Black Spirituality Religion : Interreligious Dialogue in Black Africa Among Christianity, Islam and ATR's

Discussion in 'Black Spirituality / Religion - General Discussion' started by Sekhemu, Nov 17, 2005.

  1. Sekhemu

    Sekhemu Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    By Professer Mutombo Nkulu N-Sengha


    Some obstacles to Dialogue​

    Observing the evolultion of Christian attitudes toward Muslims and members of ATR's

    Part 1

    The Churches of sub-Saharan Africa could afford to ignore Islam, as long as Muslims were backward and poor. Today, the Islamic revolution in Africa, funded by petrodollars from the Middle East, represents a formidable challenge, and there is no foundation of past goodwill on which to build a future dialogue between Muslims and Christians. Christians couls also afford to antagonize the adherents of ATR's. It was felt tht they had no future within or outside the Church, and a reletless war of annihilation was fought against th em. Dialogue with ATR's appeared laughable under these circumstances. Now, it is realized that the concepts and practices of ATR's have survived the onslaught and that they are entrenched in various forms of Christian syncretism.

    On their side, Chrisitians complain that the rise of sects and of Islam constitutes a threat for Christian faith. In the lineamenta of the African Synod all catholic bishops affirmed that Islam is a "difficult partner" in interreligious dialogue. New Islamic movements sucha as the Ahmaddiya and th Murid cult of Ahmadou Bamba are considered an even greate threat to mainline Islam than to Christianity. Commenting on the African bishops, Dr. Shorter pointed to African independent Churches and christian fundamentalist sects from the West which are strongly anti-socialist, anti-arab, pro-israeli, as two major challenges to mainline Christianity in Black Africa. Such an atmosphere clearly shows that in Black Africa interreligious dialogue is not at all easy. I would like to explore some major obstacles regarding each of the three major religions.

    A. African Religions

    Regarding traditional religions. Muslims and Christians have inherited prejudices developed by past colonial theology and the feeling of having superior monotheism over against primitive animism and polytheism. Even today the majority of books dealing with ATR's are not written by members of these religions but by African scholars writing from Islamic and Christian perspectives.-in most cases. Western scholars influenced by Christian missionaries who, before 1970, pictured ATR's as "primitive religions," "the empire of satan." Adherents of ATR wer until recently labeled "pagans, "heathens. "idolatrous", "polytheists," "barbarians," "superstitius," "fetishists," and "primitive." It was a shame to belong to these religions, which were considered a symbol of an old mentality, opposed to modernity and civilization. Since independence, however, these religions have begun to get organized. In the 1970's African Christianity theologians did research on traditional religions and, in respect for black culture, a new, respectul vocabulary has been created to talk about these religions.

    In general, African religions still appear as religions of weakness, without economic and political power or faculties of theology. They are seen as Muslims and Christians as a symbol of poverty, ignorance, and traditions in the bad sense of tribalism and superstition. They are seen as religions of a "dead past." If some few "independent chruches" are organizing in a modern fashion, the situation of traditional religions is still poor in many regions. The status of ATR's is the most clearly problematic. For many Africans these religions symbolize the weakness of an Africa that has been defeated by Arabs and Europeans. In several regions of Africa, younger generations do not have a clear idea about traditional religions.

    In order to understand this phenomenon, a brief historical digression may be helpful here. The colonization of Africa followed the "slavery trade" which disorganized the traditional societies. Faced with this situaion, evangelization in Africa took the visage of a mission civilsatrice. The politics of tabula rasa was used to destroy African culture. considered the fruit of the devil, in order to plant the new civilization in this context missionaries burned traditional temples, while tradaitional priest who opposed the new order were jailed. THe colonial administration, which was set in place after the Berlin Conference of 1885, succeeded in weakening ATR, which could survive only as a simple way of life, "without any serious structures." Except in some few cases, such as the Yoruba religion, in many parts of Africa ATR is not organized in an institution. There is no major temple or priest of a traditional religion. The ATR's have built no universities and have no network of hospitals, schools, or other charitable services.

