How did we become bigoted adults?

You see, I look at people when they wonder aloud that we are narrow minded and intolerant as adults when it comes to religion. And it’s not just religion. Ethnicity too. There are adults who don’t know that there are more than 250 different languages and dialects in the Niger delta alone!

But they often forget that the journey to bigotry doesn’t start in one day. It is a life long journey that we all drag children through without their consent.

I was at a naming ceremony where the father of the child came from a Muslim family but had become Christian and the mother of the child was from a Christian family. Among the uncountable names that Yoruba give their newborns, a Muslim name was mentioned, a name that obviously meant so much to the father of the child, because it belonged to his aunt who had raised him. Pandemonium broke out among the mother’s family. How could the child have a muslim name? And it was only ONE name out of many! It was as if the child was given the name of Lucifer. Lol. The matter was discussed over and over until they were exhausted. They played so many scenarios in their heads and their conversations! They hoped their son-in-law had not reverted back to his old barbaric faith, and would require that their daughter and her newborn also converted to Islam! As if that was the most horrible thing in the world. Lol.

So the extended family atmosphere is set for the journey to bigotry. Next is the school. There are now exclusive Christian and Muslim nursery and primary schools now. Very expensive places o. The Muslim ones insist that two year olds wear hijab and bear very funkified Arabic names, and sing songs of allegiance to Allah, to the exclusion of every other nonsense God. Lol. The Christian ones sing exclusive Christian songs. And the parents who send these kids to these schools are the very educated creme of the society o. The mere suggestion that Muslim children attend Christian nursery and primary school and vice versa nearly made a friend’s wife throw a fit. Lol.

Then the children visit their grandmothers who are muslims or Christians and get more religion. They return home to more of the same religion. They go to church and mosques for more of the same religion. They go to the university and join fellowships and tutorial groups with the people of the same religion.

All the while, they are just vaguely aware of some people who are “different” from them. That knowledge is only skin deep. They’ve developed significant ignorance and labels for other religions and persons who practice them, as well as fear, stigma and unconscious discrimination of these same persons and their religions. Despite the fact that they meet persons of other religions every day, they still harbour funny beliefs that they are inferior and cannot be associated with beyond a casual sort of relationship.

The final nail on the coffin lands when their parents tell them that they can’t marry muslims or Christians, after telling them they can only marry someone from their own tribe, of course.

Then we see them at this point and we begin to wonder how they became like that.

In my short life, I have met muslims, Christians and countless other persons with different religious affiliations and no religious affiliations who have demonstrated exemplary moral rectitude and done things for me that blood relatives could not. I have met irreligious people here who are closer to me than family and it was here that an atheist tried to scam me after scamming tens of others. Lol. In the end, there are only good people and bad people. Religion or lack of it is not the true test of character. Character is the true test of character. Asking me to trust you because you’re an imam or a pastor or an atheist is a waste of time.

There’s a Muslim friend of mine who is absolutely trustworthy. It was he who taught me virtue. If he said he would repay a loan at 12 noon, you got it at 12 noon. If he would pay at 12.05pm, he would call at 11.50am to tell you that he would be a bit delayed. Absolutely solid guy. And he is not like that because he is a Muslim. He is like that because he is like that. Shikena. He just taught himself well.

I have been asked several times how I hope to raise good children who are not bigots when I am irreligious, and I have answered that parenting is not an exact science, but there are general guides and individual recipes.

My 2 year old gets to learn her manners at home by watching adults: they usually learn from what we do and not what we say. Lol. She also learns from behavioural modification techniques using reinforcements such as bargaining, praise and cajole, rewards, occasional yells and very rarely a pat on the bum. Lol.

As regards religion, she goes to a Christian school and goes to church with her mum and sometimes with her grandma, and now recognises jesus in books. That’s not necessarily bad. She needs the general knowledge. The next stage of her religious education is a deliberate visits to a mosque on Jumat days to partake of the rites and rituals, visit friends who are muslims at festive periods and have an emotional connection with a different way of worship and people who don’t do Jesus. Then have open conversations around this when she is older. Other exposures can then follow: traditional religions, Hinduism and so forth through critical reading and travel.

There’s a need for children to learn about other religions and other people, and there is a need for parents to have that conversation openly at all times. The metric to use to classify people is not their tribe or religion or race. It is their conduct around other people. Children need to be told that all the time. And they should also be told that though we bear different names, come from different places and worship differently, we all are human beings. We’re not superior or inferior. We’re just different, and that difference should be embraced. Not feared. And the only way to demonstrate it is to let them be familiar with that difference until they stop noticing it.