Islam And Religious Freedom In Nigeria

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Islam And Religious Freedom In Nigeria


The relationship between Islam and other religions is growing worse in recent times. Non-Muslims in Islamic states are faced with lot of restrictions in the practice of their faith. Also, the incessant carnages and destruction of properties targeted at Christians by Islamic fundamentalists in Nigeria, draw attention to the perception of Islam on religious freedom. Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, traced its ancestry to Abraham and acknowledges the Prophets from Abraham to Jesus, and believed each Prophet came to renew the message of God in a way specifically designed and earmarked for his culture and period. However, Islam as a religion of peace has been accused of being intolerant and hostile to other religions despite passages from the Holy Qur’an as well as important evidence from Islamic history advocating tolerance of other religions, specifically Christianity and Judaism. It is also on records that the attitude of Muslims toward Christians over the centuries had been marked by forbearance and cordiality, though it had also been accompanied by modicum of conflicts. The Qur’an makes frequent mention of stories from Jewish and Christian sacred history, all of which are believed to have formed the teachings of Islam. Muslims’ repugnance towards religious freedom seems to hinge on: blasphemy, such as the Christian beliefs on the divinity of Jesus and His authority to pardon our sins, the virgin birth of Jesus and the doctrine of Trinity. It is on this ground of protecting Islam from syncretism that the religion seems to be hostile toward other religions. Also, Islam has been accused of using military force not only to protect its beliefs, but for growth and expansion which is against concept of religious freedom. Nigeria, with proportionate number of Muslims, has had a fair share of religious tension and violence from Islamic fundamentalists whose ultimate desire is to establish an Islamic state despite the status of Nigeria as a multi-religious state. The aftermaths of these conflicts are quite colossal. Many families have been left in agony and communities in disarray. In the light of this quagmire, it is expedient to examine Islam and religious freedom in a multi-religious country like Nigeria.

Chapter One


1.1 Background to the Study

There is abysmal relationship between Islam and other religions. This is evident in the increase in violation of religious rights in spite of the several international documents advocating for the right to freedom of religion and the conviction that every human being by virtue of his or her existence, has the inalienable right to seek truth and to practise his or her religion without inhibition.

In Nigeria, especially the Northern part, the relationship between Christian and Muslim is fast deteriorating. More so, the intention to convert all Nigerians to Islam has led to the rise of some Islamic fundamentalism that seem to be hostile to Christianity. Admittedly, these extremist acts have been condemned by most Islamic leaders, but the lack of proactive steps towards such condemnation, leave so many people in doubt as to whether Islam actually recognizes the concept of religious freedom. Also, there appear to be some diverging temperament by Muslims of different ethnic groups in Nigeria as to the subject of religious freedom.

It is on this background that the research will analyze the Hausa/Fulani Muslims’ conception of religious freedom and the Yoruba Muslims’ perception of religious freedom. This is because they have proportionate numbers of Muslims in Nigeria.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Religious intolerance has continued unabated despite the progressive steps taken by the international community to nip it in the bud. Islam, as a religion of Peace, has been accused of being intolerant of other religions in spite of the claim that respect for the other religions is obligatory on all Muslims. In addition, the Qur’an’s unequivocal statement that there should be no compulsion in religion, attract attention as to why Islam seems to be ambivalent to religious freedom.

Even other Muslim countries that seem to give modicum of freedom to other religions do that under strong supervision and scrutiny. Historically, Muslims regarded the Christians and the Jews as people of the book. Nonetheless, this tolerance had been replaced with hostility in some Muslim communities. Calls for religious freedom are often rejected by these hostile Muslim states with the perception that it is mere pretext for Western indoctrination of their culture.

In Nigeria, the recent activities of the Boko Haram Islamist sect, propelled by the conviction to kill followers of other religions, with the hope of doing God service has raised the mind-boggling question as to why in the name of God that violence could be directed against defenseless civilians. Churches have been targeted by this Islamic sect and the verses of the Qur’an that gave the Muslims the impetus to fight the Christians and Unbelievers have persuaded people to believe that Islam is repugnant toward religious freedom.

It is necessary to clarify that religious violence and intolerance is not confined to Islam alone, it cuts across many religions including Christianity. The focus of the research, however, is on Islam because people are convinced that Islam is inherently a violent religion; hostile to religious freedom.

