[pullquote]“The Qur’an commands us to live next to them, to be kind to them, to do justice to them. We eat their food and marry their children. They attend our ceremonies and we attend theirs. Our children go to Christian schools.”[/pullquote]
In Ghana, there’s no questioning that religion plays a big role in things – it informs political decisions, defines cultural practices, and sets societal standards. From billboards to taxis, religion is everywhere. One of my preferred pastimes during the long trek to and from work is to see what kind of religious names cabdrivers have named their cars; so far, some of the best ones include Holy Spirit Makes Me Fast, God’s Chariot, and my personal favourite, Jesus Power.
It is thought that about 68 per cent of Ghanaians are Christians, and at least 25 per cent are Muslims, with higher concentrations of Muslims in the north. Before we came, I was concerned with how this might affect traveling throughout the country; would Lin be hassled down south because she was a Muslim, and would my Christianity be accepted up north? I had been keeping up to date with the happenings in Nigeria, the country most often compared to Ghana, where tensions between Muslim rebels and the Christian government have reached deadly levels in the past months.
Then I got to Ghana, and all of my fears were alleviated. If there were ever a model for peaceful coexistence in a country, I found it in Ghana. In Canada, conflict between Christianity and Islam, two religions with an uneasy history, is avoided mostly by exactly that: avoidance. Muslims go to mosque, Christians go to church, and they generally don’t associate too much outside of a professional context. There isn’t dialogue, there’s no framework in place to encourage religious harmony; religious tolerance is all that’s expected.
Not so in Ghana. Here, Muslims and Christians live side by side, often in the same compounds, sharing meals, laughs, and as it turns out, family.
“In Ghana here, since we have been born our fathers have lived peacefully with the Christians,” says Alhaji Mohammed Abdul Wahab, Deputy Iman of the Ashanti Region. “The Qur’an commands us to live next to them, to be kind to them, to do justice to them. We eat their food and marry their children. They attend our ceremonies and we attend theirs. Our children go to Christian schools.”
When I press him about what the Qur’an says about sharing the Muslim faith, something that the Bible is very adamant about for Christianity, Abdul Wahab quotes me a verse from the holy text he has been studying for most of his life.
“There is no compulsory religion,” he says. “I won’t force you to come on the right path. It is open, and if you see it, you will come.”
It’s a startlingly refreshing perspective on such a historically volatile issue, one that has been the cause of many global conflicts for centuries. I decide to poach the elephant in the room, and mention the Crusades, Israel and Palestine, 9/11, threats of Qur’an burnings in Florida, bringing it all home by pointing out the religious blood feud currently taking place a couple of countries over.
Abdul Wahab sighs.
“It’s not a religious conflict,” he says, contradicting everything and anything I’ve ever known about Christian-Muslim tensions. “If you go down to the roots, you will find other reasons – tribal, ethnic, political. People just want to mask things with religion, to hide behind it.”
“What is going on in the world, it worries us. We don’t know what it will bring tomorrow. But here in Ghana, we will continue to do as God commands. We will continue to live in brotherhood.”