Christian Newswire/ — When Boko Haram stormed into the town of Shaffa, northern Nigeria, some weeks ago, members of the Bura Bible translation team joined thousands fleeing for their lives. But Dalta Balami, the translation committee secretary, didn’t make it. He was one of dozens killed as the militants rampaged through the largely Christian town. They burnt down churches, homes and businesses, and completely destroyed the Bura Bible translation office.
Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, who takes a keen interest in Bible translation and chairs the Bible Society of Nigeria’s translation committee, was deeply saddened by the news. In an interview with United Bible Societies, he spoke about how Boko Haram’s aggression is threatening to stir up deep divisions in a country that has enjoyed relative peace despite its “unique mixture of Christians and Muslims.”
“Our population is roughly 50% Christian and 50% Muslim,” he explained. “We have substantial numbers of both religions – around 80 million of each.
“We’ve always prided ourselves that Nigerian Christians and Muslims have learned to live together relatively peacefully. Not without occasional clashes, but in general, the average Muslim and Christian have no problem relating to each other. However, Boko Haram’s actions are threatening that.”
The cardinal acknowledged the importance of taking military action to “disarm the aggressor,” adding that “you cannot turn the other cheek and allow evil to thrive.” But he also believes that in a deeply religious country like Nigeria (a recent poll shows it to be the second most religious country in the world), a greater depth of interfaith understanding is vital for building peace.
“In Nigeria, you cannot seriously promote the Bible and ignore the fact that you are living side by side with 80 million people who see the Quran as the sacred Word of God. And the same is true the other way. It’s something we need to pay more attention to.
“We need more openness and dialogue. We can continue to hold dearly to the sources of our own faith and spiritual orientation while leaving room that others, with whom we live every day, have their own.
“If we get acquainted with each other’s sacred writings, we will discover common ground, which can then form the basis for collaboration, for living together in peace. If we’d had this depth of understanding, there would have been no room for Boko Haram.