Yesterday Multimedia’s Nana Ansah Kwao had a very enlightening discussion on his Thursday afternoon show, “That’s My Opinion.” His topic was, “Not every Muslim is a terrorist, but most terrorist claim to be Muslims.”
The topic and the subject are very sensitive, and required a lot of tactfulness in order not to hurt the sensibilities of Muslims, especially on such an important day as the Eid-Adha.
Nana Ansah Kwao did not only give his opinion on the subject as he often does between 2pm and 3pm every Thursday. His discussion was well-researched and the callers and contributors to the show threw more light on Islam. Unfortunately, it was only his closing remarks about his relationship with Gifty Anti that made the headlines, and not the enormous education he offered.
For those who listened to the show, however, it was clear that Islam is not a bad religion. Muslims are not bad people. Some people have used the religion to advance their own murderous causes. The media have not helped. The words “terrorists” and “militants” are hardly used these days without Islam. That was what Nana Ansah Kwao’s show sought to dispel and it is refreshing when such enlightenment is coming from a non-Muslim.
I am not a Muslim and I am not an Islamic scholar. I am a Christian. I am not a religious expert. I am writing as a concerned citizen of the world. My experience from reading and observing religious activities around the world, as well as my work as a journalist, has taught me that there is so much injustice done to Muslims whenever we equate terrorism with Islam. I am not saying all Muslims are saints and there’s nothing wrong with the religion. Every religion has it’s problems. I am only talking about tagging and generalization.
When someone takes a gun, goes to a university or night club and starts killing people, the media call him a “gun man.” When he is overpowered, they recommend a psychiatric assessment and they will later report of how he was abused as a child and how that might have influenced his violent behaviour.
If the suspect bears a Muslim name, however, the narrative is different. He is labeled an Islamic terrorist even before he is arrested. It is that simple.
For this reason, many people who have not had any negative encounter with Muslims are quick to tag them as violent. Recently when I was thinking about this unfair tagging and negative reportage, one question came to mind: “If Pastor Mensa Otabil of the International Central Gospel Church and Bishop Obinim of the International Godsway Church were Muslims, which one would we say represents Islam?
If you don’t know about these two Men of God, let me give you a little background. Pastor Mensa Otabil is the most respected clergyman in Ghana, in my opinion. He has used the pulpit to shape the conscience of many Ghanaians. His enormous wisdom has been an ever-flowing fountain for those who cherish wisdom. His ministry has impacted millions across the country and beyond.
When I gave my website address to some young Kenyans in July this year, a lady called Catherine Njorege logged on to the page and after seeing my picture with Pastor Mensa Otabil, she exclaimed, “Is that Pastor Mensa Otabil?”
“Yes,” I said. “How do you know him?”
“I follow him a lot. We watch his sermons here in Kenya,” she said and went ahead to talk so well of Pastor Mensa Otabil. I was proud.
Pastor Mensa Otabil’s church has also helped in the development of the nation. The Central University College established by the church is one of Ghana’s best private universities while a number of charity initiatives by the church provide social services such as healthcare and water. The church also provides scholarships for needy children, including Muslims.
Bishop Daniel Obinim, on the other hand, is noted for his “miracles” and “healings.” His name, however, connotes other crude manifestations of the Christian Faith. In one video, he is seen kicking the abdomen of a pregnant woman he claims to be healing. In another video, he strips a man who is said to be impotent, and in the full glare of the church and cameras, holds his penis as he prays.
If vulgarity and mastery of foul language were gifts of the Holy Spirit, Bishop Daniel Obinim could be said to very gifted in them. Last year, he descended into the ditch with some people who had chided him in the media. In the presence if his congregation and TV cameras, he insulted and cursed all those who had issues with him. He once stormed the studios of an Accra-based radio stations to attack people who were criticizing him on a live programme. These are only a few of his pastoral gymnastics.
Now get this: Pastor Mensa Otabil and Bishop Daniel Obinim are both Christians. They both use the same Bible. So if someone wants to describe Christians, would he or she be fair to say that all Christians are like Obinim?