    For many people, ATR's are synonymous with misery and a source of superstitions, so they are not taken seriously by Christians or Muslims, who consider themselves superior to traditional believers. In many countries the political power is also in the hands of Christians and Muslims. Such a situation does not contribute to the prestige of ATR's While many Christians and Muslims think that th ATR's remain the roots of their Africaness and should be taken into account in the building of African Christian theology and African Islam, they still consider these religions to be part of the "vanishing Africa" because many of its visable aspects have disappeared or are disappearing. Many christians and Muslims consider ATR's inappropiate for modern times. In the dialogue, the follow an instrumentalist purpose, considering traditional religions something that should provide some positive elements to Christianity and Islam, then disappear.

    If in recent history there is no case of religious conflict or war because believers of ATR's and the followers of Jesus or Mohammed, the situation is different with modern forms of traditional religions known as "independent African churches." In fact, members of these religions are often agrressive toward Muslims and Christians. In most cases, these independent religions are born from the secession from Christian churches or Islam and are still struggling for their own identity and independence. Aware fo their weakness, they consider any interreligiou dialogue as a strategy used "their members" by powerful religions that sometimes exercise pressure on governments to ban some "sects," as know in Zairian cases.

    B. Christianity

    The fact of sharing the same religion with colonial powers has African Christians a certain feeling of prestige over Muslims. Christians consider themselves part of the winning modern western culture and are trained in an attitude of disdain for Muslims, who are considered to be educated and traditionalists in the bad sense with their polygamy. With the growing feminist campaign, many Christian young women consider Islam a religion of oppression and an obstable to progress and modernity. Opposed to polygamy, many Christian missionaries are not ready to tolerate marriages between Christians and Muslims.

    There is another important factor, the Libyan revolution and "petrodollars." With the creation of the well known organization of the producers oil (OPEC), several Muslim countries were able to control the price of oil and to become progressively an important force in the world economy. The oil shock of the 1970's weakend sub-Saharan economies already affected by the inflation of the price of their raw materials. Black countries became more vulnerable, and their dependency upon Islamic countries from which borrowing money increased. The most important factor was that Al-Qhahdhafi of Libya started a strong missionary activity in Black Africa. The fast proliferation of Islamic mosques, schools, and cultural centers and the growing power of Muslims in the mass media and in the political sphere of black counntries put Western Christian missionaries working in Africa in a state of panic. The result was the rise of a strong campaign for dialogue with Islam with the clear purpose of knowing Islam and its strategy in order to "protect christians against Islamic propaganda" is basically motivated by fear on the Christian side and resentment on the Islamic side.

    Regarding ATR. Christian theologians and Bishops, guided by the spirit of inculturation theology, consider ATR an important tool to ground Christianity in Africa. This instrumentalist view constitutes a major obstacle to dialogue by putting Christians in a hypocritical postion in which they advocate a dialogue that does not accept ATR. The refusal to take ATR's seriously has bedeviled evangelization in Africa and has led to a form of schizophrenia among Christians-an unresolved syncretism which impoverishes both Christianity and ATR, instead of mutually enriching them. Given that danger, during the recent African synod, bishops urged that ATR be seen as an autonomous religious system. "We can simply hope that African Roman Catholics will be able now to consider ATR an equal partner in religiouis dialogue. However, I think there is still a long way to go, because to avoid being condemned by the Vatican, African bishops and theologians struggle to prove to the West that African Christianity is a genuine Christianity not mixed with the superstitions and fetishism of traditional spirituality. For that reason they are not yet ready to accept and proclaim that ATR is somehow equal to Christianity as a religion. Beside the fear of the Vatican, it is also true that the conception of ATR as an inferior religion is still strong in the mind of African people.

    C. Islam

    Even though Muslims came to some countries of Black Africa, such as Nigeria, before Christian missionaries did, the expansion of Islam during the colonial period remained very limited. In Black Africa, Somalia is the only country where 100 percent of the population are Muslims. In many other countries, Muslims are the minorities. The rise of Islam in Black Africa goes back to 1954 when Al Azhar University of Cairo launched the movement of Pan-Islamism with a strong interest in Black African countries. This movement increased its activity with the end of colonialism, specifically in 1969 with the first "Islamic Conferencem" held in Rabat Morocco, which gathered several heads of state from Black African countries. The purpose of this conference was "the organization of Islam." With forty-three member states gathering periodically to study the evolution of Islam in Africa, this organization united in a strong structure the politics, economy, and religious activity of the Islamic communities.

