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Christian and Muslim leaders visit Nigeria

By World Council of Churches (WCC)
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GENEVA, Switzerland, May 25, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- An inter-religious delegation of senior Muslim and Christian leaders has begun a fact-finding visit to Nigeria on 22 May, where in recent months an increase in violence has threatened relations between the two religious communities in Northern Nigeria.

The delegation is being led by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan, chairman of the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought.

In addition to investigating first-hand the situation and factors in the present tensions, the delegation by its presence is expressing to the political and religious leaders in Nigeria the concerns of the international community about the violence.

“The joint involvement of Christian and Muslim leaders in this visit is meant not only to encourage an end to the violence but also to serve as an example of inter-religious cooperation in fostering peace and harmony between people of different religions,” Tveit said.

“We are here, by the grace of God, to humbly learn from Nigerians about their experience and challenges in defending the harmony, unity, peace and security of their great country, and to see if and where international religious voices and institutes can be of any help,” said Prince Ghazi.

The idea of joint Christian-Muslim cooperation in response to situations of violence emerged initially from A Common Word, the global Muslim-Christian Initiative of October 2007. This was followed by a proposal made in November 2010, when a group of some 60 religious leaders met for a Christian-Muslim consultation in Geneva, Switzerland, at the WCC headquarters and reached an agreement to work more cooperatively in situations of conflict.

The statement issued at the end of the November 2010 conference highlighted the need to “find ways to disengage religion” from the role of creating conflict and to “re-engage it towards conflict resolution and compassionate justice.”

To that end, the religious leaders meeting in Geneva recommended the mobilization of a joint working group that would be activated “whenever a crisis threatens to arise in which Christians and Muslims find themselves in conflict.”

On 23 and 24 May, the delegation visited Kaduna and Jos in Northern Nigeria, areas highly affected by the violence perpetrated by the Boko Haram, a militant group. During the visits delegates met with government officials, religious leaders, traditional rulers and the families of victims of violence to gain first-hand knowledge of the situation.

A press conference will be held after the visits. Following the end of the visit on 26 May, the delegation will issue a joint report on what they saw and experienced and will identify areas and projects where Christians and Muslims can work together to end the violence.

For this visit the WCC collaborated with the Christian Council of Nigeria for preparations and logistics.