The idea that Ghanaian Christians are Islamophobic is not entirely accurate.
I say this with trepidation because of what it means for people from the various sides of this debate raging in Ghana right now regarding this subject. So I will take my time to carefully lay down my reasons. I want to start with a disclaimer that I am not against the activism by some very dear friends of mine on this issue, in fact, I actually love the discussion that their activism has unearthed and in so far as my voice is useful, it will only be subservient to the important work these important conversation starters and very brilliant personalities have started. That said, let’s talk.
The concept of Islamophobia needs to be discussed in a country like Ghana with all the needed nuances it deserves. To do so, I want to start by defining what Islamophobia is. Wikipedia, our readily available source captures islamophobia broadly than any other definition out there from any of the dictionaries I have looked at. And Islamophobia is defined as “the fear, hatred of, or prejudice against, the Islamic religion or Muslims generally, especially when seen as a geopolitical force or the source of terrorism” by Wikipedia which is consistent with all the definitions out there. The definition captures three forms Islamophobia can take: 1. The fear of Muslims/Islam and 2. The hatred of Islam/Muslims and 3. Prejudice against Muslims. This fear or hatred is then used in fear-based (geo) politics. Lets look at the situation in Ghana to see if there are widespread enough instances of these or some of these conditions to merit labeling Ghanaians Islamophobic.
I will not rehash all the things that have happened in my life that speaks to Christian prejudice against Muslims in Ghana to make my points but I will detail a few that I and some of my friends have experienced living in Ghana as Muslims. I will pick each condition in the definition above to illustrate the points I am going to make.
1. Fear of Muslims: I have witnessed Ghanaian Christians expressing fear of Muslims in Ghana becoming ISIS and before that Alqaeda, and recently Boko Haram. There have been instances of TV and radio analysts on morning shows stoking fears of Boko Haram happening in Ghana anytime there’s any security incident involving Ghanaian Muslims. We have lived in this country for generations without any inter religious violence but because of the Global War on Terror rhetoric and machinations which a lot of Ghanaians consume, a significant segment of Ghanaian Christians have this fear of Muslim violence akin to Western rhetoric about Muslim violence from Muslim terrorism. Couple this with the general tag of northerners (mainly Muslims) as violent in Ghana, you see a situation where there is irrational fear of Ghanaian Muslims by the Christian majority. In the pulpit, many pastors engage in the same fear based preaching against the encroachment of Muslims or some phantom Muslim takeover of the country. It is clear in many many instances that show that instead of using the lived experience of the inter religious nature of Ghanaian society for generations, a lot of Ghanaians buy into the fear generated by this global narrative and some pastors preach about some phantom Muslim threat, and this leads to a lot of fear of Muslims in Ghana.
2. Hatred of Muslims: this is the easiest I have to deal with. Hatred is defined as “intense dislike or ill will” and I don’t think there is this in a significant population of Christians against Ghanaian Muslims. At least, I have not seen it or experienced it to vouch for it. So I will disregard this as a factor in the discussion. There is way too much co-existence in Ghana for extreme hatred between Christians and Muslims to exist in Ghana, at least in my opinion, based on my lived experience.
3. Prejudice against Muslims: This is the easiest and I believe the most widespread evidence of inter religious problems in Ghana. Prejudice is basically preconceived ideas about people (usually negative) not based on reason or actual experience, OR, bias in treatment of different people based on social/biological difference. 1. The idea of Muslims as violent *difficult* in Ghana is pretty widespread among Ghanaian Christians stoked by a rapacious and incompetent media. 2. Christianity in the public sphere gets more perks than Islam: Christian public bus preaching *shouting* without regard to other people’s religions, Christian prayers at state and community and public functions, the use of public resources to build Churches (go to Legon or other Universities, you will see every hall has a Christian chapel, Commonwealth Hall where I stayed has a beautiful chapel whereas Muslim students makeshift pray in the open forecourt), don’t get me started with the national church now going on, Christian holidays receiving better and more attention in Ghana, and so on and so forth on other public spheres where Christianity is given preferential treatment. 3. In *Christian* schools (receiving tax payers money) Muslim students are forced to attend church service (I mouthed along many morning devotions at the Roman Catholic JHS I attended because it was compulsory irrespective of your faith. 4. Muslims wearing the jilbab *hijab* must remove them in public work places is a common experience of many of my Muslim sisters including in many schools and state parastatals. 5. Muslim SRC candidates being preached against at school churches. I can go on and on about these kinds of areas of public life where Christianity assumes the default and therefore the domineering principle of behavior expected of *enforced on* many non-Christians but it will only prolong this article.
Having outlined these above, many will argue that it is pretty rock solid that the above shows that Ghanaian Christians are pretty clearly Islamophobic. Why then do I say it is not entirely accurate to claim that Ghanaian Christians are Islamophobic?
I believe in more ways than one, such a claim must be based on an assessment of the behavior of both parties in such an assessment to come to a conclusion. I say this because making a claim like that supposes that it is a unique feature of the Christian community. I will like to look at it in comparative terms and by so doing, maybe argue that many factors reduce the intensity of such a claim *accusation*.
