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Sierra Leone: A Bastion for Religious Tolerance in Africa
Mar 08 2009, 11:49 AM
WRITTEN BY JACOB SAX CONTEH MONDAY, 02 MARCH 2009./ Although Muslims and Christians do not mix in many parts of the world, in Sierra Leone, Muslims and Christians intermarry, attend schools together and often live together in the same family, a sign of tolerance the world needs in these times of fanaticism in both religions. Before President Koroma opened a news conference with his cabinet at the American University in Washington, DC a few months ago, the organizers asked both a Muslim and Christian to lead in separate prayers. Today in most Sierra Leonean gatherings both here in the US and elsewhere, the two prayers are often offered. One may begin to wonder what makes Sierra Leone so unique in Africa for religious tolerance. Unlike other African countries, Sierra Leone is about evenly divided between Muslims and Christians. Moreover, unlike other parts of the world like Ghana and Nigeria where Muslims are mostly based in one region, in Sierra Leone, there are Christians and Muslims in all parts of the country. This demographic has made it impossible for one religion to dominate the other. Another factor that has allowed Sierra Leoneans to be very tolerant of people with different religious beliefs is the type of education that the country has had over the years. In Sierra Leone, both Muslims and Christians attend the same schools. There are Muslim children at Methodist Boys Secondary School in Freetown, Christ the King College (CKC) in Bo or Seventh-day Adventist Secondary School in Yele. On the other hand, there are Christian boys and girls attending the Muslim Brotherhood Secondary School in Freetown, Ahmadiyya Secondary School, Boajibu and Magbema Islamic Secondary School, Rokupr. This rich background has prepared Sierra Leoneans to integrate well is this new world order that calls for tolerance and political correctness. Religious tolerance is a far cry from many parts of the world. Here in the United States, while people are mostly tolerant of other faiths, since the terrorists attack of 2001, many have become suspicious of all Muslims. In the last presidential campaign, many right-wing groups tried to paint Obama as a Muslim which in their narrow-minded world they have associated with terrorism. In northern Nigeria, Muslim/Christian tensions have erupted into violence over the years, killing hundreds of people. As US President Obama and his team try to find new ways to deal with the Muslim world, they may want to ask the US Ambassador in Freetown to conduct a study about Sierra Leone and how we are able to get along with both religions and non-believers alike. The time has come for all of us Sierra Leoneans to teach the world that religion, true religion, is a personal relationship between a person and his or her God. True Muslims or Christians do not try to force others to join their religion. That is the truth Sierra Leoneans have discovered over the years, and we have to keep it that way.
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