Knowledge is understanding and understanding leads to tolerance with different religious backgrounds. A major problem in Nigeria is religious intolerance and this is because people lack adequate and proper knowledge and understanding of other peoples religions. It is a known fact that every religion preaches peace and peaceful co-existence.
It is widely held that the study of comparative religion should play a greater part in the educational system than it does in the present. From the Humanist to the religious fanatics, all supports wider study to overcome what could be considered to be the “parochial outlook” of religious education.
A survey carried out recently by scholars in the field of culture has shown that understanding the culture and faith of people, is one of the greatest needs to provide a more sensitive awareness to our people. There is no gain-saying that the world is a global village with people of different race, culture and creed; intermingling more than ever before. This diversity should not constitute a barrier; rather it should be a source of enrichment and can only be so if we equip ourselves with the knowledge of comparative religion to dispel what is called cross/supine ignorance with the conviction that builds friendship and understanding among us as a nation.
BENIFIT OF COMPARATIVE APPROACH:
Comparative religion has two major benefits. First, to provide adequate and concrete information on the tenets and nature of different faith and philosophy which now have their votaries in Nigeria particularly and the global village at large. Secondly, to transfer such data to others, so they can compliment instead of conflicting each other.
Though in comparative study of religion, there is the temptation to sway towards the strong point of one’s own and the weak point of others. However, the study must be realistic and unbiased. To support this, heavy weight scholars like Edmund Husserl, Gerande Van de Leuw, Mircea Eliade, to mention just a few, all adopted the paradigm in philosophical phenomenology to the stud of religion.
By this, the essentials that reside in religious phenomenon were brought out. The principle of epoche and the eidetic visions were adopted. In other words, all sorts of preference, prejudices and value judgement were kept back in order to apply empathy. That is, entering into the thought and feelings of votaries under study. As a result, caution, neutrality, open-mindedness and reverence would be put into play. The offence of sacrilege which is the crudest of vulgarization would be avoided .Like the cartoon of Holy Prophet Mohammed.(May peace be upon his name).
To a large degree, every religion consist of internal and external elements. In understanding this, some kind of involvement and religious sensitivity are necessary on the part of anyone who wants to study religion of others.
TREDING WITH CAUTION:
Comparative study of religion must not be limited to comparative description of the various terms in a scientific manner, there has to be some evaluations. This area is very critical to the extent that the previous religions crisis we have experienced in this country emanated from its wrong handling.
A question might be asked, how then can right evaluation be made? Evaluative statements about other religions must be seen to be fair in the context of the particular religion concerning which the framework of its own belief, and practice. In making critical appraisal of other religions, care must be taken to ensure that standard, derived from one’s own religion are not imposed upon others.
Now, on the merit of this study in Nigeria, there are some school of thought that has subscribed to the concept that the main function of religious education in Nigeria school is to awaken interest in Christianity and Islam. Little did they know that studying of other religions has great advantage by enabling our students to choose for themselves which religion they prefer at some stage in their lives? Parents and religious leaders are not to impose on our children particular faith. Because we are only adherents of Islam, Christianity etc by geographical accidents.
If the Christian missionaries had ventured through the Trans Sahara route, the Northern part of Nigeria would today have been predominantly Christians Likewise ,if Islam had come in through the Trans Atlantic route, Southern Nigeria would have been predominantly Muslims .
Thus any teaching about religion which goes on in the institution of learning can therefore no longer confine itself to the study of that religion which predominates in a particular area of the country. TV programmes, the radio and Newspaper have constantly remind us that there men and women in other part of the country whose ways of life is fundamentally different from those we met around us daily.
Furthermore, we discover that many of these people have grown up in an environment which religion has impinged on, hence the striking difference. In other words, religion impinges on the society and vice-versa.
Considering the tenets and philosophy of various religions which our children have learnt, they tend to loose in, rather than being attracted to religious education. It is extremely important that one should try to satisfy what curiosity and interest they have about certain aspect of religion, even if everything would not be accepted line, hook and sinker.
In the last few decades, there have been signs of growing desire of Christians and Muslims in various parts of Nigeria to enter into what is fashionably called “dialogue” with people of other faiths. Before then, comparatively few within the Christian churches and Muslims took account of the adherents of religion other than Christianity and Islam only with a view to converting them.
Before that time, the number of those who were concerned in studying other religions from a stand point which did not imply the superior status of theirs was very few. Indeed today, there are many thoughtful Muslims and Christians who have abandoned the old attitude to the followers of religions other than theirs and approach them, and their faith in attitude of humility and out of their desire to discover what it is, in them which has attracted them and continued to attract.
By and large, one would discover that the knowledge of comparative religion would to a large extent help in reducing religious crisis. This is because with a sound understanding of comparative religion, the perspective of Nigerians would undergo a fundamental revolution. They will then be able to distinguish between moral and immoral act such as killing of innocent lives and burning of worship centres. Thus, there would be religious peace which is a recipe for rapid national development.
Irabor Ikechukwu Emmanuel