First, it is a fact that if you go to a regular mosque or church for a year, you’re more likely than not to hear preaching that demonizes the opposing religion. I grew up in the Mosque and I have witnessed such preaching against Christianity. I have been to several churches *Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Catholic, Evangelical/Charismatic* and I have also witnessed such preaching that might be termed anti-Islamic. That is why I did not want to dwell of the second condition *hatred of…* because by the way they are structured, these religions tend to become competititors of one another and often than not, some of these preachers *mostly untrained and opportunistic* tend to stoke fears of the competition *the easiest way to maintain control over your flock*. Rather than hatred, I will argue this is opportunistic. And comparatively, there is not much difference overall between Islamic preachers and Christian preachers regarding the opposing religion. So I will say the preaching strikes each other out. Except that just because of volume, we have more Christian preachers doing it because there are more of them in the country.
Secondly, public space preference is also more nuanced than it might appear. When I was growing up in a suburb of Tamale, community events often began with some sort of prayer and it almost always was a Muslim prayer because 99% of the community was Muslim. The dynamics are changing though as Tamale has become more religiously pluralistic. Christians, having grown up in similar but flipped dynamics, tend to replicate this at the national level. They do this because many of them lack awareness of what it means to be a secular state. Some are openly aggressive in asserting Ghana as a Christian nation. So at the local level, it might not be as clear-cut but at the national level, Christian bias tends to be rather pronounced.
Thirdly, I think that in general, Ghanaians whether Muslim or Christian does not understand the separation of church and state or the principles of a secular state on which our republic was founded. We thrust religion and religiosity into everything we do whether we are Muslims or Christians. Unfortunately, with Christians being in the majority, their antics and boldness are so domineering that that is generally what we see. If you want to understand the unity of Ghanaian Muslims and Christians on this blurring of the lines between their personal religious morals and the state, look no further than the unanimous homophobia we all are rock solid displaying. It just so happens that Christians being bullies *just like Muslims*, have the majority to actually not give a damn about the feelings of everyone else they can trample on.
Finally, and related to the last point, is ignorance. This ignorance is borne from the privilege of living within majoritarian societies because you don’t have to extend yourself and learn about other people because others are supposed to adjust to you and not you to them. You assume that because you are the majority, the minority should do the one way adjustment. In Ghana, in order to navigate life as Muslim citizen, you can’t help but encounter and therefore learn about Christians and Christianity. Muslims travel more, and are more likely to stay in Christian dominated communities than vice versa. So we have to learn about Christian life. Sometimes I still get *dumb* questions, akin to white people in America asking me if we have houses in Africa, from Ghanaian Christians. It is the privilege of living as a member of the majority group. And that breeds indulgent ignorance. This hijab controversy I believe may be partly malicious and partly ignorance. If I were to lean either side, I will say ignorance. I can’t believe people in Ghana are so malicious enough to refuse a young woman a place of work because she has a scarf on. Our mothers and grandmothers wore headscarfs be they muslim or not. Many of these people are incompetent and nepotistic, in positions they have no expertise in. So they make up fake rules like the *no hijab* policy on the fly without regard to the law of the land or the needs and parameters of the job. Ignorance coupled with complacent arbitrariness often leads people to act stupid. Any person of good faith who knows anything about Islam would not demand (without properly checking the statutes) that a woman remove her hijab. I will say it is ignorance more than malice but I stand to be corrected.
I want to end by saying that I think we need a serious decoupling of the state and religion. And we need politicians to lead the charge. This president dabbling his hands on building churches doesn’t help that goal. The state needs to stop building places of worship either in schools, hospitals, markets, or any public institutions. It doesn’t matter if it is a Christian or Muslim place of worship. They must stop promoting these two religions, especially Christianity, by giving them preferential treatment in the public sphere. If they want to propagate their message, they must do it themselves and not lean on the state to help them do it. Just like I tell people in privileged positions to listen to those who are not, I will give the same advise to Ghanaian Christians: be a little more self aware of others. Going into a trotro and just shouting without regard for others is disgraceful behavior and reeks of selfish lack of awareness. That’s what leads to people setting up loud speakers at lorry stations causing noise pollution. Imagine your Christian kid is forced to pray to Allah in Arabic in school. Imagine state resources are used to build mosques in schools and not churches. Being self aware and less selfish is the best way to look at religion at the state level. To live as a harmonious heterogeneous society, being mindful of the feelings or needs of others is prime. And you need not have to argue that the minority have to adjust to you. Imagine you take that attitude into a marriage *I make the money so my spouse must adjust to me.* We talk about tolerance in Ghana, it appears one side has been doing more tolerating than the other side (at least at the national level) *and we (Muslims & Christians* are pretty collectively intolerant of anyone else (ATR et al). I talked about fathers in general in Ghana and meat and pot bellies. Just because you have the power to indulge yourselves doesn’t mean you do it. It might sound satisfying to you but you are building a foundation for sickness *potbelly**inter communal bad feeling* later. Rule yourselves.