“Sister some Muslim women came looking for you today.” Muslim women? What for? “They want a sister from our office to make a presentation on Unity in Diversity at a symposium which they organized to mark the World Hijab Day” was the answer I got.
I am the only sister in the office, so it fell to my lot. I love the topic but somewhat hesitant. I had never had any cause to work with the Muslims; I was not sure how it would turn out. Will I be safe going there?
Besides, the date in question was February 1st 2020, a day the Religious Men and Women in the Archdiocese of Ibadan chose to mark the day of Consecrated Life. It sounded like a good excuse to turn down the invitation. Then, I remembered the words of Pope John Paul II in which he emphasized, “An excuse is worse and more terrible than a lie, for an excuse is a lie guarded.” I definitely can miss the celebration for a higher good.
Moreover, there were stronger voices and drive within. Nigeria is in a terrible mess currently, terrorist attack of all kinds and from many quarters; Boko haram, bandits, Fulani herdsmen, kidnapers are scheming heinous and nefarious activities almost every minutes of the day. May be the presentation on unity in diversity could help in the fight to save our nation and humanity from these mess. These were the stronger voices within that made me opted to honor the invitation.
Everyone longs for peace, justice, love and unity. Attaining these nonetheless appears a mirage because there are heated and detrimental disunity among us. We are inherently different, diversified at so many levels and in so many ways. An obvious fact for even siblings from the same parents. Our diversity cuts across personality, temperaments, race, color, culture, language, sex, religion etc. Do we blame the disunity that is, on our diversity? Audre Lorde believes that, “it is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.” What unites us far outweighs what separates us; our differences should never be a barrier to unity because in it we appreciate our uniqueness.
What unites us then? Life! God created us in his image and likeness Gen 1:26-27. Each of us is unique, there is no other you. God made us in love and for love, for purposeful living and for transcendence. Our common humanity unites us. We are one big family of God’s people. None of us chose our place of birth. Majority of us belong to the religion we profess by parental indoctrination. The chances, therefore are that we could have been professing any other faith, different from ours had we been born into a different faith community. You see, the difference do not make us, we make the difference. We can indeed make positive differences.
In order to make a positive difference, we need to unearth the barriers to unity among us. Some of these barriers are negative narratives, prejudice, identity crises, mutual fear of one another, ignorance of the other people’s religion and culture. If we must live in unity irrespective of our differences we must take, a critical look at these barriers and address them practically.
The other strong inner voices that propelled me to honor the invitation was that the participants at the symposium were women of different age groups, secondary school children and mothers. It was an opportunity to pass this message of peace to young agents of peace and to mothers whom Fr. Mbaro calls, “The makers of peace makers.” Imagine if all mothers were good flag bearers of peace and unity. We would definitely have less trouble in our world.
During the presentation, the women were reminded that they are life nurturers, that by the virtue of the grace of child bearing, they testify to our healthy unity in diversity. They must teach their children the value of unity. These values are there in our holy books. The Quran 49:10 says, “Humanity is but a single Brotherhood; so make peace with your brethren.” The psalmist enthralled by the joy of unity among persons acclaims, “see how good and how pleasant it is for brothers (and sisters) to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). It behooves us to be good agents of unity.
Organizing the symposium and choosing the topic was taking the right step in the right direction, given the unrest in Nigeria and in our world. It was a good outing; well-organized, beautiful interactive sections that left us united, broke down my fears and helped me see things differently. If we must stay united, we should all be willing to make some sacrifices, one of which is to let go of our plans sometimes and spend time with those we consider strangers and outsiders and get to know more about them. In other to do this better, we must also primarily confront the strangers within us. Get to know ourselves, our religion and culture better that we may be at home with self then freely embrace others without losing ourselves.
We have had cause to meet again. We met at the Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace in Collaboration with Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria (FOMWAN) Lagelu and Ibadan North Local government at Isabatudeen Girls’ Grammar School, Ibadan Oyo state where I gave a keynote speech to over 1,000 secondary school girls and advocated for peaceful coexistence. Our latest meeting was at a stakeholders meeting organized by the Oyo State Emergency Management Agency (OYSEMA) to tackle Covid 19 Pandemic. FOMWAN president was there. Before she left, she hugged me from behind where I sat, (fear not there was no case of corona virus in Nigeria then) that, for me was fraternity formed and growing. We can work together, build peace together and celebrate our unity in diversity.
Sr. Augustina Offor RSC