If you did not know, let me remind you that Bishop Obinim’s actions are very mild if you compared him with some other Christian leaders and their weird doctrines. A South African pastor asked his church members to eat grass and they did. A Brazilian pastor asked his church members to suck his penis because it contained some kind of milk from the Holy Spirit. They obeyed. A Nigerian pastor impregnated over 20 members of his church and said he had been directed by the Holy Spirit to do it. Some pastors and churches also subject members suspected to be possessed by the evil spirit to torture and physical abuse.
It is clear that these so-called pastors are doing abominable acts that are alien to the religion they profess to follow. But do we see all Christians in the light of only the bad ones? The answer is no. At least, that’s not how the media tell us.
The same cannot be said of Islam. If Pastor Mensa Otabil and Bishop Daniel Obinim were Muslims, I am sure we would use Bishop Obinim to represent Muslims and ignore the likes of Pastor Mensa Otabil who are transforming society through the Word of God.
Religious extremism is hurting the world today. And it is not only in Islam that we find extremists. There are extremists in Christianity too. Last year, I walked into a thick forest near Oyibi here in Accra. In that thick forest live some Christians who see the rest of the world as sinful and refer to it as Sodom and Gomorrah. They live in simple tents and grow mushrooms to survive. Speaking to them, I realized that they were not gullible illiterates, as one would imagine. Some were university graduates. A director of the Ghana Education Service and tutor of a senior high school was there in the forest. I also met a very intelligent lady who had left her job as a lecturer at the Ghana Institute of Languages and is living in that forest with her husband. If this is not extremism, then what is it?
There are different manifestations of religious extremism. For those linking theirs with Islam, their mode of operation is mostly violent. To defeat religious extremism, we need to condemn the actions of the extremists without crucifying their religion. When we attack the entire religion we make the good adherents of that religion defensive and we push moderate devotees of the religion to become extremists. When people feel threatened, they get defensive.
There are millions of Muslims in Ghana. They co-exist peacefully with Christians and members of other faiths. Why do we have to look to Syria or Nigeria to conclude that Muslims are violent or terrorists? What about the peaceful ones at home? There are probably more human rights abuses by Christian churches in Ghana than by Muslims. Extortion in churches and maltreatment of the vulnerable people in prayer camps abound in many communities. Do we single out such individual pastors and churches for condemnation or we condemn Christianity in general?
A little reading and research will show that the likes of Boko Haram and Islamic States are not fighting the cause of Islam. They are only using religion to fight purely political wars.
The United States and other powerful western countries are partly responsible for what is happening. The Arab world has a lot of oil and so they are interested in what goes on in those countries. In the name of entrenching democracy, they adopt divide-and-rule tactics to set various sects of the religion against one another for political gains. Sometimes the so-called Islamic terrorists are a creation of the West.
The very rebel forces the Super Powers of the world gave deadly weapons to fight President Assad of Syria are the same people who are beheading, torturing and killing innocent people like animals. Their actions have nothing to do with Islam, except to use the religion as a way of attracting more extremists. Nigeria’s Boko Haram have killed more Muslims than people of other faiths. If they were Muslims fighting to entrench Islam, they would not be killing and bombing Muslims.
We can defeat religious extremism. The way to do it is not to tar everyone of that religion with the same brush. The only way we can get Muslims to boldly condemn and disown those visiting terror on the world in the name of Islam is to appreciate the fact that not all Muslims and violent.
Hypocrisy and injustice on the world stage is what has set the world ablaze with unending conflicts. The Western powers are quick to go to Libya and kill Gadaffi like an animal because he did not uphold the principles democracy and human rights. But those same countries do not see anything wrong with Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive cars or vote in elections. In the period when Islamic State militants started beheading people, Saudi Arabia is said to have beheaded more people over various offences. Do Saudis not have human rights?
If religious extremism can end, we must stop the greed, injustice and hypocrisy. We must stop tagging a whole religion as violent. Doing so means accusing the very people who can help to end the extremism.
In my view, there is no bad religion in the world. We only have bad followers. Let’s remember that both Pastor Mensa Otabil and Bishop Daniel Obinim are Christians. They serve the same God. They use the same Bible. They both say they operate with the same Holy Spirit.
The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a senior Broadcast journalist with Joy 99.7FM.