Ash Wednesday comes from the ancient Jewish tradition of penance and fasting. The practice includes the wearing of ashes on the forehead by the Christian faithful. The ashes symbolise the dust from which God made us.
I remember, in the late 80s and early 90s, in my primary days; when we had Ash Wednesday mass. Our Principal, Sister Gerald, would make us file in a single row. We would all enthusiastically go into the school hall for the mass.
My older brother, Sheu Adejare, who was one of the brilliant and active pupils in St. Francis, was an usher. My two younger sisters, Zainab Muhammed and Khadijat Adejare Ajadi, were good singers. They committed several portions of the ‘Songs of Praises’ into memory. Sheu, Zainab and Khadijat for you! Muslim names!
Getting to the hall, we would patiently wait for the Catholic fathers and sisters to arrive. After their arrival and being ushered into the hall, service commenced. We sang praises to the Lord, clapped and danced. The Lord’s Prayer was one of the regular features during mass in my school.
I and my siblings knew it offhand: Our Father; who hath in heaven…..Hail Mary, full of grace…I have not even forgotten it. After that, ash would be used to draw a cross on our forehead. We never considered it an aberration to the tenets of our creed.
We took all the rituals as part of our requisite academic activities. We would even leave it on our forehead till we got home. Our parents saw it and laughed it off.
My father was an Islamic scholar: A Sheikh (scholar) of the Tijaniyyah sect. A very prominent one for that matter. He personally brought Sheikh Ibrahim Niyass; the global leader of Sufi sect, to Oyo Town.
In spite of his strong Islamic learning, he never raised any objection against our participation in these Catholic rituals. His belief was that we were just doing them for the sake of love for our Christian friends.
He believed we had our strong Islamic background. Truly, these had no impact on us. We took our participation as a display of tolerance and love for other people’s faith, and nothing more.
In 1987, when I had a domestic accident (hot water accident) and I was absent from school for weeks, Father Lashilola, who is still an administrator in St. Francis, had to take it upon himself to accommodate me for weeks; so that I could make up for the lessons I had missed.
He personally took care of me. He never collected a dime from my parents. He did everything for the love of Christ. While I was staying in his house, he provided kettle and mat for me to observe Salat. Observing Solat in the house of a strong Catholic Christian! Can this ever be possible in Nigeria again? God!
Sadly, things have changed in Nigeria for worse. Religious intolerance and apathy rule. Deep-seated hate for other religious adherents. Christians hate Muslims with passion. Muslims hate Christians in equal proportion.
I have never seen a Christian take his children to a Muslim school. Muslims also withdraw their wards in droves from Christian schools. Worse still, Christians won’t take their children to any government school that bears Islamic name, same for Muslims.
To an average Muslim, every Christian is a pervert and hell-bound. An average Christian sees every Muslim as a potential terrorist and murderer. We are so suspicious of one another.
We have sacrificed our unity on the altar of bigotry and fanaticism. Our children have systematically inherited these bad traits from us. A 7-year old is conscious of whom to and not to take as friends.
Their Christian parents have told them not to play with Muslims. Also, Muslim parents have sternly warned their children not to move close to any Christian in their schools. Things have really fallen apart.
This is the sad situation we deliberately plunged ourselves into in Nigeria. Who will rescue this situation? I have nothing to say. The key issues and the missing links are love, mutual respect and tolerance. God bless Nigeria.
By Adejare Ibrahim