Photo Credit: Women of Faith Peacebuilding Network
Nigeria - In communities where people of different religions live, there are often conflicts and intolerance. The Women of Faith Peacebuilding Network is an organization whose purpose is to empower women to foster peace in their families and communities through diverse religious organizations, to end violence and intolerance in their communities and save the environment from devastating effects of climate change.
The organization was started in 2011 by Sister Agatha Ogochukwu Chikelue, of the Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy congregation, and local Muslim businesswoman Maryam Dada Ibrahim. “It was an amazing experience and I loved every bit of my stay there,” said Isiaka — a respected Muslim leader in Abuja as she fondly recalls her time at the church, “In fact, I found a place in the church where I performed ablution [ritual washing before Muslims’ prayer] to set up my mat and pray.”
Nigeria’s population is evenly divided — about half of Nigerians are Muslim and about half are Christian. Northern Nigeria is majority Muslim, while southern Nigeria is majority Christian.
“We don’t want to use our religion as a barrier — rather, we want to use it as a stepping stone toward achieving common good,” Sister Agatha Ogochukwu Chikelue said. “The essence of an interfaith group is to break barriers, break the walls and build bridges.”
Religion News reports that in 2014, with a special grant from the Swiss embassy, Chikelue began offering vocational training for the women as an added incentive. In a region where the female adult literacy rate is 41 percent, women welcome free empowerment training on sewing, soap making and catering. Basic communication skills, personal hygiene and training on financial literacy and how to start small businesses are also part of the free empowerment program. The training programs also help the women meet people from other religions, getting to know the “other” as well as combating poverty and gender-based violence.
“There is also violence that doesn’t carry a gun,” explained Chikelue. “There are situations whereby parents don’t allow their children to have interaction with children of a different religion, or when they instigate them to go for war against a different religion.”
The group has a very important goal — making peace instead of conflicts — especially because there are some groups that don’t support diversity. For instance, since 2009, Boko Haram (a group of extremist Muslims whose name means “Western education is forbidden”) has terrorized northeast Nigeria. The terror group murdered Christians and burned churches, hoping to clear the area of Christian influences and create an Islamic caliphate to rule under Sharia law. While the Women of Faith Peacebuilding Network has worked hard to break down barriers and build friendships between Muslims and Christians, Isiaka knows there is still much work to do. Isiaka is still optimistic: “We have been able to understand each other better and have also passed the message of religious tolerance to our children.”