By Furera Bagel, PhD
At no point in my life did I remember being taught or lectured about tolerance, but it was something I was raised with. It was something I grew up being part of my immediate family and me. It was something I unconsciously learned from my mother.
Even though we have never met her, all of my mother’s children have learned about Maman Chindun all our lives. She was a Berom woman who lived with my parents in the same compound at Barnawa Kaduna and assumed the role of a parent, sister, friend and counsellor to my very young and naïve mother who found herself far away from home.
When my mother got married at the age of 15, as it was the norm then, she had to travel to Kaduna with my equally young dad where he enrolled in Kaduna Polytechnic to study civil engineering. It was Maman Chindun, who lived with my parents in the same compound, together with many others from different parts of Nigeria, who embraced my very young and inexperienced Fulani mum and taught her everything she needed to know about marriage and homecare. They even taught her about childcare when she eventually gave birth to her first child. In fact, those people from diverse background taught her many invaluable things about life in general.
My mother’s accounts of Maman Chindun were always affectionate and nostalgic. She often spoke about their bond first as women and secondly as sisters thrown together by fate. We certainly did not perceive Maman Chindun as someone different, but as a kindly benevolent- almost angelic lady, and that’s because of how our mum portrayed her to us. She had never used sentences like, “She was a good woman but she was a Christian, or she was a Berom.” We later discovered these facts ourselves, as we got older.
Another virtue of my mother where tolerance is concerned was how she accommodated people of diverse religious and ethnic background at our house; from the security guards to house helps to some of my father’s relatives who happened to be Christians. At one stage, we had about five Christian boys living in our Boys Quarters for a period of almost a year before they finally got jobs and moved out. My Muslim Fulani mother treated all of them like her children and earned their love and respect for life.
The gratitude for these inculcated habits and humane virtues goes to my maternal grandfather, for being responsible for whom my mum became. He was the one who first broke a cultural barrier by going against his mother’s wish of marrying his only daughter to her cousin, and instead married her off to the only schoolboy in the village who incidentally happened to be a Kado or rather non Fulani. If not for that single defiance, I could have turned out to be ignorant and intolerant due to absence of opportunities for education and guidance from my parents and teachers in the schools I attended.
No society ever thrives on hate, and to recall a famous saying that we are all brothers and sisters in either faith or in humanity. A friend recently complained to me about her child returning from Islamiyya and telling her that his mallam has warned them not to play with arna (infidels). She immediately took her veil and went over to confront the man and issued warning that she would withdraw her ward from the school if he dared to continue his misguidance. It was shocking and disgusting to her because it reminded her of a time she was newly pregnant with her son while living in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. She once fainted in the market and when she came around, there were women all around fanning her, making sure she and all her stuff, including her car, were safe and okay. She said, “when I regained consciousness and looked around me, I saw many faces, all women. And none of those women were Hausa; none of them were Muslims, it was just pure compassion and humanity. Yet, one person will dare to call them names. I would not have it!” And that is how it should be.
Two years ago I had to give a serious warning to a security guard who told my kids not to play with some new neighbours who happened to be Christians from the South East. Sadly, I have no control over his own kids who will obviously grow up with such prejudices.
If we rebuke our children or associates every time we hear them use a derogatory word against others and never ever use those words at all so that they would not learn it from us, we are taking the right steps toward sanitising our society. Derogatory words should have no place in a civilised society.
Unfortunately in ours, we find even religious leaders and preachers using such words during radio or televised preaching. Two weeks ago, the general manager of a radio station told me that they have decided to mute such words before they can be broadcast on their radio station during Ramadan, and I applauded her. I wish others would follow suit.
It is important to raise our kids with love, compassion and tolerance for others who are different from us so that we may receive the same from them. Hate begets nothing but hate, cruelty hardens the heart, and intolerance brings nothing but resentment, mistrust, and chaos.