In this regard, Islam and religious freedom will be viewed from dispassionate point of views, by analyzing Islam’s historical root which might unveil why some Muslims groups, mostly fundamentalists, justify violence and religious intolerance as a religious necessity.

It is, therefore, the stance of this work that the avoidance of religious extremism is panacea to religious freedom and religious freedom is a veritable means of fighting religious violence.

1.3 Scope of the Study

The research examines Islam’s perception of religious freedom in Nigeria. It begins by explaining the background of Prophet Mohammad, Peace be upon him, and the situation surrounding the emergence of Islam and its pervasive nature. Also, in consideration is how Islam came to Nigeria as well as the perception of Islam as a religion of peace and the basic teachings of Islam.

The concept of religious freedom will be analyzed with the view of revealing the historical origin and the various international documents acknowledging religious freedom. In view of the variation in the conception of religious freedom by Islam, the Hausa-Fulani Muslims and Yoruba Muslims’ views on religious freedom will be considered. It is on this ground that the research will critically examine the concept of Religious Freedom in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Nevertheless, factors that inhibit religious freedom will be scrutinized as to account for why some Muslims are hostile to other religions and the justification of violence by these Muslims as necessary religious obligation to obliterate the society of infidels. However, by understanding the historical roots of religious violence and intolerance in Islam we may be provided with an insight into the social and cultural motivations for the hostility and intolerance towards other religions.

1.4 Objectives of the Study

This research is aimed at presenting the concept of religious freedom in Islam and its application in Nigeria. It is poised at providing suggestions on the way out of the perennial religious crises that have threatened the stability of Nigeria as a nation for the past three decades. It is simply reasonable for everyone to acknowledge and respect the diversity inherent in religion. In this regards, the research shows how religious freedom is intertwined with the Fundamental Human Rights and the principles of democracy. The abrogation of this freedom is one of the factors responsible for the social instability in Nigeria.

Besides, the hermeneutics given to the verses of the Qur’an play crucial roles in the perception of religious freedom by Muslims. This could account for why Yoruba Muslims have different conception of religious freedom from the Hausa/Fulani Muslims. It is, therefore, the duty of the Ulama to be unbiased in their interpretation of the Qur’an; this is because the majority of the adherents of the religion are illiterates who are prone to accepting whatever explanation given to them. It is also the stance of this research that certain injunctions in the Holy Qur’an were based on circumstances at that period; it would be anachronism to implement such in twenty-first century. Religious freedom rests on and with the diversity of people, and it is with knowledge that religion can promote cross-cultural understanding which is the panacea for national stability.

It is, therefore, the position of this work that recognizing and respecting religious freedom in Nigeria is sine qua non for curbing religious violence and in protecting people from injustice.

1.5 Significance of the Study

Islam has pervasive influence on human civilization. It has produced literary, scholarly and articulated works that have had great impact on the development of the ideas and philosophies. For instance, algebra is the brain-child of Islamic mathematicians. Islamic scholars have also worked on medicine, astronomy, history et cetera, and thus have taken these disciplines to greater heights. However, in recent times, Islam is affecting human lives at various directions including conflicts with other religions, especially, in Nigeria. It is on this note that Islam and religious freedom need to be examined. Furthermore, the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria and the targeting of churches by the fundamentalists make the research a topic of great importance. Religious freedom is one of the Fundamental Human Rights that needs to be acknowledged by everyone. Religious freedom hinges on many rights. It is therefore necessary in a democratic society for public safety, public order and public morality.

In spite of the command from the Qur’an that “Let there be no compulsion in religion”, (Sura 2:256). Non-Muslims in Northern Nigeria have suffered one form of religious intolerance or the other. It is also the position of this research that hermeneutics given to the Qur’an by the Ulama, have great impacts on the conception of religious freedom by Muslims. Religious freedom is indispensable considering its strong connection with social stability. The avoidance of religious extremities and social instability is the aim of religious freedom.

1.6 Justification of the Study

In recent times, hostility under the guise of religion has taken an alarming dimension. Today Islamic extremists often justify their nefarious acts on the grounds of restoring theocracy and protecting Islam from apostasy. As such, many Muslim countries restrict religious liberty through blasphemy laws that prohibit religious freedom. Even few of the Muslim countries that recognize religious freedom merely do so without respecting it. Also, their often subtle mission of hegemony over people of other faiths contravenes the Fundamental Human Rights of humanity.

