By Abdulai Mansaray…
The furore that has followed the recent protestations of Pastor Ajisafe has been well documented. To call it a crisis may look far-fetched, and to call it a stir would equally pass for the understatement of the year. He has been roundly condemned by all and sundry, and rightly so. This is largely because his behaviour is very alien to the average Sierra Leonean. Our nation is made up of people with different beliefs and religions; but it is largely dominated by Christians and Muslims. The abhorrence with which the pastor’s behaviour has been treated is testament to the fact that, this is not the kind of religious diet we are used to. It goes without saying that as a nation, there are many things that divide us; at face value. We have our differences in our political leanings, football teams, and even between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
But religion has relatively never been a dividing issue in Sierra Leone. There is not a Sierra Leonean who doesn’t have a friend, family member or otherwise from the opposite side of the religious aisle. With that in mind, and although many will see this as a crisis, perhaps it is worth treating this crisis like the Chinese do. The Chinese see every crisis as an opportunity. This is not in any way an attempt to minimise the gravity of the situation. Rather, it is an appeal to common sense. Irrespective of your view or religious persuasion, we should as a nation and a people, not allow this single incident to define us. We should not allow this to undo all that is good about us as a nation and a people who have a good dose of tolerance in our DNA.
It is understandable, though it may be undesirable that many are calling for the head (not literally) of Pastor Victor.Like I said in the past, Sometimes in life, one may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel.” The Angel here is Mama Salone. There have been demands for his deportation, imprisonment, public lashing, you name it, it’s been demanded. But in the cold light of day, we should all aspire to snatch victory and peace out of the jaws of civil unrest. To all intents and purposes, the incendiary nature of the Pastor’s utterances is enough to set a chain reaction of all kinds of unthinkable and undesirables. Reports have it that the Government, religious bodies, and other stakeholders are working very hard to calm the situation. Well done. All meaningful citizens will do Mama Salone proud if we just take a minute and look around us. The person you are most likely to see will either be a Christian or Muslim, but beneath beyond that is a brother, sister, father, mother or daughter. An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
I am sure that like many, and even his congregation would be wondering; what possessed him to make such a blatant, unprovoked and unwarranted attack on his counterpart? What makes it nauseatingly ironical is the fact that when you listen to Mufti Menk’s sermon, it is anything but divisive. Menk seems to go out of his way to preach peace and conciliation. At some point, he comes across as even apologetic. Interestingly, Ajisafe came across as everything and anything that he purports to condemn. With social media at the mercy of our finger tips, there is a danger that some people with take the reckless highway. In the world that we live in today, everybody gets so much information all day long that we tend lose our common sense. There is nothing more uncommon than common sense. And that is what we should be wary of. As a nation, we should guard against the risk of escalating this into a full blown crisis. It will be a good idea to remember that before you twit, remember that we are all Sierra Leoneans and God’s children.
This is not an attempt to provide a psychoanalysis of the dynamics of pastor Ajisafe’s mind. But since the news broke, I have been struggling to put a finger on why such a man of such standing in our community, given all the hospitality one can dream of in a foreign country, can suddenly turn his nose up at his landlords and abuse their hospitality.. He can boast of one of the largest single religious following in the country. I am not privileged to receive his “blessings” or professed miracle workings; but suffice it to say that his voice matters to a lot of people.
With such an influence to turn “water into wine”, “make the cripple work”, “make the blind see”, you would expect such a person to be very considerate, thoughtful and level headed, to put his brain in gear before he engages his mouth. There is no doubt, that as a man of the cloth, he has been relatively successful .Unfortunately, success usually breeds a degree of hubris. And that is what I think, may have generated this religious spiral from grace to grass. The bible and the Koran teach us that it was this same affliction that saw Satan banished from the gates of heaven; thinking that he had become so powerful that he could challenge and disobey God. Hey, that was what I was taught.
