The divide between Christianity and Islam has contributed largely to the world as we know it today.
While both these religions – the largest in the world – preach peace and love, some of their adherents have shown strong intolerance of the other, leading to famous conflicts all over the world in which thousands have perished as a result.
But Africa is where this divide is most pronounced and arguably where most violent acts between the two groups have been recorded in recent times. Ironically, neither Christianity nor Islam are of African origin.
In his world-acclaimed and multiple award-winning documentary The Africans, Dr Ali Mazrui digs deep into what he calls Africa’s “triple heritage” of Christianity, Islam and African traditional beliefs.
I reflected on Mazrui’s work last week following on the alarming attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya which left at least 70 people dead and no fewer than 150 injured.
Interestingly – and by sheer coincidence – Mazrui is Kenyan by birth.
The evils of western colonisation are well documented, not least in this space. Tomes of literature exist to prove how the arrival of Europeans in Africa left devastation that is still felt to this date.
But little, if anything, is known or repeated about the equally devastating effects of the Arabic slave trade that took part mostly in North and east Africa.
An article written on Le Monde Diplomatique, by Elikia M’bokolo, documents both European colonisation of Africa as well as the Arabic slave trade that took place long before the Europeans arrived in Africa.
M’bokolo writes: “At least 10 centuries of slavery for the benefit of the Muslim countries (from the 9th to the 19th). Then more than four centuries (from the end of the 15th to the 19th) of a regular slave trade to build the Americas and the prosperity of the Christian states of Europe.
“The figures, even where hotly disputed, make your head spin. Four million slaves exported via the Red Sea, another four million through the Swahili ports of the Indian Ocean, perhaps as many as nine million along the trans-Saharan caravan route, and eleven to 20 million (depending on the author) across the Atlantic Ocean.”
While the west and the east looted Africa, exploited its resources and enslaved her people, they also spread their religions in a continent that had its own way of observing and worshipping God.
Consequently, and notably in countries like Nigeria, Mali, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and Somalia, both European colonialism and the Arabic slave trade bequeathed the double heritage of Christianity and Islam.
In some of these countries notably and more acutely the religious divisions are glaring between the north and the south and for some reason, over the years they have resulted in two nations in one country, sometimes in bloody wars of control.
In northern Nigeria, an Islamist group known as Boko Haram continues to attack government soldiers, civilians and Christian churches maiming hundreds of people in the process.
Mali in West Africa, known as the custodian of a significant chunk of African history of resistance, art and civilisation was recently in the news after Islamic groups attacked and destroyed key landmarks in the south.
Today Sudan is now divided into two countries after the southerners successfully seceded from the Islamic north to form a largely Christian nation as the 54th and newest state of Africa.
Last Sunday Islamic groups in Nigeria killed as many as 50 people when they occupied a college and started attacking and shooting innocent students aged between 18 and 22.
Boko Haram, which was blamed for this attack, wants to form an Islamic state and wants to topple the government of Goodluck Jonathan, who is from the predominantly Christian south.
Once the slave traders and colonisers had left or were defeated, other than abject poverty and despair, they also left divided nations that continue to kill one another in the name of religion.
Even the much documented hatred between the United States and the Al-Qaeda movement has claimed a whole lot of victims on the African soil. Most of these victims are African.
Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were attacked in the past decade leaving hundreds dead and many others injured, some critically. The attack on Kenya last week was carried out by Al-Shabab, a Somalian resistant group linked to Al-Qaeda.
Does it have to be that way? Why should Africans be fighting one another in defence or attack of religions brought to them by foreigners who left decades ago? Or is this violence still sponsored by the same foreigners and making sure it happens in a “neutral” territory like Africa?
Is it a case of pure and simple ignorance by Africans? Or is the work of African leaders who use religion to divide the poor and gullible and have them maim one another in wars they didn’t start?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. But there is a case to be made that for Africa, the two religions that were used first to steal and pillage, are today used to make Africans hate one another and brother kill brother all in the name of God.