THE TONY BLAIR FAITH FOUNDATION (1)
I appreciate the position of some readers of this column who felt I should respond to the latest piece by Adamu Adamu Re: Hajj and the Saudis. To my mind, the writer has failed to address any of the issues I raised in my ample rejoinder concerning his three part series on the subject matter.
What he succeeded in doing, our respected readers can discern, was to expose the source of his aspersion against the Saudi Hajj authorities - non-Muslim writers and other armchair critics, and even zanaadiqah who have not performed a single Hajj in their life, or the last time they took part in the ritual was decades ago. Hence, Adamu Adamu does not deserve another response.
But I take a solemn oath of prompt response to any piece of shi'atic disposition clothed in the raiment of intellectualism!
The Tony Blair Faith Foundation states that it 'promotes respect and understanding about the world's religions through education and multi-faith action.' It shows 'how faith can be a powerful force for good in the modern world.'
Transcorp Hilton was the venue for the official launch, on Thursday 22, November 2012, 'of Tony Blair Faith Foundation-led work in Nigeria to encourage reconciliation between Christian and Muslim communities.' In attendance were: Mr Tony Blair, Founder and Patron of the Foundation, Bishop Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury Designate, and His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan via video-message.
Also present were President Goodluck Jonathan, represented by the Minister of Housing, Ms Pepple, His Eminence Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar III, Sultan of Sokoto, His Royal Highness, Estu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar, Most Reverend Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the Anglican Archbishop of the Province of Kaduna and Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, President, Christian Association of Nigeria among others.
This launch was preceded by a video conference which, on the one hand, had the dignitaries mentioned above and some Muslim and Christian secondary students from Nigeria, and on the other, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Christian secondary students from the United Kingdom. This was with a view to encouraging 'greater dialogue and understanding between faiths.' It also 'aimed to break down barriers, and give the students the knowledge to resist extremist voices and ideology - working towards a longer term peace for the next generation in Nigeria.'
On his video-message played during the launch, His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan said that Nigeria is the best and happiest country in the world, thus all should work towards making it peaceful. He spoke about the visit of the World Council of Churches and The Royal Jordanian Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought to Nigeria, between 22nd-26th May 2012 (1st-5th Rajab, 1433 AH).
The visit was proposed in reaction to the numerous incidents of fierce inter-communal strife which have affected the lives of Nigerians during 2000-2012, and the awareness that-at least since the Bosnian war of 1993-1995-Nigeria is the country in the world where the most severe inter-communal violence between Christians and Muslims has been experienced. The delegation sought to understand the reasons behind this violence.
The objectives of the visit were to: (a) fact-find and investigate first-hand, impartially and credibly, the situation on the ground in Nigeria, and the various factors that have led to the present tensions; (b) express clearly to both the political and religious leadership in Nigeria the concern and anxiety of the international community about the current situation; (c) demonstrate an international model of Muslims and Christians working together in an inter-religious engagement aimed at fostering peace and harmony between people of different religions; (d) identify areas or projects where religious institutes, persons, texts, or messages can help ameliorate the situation in Nigeria.
According to His Royal Highness, Prince Ghazi, every religious text could be quoted out of context to justify violence and killing of innocents, heinous acts not sanctioned by any divine authority.
When it was his turn to speak, Bishop Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury Designate, informed the gathering of his oft-repeated visits to Nigeria. 'I think,' he said, 'this is about my seventy-fifth trip to Nigeria. So, you see, I'm a bit addicted to the place.' (Laughter from the audience) 'The situation in Nigeria,' he continued, 'is always complicated.
I started a lecture some years ago, in Washington where they asked me to speak about the country, by saying whatever you say about Nigeria, however complicated you may sound, you have to end by saying: it's not as simple as that! Because this is one of the most wonderful, diverse, impressive countries on earth, and almost anything you say in any place, is contradicted somewhere else in Nigeria.
