Terrorists, mercy and amnesty
WHEN on April 2, 2013 some print media published: “Matthew Kukah Calls for Amnesty for Boko Haram in Easter Message”, many commentators went on literary riot as if the Bishop had made a mistake. The issue of dialogue and amnesty to Boko Haram is back again under the watch of President Muhammadu Buhari, a committed Muslim who understands the call of Islam to peace and reconciliation in any society. The Messenger of Allah (SAW) recommended that, “The Muslim who lives with people and endures the anguish that they cause is better than the Muslim who is not present with them and who avoids enduring the anguish” (Tirmizi, Kiyamah, 55/2507).
This enquiry is an attempt to look again at the mode of operation to end the religious extremism of the terrorists; combining the quest for dialogue and the actualization of the three months mandate given to the military to extinguish terrorism in Nigeria. It has been said that the gun alone cannot stop terrorism, hence the terms (Rahman and Raheem) that the terrorists are used to could also be employed in this conversation. Dr. Murat Kaya, in his book, The Final Divine Religion: Islam, Istanbul, Erkam Publications 2009, Page 33, says that “Rahman is interpreted as the All Merciful in the sense that Allah’s mercy encompasses all creation in the universe, while Raheem is interpreted as Allah’s mercy for the believers in the hereafter.”
On July 15, 2015, the Sun Newspaper reported: “Boko Haram puts Buhari in a tight spot.” stating “the news that President Muhammadu Buhari would be willing to negotiate with Boko Haram as a way to end the relentless bombing campaigns by the terrorists has drawn mixed reactions from civil society. While some people believe the battle to end Boko Haram’s ongoing massacre of innocent citizens cannot be won without a negotiated settlement, others argue passionately that the right way to deal with Boko Haram’s brutal crusade is through relentless military force.” On July 9, 2015, Didi Adams reported on Omojuwa.com that “in a bid to put an end to the activities of Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria, the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) has thrown its weight behind the move by the Federal Government to dialogue with the insurgents if the need arises.”
Do terrorists deserve Rahman and Raheem in Islam? Put in a Christian context, do terrorists deserve the mercy and compassion of God? The Prophet of Islam (SAW) is reported to have said: “God Almighty shows mercy to those who show mercy” (Abu Dawud, Adah, 58/4941; Tirmizi, Bir 16/1924; Ahmad bin Hanbul, II, 160). Do terrorists invoke God’s mercy in their operations when they say: “Allahu Akbar” (God is the greatest) when slitting the throat of a human being and other methods to destroy lives and properties? Allah said to the Holy Prophet, “O Muhammad! We sent you not but as Mercy for all creatures (Qur’an 21:107). How do the terrorists interpret this verse? Do they hope to be merciful like the Holy Prophet one day?
God revealed Himself to Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska as “Divine Mercy”. In the hadith, the Prophet is reported to have said: “O Allah, guide these people, because they did not know what they were doing” (Al-Bukhari). Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Could it be that the terrorists do not know what they are doing? What kind of dialogue do we need to bring them to the awareness of the evil they are inflicting on humanity and Allah’s creation? Many are of the opinion that the type of dialogue that could be initiated with the terrorist could be informal but who can accept that he or she knows a terrorist without the fear of being branded as one of them?
The popular opinion is that the Muslims whose religion is being impersonated and compromised by the terrorist groups could begin some form of intra-Muslim dialogue to see if they could identify anybody who can reach out to any of the terrorists. Another opinion is that the Islamic scholars must not relent in giving a counter narrative that could de-radicalize the terrorists. The Christians should condole with the many Muslim Scholars who have been slain in the process of doing this. The cooperation between the Christians and Muslims in some parts of Nigeria to cater for the internally displaced persons in the form of dialogue of life and social engagement could beam some light of encouragement to some Muslims who may be willing to take risk of reaching out to a terrorist.
The terrorist has become a mysterious ghost just as corruption has become an endemic cancer that has spread through the whole organs of the nation. While terrorism employs physical weapons to kill and displace people, corruption employs the pen, scam, facebook, twitters and all forms of social media to dupe people. Unfortunately, corruption has been reduced to monies looted from the national treasury, foreign reserve and transaction in crude oil. That the iron and steel industries in Nigeria are not allowed to function should be seen as corruption and neo-terrorism. That Nigeria cannot afford stable and uninterrupted electricity is a result of sabotage resulting from corruption that can be labelled “technical terrorism”. Like the Psalmist, let us cry to God then: “If you Oh Lord should mark our guilt, Lord who would survive? But in you, there is mercy and fullness of redemption and for this, we revere you” (Psalm 130:3).
To solve a problem, we need to identify its root. On August 15, 2015, Anthony Akinwale, a Dominican Professor of theology posted this message on facebook: “In view of our righteous indignation, and our determination to fight corruption in Nigeria, I move a motion that Nigeria arrest and prosecute in lawfully constituted courts all living past and present government officials who have looted or who have violated fundamental human rights, or have rigged or annulled elections, or have staged a military coup or benefitted from one. Does anyone second my motion?” True change and conversion can only be realised if it is attended with love and a sincere desire that emanates from the heart with a perceivable goodwill and intention. Otherwise, those who perceive the war against corruption only as a mere vendetta could say: “let the person who has no sin be the first to cast a stone” (John 8:7).
(Fr. Prof. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua is Director of Mission/Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja/Consultor of the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (C.R.R.M), Vatican City)