Much has been reported about the devastating stories of religious crisis in the world, particularly in Nigeria. Religion, as it were, remains one of the strongest elements in traditional background, and exerts probably the greatest influence upon the thinking and living of the people concerned. But the role of religion in the face of the incessant religious crises in some parts of Nigeria has left many to ponder on its usefulness. This is because religion in Nigeria has supported mutual intolerance, inquisition, Jihad, Christian crusade, fanaticism, priest-craft, and many other harmful cultural practices. Religious crisis in Nigeria, many believe, is a cog in the wheel of democratic governance and development.
This evil is borne out of religious prejudice; it fosters sorrow, distress, calamity, wickedness and inhumanity. It is a form of biased opinions about other religions occasioned by insufficient knowledge. This is often caused by lack of knowledge on truth or reality of other religions. Religious conflicts are mostly borne out of prejudice. And this is the root cause of most of the violence being recorded in the country. Many lives have been lost and property worth billions of naira has been destroyed on account of this hydra-headed monster. The evil of religious prejudice and intolerance is seen where friends become enemies overnight on account of religion. It is a serious threat to the corporate existence of Nigeria as a nation.
The evil of this division is manifested in public offices where people are discriminated against on account of religion. In some parts of the country, jobs are not offered based on merit but purely based on religion. This practice portends doom for the country. Religious crisis has made some states in the country to be ungovernable. The energy and time that should have been used for nation building is used for curbing violent activities. In places where religious prejudice rears its ugly head, there abound backwardness and gross underdevelopment. Therefore, in order to create a good atmosphere for democratic governance and national development, interfaith dialogue is the answer. There is urgent need for dialogue among various religions.
Though, each has different ways of worshipping God, yet all have the foundation of belief in a supernatural being. This has thus necessitated the need for an active interfaith dialogue among all religions. This will help in evaluating the past, accessing the present and preparing for the future. The idea of interfaith religious dialogue presupposes that there is conflict. That conflict exists is one thing; proffering solution to the conflict is another thing. The term ‘interfaith dialogue’ refers to the positive and cooperative interaction between people of different faiths or spiritual beliefs, with the aim of promoting understanding between different religions to increase acceptance and tolerance.
It has to do with discussions concerning the views of different religious parties for the sole purpose of understanding each other better. Tanko (1991) asserts that as a Christian, there is no way I will understand a Muslim very well without knowing his faith background. This can be perfectly carried out through dialogue. The fact of dialogue is also concerned with the exchange of ideas and opinions, being an encounter that takes place on equal grounds with mutual confidence, frankness and without ulterior motives. Interfaith religious dialogue is an activity that is carried out in an atmosphere of openness, thirst for truth and mutual respect.
It has to do with give and take. Ogara(2009) opines that religious dialogue presupposes the existence and relevance of others’ points of view and a readiness to accept the truth wherever it may be found. In interfaith religious dialogue, no party should claim superiority over the other as this will hinder the objective of dialogue. It must be observed that the objectives of religious dialogue include deeper understanding of other religions and also fostering better human relationship. Religious dialogue is not a period of confrontation. It is not a period of counting religious differences. Dialogue among religions lies on the fact of respect of religious differences. It is on this note that Walgrave (1969) states that tolerance maintains solidarity, even where profound differences in convincing opinions separate human beings from one another.
Interfaith dialogue involves sharing of religious values among different religious groups. It is a time to count on what unites us rather than what divides us.Interfaith religious dialogue should not only be seen as what the representatives of Islam and Christianity do either in Abuja or in the cities. It has to take another dimension that will have a holistic effect as a way of fostering human relationship and a deeper understanding of Islam and Christianity. This dialogue has to be appreciated by all Nigerians young and old, literate and illiterate, the poor and the rich, Christians and Moslems. It should be a daily activity based on our commonalities and respect for our differences.
The talk about religious dialogue, especially between Christianity and Islam in Nigeria is very crucial because both religions have some things in common. The teachings and practices of Christianity and Islam are similar in many respects. Consequently, interfaith dialogue is expected to be a catalyst for social, spiritual, moral, intellectual transformation, harmony, and peaceful co-existence among peoples of different faiths.