Nigerian bishop addresses the evils of Islamist extremism at interfaith summit

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of the Diocese of Sokoto, Nigeria | EWTN/YouTube screen shot

Before a gathering of religious leaders in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, a Catholic bishop from Nigeria gave an account of how his country had become a “cauldron of violence” at the hands of Islamist extremists.

Addressing the G20 Religion Forum in Bali on Nov. 3 in advance of the Group of 20’s meeting later this month, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah testified to the violence committed against both Christians and Muslims caught in intra-sectarian warfare.

“Every day, news of abductions, armed robberies, kidnappings for ransom, murders, and assassinations of our innocent citizens persists. Our sacred spaces have become killing grounds,” the bishop said. “Hundreds of worshippers have been murdered in mosques and churches across the country. 

According to a report by the nongovernmental organization Open Doors, 4,650 Christians were killed in Nigeria in 2021— that’s more than the number killed in all of the other countries in the world combined.

The G20 Religion Forum was hosted by Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama political party, which, according to its press release, represents 120 million “moderate” Muslims, or about 40% of the country’s 231 million Muslims. 

The conference was convened to “prevent the weaponization of identity” and “curtail the spread of communal hatred,” according to its stated goals.

Kukah, the bishop of the Diocese of Sokoto in the northwest region of Nigeria, where Muslims are in the majority, commended the group for “taking the historic step to address these issues directly,” he said.

In his address, he shared details of some of the recent acts of violence committed by Muslim extremists in his diocese, including the kidnappings of fellow priests and the case of Deborah Samuel, a Christian student who on May 13 was accused of blasphemy and brutally murdered by a mob of Muslim students. 

Kukah explained that Muslim elites see secular laws as a threat to Islam and, therefore, disregard them. Nigeria’s constitution includes protections of the freedom of religion and prohibits federal or state governments from adopting any religion as a state religion.

“In northern Nigeria, Muslim elites have tended to see the institutions of the modern state as an alien imposition that attempts to displace their own religion, with Western education as a foreign enemy to Islam. They thus consider the present constitution and secular laws as fundamentally subordinate to Islam, and in practice ignore the written laws of the land as they see fit,” the bishop said.

He urged the world’s religious leaders to work together to oppose those who commit violence out of “grand delusions” that their religion requires it of them.

“This cancer of the weaponization of religion threatens us all. History shows us that empires and emperors have had their day. The world will always be full of men and women with grand delusions about how they have been divinely sent to create a new world at the cost of human blood,” he said.

The Nigerian bishop pressed the religious leaders to “work in collaboration with civil society to “ensure a fairer world for all.” 

In conclusion, he called on governments to end religious discrimination and defend their country’s constitutions. 

Religious leaders, he said, should also avoid “the manipulation of identities” and instead “encourage areas of integration through education, common citizenship, intermarriages, and other platforms of social cohesion anticipated and enshrined in our constitutions,” Kuha said.

The G20 Religious Forum also featured the testimony of the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Erbil, Iraq, Bashar Matti Warda. In his address, Warda painted a pessimistic picture of Iraq given the majority-Muslim country’s long history of violence.

“Throughout the Islamic world, the reality of structured violence, persecution, and marginalization against the minorities remains, century after century,” Warda said.

More in US

“To raise this matter in Western or global audiences is to invite a charge of ‘Islamophobia,’ mainly from social critics speaking theoretically from places far removed from any threat or actual experience. But for we Iraqi Christians this is not an abstract matter,” he said.

Warda continued: “There is a crisis of violence in Islam and for the sake of humanity, including the followers of Islam themselves, it must be addressed openly and honestly.”

There is hope, he said, but only through forgiveness and the renunciation of violence.

“Ours then is now a missionary role, to give daily witness to the teachings of Christ, to provide a living example to our neighbors of a path to a world of forgiveness, of humility, of love, of peace. Lest there be any confusion here I am not speaking of conversion. Rather, I am speaking of the fundamental truth of forgiveness and a renunciation of violence which we Christians of Iraq can share and do so from a position of historically unique moral clarity.

“We forgive those who murdered us, who tortured us, who raped us, who sought to destroy everything about us. We forgive them. In the name of Christ, we forgive them,” the archbishop of Erbil said.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.