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Interfaith Education and the Quest for Peacebuilding in Northern Nigeria

INTERFAITH EDUCATION AND THE QUEST FOR PEACEBUILDING IN NORTHERN NIGERIA Over the past thirty years, relationships between ethnic and religious groups in the northern regions of Nigeria have deteriorated. Conflict occurs on an almost daily basis between Christians and Muslims. Most Nigerians consider themselves very religious which often leads followers of the major religions to fight to protect the teachings of their faith. The high level of illiteracy and lack of interreligious understanding between the faith groups contributes to the propensity for violent clashes in the region. The literature review discusses the concept of religious education, interfaith dialogue and interfaith education as models for peacebuilding in various contexts around the world. This study examined an interfaith education (IFE) pilot program as an approach for peacebuilding in two parts of Kaduna City, one predominantly Christian and the other predominantly Muslim. The study used a qualitative research method to collect data, analyze and interpret the perceptions and experiences of students, religious education teachers and parents with the IFE pilot project, which was introduced in their schools and communities. The study also investigated how students embraced the IFE curriculum in schools and the reactions of youth to interfaith activities in the community, like visiting places of worship of the other religious group. In addition, the study collected information on the perceptions of religious leaders and parents about IFE programs. Part of the research methodology involved asking students in small focus groups to draw an ideal community or a picture of their homes or a place of worship before conflict. Then the students were asked to turn the paper over and draw something they had witnessed during interreligious conflict in their communities. Most students either sketched their homes on fire or destroyed. Some portrayed perpetrators of the violence as standing with a weapon or even stabbing someone. The sketches were then used to stimulate discussion about interreligious conflict and its causes. A majority of the participants indicated their support of IFE curriculum in schools and Community Peace Action Networks in the communities. The participants highlighted several problems that they felt contributed to the conflicts. The use of the term “arni” or infidel was cited as often triggering violence because it is such a derogatory term. Other participants pointed to poorly educated, untrained and unsupervised religious leaders who incite their followers. Participants also suggested that the IFE curriculum be used outside of schools in order to reach the many out-of-school youth who are involved in interfaith violence. The research recommended that education, regulating religious preachers, promoting reconciliation efforts, good leadership and a nationwide campaign on interfaith dialogue would contribute to peacebuilding in northern Nigeria.
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