Ustaz Isa Friday Okonkwo: “I have used every available opportunity to promote peaceful coexistence”
Ustaz Isa Friday Okonkwo is the Director of Administration of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, the umbrella organization for all Muslim bodies in the country. His organization, led by the Sultan of Sokoto, is involved in all local interreligious dialogue efforts and is promoting it in many ways. However, Isa believes that much still has to be done in his society, which is polarised along religious and ethnic divides.
“Overzealously faithful of the two major religions in Nigeria, Christianity and Islam, and the ethnic groups have distabilised, in many occasions, the relative peace that is enjoyed in the society. The resulting unhealthy rivalry among the ethnic and religious groups has led to ethno-religious conflicts. Experience has shown that the most effective tool that can be used to foster religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence in a society like Nigeria is interreligious dialogue”, he says.
His family, like his country, is also multi-religious and multi-ethnic. Originally from the Southeast, mostly inhabited by the Igbo tribe, Isa studied and married in the Southwest, where the Yoruba are the majority tribe. As his parents, siblings and other relatives are 95% Christian, with his extended family, he has experienced plurality and unity at home. “As a Muslim, these rare combinations have widened my horizons in appreciating the need for harmonious relationships among all citizens.”
“Considering my background and experiences, I have a strong desire to make my society a more peaceful place to be. I have used every available opportunity to promote peaceful coexistence. Friends and colleagues know me well for that”, he explains. In fact, the information about the Fellows Programme came to him through a friend who thought he would be a good candidate, and Isa applied without hesitation.
“I hope to use the Fellows programme to broaden my skills and participation in ensuring a more peaceful world, where religion plays only a positive role among citizens. Seeing the profiles and activities of the previous participants to the Fellows programme, I am ever motivated to be part of the success story”.
For Isa, the most valuable take away from the Fellows Programme were the discussions on identity and culture, including perceptions and misperceptions. Now, after the graduation, he believes they opened his eyes to many realities and causes of ethno-religious conflicts and conflict resolution: “Participating in the Fellows Programme has provided me with an awesome opportunity to learn new and effective ways of interreligious dialogue, thanks to the mentoring of KAICIID and the huge global network of KAICIID Fellow Alumni”.
His project as part of the fellowship was a two day workshop on interreligious dialogue for peaceful coexistence directed to Christian and Muslim youth leaders in Kaduna. He trained future trainers to ensure an effective ripple effect. He gave the participants the opportunity to meet and cooperate with religious youth leaders from other denominations within the same religious groups and from entirely different religious groups. “The experience was awesome and all the participants expressed positive testimonies and appreciations,” he says.