Let’s not allow extremists to misappropriate God

A bomb blast struck worshippers gathering to celebrate Palm Sunday at the Mar Girgis Coptic Church in Tanta, Egypt

You can’t avoid crazies in life because of normal distribution.


A bomb blast struck worshippers gathering to celebrate Palm Sunday at the Mar Girgis Coptic Church in Tanta, Egypt
A bomb blast struck worshippers gathering to celebrate Palm Sunday at the Mar Girgis Coptic Church in Tanta, Egypt

With normal distribution, you have in the centre the majority of the people who are generally good, kind and considerate sandwiched between outstandingly good people, on one side, and the baddest of the bad, on the other, who will go out of their way to make life hell for others because they put themselves first.

Such vermin bombed two Christian churches in Egypt this week within hours of each other killing over 47 people, timing their cowardly outrage for Palm Sunday, the beginning of the Christian Holy Week, to have maximum physical and psychological effect. One does not have to be a Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or atheist to be sickened by such an evil deed perpetrated on fellow human beings which was claimed by the usual suspects: Islamic State (IS) terrorists, whose deeds make light of the meaning and definition of wickedness. A new word has to be coined or invented to truly capture the extent of depravity that IS and its equally obnoxious and dangerous offshoots have brought.

People need to speak out against these sub-human creatures as the late former world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, himself a Muslim, did after 9/11: “I think people should know the truth and come to recognise the truth because Islam is peace. I’m against murder and the terrorists and the people doing it in the name of Islam are wrong, and if I had a chance, I’d do something about it.” Yes, you cannot kill so indiscriminately in God’s name. Never!

Furthermore, IS’s targeting of Christians and their churches as symbols of the “hated” West is quite hollow. No one — practically no one — is beyond IS’s maniacal blood lust. In fact, IS terrorists or IS-inspired copycats have killed many more Muslims than Christians. They have bombed fellow Muslims on pilgrimages — again timing this for maximum effect — merely because those Muslims are of the Shia faith which they see as unholy in comparison to their Sunni beliefs. But can anything be more unholy than bombing, burning alive and beheading people? These people, who specialise in soft targets, are losers, social failures who will never amount to anything — and know that themselves to the extent that it enrages them to lash out in every direction willynilly not distinguishing legitimate targets from collateral damage. They are no different from those people who are full of bravado, but really cowards inside that they act under Dutch or liquid courage — the confidence that some people get from drinking alcohol before they do something that needs courage. Like drunkards, they inure themselves to restraint. They are drunk on something worse than alcohol or high on something more potent than heroin — religious rabidness. They are as delusionary as drug addicts. Some of them are dangerous Walter Mitty types who play out their sick and twisted fantasies. Many of them have been found to be ordinary, timid persons who are given to adventurous and self-aggrandising daydreams or “secret plans” as a way of glamourising and glorifying their humdrum, boring lives. You can’t be mad at the world to that extent unless you are totally unbalanced — and these bombers are.

Of course, some among us will let the expediency gene kick in and over-eagerly interpret and morbidly celebrate this as a backlash against imperialism and colonialism associated with Christendom. But, who, if we look back in history, is not guilty of colonialism? The Bantu immigration beginning centuries ago drove many Pygmy tribes into the darkest jungles, while other Pygmies were reduced to co-habitation in a subservient status in the same way white settlers dispossessed blacks of fertile land and made them second-class citizens to be under their servitude as drawers of water and hewers of wood. The San — or bushmen — cave paintings all over Zimbabwe are testimony to the Shona conquest of the country and dispossessing bushmen of their land well before Cecil John Rhodes and his brigands came into the picture. Yes, colonialism had its many evils, but two wrongs don’t make a right especially now that the world is a much more enlightened place with many common universal values than in those dark days of slavery. It’s superfluous and most unhelpful to be still debating about Christianity on the basis that it was brought to Africa by invading whites when that faith is now part and parcel of the African culture and narrative and cannot be unlearnt. Love him or hate him, President Robert Mugabe himself has throughout his life professed to be a devout Catholic, but did this put out the fire in him to fight colonialism? Despite his many faults, the last and least thing you can accuse him of is having a colonial mentality. If Mugabe and other fighters for independence found a connection and inspiration in Christianity, one cannot say that Christianity is inherently an imperialist and colonial doctrine. If anything, Christianity radicalised Mugabe to fight colonialism. So, in that way, Mugabe benefited from colonialism.

And who are IS to say Arabs must not be Christians, atheist or whatever, but be solely Muslim? Or that: “Convert or die!” as seen in their killings of non-Muslims in the territories they occupy? Despite being a black man in the segregated South, Ali, born a Baptist, never criticised Christianity’s teachings or threatened Christians: “You can choose any religion you want. If you believe it, you’ll see God because all of them are good.”

Faith has been proved to be an accident of history or circumstantial. It’s not a coincidence that Zimbabwe is predominantly a Christian nation. It’s because the British settlers brought Christianity without being necessarily exemplary Christians themselves. That is why blacks adopted and used Christian values to point out the evils of colonialism and fight it. On the other hand, in the United States, Ali found it untenable to relate to Christianity in a country where racism was legalised. Said Ali: “As a Christian in America, I couldn’t go to the white churches. That was for those people — it did them good, it didn’t do me good.” Ali them turned to Islam because “it connected me”. He could go anywhere in the world as a Muslim and have a place to stay and a companion. As a Christian in segregationist America, that was not the case. It’s this dark history — accident of history — that made Ali convert to Islam. As for myself, I am a Christian primarily by accident of birth because of my grandfather who came all the way from South Africa as a missionary of the now Methodist Church in Zimbabwe.

Similarly, Malcolm X, another human rights giant in America, converted to Islam because the system there used theological justification for racism. Initially, like Ali, he believed in the total separation of blacks and whites. But when he went on a pilgrimage to Africa and found himself praying alongside white Muslims, who looked like the same whites in the US with their “blue eyes and blond hair”, he quickly realised that religion was not and should not be used as a tool for exclusion, but inclusion. He quickly dropped the reverse racism that he had embraced.

So, as we observe Easter, let’s heed these words from Ali, a Muslim who had a broader spiritual agenda of promoting world peace — and condemning bigotry — that all faiths could relate to: “All religions are good. Rivers, lakes, and streams — they all have different names, but they all contain water. Religions have different names, but they all contain God and the truth.”

Let’s not allow extremists to misappropriate our one and only God — they already have Satan on their side.

Happy Easter to all — including non-Christians!

Conway Nkumbuzo Tutani is a Harare-based columnist. Email: nkumbuzo@gmail.com