JOS, Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Young Muslim men stabbed a non-Muslim in Kaduna state on Tuesday (June 7) for failing to observe a day-time fast during the month-long Islamic celebration of Ramadan, according to local reports.
Francis Emmanuel Olokpo, who appears to identify as a Christian though his church affiliation was not immediately clear, sustained multiple wounds in the attack. At St. Gerard Hospital in Kaduna city, he told Vanguard newspaper today that he was recovering well.
“Nobody should worry over me,” he said, “I’m being taken care of very well, and by the grace of Christ, I shall leave here very soon.”
The 41-year-old carpenter said earlier this week that he had gone to a market to buy wood and returned to his workplace in Kakuri, where he was eating some food he had bought.
“As I was eating, about six Muslims came to ask me if I am a Muslim or a Christian, but I did not answer them,” he told journalists from his hospital bed this week. “They asked why I was not fasting, then I told them that I am not a Muslim. Before I know it, one of them slapped me. As I stood up, the rest came and surrounded me and started attacking me with knives.”
Olokpo said no one could come to his aid because of the dangerous cutlasses, knives and scissors they were using to attack him. He fell unconscious and didn’t know who brought him to the hospital, he said.
Kaduna Gov. Nasir El-Rufai visited him on Wednesday (June 8) at the hospital and later told reporters that his administration would not accept the use of force and coercion to compel others to embrace religious beliefs.
“Nigeria is a free country, and that means no imposition of faith or religious practices on anyone,” El-Rufai said. “We should not allow differences in faith to be a barrier to harmony or a cause for conflict. Nobody can impose a tenet of his faith on another person. The decision to observe any religious activity is the prerogative of the individual.”
El-Rufai directed police to investigate the attack and ensure that the assailants are arrested and prosecuted.
“The government will not allow anyone to get away with any crime using his or her faith as an excuse,” he said. The attack on Olokpo comes after the June 2 killing of a Christian woman by a Muslim mob in neighboring Kano state over an accusation of blaspheming Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.
One factor contributing to such attacks is an intolerant Wahhabi-Salafi Islam that has crept into Nigeria in recent years, according to a study released this week by advocacy group 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. The report says the Wahhabi tradition has filtered into northern Nigeria through the influence of Saudi Arabia and Islamic charities.
“This shift to Salafism helps explain why a country that has had both Muslims and Christians, sometimes living as neighbors within the same community for hundreds of years, has not experienced this level of violence in the past, why religious identity is hardening, and why at least some Nigerian Muslims are willing to employ violence against both Christians and fellow Muslims who are seen as morally culpable given their perceived detachment to ‘correct’ forms of practice,” the report states. Outside support and funding has contributed to a revival of this hard-line Islam within many Islamic communities in northern Nigeria, though to what extent remains unclear, the report states.
“This ongoing Islamic revival in northern Nigeria is manifested in a shift towards Salafist interpretations, which emphasize stricter implementation of sharia and more simplified and ‘pure’ practices of Islam,” the report states.
Sunny Oibe, director of National Issues of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), said in a press statement the attack on Olokpo shows an intolerance among Muslims that is becoming endemic in Nigeria.
“The attack on the carpenter for allegedly eating when Muslims were fasting goes to show the level of intolerance of some people, particularly some of our Muslims,” Oibe said. “Even if somebody refuses to fast, nobody has the right to embark on such animalistic behavior of attempting murder. The leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria is asking Nigerian security agencies to ensure that this matter is not swept under the carpet.”