns of the humanist/atheist community in Nigeria. We just finished a historic event here in Abuja that focused on the risks and challenges that people who renounce religion face in the country. It may interest you to know that these risks are mainly due to how muslim religious believers treat those who renounce Islam.
And to mitigate these dangers, there is a need for a conversation with religious establishments such as the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, NSCIA.
I recognize the fact that this proposal may come to you as a surprise, that your agency might be hesitant and unwilling to join in a conversation with a humanist association or with those who self describe as unbelievers.
However, it is a well known fact that the NSCIA is an important voice in Nigerian muslim community and a stakeholder in the inter-religious dialogue. Surely, dialoguing with unbelievers and apostates can help the NSCIA in tackling widespread abuses in the name of Islam including dispelling the fears and anxieties that are associated with apostasy and blasphemy.
I want to draw the attention of the NSCIA to the persecution of ex muslims across the country. Persons who are born into the Islamic faith and who no longer subscribe to Islamic faith are unable to openly and publicly identify as ex-muslims due to very legitimate concerns. Such persons could be attacked and killed by sharia state or non state actors.
These persons could also be accused of blasphemy and of being an enemy of Islam, which is a form of death sentence. This oppressive trend underscores the compulsive nature of the Islamic faith as practiced in the country. This jihadist islam provides a sub soil for the ravaging forces of muslim extremism and hatred.
In fact many ex muslims could not attend the just concluded humanist convention in Abuja due to concerns over their safety and security. They feared that family members or the sharia police could persecute or persecute them. If Islam as practiced in Nigeria is actually a peaceful religion and people are not forced to embrace, profess and remain muslims, why are ex muslims living in the closet?
Why are those who criticize or renounce religion attacked and killed? Why are ex muslims not allowed to voluntarily leave the faith? Why are ex-muslims living in fear and are forced operate underground especially in muslim majority states?
If actually there is no compulsion in the Islamic religion, ex muslims should be free to express themselves, free to meet and associate, free to question and criticize the Islamic doctrines, without fear of losing their jobs or lives, without being imprisoned and harassed. Look, a family in Kano sent an exmuslim to a mental hospital after he renounced Islam. So these fears of ex-muslims are real.
They are not forms of islamophobia, but rather currents of islam based, Islam-motivated and Islam-sanctioned hatred that have plagued the country since independence. In Gombe, Kano, Zamfara, Niger and other places there have been recurrent attacks and killings of persons in the name of Islam.
The sharia police have been operating with impunity targeting religious and sexual minorities. The hijab campaign has been another clear demonstration of Islamic privilege and exceptionalism, not of equal rights, dignity and justice for all. It must be recalled that when sharia was first introduced in early 2000, Islamic theocrats said that the law was for muslims only.
Is that the case today in Kano, Jigawa and Gombe? Hence I use this medium to invite the NSCIA to partner with the humanist/atheist movement and to join in tackling religion-motivated violence in all its forms-psychological, structural and physical. The NSCIA should become co-campaigners for a Nigeria where mosque and state are separate and where individuals can freely embrace or renounce Islam.
Leo Igwe is a human rights activist and the founder of the Nigerian Humanist Movement. He was the Western and Southern African representative to IHEU, the International Humanist and Ethical Union. He can be reached by email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.