Just a quick update. I’m sorry (once again) that I am so far behind on this blog. I have several posts I have been intending to write, including one about the death of a friend, Hausa comedian Lawal Kaura, for whom I wrote a tribute in the Weekly Trust last week. I have been trying to complete several revisions of academic work and reduce the time spent online. However, with the recent bombings in Jos , Madalla (Niger State, not far from Abuja), and Yobe state, I wanted to quickly post to let all know that my family in Jos and I are fine and things are (so far) quiet in Jos.
Christmas morning, my family and our guests were preparing for our Christmas service, and discussing the horror of the bombing at St. Theresa’s Catholic church in Madalla earlier that morning, when one of our guests, who had gone outside for a few minutes, heard what sounded like a bomb blast. He didn’t say anything about it until a few minutes later when another one went off, and someone came to tell us that there had been two explosions in Jos, near Mountain of Fire and Miracles (MFM) Church near British America. It seems, with the news coming in today, that a policeman was the only casualty in Jos, but in Madalla, up to thirty-five bodies had been found by this morning.
These things–thinking about the people killed while at church on a joyous day when we celebrate the coming of peace and love into the world; and the dread of what may follow–leaves me feeling a bit shattered, as did last year’s Christmas Eve bombings. This year, on Christmas Eve, as we drove home from church, we reminisced about how last year at this time, we had been turned back by panicky policement. We could smell fire and hear gunshots. It wonder if we will ever be able to think of Christmas in the same light-hearted, happy way. It is a terrible thing that now both Muslim and Christian celebrations, sallah and Christmas have become seasons to dread. I am trying to think about how to express it in my column for this week. In the meantime I will post a few links to articles about the bombings (which, as of this morning, are still the first headlines on BBC and Al Jazeera and apparently CNN, although my parents are not currently able to pick up CNN). I will also post my column last week, in which I discussed the bombs that went off in football viewing centres a few weeks ago and how I have been thinking about Christmas the past few weeks.
May God maintain the peace and expose the evil people behind these acts. I am grateful for the many concerned friends (most of them Muslims) who sent Christmas texts, emails, and called me from as far away as Germany. Allah ya kiyaye, Ya ba mu zaman lafiya, Ya kai mu gaba. Merry Christmas.
The most extensive report I’ve seen that covers what happened in all three states is the report from Daily Trust: Suicide Bombers spoil Christmas
AlJazeera: Condemnation follows Nigeria Church Blasts
BBC: Deadly Nigeria Bomb Attacks Condemned by World Leaders
Blueprint: Madalla Bomb explosion: Pregnant woman, kids, scores killed and 3 Killed in Yobe SSS Office Attack
CNN: Christmas carnage in Nigeria: 5 Churches Bombed
Daily Trust: Two Families of Eight Wiped out in Madalla ; Policeman shot as Bombers Target Jos Church ;
Reuters: Nigeria Leaders rapped after Islamists attack churches
This Day: Jos Blast: Injured Police Officer Dies, Four Arrested
Vanguard: Terror: 40 Killed in Christmas Bombings; Suleja bombing: How victims beseiged priests for blessing
[[UPDATE 6:50pm 27 December 2011: Here are some updates on the story.
The Sun is sometimes rather tabloidish, but they have here an eye-witness account that sheds new light on the bombing at St. Theresa’s Church: “Madalla: Suicide Bomber did it–Church Security Officer”
Also, quite a few Muslim Groups have come out to condemn the bombings, including the Sultan of Sokoto, Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), Muslim Public Affairs Center (MPAC), Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), Izalat Bida’a Waikamtul Sunnah (JIBWIS), Muslim Congress, and the Malta Ahmadiyya group, which has called the attacks as “inhuman.” This Day has a good compilation in its article “Muslim Leaders Condemn Christmas Day Bombings”:
Secretary General of JNI, Dr. Khalid Abubakar Aliyu, while reacting to the bombings in a telephone interview with THISDAY, said Islam, as a religion, respects human lives and would do everything to preserve it.
“Human lives must be preserved and protected by all including security agencies; it is rather unfortunate that Nigerians are losing their lives to bomb blasts,” Aliyu said.
The Islamic body also tasked security agencies to fish out the perpetrators and bring them to justice, stressing that it is only when the culprits are fished out and punitive measures taken against them that it would serve as deterrent to others planning to carry out such nefarious activities.
In his reaction, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, who joined other Muslims in voicing condemnation against Boko Haram, said taking of human lives in the name of religion was strange in Islam.
The sultan, at the formal opening of Islamic Vacation Course (IVC) organised by Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN), B-Zone, said dispute could only be resolved through dialogue and not by violence or bloodbath.
He said Islam abhorred violence and called for unity among Muslims to address the challenges facing them.
