I’m always eager to spend quality time with someone whose background and culture are radically different from my own.
Like a fish unaware of the water it swims in, we Americans are so immersed in our own culture that we often cannot see how we are perceived by others.
I had such a privilege this week during a nearly two-hour lunch with Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi, one of the leading religious leaders in Nigeria, who was in Tulsa to speak at two churches. (My thanks to the Rev. Briane Turley, Church of the Holy Spirit Anglican, for arranging the one-on-one time.)
Here are some edited excerpts of our conversation. (Reader beware – there’s plenty here to offend capitalists, western Christians, Muslims, progressives and secularists.)
Kwashi, by the way, has earned the right to his opinion: he’s been face to face with a radical Islamists in Nigeria that at different times savagely brutalized his wife, almost killing her, burned down his home and came close to executing him.
Why does Boko Haram hate Christianity, Americans and the West?
They see the freedom that democracy brings as a limitless freedom that encourages immorality. So they restrict freedom.
The worst for them is the western education that forms the foundation for a loose morality, greed in capitalism and throws God away, atheism.
They see the economy, as practiced in Islam, as one that should be just and fair to Muslims. In contrast, capitalist economy is not fair to the poor. So they create Islamic banking (no interest) to care for the poor.
In western media and advertisements you see women almost naked. They oppose that by bringing in the ancient dressing which covers the woman from head to foot.
How do they respond to that?
So they’re reacting to all of that by calling for a jihad. But it’s more than that, it’s a return to ancient Islam, pure Islam, original Islam. How that comes into a modern world that has changed in 1500 years creates a huge clash.
That forms the bedrock of their theology for the jihad. They’re asking for a purification, a revival of religion.
In Nigeria, wih Boko Haram, the foundation is the same, a need to revive Islam, evangelize the unbelieving world. And the way they evangelize people is the same, either convert them, or kill them, or make them slaves.
And they try to get political power, and military power, imposing their control little by little over more territory.
They impose their laws, which are not written down. They alone know the laws, and they impose them, by instant death penalty.
What is the meaning of jihad?
That’s a difficult question. The interpretation of jihad will vary from place to place, depending on who the Muslim leader is. In the Islam I grew up with in northern Nigeria, jihad always meant purification of the faith, to re-examine yourself, to draw nearer to God, to repent of sins. It was an internal thing, living righteously with all people, and encouraging others to live righteously.
I didn’t know that in our time, it would be violent. But you cannot deny that through history, several jihads have been extremely violent. That history is undeniable.
How do moderate Muslims view the radicals?
Every average Muslim would disagree with them, because the return to ancient Islam would drive people into backwardness. Conditions have changed. Even in Nigeria, most Muslims would not agree with them.
In their attack on the perceived enemy, those who are followers of America, followers of godlessness and social immorality, they begin to turn on moderate Muslims.
What happened when you wrote a letter to Nigerian Christians to not retaliate against Boko Haram attacks?
“It was like magic. Christians watched their houses burned. It became a major embarrassment to Muslims. They couldn’t understand it.
The Coptic Christians who were slaughtered were praising God.
How central is the principle of freedom to Christianity?
Freedom is the best gift God has given to man. Once there’s no freedom, anti-freedom is simply slavery.
Why do you consider secularism the real danger to Christianity?
Secularism is a self-centered religion, self-serving, very selfish, and the cousin of capitalism. It is about to take over capitalism, which emphasizes hard work and excellence. The distinction between a capitalist economy and secularism is thin.
Secularism has taken away family discipleship, children learning right behavior from seeing their fathers treating the family well, looking after the family, saying their prayers in the morning and evening. That made Muslims admire and respect us as Christians, because being a Christian meant being honest, being humble, being courteous, being able to live with people, so we could win people to Christ.
Secularism throws all of that out the window. It says you don’t have to be a gentleman, just be who you are.
Secularism has no response to Islam. None whatsoever. As long as any nation elevates secularism, it’s only a matter of time, because radical Islam knows how weak secularism is. The only thing they don’t know what to do with is the Christian gospel.
Secularists and violent Islam agree together that the problem is Christians. They are both opposed to Christians.
Why do most African Christians oppose same-sex marriage?
I believe this is a revisitation of colonialism. It’s colonialism coming in another way. Why should the West, because she decides that she no longer needs the Bible, and homosexuality is right, why should they ask me to believe what they believe? They’re denying me the very freedom they preach, and they’re denying me the freedom I already have in Christ.