Ponder My Thoughts by Andrew Keili | Letter from Sierra Leone

Nigerian pastor Ajasafe at the center of this week's controversy
Andrew Keili comments on faith, culture, society, and politics in Sierra Leone. This week a Nigerian-born pastor was arrested after recordings of a sermon targeting Muslims went viral sparking condemnation by both Muslim and Christian Sierra Leoneans. 

Ajasafe to Mufti Menk: "Let Your Gate Be Closed" 

"Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell..................but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be."-- James 3:5-10

Pastor Ajasafe is undoubtedly aware of this passage from the Bible, in which the Apostle James reproves ambition and an arrogant magisterial tongue; and shows the duty and advantage of bridling it because of its power to do mischief.

How far Ajasafe's recent inflammatory statements against the revered Zimbabwean Muslim cleric Mufti Menk that have caused an uproar in nearly all circles of life in Sierra Leone have gone is anyone's guess at the moment. The knives are out for Ajasafe of "Let my gate be open fame".

Thanks mainly to my local barbershop, I have quite often been under the tutelage of Mufti Menk, albeit unwittingly. Someone at the shop must like his sermons.

Whilst listening to football gossip from the barber and other clients, I listen to the inspirational words of wisdom from this compelling orator. He is a gifted preacher whose preaching is about everyday life. He proffers nuggets of good commonsense advice for day to day living. In fact, most of what he says could apply to people of any religion.

Getting back from an overseas trip, I was initially surprised, but on reflection not surprised, to be stuck in traffic for what must have seemed an eternity at Brookfield. I could see hordes of men and women in typical Muslim attire heading from the National Stadium.I learnt it was the great Mufti Menk that had just preached to the faithful at the National Stadium. The number of people was large and I heard the stadium was full to the brim with the pitch overflowing with people! The message seemed to have gone down well from overhearing what the congregants had to say. There were a few negative views heard about the public address system, the security and lack of medical facilities, but overall the vibes were positive.

Mufti Menk later visited the Gaddafi Mosque and the Mosque at Hill Station and accompanied by the Minister of Social Welfare Dr. Sylvia Blyden and her entourage, visited the recent mudslide disaster area. There was obviously the perfunctory visit to his Excellency the President. Everyone and his dog was keen to be seen with the great Mufti and they made lavish use of the photo opportunity.

But who is this revered Mufti?

Mufti Ismail Ibn Musa Menk was born in Harare. He started learning the Qur’an at age three. Menk is a graduate of the Islamic University of Madinah with a degree in Shariah Law and specialised in Islamic jurisprudence in  India. He has done work in education and humanitarian work.

Mufti Menk has used social media for several years consistently to guide people of all faiths towards great mannerisms and beautiful conduct, reaching out to one another, respect and tolerance and a nonjudgmental attitude. He has openly denounced terrorism and extremism and believes in peaceful coexistence with all.

He has also spoken out against violent groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram. His following consists of Muslims and non-Muslims, devoted and non-devoted, celebrities and world leaders, businessmen and women and the influential and people of all races and nationalities. He provides, in short, daily doses, a message of peace and harmony, and to co-exist with people from all beliefs.

His sermon courtesy of some kind person on social media, which I have condensed, borders on:

·         Love for one another
One must feel happy for the successes of others and it is only through love for one another our country can develop.
·         Reconciliation 
We must reconcile with those we have hurt and are in disagreement with including family members, neighbours, workmates etc. The one who champions reconciliation will be blessed.
·         Reaching out to people of different faiths
As Muslims your actions to Jews, Hindus, Christians etc. must be peaceful, tolerant, kind etc. This is a key principle of Islam.
·         A smile and a positive attitude:
A smile can bring encouragement, confidence and hope to others in the midst of trials, pain, sickness, misfortune etc. Allah knows all you are going through. He assures us that trials and afflictions in man's life are just a way of testing him.
·         Honesty and Hard Work:
This is the key to success.
·         Husbands and Wives as role models:
Both the husband and wife should love unconditionally, assist each other, pray and play together and avoid any suspicious acts as the children will grow up learning from them.
·         Incessantly asking for Allah's mercy:
We should not get tired of asking for Allah's mercy and goodness. We are not alone in our pains and trials. He knows what is right for HIS slave when the time is appropriate.
·         National unity:
Unity is important in a nation.