So with all this success behind him, did pastor victor, who had hitherto seen himself as the main kid on the block, feel threatened by the Mufti? With the Mufti breezing into town and suddenly becoming front page news, did that make Pastor Victor feel relegated from the Premier League? Did he see the Mufti Menk as a usurper? Was he gripped by the fear of losing his place in the Champions League to the Europa League? It’s not funny I know. Just lighten up bra.
Let us assume that these were possible explanations. Does that mean that he was drunk on a potent concoction of misguided and overblown self-importance? As you may be aware, a lot of self-importance is a product of fear; and fear, living in sort of an un-self-examined fear-based life, tends to lead to narcissism and self-importance. This might be wishful thinking but maybe, just maybe, the concoction of fear and self-importance may have inextricably generated his hubris. But as we all know, hubris is one of the greatest renewable resources in life. They come after lessons have been learnt. We’re all victims of our own hubris at times.
Perhaps it is time we came together as a nation to redeem our Pastor from the deathly jaws of his hubris. It seems that we now have an opportunity to reclaim a soul that may have gone astray here. We can even consider this as a failure on his part, to resist the ever present temptations of the devil. Hey, even Jesus had a moment while on the cross. I know that many will disagree with me, and say that this is not the first time he has been involved in controversy. Some have even recalled that he once stated that he would publically burn the bible, if the late President Ahmed Tejan kabba (Allah rest his soul) was allowed to return to Sierra Leone. That was when he was reportedly in bed with the infamous junta, during our period of interregnum.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “The best charity is that given to a relative who does not like you.” Fiqh-us-Sunnah: V3N100. Islam teaches us to seek help in patience and prayers. The bible in Colossians 3:3 teaches us to “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you”. In the interest of peace to all men, perhaps it is worth reminding ourselves about some of the great teachings of Islam and Christianity. Forgiving pastor Ajisafe may sound repugnant to some people. But are we going to allow one man, and one man only, to change our beliefs and way of life? There are some people who may see forgiveness as rewarding for the inner soul. There is no doubt that pastor Ajisafe has transgressed against all well-meaning Sierra Leoneans, be you Christian, Muslim, Rasta, agnostic or otherwise. I may sound apologist, but this is more in tune with what I believe, many Sierra Leoneans would wish for; a commonsense and peaceful resolution to this unfortunate episode.
But this leaves me thinking. Why has my country suddenly developed a penchant to attract chaos and disaster? It seems like yesterday when we were busy burying our dead and missing from the floods and mudslides. We have not even recovered from the trauma and then this. Forgive me if I feel that pastor Ajisafe has presented himself as a joke in this saga. If he ever hoped to drive a wedge among us, he has been and I hope we all join to disappoint him. Let us rise above the small mindedness of some people. If we rise up against one another, we may have played right into the hands of the same people we have collectively been guarding against. We win by tenderness and conquer by forgiveness. Pastor Ajisafe owes the people of Sierra Leone a monumental apology.
Perhaps we can rehabilitate him by making him a member of the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone. I know what you’re thinking; rewarding evil? Far from that, and after what has happened, I would like to think that there can be no better disciple, who can promote our religious tolerance than pastor Ajisafe. As part of his penance, redemption, punishment or whatever you perceive it to be, he could be made to engage in a nationwide apology and appeal for calm, understanding and forgiveness; with a good dose of remorse. Call me naïve, but I still believe in the kindness of mankind and the propensity to forgive. The pastors ranting would not in any way make me less of a Muslim or you less of a Christian. This is one man’s moment of whatitsname. I am really resisting the temptation to re-christen him as PAPA AJASCO. Remember one of the finest exports of Nigeria to Sierra Leone?
Finally, the media has a major role to play here. In our discourse, we should endeavor to resist the overarching temptation to go emotional; guilty. We know too well that religion is one of the most combustible social grenades in the world. It can be highly flammable. Thankfully, the hope is that we can count on the media, especially some of us self-proclaimed social and moral commentators; with spare mega bites for Wi-Fi enabled phones, to promote peace and understanding. When you fight your neighbour, it is not about who is right, but who is left after. But hey, live and let live. You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter (M. L. King).