“Violence is not part of the tenets of Islam and would never be allowed to tarnish the image of the religion,” the sultan said.
Chastising Boko Haram, another Islamic group, Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC), said “cold blooded murder of innocent worshippers” was “horrifying and sickening”.
In a statement by its Director of Media and Communications, Disu Kamor, MPAC described the perpetrators of the dastardly act as “criminal and devilish hate cultists bent on imposing their evil ideology on us”.
“On this occasion and in similar incidents, Nigerian Muslims and Muslims everywhere stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our Christian brothers and sisters and we are determined to continue to work together to remove the mischief of those seeking to destroy peaceful co-existence and harmony. We feel the sorrow and share the grief of all that were affected by this tragedy – this evil attack is a crime committed against mankind,” MPAC added.
Also, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) said it is “shocked and petrified by this development”.
MURIC in a statement by Dr. Ishaq Akintola disagreed with Boko Haram, which had said it carried out the attack to avenge the killing of Muslims during the last Sallah.
He said: “The attackers cannot claim that they were revenging the attack on Muslims in Jos during the last Eid el-Fitr on August 30, 2011 which left many Muslims dead because Christians celebrating Christmas earlier on December 25, 2010 were the first to be killed in bomb explosions.
“Nothing in the scriptures of Islam justifies this kind of attack. We therefore assert clearly, unequivocally and unambiguously that Boko Haram is not fighting for Nigerian Muslims.”
Similarly, the Chairman of the Sokoto State chapter of Izalat Bida’a Waikamtul Sunnah (JIBWIS), Sheikh Abubakar Usman Mabera, said the killing of innocent citizens, under any guise, is a case of murder and in contrast to Islamic teachings.
“Whoever takes the life of a fellow human being has committed evil irrespective of his religion – whether Christian or Muslim – and will pay for his sins. So, this is an act of terrorism which is against Islamic teachings,” he said.
Mabera, who frowned on the act, said: “Almighty Allah forbids the killing of a fellow human being. Whoever thinks that he is carrying out Jihad by destroying places of worship and killing innocent citizens is ignorant of Islam because the religion forbids that.”
The Muslim Congress frowned on the Madalla blast and said the continued killing of innocent Nigerians by the activities of Boko Haram is uncalled for and should be condemned by all Nigerians.
The Amir of the Congress, Mallam Abdulraheem Lukman, said in a statement that: “The endemic killings can best be described as inhuman, wicked, condemnable and totally unacceptable in civilised societies.
“The action is even more repulsive during the periods of celebrations and this is highly condemnable.”
Daily Trust further reports in “Boko Haram Not Fighting for Muslims” that “MURIC director Is-haq Akintola said in a statement the bombings were “barbaric, Satanic and absolutely unIslamic.” Daily Trust also reports in “Islamic scholars: This wickedness must stop” that scholars in Kano declaimed the attacks:
Sheik Muhammad Isa described the attack as “unfortunate and heartless,” adding that that no worshipper should be attacked at a place of worship especially on holy days.
He said the attackers were not adherents of any faith as no true believer could cause such harm to innocent people.
Sheikh Usman Saif, another cleric, said God would not spare the bombers “for using a religious period to shed blood and upset people.”
“How can a person or a group of people, who believe in God, hunt people at such a period when people were praying to their God?”
He urged the government to tighten security to stop fanatical religious sects or groups from unleashing terror on people, especially on special occasions.
A female scholar, Ummah Abdul, also condemned the attack, and urged Nigerians to be their brother’s keeper in order to achieve lasting peace and stability in the country. (NAN)
In “Christmas Day Bombings – Muslim Leaders Disown Boko Haram – Sultan -Attack on Churches UnIslamic,” Daily Trust also quotes Bauchi based cleric:
renowned Islamic scholar and leader of the Dariqa sect, Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi, expressed dismay over the bombing of religious places.
“Even at war front, leaders of the warring religions normally canvass for peace through dialogue but not through killings of innocent souls or burning of places of worship or properties,” he said.
Sheikh Dahiru said even when two sides engage in a religious war, women and children as well as people taking shelter in churches are untouchable as enshrined in Islam.
He blamed lack of punishment for culprits, lack of good leadership and injustice by leaders as being responsible for the rising spate of bombings in the country.
Sheikh Dahiru urged Nigerians to pray for the salvation of the country, and for peace and stability to reign.
Other senior Islamic scholars who spoke yesterday on the Christmas Day bombings are Sheikh Muhammad Isa, Sheikh Usman Saif and Ummah Abdul. They said the attacks were unjustifiable and condemnable.]]]