Furthermore, the primary motive to Islamize Nigerian; a multi religious nation by the Boko Haram sect makes the concept of Islam and Religious Freedom worthy of examination. It is on the basis of this that many see Islam as inherently incompatible with religious freedom. Be that as it may, the research is aimed at revealing the indispensability of religious freedom.

1.7 Method of the Study

Basically, the research deals with the concept Islam and religious freedom as it affects the Nigerian society. In view of this, the sociological approach of investigation will be adopted, since it deals with the roles of religion in the society and the impacts on humans. The work extensively made use of library research method.

1.8 Definition of Terms

There is need for contextual explanation of some concepts in this work. Islam, religious freedom, religious tolerance, Nigeria: religious demography


Islam is often translated as “submission”, that is submission or surrender to God. The word “Islam” also connotes “Peace” (Toropov and Buckles 111). According to Toropov and Buckles, it is derived from Arabic root which means “whole”, “Safe” and “intact” (111). It is the religion practised by Muslims, a monotheistic faith revealed through Muhammad as the prophet of Allah (God). Islam is seen by Muslims as the most complete way of life. It is believed not to be a new religion, but the same truth that God revealed through all his prophets to every people.

Islam emerged in the seventh century AD in Arabia. It is a religion, practiced as said by Muslims, and these Muslims often relate with Allah (God) through the teachings of the religion as recorded in the Qur’an. Qur’an, according to Muslims is the infallible Holy Book where Muslims derive the knowledge of Allah (God) and the prophet Muhammad.

Religious Freedom

Freedom of religion, as explained by the Universal Declaration of Human Right Article (18), is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. The concept is generally recognized to include the freedom to change religion or not follow any religion.

It also encompasses the freedom to leave or discontinue membership in a religion or religious group. Religious freedom entails the notion of human equality and universal possession of right to religion without discrimination (Okon 77). It is a notion that people of religion can freely carry out their religious practices without opposition. It must be within the realm of government.

Farr defines religious freedom as the right of every human being, of every region or culture, to pursue the dictates of his or her conscience in matters of fundamental truth, worship and morality, within the ambit noted by international norms (9). This reveals that religious freedom must be practised within the parameters earmarked by the international religious freedom Act of 1998 which includes the right, either individually or in community with others, and in private or public, to manifest a religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. It is on this note that religious freedom can be seen as giving the right for other religions to exist and also the right for one to convert from one religion to the other without encumbrances.

Religious Tolerance

These concepts, religious freedom and religious tolerance are, often used interchangeably, Religious tolerance is a situation of permitting other religious beliefs and practices which may disagree with one’s. The distinction between religious tolerance and religious freedom is that the former allows people the right to practise a particular religion outside the realm of government.

Nigeria: Religious Demography

According to a report on International Religious Freedom in Nigeria, Nigeria has an estimated population of about 50 percent Muslim, 45 percent Christian, and 5 percent practitioners of indigenous religious beliefs. Majority of the Muslims in Nigeria are Sunnis, comprising various groups like, Tijaniyah, Qadiriyyah and Sufi, while growing Shia and Izala (Salafist) minorities also exist. Christians include Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, non-traditional evangelical and Pentecostal Christians and adherents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Nigerian had over 250 ethnic groups with about 300 languages. The northern part of Nigeria is dominated by the Hausa-Fulani and the Kanuri ethnic groups who are predominantly Muslims. However, significant Christian communities have resided and intermarried with Muslims in the north for more than 50 years. Both Muslims and Christians reside in about equal proportion in the “Middle Belt” of the country including the Federal Capital Territory and the Southwest where the Yoruba ethnic group predominates. While most Yorubas either practise Christianity or Islam the practice of traditional Yoruba religious beliefs is still prominent. In Southeast, the Igbo practise Christianity and their traditional beliefs. In the South-South which comprises the Niger Delta Region, where the Ogoni, Ijaw, Efiks and Ibibio et cetera dominate, Christians form the majority only; an estimated one percent of the population is Muslim. Pentecostal Christianity is also spreading rapidly in the Middle Belt and Southern parts of the country. Nonetheless, Ahmadi Muslims maintain a small presence in Lagos and Abuja and suffer no apparent discrimination

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