There are more that binds us together than those that divide us. This wisdom was personally confirmed with my recent foray into Islam as a researcher. Doing a comparative analysis of the communication opportunities in two student religious associations – Muslim Student Society of Nigeria (MSSN) and Nigeria Federation of Catholic Students (NFCS) – in the University of Ibadan (UI) has further affirmed that stereotypes have no basis in reality.
Nigeria has a roughly equal mix of both Christians and Muslims. The 2010 Pew Research Centre reveals that Muslims and Christians account for 52% and 46% of the size of African’s most populous nation. African Traditional Religions tag along with a mere 1%. Although Nigeria’s actual population size remains contentious, as at 2007, the World Bank placed it 148 million. As such this was not just another academic introspection that may end up on the shelves of the faculty library.
My heart shuddered when my supervisor, suggested using the ethnographic method – observation – in addition to survey, interviews and focus group discussions for my thesis. No doubt I had suggested the topic, but my intention was to use instruments that will reduce as much as possible the actual contact with respondents. With his suggestion, it meant that I had to sit-in at the various meetings of both associations. Looking up from his desk – cluttered with books, scripts and a notebook – he read my mind and muttered that “you know all Muslims are not jihadists!”
A major headache for any researcher is ‘entering’ the desired community to be studied. And many a times, an entire project is ruined because the so-called opinion leader is nothing but a farce. This was my utmost concern. As a Christian, I envisaged little or no problem with NFCS but MSSN was totally novel. As such I was particularly cautious not to bungle the entire research with a false move.
Like Virgil leading Dante, I got in contact with Selim, an opinion leader in MSSN, through a mutual friend. That was my first time of visiting a Mosque. Selim was not the ‘typical’ Moslem that dominates the single story in the media. Here was a young man in his late twenties, very fluent and with an amazing command of English. He understood within a few minutes of conversation the essence of my thesis. As the outgoing President of MSSN, he was more than qualified to help me out. Selim took control and mapped out a rota. And I have been a welcome guest in UI Central Mosque since then.
While I hold no pretensions about having a core understanding of Ramadan, nonetheless, it is obvious that during this period, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. In addition they abstain from food, drink and sex. Dr. Gibril Haddad explains that Ramadan is derived from ‘ramdaa‘ which means “sun-baked,” perhaps a reference to the pangs of fasting.
The commonality of fasting which holds true for both religions – Christianity and Islam. As such I appreciate what the sacrifice that Muslims will make during this period. And for that, may their sacrifice purify them and make them more receptive to the tenants of their religion. Happy Ramadan, my Muslim friends!