And here is my column published, on Christmas Eve before the church bombings, in the Weekly Trust:
The small things of Christmas
Written by Carmen McCain Saturday, 24 December 2011 05:00December 10, I was in Jos, and I heard the bombs go off. Deep echoing booms that you could feel in your body. The feeling was like a ripple in water, expanding out in an ever-widening circle. “That sounds like a bomb,” I thought, when I heard it. I did nothing, waited for the news to ripple out to me—what had happened, where, and how many had died.
Two mornings later, I had the bombs in my mind as I made breakfast. I thought of the young men who had been doing nothing more controversial than cheering on a Spanish football match when they had their legs and arms blown off. As people around the world cheered and moaned goals for the Barcelona-Real Madrid game, there was the sound of weeping in Jos.
Outside the kitchen window, I noticed that the tap was running. City water had come. I moved to go outside into the cold to turn the tap off, when I noticed all the birds that had gathered around the tap—little yellow finches fluttering their wings in the puddle the running water had made. They didn’t seem to be bothered by the cold. They flew back and forth, settling on a tree limb and then coming back to bathe. One bird sat on top of the tap, ducking her head down to delicately drink from the flow, flicking her head up and down till she was full.
I thought then of how Christmas is the time Christians celebrate the beauty of small things in a torn up world. Morning sunlight and little birds, a gift of water flowing through a tap to the dry grass. The wonder of a newborn child laid in feeding trough, where donkeys and sheep and goats and cows press around, giving him warmth in the dark silence of the night before the sky explodes with angels’ voices.
Yet the hope and pageantry of Christmas is also mixed up with the horrors of human evil, if you read the story in context. Young Mary, pregnant out of wedlock, and her fiancé Joseph braved the prejudices of a finger-pointing community, the cold inhospitality of a village full of strangers where there was no room in the inn for them to stay. And though later the scholars from the East brought expensive gifts with them after following the star to the young family’s humble house, they also inadvertently brought crisis to Bethlehem when they told King Herod the prophecy of the king to be born there. Mary and Joseph, warned in a dream to escape to Egypt, fled town with the child, only hours before thugs, acting on the orders of a jealous ruler, slaughtered all the baby boys under the age of two in the town.
Where is the sense in such innocent death? There is none. There was no more sense in the slaughter of children in Bethlehem than there had been in the slaughter of young boys in Egypt centuries before, no more sense than there was in the attacks on the village of Kuru Karama in January last year when Muslim families were massacred and thrown into wells, or Dogo Nahawa in March where Christian families were slaughtered under a starry sky, in Damaturu or Maiduguri where churches and mosques alike have been destroyed or in Jos where young boys watching football were blown up in the night. In times of such horrific events, the sun, the stars, the birds, the water on dry grass too can seem to have no meaning. They do not understand, these nonhuman things, how much we suffer.
And yet, the message of Christmas is that the small will transcend the big, that good will grow slowly until it chokes out evil. The baby who survives the massacre will grow up to be the man who brings life to a people. Christians believe that just as Moses survived the slaughter of Jewish babies in Egypt to take Israel to freedom and give them the law, Jesus survived the slaughter of Jewish babies in Bethlehem to show the world the freedom of love behind the law. “Which is the greatest commandment?” Jesus was once asked, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” he answered. “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” He demonstrated that love for neighbor not only to his own people, but also to those outcasts and strangers the righteous were taught to shun: corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes, a Roman military commander, an adulteress from the hated Samaritan tribe.
Though Jesus survived the slaughter of his childhood, the great teacher of love and forgiveness was eventually caught in the human cycle of hate and violence. The masses, misled by hypocritical religious leaders, who cared more about their own reputation and security than recognizing the truth of God before them, joined their religious leaders in calling on politicians to execute the man they had called King only a week before.
This is an example, some may say, of why it is better to demonstrate power than humility—of why turning the other cheek when someone hits you does not work, of how hate, ultimately, is more powerful than love, of why it is better to take up your sword and cut off the ear of your enemy as Jesus’ disciple Peter did, than to heal him as Jesus did. “Better to fight, better to kill them before they kill you,” says the man who has lost hope. And yet Jesus’ life could not be contained in death. It echoes out in ever expanding ripples of light.
It is in watching the small things, he taught, that we can learn hope: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” asked Jesus. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
So much of our conflict is based on words, on names, cultural differences—on varying interpretations of the law. We would rather judge that which we do not understand than pay attention to the lessons Jesus demonstrated: to live justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. Yet, if all of us who claim to follow God could put aside theological differences long enough to follow what Jesus taught—to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, to turn the other cheek, to give our extra cloak to one in need, to be at peace even in times of conflict —then instead of listening in terror for bombs in the night, we could look fearlessly up into the starry sky and sing along to the chorus that still echoes throughout the universe: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”