Sierra Leone is a beautiful country with fine people and beautiful weather, according to Menk. Mufti Menk expressed condolences to the nation for the recent mudslide disaster. "Your prayers must be supported by positive behaviour and actions because  change can only happen when an individual changes his approach to others and society.", he asserted.

We can all benefit from his sage message-Christians and Muslims alike. It shows how unprofitable and dead faith is without works.

Just when I thought that Mufti Menk had concluded a momentous visit, with numbers outmatching any Christian evangelist since the visit of Renhad Bonke some twenty years ago, some other evangelist of the Christian faith thought different.

Pastor Ajasafe of the Sanctuary Praise Church-yes, he of the "Let my gate be open" fame, opined that the gate had been left too wide open for Mufti Menk.

Pastor Ajasafe made statements that indeed lend credence to the Apostle James' warnings. To state that Sierra Leone is a country of Christians, with the rest being pagans, to state that the Muslim religion is violent and is the religion solely responsible for violence and terrorism and to spew out all the untruths as he did not only belie a gross misunderstanding of history but a gross lack of consideration for the stellar  good relationship and forbearance that has existed between Muslims and Christians in the country that has been touted worldwide.

Some politicians now class themselves as "Christ-mus" and are equally comfortable in the Church and Mosque-wherever there are potential voters!

Prince of Wales School alumni are equally comfortable reciting verses in the Bible and Quran, even if misquoted sometimes.

Such is the beauty of Muslim -Christian relationship that is so embedded in our culture that one of my Anglican bishop father's best friends in Bo was Alhaji Turay of Macrobert Street. I still recall my dad dropping his relatives on Fridays at the mosque in Kissy Town, and I recall him being on the Islam in Africa Project that took him all over Africa, hobnobbing with Muslim clerics to engender understanding of each other's faith.

Not to mention that extremely good relationship that exists between members of the inter-religious council here, intermarriages between Muslims and Christians, the invoking of Muslim and Christian prayers at the start of meetings, the constant prayers at events even by secular schools like Bo school-sometimes endeavouring to "discover God".

Condemnation of Ajasafe has been swift and has come from all quarters.

"This man is a jealous hateful spiteful charlatan who has become wealthy from the tithes of the poor in Sierra Leone. He does little or nothing for his flock with the money he has made preaching his Nigerian form of hateful rhetoric ", someone remarked in social media.

"Ajasafe must be deported and the people of Sierra Leone Muslims and Christians must picket his church, his home and hound him until he is deported or leaves Sierra Leone on his own volition.", says another view.

A top politician in Sierra Leone wrote:

"I like the fact that Ajasafe's congregation did not applaud the Islam condemnatory part of his sermon; they only cheered where he praised Christ, and not where he condemned Islam. This shows that the overwhelming majority of Christians, including members of his church do not affirm his Islamophobia."

Government, through the Ministry of Social Welfare has engendered dialogue with the Executive of Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone (IRCSL), Representatives from the Sierra Leone Police and the Office of National Security.

The President of Inter-Religious Council, Sheik Abu-Bakarr said: “Sierra Leoneans met Christians & Muslims in religious tolerance when we were born and we will not allow those credentials to be dented.”

The Foundation of Islamic Information, responsible for bringing Mufti Menk into the country remarked in a conciliatory way:

"We brought in Mufti Menk to project the Islamic values of peace. tolerance, love, social integration and peaceful co-existence..........As the Quran enjoins Muslims to respond by wise and fairer means and stay  within the hudud or just limits of Allah, we call upon all Muslims to remain peaceful and calm and act in accordance with the divine messages reiterated  by the illustrious Mufti Ismail Menk."

The jury is out on Ajasafe. There are many people calling for his scalp. Some recommend stripping of his citizenship and deporting him. Others urge caution and forgiveness.

Whatever the case, I wonder what went into the head of this spiritual man, who himself fills up the stadium and his Church, preaching the word of God

Indeed the Apostle James is right.. .the tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

Ajasafe will realise that he that offends not in word will not only prove himself a sincere Christian, but a very much advanced and improved Christian. We are all taught to dread an unruly tongue as one of the greatest and most pernicious evils. It is like a little fire placed among a great deal of combustible matter, which soon raises a flame and consumes all before it.

Let us hope all of us will watch our tongue whilst this plays out. Meanwhile, it would seem Mufti Menk has closed down Pastor Ajasafe's "gate".

Ponder my thoughts:


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