    In this perspective were created the Banque Islamique de Development and the Fonds de Solidarite Islamique, which provide strong financial aid to Islamic activities in Africa. In 1980 the First General Assembly of Islamic chamber of Trade, industries, and Exchange was held in Dakar Senegal. Besides the Ligue arabe mondial islamique, created in 1962 and based in Saudi Arabia, the Al Azhar University of Cairo promoted another institution called Conseil Superieur des Affaires Islamiques (the high council of Islamic Affairs) that studies closely the progress of Islam in Africa

    Any consideration of the involvement of Muslims in interreligious dialogue should take into account the "Al-Qhadhdhafi factor" and the rise of Islamic power in the 1970's. To understand the relationships between Muslims and Christians in sub-Saharan Africa, we need to keep in mind two different periods, before and after 1975. Before 1975, in sub-Saharan Africa, Muslims were considered poor people, who were without adequate schools and charitable services. With Western colonial powers being Christian, Musliims were not given much liberty to spread their missionary activity in Black Africa. In many countries, Muslims remained a minority at the level of education, economic power, and participation in government. With independence, Christianity was no longer considered the religion of the state, However, the situation for Muslims did not change automatically. They remained a minority, more or less invisible in some countries, until thel 1970's. From the "low status" of Muslims, Christians took a feeling of superiority that today constitutes an obstacle of dialogue.

    Then in 1975, Al-Qadhdhafi started to finance strong missionary activity in Black Africa. Several huge and rich mosques with cultural centers are present today that give the impression of "Islamic Grandeur" beside small poor catholic cathedrals, even in countries such as Rwanda and Barundi, where Muslims make up one-half and one percent of the population respectively. In these two countries, Al-Qadhdhafi built schools where people study free, while in Christian schools children have to pay high fees. In Zaire where Muslims constitute only one percent of the population, Muslim officials with financial aide from Libya and Saudi Arabia were able to build 245 schools in one year. College students also receive substantial financial aid provided by Al-Qadhdafi, to study in some famous universities. Mass media are another target of Islamic missionaries in Black Africa. In Barundi, for instance, Al-Qadhdhafi gave money for the construction of college buildings with one condition, an obligatory Arabic course at the Facultes des letters and Islamic programs on the national radio. Mali refused an offer from Tripoli to build powerful radio and television stations with two conditions to change National Radio into "La Voix de l'Islam en Afrique Noire" and to change the constitution so that Mali would become the "Islamic Republic of Mali." Niger also refused the same proposal.

    Under economic pressure, Omar Bongo (President of Gabon) and Idi Arvin Dada (president of Uganda) became Muslims, and many other people running for president in Black Africa received money from Libya and other Arab countries under the political condition to change their countries into "Islamice Republics." There are also cases of Libyan military interventions in Uganda to sustain the dictator Arvin, in Chad, in the Central African Republicl, and in Senegal and Gambia. In such a new context, the image of the poor and ignorant Muslim started to change in the eyes and mind of Christians. First ignored, Muslims became more visible in the society. Aware fo their past oppression and their minority status, Muslims are now much more interested in an aggressive campaign of Islamization. Their increasing power creates among Christians a fear that makes dialogue difficult.

    In general, Muslims feel that they are more African than are Christians who accept the priestly celibacy and many other customs foreign to African Tradition. At the same time, the wa old people practice their devotion to the Virgin Mary and other saints appears idolatrous to some Muslims who consider themselves religiously superior to drunk or alcoholic Christians. Ethcially speaking, in many Villages Muslims seem much more disciplinced than Christians. Thus, while some Christians think that Islamic success in Africa is due to an Islamic lack of rigorous ethic in sexual behavior. Muslims consider Christians to be people without serious religiouis virtues and self-discipline. On neither side are mixed marriages welcomed.

    The attitude of Muslims toward ATR has also been very negative. It is amazing to see that while even the most conservative European scholars have abandoned the use of such negative vocabulary as "animsm" to name ATR, some respected Muslim scholars such as Khalid Duran contine to use "animism" when they talk about ATR.

