Religious tolerance at risk
By John Pontifex
AN archbishop in Ghana has warned of extremists destabilising relations with Muslims in a country held up as one of Africa’s success stories regarding religious tolerance.
Archbishop Philip Naameh spoke of fears that Islamists may threaten inter-faith cooperation, creating problems which he said could prove disastrous in his Archdiocese of Tamale in northern Ghana where Muslims are in the vast majority.
In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the archbishop described fears of radical Muslims coming in from neighbouring northern Nigeria, the scene of fierce fighting with Christians.
Archbishop Naameh said: “The fear is that Muslims come into [Ghana] expert in the Qur’an but unable to speak English and then decide that relations with other religions are too close.
“These are influences that are going to have a very negative effect for us.”
The archbishop also highlighted concerns of radical Muslims receiving training in Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, returning to Ghana with intolerant attitudes towards Christians and others.
He said: “These people come back [from the Middle East] without formal education preaching that we [Christians and others] are not as fully human as they are.”
Archbishop Naameh said that although he had had no direct reports of such extremism infiltrating his diocese, there were fears of it affecting other parts of the west African country.
The archbishop said that until now there had been excellent relations, especially between Catholics and Muslims, and that Christian outreach to Muslims was possible in certain circumstances.
He said: “Islam in Ghana has always been very tolerant but how it is going to be in the future we do not know. It may not remain quite so positive.”
The archbishop stressed that developing “positive” relations with Muslims had been a central aim of the Church in Ghana since missionary times.
He described how Muslim communities had been impressed at Catholic aid initiatives supporting people regardless of religious differences – for example providing wells in Muslim-dominated areas as well as Christian ones.
He said that similarly Muslim communities appreciated the Church for providing schools populated mostly by Muslim pupils.
Stressing that Catholics in his diocese were barely two percent of the total population, he said: “It is very much recognised that the social impact of [the Catholic Church] is much greater than the numbers would suggest.”
(Archbishop Philip Naameh of Tamale with ACN catechesis materials © ACN)
The archbishop thanked ACN for its help training catechists and other faith formation programmes involving social outreach and house-to-house visiting.
He said he depended heavily on ACN and other organisations for Mass offerings as the diocese and the faithful themselves were too poor to pay for priests’ living costs.
Archbishop Naameh said: “I would like very much to thank ACN for the tremendous work that the charity is doing, especially on the African continent.
“I have been a bishop for 16 years and throughout that time the diocese where I have ministered has received aid from ACN for a whole variety of different pastoral tasks.”
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 162 languages and 48 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
While ACN gives full permission for the media to freely make use of the charity’s press releases, please acknowledge ACN as the source of stories when using the material.
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