Impact of religion on interreligious peace: evidence from zones of peace in Abuja, Nigeria
Ossai, Emmanuel Chiwetalu
This thesis argues that religion impacts peace between members of different religious groups, but it is at times not in the manner that some religious leaders and some of those who favourably comment on religious peacebuilding hold. It makes this argument based on primary data collected in Abuja, north-central Nigeria and evidence collected from the academic literature on religion, peace and conflict in northern Nigeria and other areas. Rather than take the common path of evaluating the role of religious peacebuilding in conflict or post-conflict settings, the research explores lessons that could be derived from “zones of peace.” This term is used in the study to refer to religiously mixed communities where violent interreligious conflicts have not occurred. While conflict-affected parts of northern Nigeria have been studied by several researchers, relatively peaceful areas in the region have received less empirical attention. One such area is Abuja, which has a unique identity as the capital of a heterogeneous Nigeria. Hence, this research aimed to explore the impact of three interrelated religious factors on the relative peace existing in the territory and draw on academic literature to interpret the findings and contribute to the fields of religious peacebuilding, interreligious relations, and Christian-Muslim relations in northern Nigeria. The factors are religious leaders, religious peace norms, and religious peace activism. Guided by an interpretive paradigm and adopting a case study design, the author conducted fieldwork in Abuja from January to August 2019. The study discovered that religion matters to lay Christians and Muslims in Abuja in a variety of ways, for example, as a source of strength amidst life’s challenges and as a marker of identity that helps to define oneself and the other. Within this context of religiosity, various forms of religious peacebuilding, which are supposedly motivated primarily by religious peace norms, take place. This suggests that religious leaders, religious peace norms and religious peace activism have helped to sustain the relative peace in Abuja. However, while various kinds of religious peacebuilding take place in the area, and while there is a common perception among religious leaders that religion is a crucial source of the relative peace in the territory, interviews with lay Christians and Muslims there show that these religious factors (leaders, norms and activism) are rarely at the centre of their choice or decision to have peaceful attitudes towards religious others, despite the interreligious divides existing in the territory. Instead, it was self-protection, concern for family, a desire for survival and progress, and the prevention of the harmful consequences of physical violence. These practical issues often matter strongly to believers, sometimes more than religious differences or the religious peacebuilding that responds to them. The study also discovered that interreligious dialogue between top-level Christian and Muslim religious leaders in Abuja, which is one of the methods of religious peacebuilding being carried out in the territory, seems to have a limited impact on the peace that exists on the ground. Furthermore, the research showed how the interreligious peace in the area partially depends on factors that are primarily nonreligious, even though they are often interwoven with religion. These include Abuja’s demographics, governance, and policing. These findings serve as the major basis of the above-stated argument of the thesis. While showing the relevance of religion in the dynamics of interreligious peace, the study highlights the importance of believers’ practical interests in these dynamics.