FaithWorld

Religion, poverty and strife: what comes first?

An uprising by a radical Islamic sect in northern Nigeria may ostensibly have been about religion, but such bloodletting will recur unless underlying issues of poverty, unemployment and education are addressed.

West African Islam is overwhelmingly moderate and northern Nigeria is home to a powerful political elite, yet militant cleric Mohammed Yusuf was able to establish a cult-like following. Yusuf’s sect, Boko Haram, wanted sharia (Islamic law) more widely applied across Africa’s most populous nation. Its name means “Western education is sinful”.

But the support Yusuf drummed up — from illiterate youths to professionals who quit jobs and families to join him — came as much from frustration with what is seen as a corrupt and self-serving political establishment as from pure religious fervour.

To see an analysis by my colleague Nick Tattersall, click here.

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This whole situation — and I have seen frustrated and violent Nigerian youth in other parts of the country when I reported there in the past – is perhaps a classic example of how underlying factors, be they social, economic or even environmental, can exacerbate religious divisions.

It brings to mind a book we wrote and blogged about last year by  historian Philip Jenkins entitled “The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia — and How It Died”.

Did climate change stoke past religious persecution?

A thought-provoking new book on Christianity’s “lost history” holds that one of the central causes of 14th century religious persecution may well have been climate change. You can read my interview with author Philip Jenkins about “The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia — and How It Died” on the Reuters website here.

“The Chronology of Christian sufferings under Islam closely mirrors that of Jews in Christian states,” he writes, noting that “Around 1300, the world was changing, and definitely for the worse.”

If we seek a common factor that might explain this simultaneous scapegoating of vulnerable minorities, by far the best candidate is climate change, which was responsible for many economic changes in these years, and increased poverty and desperation across the globe.”