    In conclusion, we may say that ATR's are the major victim of ignorance and aggression from Christians and Muslims who consider the "land of animism" to be their personal property for missionary activity. While dialogue is difficult between Muslims and Christians because they are involved in some strong competitions, it seems easy with ATR which is fundamentally tolerant and not yet a powerful partner capable of threatening missionary leadership on the Christian and Islamic sides and they find their central battefield in the ethical attention to ethical debate to which Africans are much more sensitive. THe study of interreligious dialogue should pay much more attention to ethic rather thatn dogma. It is unfortunate to see that on the ethical ground there are many similarities between Afriacan Religions and Abrahamic Religions
     
  2. Dual Karnayn

    Dual Karnayn Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    I think one of the major obstacles to proper dialog between Muslims, those who practice Ancestral religions, and Christianity is the imbalance of power.

    In Africa Muslims and Christians have traditionally held so much more power than those outside of thier groups and on the fringe that they don't feel they should listen to others.

    I have the guns, the money, the man power, and the backing of my cousins from the West/Middle East....why should I listen to you?

    That's there mentality.

    If you notice, only when these different warring groups come West to a place like Canada or America where BOTH SIDES are brought down and put in the same camp of "minority" and forced to survive do they seem to put thier differences aside.

    Then there is no Muslim, Christian...no Dogon or Hausa....we're all Africans trying to survive and make some money.

    Go to Canada or Europe and even Arabs and Indians are donning hiphop gear, live in ghettos, and are down for the "cause".....lol.
    They can't play Mister Big Shot and hold their race or religion as some badge of honor over Black people or others....they have to come with the rills or get ran over.

    Maybe that's what the world needs for peace....

    A great EQUALIZING to level the playing field a bit.
     
  3. Sekhemu

    Sekhemu Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    This is true, however the central issue here has to do with what is happening between our people in the motherland.

    As the professer so eloquenly illustrated, that the CURRENT aggressive and ignorant attitude on the part of Christians and Muslims toward ATR's have severely impeded any chance of a spiritual meeting ground.

    In order for there to be "a great EQUALIZING to level the playing field", Muslim and Christian must extinguish the notion that ATR's are inferior and therefore illigitimate as a spiritual system.
     
  4. Dual Karnayn

    Dual Karnayn Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Sekhemu


    Hmmm.....

    This is a case of "Which comes first...the chicken or the egg?"


    You are proposing that the Muslims/Christians stop seeing Africans who practice other religions as inferior and accept them as equals.

    I agree with this, we are equals and shouldn't oppress one another.

    BUT!

    In reality, in order for Muslim/Christians, whites, Arabs, Chinese or anyone else to see you as an equal you have to be able to defend yourself and not be easily oppressed and taken advantage of.

    You can't just say "I'm a man just like you...I'm equal...don't talk to me like that".

    That's not enough to keep your woman from getting raped and your village burned down.

    Chinese don't even profess to believe in God but both Christians AND Muslims hesitate to step to China.
    Wonder why?


    First you need to get the POWER...then you'll automatically get the RESPECT of being seen as an equal.

    But few will automatically respect you on the strength.
     
  5. Omowale Jabali

    Omowale Jabali The Cosmic Journeyman PREMIUM MEMBER

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    This is an interesting forum topic for many reasons. As I have come into a more complete knowledge of self I have developed an inclination to adopt the Philosophy of MAAT and many beliefs associated with the Akan. In doing so I am still influenced by a mixed Islamic/Catholic/Baptist upbringing trying to reconcile what at times I view as contradictory systems of belief, trying to find within myself the common ground.

    "First you need to get the POWER.."

    There is much Truth in this statement however I believe that this POWER must come from a Supreme Spiritual force, an Inner Strength and Spiritual Essence which has become lost amongst th process of colonialization and westernization.

    I believe that this process can be directly traced to the invasions of ancient Khemet by the Hyksos, hebrews, greeks, persian, romans, et. al who "infiltrated" into our ancient religious and social orders and in the process this POWER was lost.

    As a result, unless there is a mass movement among African people worldwide to relcaim and re-discover our past Belief systems, ATR's shall continue to be dismissed by large numbers of Black people in favor or Christianity, Islam, judaism, etc.

    Witness the situation in Nubia (the Sudan) and the lack of outcry amongst African "leaders".
     
  6. Sekhemu

    Sekhemu Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    First of all this is not about simply politics, this is about religion, and religious dialogue between religious leaders.

    Your assessement of the article is a gross over-simplification of the problem.

    and I repeat:

    PHP:
    The attitude of Muslims toward ATR's has ALWAYS been negative
    In other words before Islam was able to establish roots in Africa this was a prevailing attitude among Muslims and Christians.

