By; Becky Garrison
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 25 January 2012 12.43 GMT
The common goal of love of God and love of neighbour in the Abrahamic faiths is a strong bond in tackling crises in Africa
More than 170 people have died in the northern Nigerian city of Kano after a series of attacks by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram. This rampage follows several major attacks in the last year, which have strained relations between Nigeria’s Christian south and Muslim north.
Meanwhile, over in east Africa, the United Nations documents a parallel scenario of violence committed by Al-Shabab, a Somali-based militant Islamist group. This group’s ongoing actions led to several community leaders fleeing Dadaab, the world’s largest refuge complex that currently houses 463,000 people, mostly Somalis. Sheepfold Ministries, an indigenous agency working in north-east Kenya, issued this proclamation: “We are no longer safe anywhere, especially those of us working to feed people facing starvation.”
These insurgent actions by Islamist militants stand in sharp contrast to stories of faith-based relief organisations who came together to address the Aids pandemic in Africa more than 25 years ago and continue working together over issues of common concern.
Dave Robinson, senior adviser for operations in Islamic contexts for World Vision, reflects how the common goal of love of God and love of neighbour prevalent in the Abrahamic faiths serves as their core operating principle in emergencies. While they recognise theological and religious differences, by working together to provide essentials like food and water, they build trust and create opportunities for inter-religious peace-building.
The staffing for the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Eastern Africa reflects this diversity. Father Frido Pflüger SJ, regional director, JRS eastern Africa, states: “The JRS Eastern Africa staff range in terms of religious background – the majority are Christian, but some are of Muslim faith or from other religious backgrounds.” Along those lines, while Islamic Relief USA (IRUSA) provides food, water and sanitation services to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mogadishu and Somalia, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints funds a portion of these activities.
As Catholic Relief Services-USA (CRS-USA), the official overseas relief and development agency of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, have been working in Ethiopia for 53 years, their relationships, infrastructure and an understanding of a region’s culture and religious practices enable them to gain critical access to particular communities. Also, Peter Howard with Food for the Hungry describes how their partnerships with Catholic Relief Services, Action against Hunger, Care and World Vision, enable them to provide sustained access to food to vulnerable rural communities in Kenya.
Zeenat Rahman, acting director, office of faith-based and community initiatives, (USAID), reflects: “When Christian, Muslim and Jewish NGOs work together on an issue like feeding the hungry, their collective quest toward a common good can cut across their traditions when they meet others of differing theologies who are doing the same thing.” She cites how the global faith communities have helped to raise awareness of the famine in the Horn of Africa through vehicles such as the FWD campaign and the ONE Sabbath action kit. In particular, the Somalia-American diaspora, who are predominately Muslim, has been very active in creating awareness and fundraising for this cause.
Despite these efforts, a policy paper issued by Oxfam and Save the Children examines the factors that allowed this drought to develop into a full-scale crisis. Can these lessons be applied to the impending crisis in west Africa where winter, droughts and rising food prices have put more than a million children in the Sahel region at risk of starvation?
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