Our religion and who we are as peace practitioners: a case of identity crisis
Sheku Anna Chundung
Youth Initiative Against Violence and Human Rights Abuse (YIAVHA) Nigeria
2018 was a year of struggle for me as an early-career peace builder, coming to terms with interfaith dialogues had me struggling with my identity as I lived daily in communities segregated along ethnic and religious lines.
The crisis began in 2001 in the location known as the home of peace and tourism, Plateau State, the north central region of Nigeria. It has been a long walk since then in the conflicts that took a religious coloration, with a spice of ethnic and economic patterns, which then brought about the demonization of some ethnic groups. Although we could hear people talking about the “farmer” and the “herder” conflict, in reality we knew these terms referred to Christians and Muslims respectively.
Although we could hear people talking about the “farmer” and the “herder” conflict, in reality we knew these terms referred to Christians and Muslims respectively.
One could hope that by 2018 the sound of gunfire in our communities would have been a thing of history, due to the intense efforts put in place by government, local nongovernmental organizations and donor agencies to rebuild the once-peaceful communities – but it was there that I met my crossroad. The crisis broke out. The war came to my doorstep. I counted my losses: the loss of a brother, the loss of my farm, and so much more on the list which questioned my identity as a person and a peace builder.
Struggling with understanding who I was at that time, I sought a path of self discovery. I was left with the option of becoming as radical as my peers at the time, who understood the language of vengeance and extremism as a protection. In my struggle I found a glimpse of hope after my interaction with the wider world through the iDove intervention, where I found what I was truly called to be as a peace builder.
I took a path of interfaith and intercultural dialogues using intergenerational storytelling as a strategy of reaching out to young people who are seen as drivers of conflict. But I still lacked the self confidence of even knowing how to introduce myself while on the job, fearing how I might be judged – on my religion, my ethnic group, or something else. I wanted peace, but this fear challenged my belief that peace could be possible again, and relationships established again. This fear even made me question the path I had chosen.
In the course of my work, I found broken youths like myself who were counting their losses but taking the path of extremism to find solace, giving different meanings to religion and using it as a tool for violence. It was evident that illiteracy in the context of the conflict was great. As Sheikh Mohamad Abou Zeid believes that only by understanding the perspective of others can meaningful conflict transformation take place, the intergenerational dialogue through storytelling gave young people a new perspective to the conflict. It helped us build bridges that were broken, by opening up communities segregated by the conflict, and giving a new meaning of pluralism to us.
In the course of my work, I found broken youths like myself who were counting their losses but taking the path of extremism to find solace
The model, which was developed by the Youth Initiative Against Violence and Human Rights Abuse (YIAVHA), has been used as a tool for religious dialogue to suit local communities according to their needs. Although the model focuses on religious dialogue amongst youths and the elderly in the community, it has adopted a climate and economic component to further build and empower communities.
I look at myself today and I am grateful that my identity crisis didn’t hold me back from giving a new perspective to peacebuilding in communities, especially when it comes to religion. As according to Greg Beale “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.”