There is, above all, an energy, and a capacity……it has all the abilities needed and the skills needed to be the great regional power….and, because I suspect there are no South Africans here….' (He paused for effect, and slowly scanned the meeting room in a dramatic way, and then said) 'Clearly when they expand the permanent members of the Security Council, I've no doubt; we should be the African member. But I'm not saying that publicly.' (More laughter and applause from the audience)
Bishop Welby then asked: 'So, what is this project about, and why do we, eh… Tony Blair principally, I and Prince Ghazi, why do we have the honour and privilege to have any role in it? It is not to say we bring answers, but as I said to someone this morning in one of our meetings, in the UK over the years, particularly by Tony Blair during the Northern Ireland peace process, we discovered that sometime as a country, when there is conflict, it is hopeful to have people involved who are not part of the story - who have not been in the story since the beginning…not to bring answers, but be able to listen, observe, and by the Grace of God, contribute something useful to help those to have the answers, who are Nigerians.'
Next to speak was Mr Tony Blair, Founder and Patron of the Foundation. When you listen to Mr Blair any time, he reminds you of the saying of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), that 'there is an element of wizardry in oratory.' Mr Blair is indeed a wizard in the art of public speaking and elucidation and clear exposition of his opinion on any matter.
If you get carried away listening to Mr Blair, you shall be carried away! Through this element of wizardry in Mr Blair's oratory truth could be seen as falsehood and vice-versa, it all depends on what side he chooses to support. Is there any wonder then how the United Nations was rendered useless, the world confused, and many a rational voce muted at the face of well-articulated presentation of a false dossier on Iraq's possession of WMDs?
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “I am only a human being, and you people have disputes. May be someone amongst you can present his case in a more eloquent and convincing manner than the other, and I give my judgment in his favour according to what I hear. Beware! If ever I give (by error) somebody something of his brother's right then he should not take it as I have only given him a piece of Fire.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Hadeeth No. 638. Vol. 3)
And so it was; the fire that was ignited in Iraq is still burning; so, it was a wise way of penance of some sort for people like Tony Blair who, not only fanned the embers of the inferno, but who actually provided fuel, by word and deed, of such crises as Iraq, to now spearhead any movement that would ensure peace and harmony among diverse communities and show how 'faith can be a powerful force for good in the modern world.'
Mr Tony Blair started by stating his desire of being an oft-repeated visitor to Nigeria, to come here 75 times just as Bishop Welby had done. Because, according to him, 'Nigeria is the most unique country in the world, it astonishes, astounds me.' He went further to support Bishop Welby's assertion of Nigerians being the ones to solve their own issues. 'The problems of Nigerian,' he said, 'would be sorted out by Nigerians….
'Something that is important to clarify; sometimes people think that when we talk about the difficulties of religious conflicts or strife, and they say the sole issue is to do with religion, and interfaith relation and so on. No, there are many issues. Many issues that are economic, and social and political that need to be resolved.
However, the purpose of my Foundation, why I began it, is that I do think not all of the answers, but part of the answer lies on people of faith coming together, being together, learning from each other, working with each other, speaking with each other, acting with each other.
And part of the difficulty from my profession, politics, is that sometimes politics finds the religious dimension too difficult, so it kind of wants to ignore that dimension, and only treads simply on the political or the economic. My view is we need to deal with everything including the issues of how different faiths work together and live together.
So, I began my Foundation with a very peculiar objective in mind, and that is to create a situation in which alongside a very high level dialogue between the very eminent persons in the faith community, alongside that we would try to have some practical programmes that bring people together. And bring them together in two ways: first, young people. We just had a video conference between a school in Darby in England, and school students here in Nigeria.
Unless we get to the youth of the country, then we are never going to be able to make progress. And here is the most exciting thing, most young people, instinctively, want to be open with each other and to love each other. But it is important at an early age that we introduce them to each other so that is made more easy. Because often what happens is, that later in life other influences come in and turn them in a direction.
What we want to do through the school exchange programme that we now run in 19 different countries in the world, where we join up students in dialogue with each other, is to help them understand each other, know each other better. And as I just said to the children there, where there is knowledge, there is more likely to be understanding; and where there is understanding we are more likely to get along.
Where there is ignorance there is often fear, where there is fear, there is more likely to be conflict. So, the idea is to replace the ignorance with knowledge, and the fear with understanding.'