    Before any Muslim or Christian conquest of African states there was the common belief that ATR's were backwards and superstitious.

    Moreover, how do you account for the fact that the same attitudes were held by Christians and Muslims toward ATR's, irrespective of their political and socio-economical status?

    Christians and Muslims were constantly sparring with each other over who possessed the higher moral ground. Indeed both religions were often pre-occupied with missionary work to further a religious/economical agenda.
     
  7. Sekhemu

    Sekhemu Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Precisely,

    People should not confuse strength with power. Power is flexibility and the ability to adapt. This is particuliarly true as it relates to ATR's

    ATR's have survived thru the centuries of colonialism and oppression by their intrinsic ability to adapt to changing religious and political landscapes, in Africa and the Diaspora.

    Ase
     
  8. Omowale Jabali

    Omowale Jabali The Cosmic Journeyman PREMIUM MEMBER

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    brother Sekhemu,

    This concerns me as I continually must ask myself why is it that ATR's seem to unable to withstand the spiritual ONSLAUGHT of other "faiths" and I must continually remind myself that when speaking of Earthly matters of the Flesh, this is the Physical realm in which we are speaking, for the most part, and we must not lose hope or faith in the Spiritual Essence of ATR's which CONNECT the faithful with our Celestial Spirits, that is to say, our Ancestors.

    I must continually remind myself that my connection to my Ancestral Spirits is more POWERFUL than the Force of those who pray and have faith in false "gods" and "angels" and "saints" which are ALIEN to our True Essence.

    For example, in conducting geneaological research, I have literally brought back to life ancestors who I had no knowledge of and as I include them in my daily prayers they have become the MAJOR part of my "covering".

    mind you, a large part of my family is from New Orleans and Oklahoma, and in these ancestral lands our people had and continue to have some long standing practices and beliefs concerning honoring Ancestors, which has been falsely labeled "ancestor worship".
     
  9. Dual Karnayn

    Dual Karnayn Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Omowale

    One thing we must understand is that Ancestral religions and so-called "Earth" religions in which the elements are honored are not unique to Africa.

    The Druids, Celts, Vikings and other Europeans practiced the same concepts as the Africans....before the Roman Empire swept through with Christianity and drove many of the practices underground.

    This didn't happen in Africa on the scale it did in Europe becuase Africa was too vast of a continent and when people were getting oppressed they simply escaped further south.

    That's how our ancestors ended up all over the continent in the first place.


    So we must first understand that much of what we think is "African" is really not African at all but just old-world polytheistic beliefs practiced the world over.

    Africans had one name for it, Europeans had another name, Native Americans had another. and Asians had a different name...but they all involved veneration of ancestors, divination, and shammans.


    Monotheism swept through wiping a lot of it out.



    Having said that...

    If you can convince me that white people returning to their practices before Roman Christians invaded and forced them to accept Christianity would be better for them.

    I will entertain the idea of going back to our ancient practices.






    Sekemu

    So you don't think "Traditionalists" attaining more power is the solution?

    You think that Muslim and Christians in charge should just soften thier hearts and just accept all others on GP?


    I'm trying to figure out what you believe the solution should be.
     
  10. Omowale Jabali

    Omowale Jabali The Cosmic Journeyman PREMIUM MEMBER

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    Dual Karnayn,

    I understant your point but don't necessarily agree that the Druids, Vikings, etc. had the "same" ancient beliefs but their beliefs were "similar".

    For example, the Mayans, Aztecs Khemites and Nubians erected pyramids. However, Mayans and Aztecs used the pyramids for Temples, while the Nubians and Khemites used them for tombs and had seperate Temple complexes.

    Some societies were matrilineal while others were patrilineal which also means that in some societies the fertility goddesses were of paramount importance, while others were based on the paramountcy of solar or lunar dieties.

    It is not my intention to convince you or anyone else to return to ancient practices. The reason being as one studies more into the religious practices and beliefs of many europeans one finds that many of them already honor and worship "khemetic" "druid" "celtic" gods and goddesses and disguise this worship and their golden dawn, rosicrucian and theosophical societies are based upon ritual practices from ancient cultures.

    This accounts for the increasing "Goth" movement among many white youth who embrace their "Wiccan" and "Druid" roots...
     
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