Christians and Muslims in Chad’s capital N’djamena, are responding to Boko Haram’s terrorist actions by fostering dialogue between the faiths. In less than a month, there have been three suicide bombings in N’djamena, all carried out by the Nigerian extremist group. The attacks that took place on 15 and 29 June and 11 July have claimed the lives of 60 people and injured dozens but they have not succeeded in dividing the nation.
“Christians and Muslims have stayed united against a phenomenon that has affected both of them. Boko Haram achieved the opposite of what it hoped,” says Fr. Pietro Ciuciulla, Superior of the Comboni missionaries in the country. There is a deep-rooted history of peaceful co-existence between the Muslim majority (58% of the country’s almost 13 million inhabitants) and the Catholic and Protestant communities (approximately 18% and 16%respectively).
“It was John Paul II who called for the start of interreligious dialogue during his visit to 1990 and a number of initiatives have emerged since,” Fr. Pietro says. The most important, the platform that groups together representatives of the three main denominations in the country, only came into existence two years ago, but many others preceded it. The Al-Mouna cultural centre - founded by the diocese and currently run by a sister of the Sacred Heart of Mary, Aida Yazbeck -, is among these. Society forms the basis of the centre’s action: “We teach Christians and Muslims about religious subjects, mediation and conflict management. We are now turning to those whom me wall “neighbourhood mediators” in order to form groups in various parts of the city,” says the nun.
“Cells of vigil keepers and holders” as Sister Aida calls them, almost as if to set them against the cells of “sleeping” extremist groups feared by the people. It is partly in order to quell these fears that those working to achieve unity must keep on working hard and setting the example, as was the case on 11 July when the last attack was carried out. “a union of local young Christians and Muslims organised a seminar which was encouraged by myself and another head of the Al-Mouna centre who is a Muslim,” the director said. “The initiative was aimed at around 400 young people: in the wake of the nearby attack we wanted to continue the work started.”
“Christians and Muslims have both fallen victim to suicide bombers,” Sister Aida says, casting her mind back to the episodes witnessed in recent weeks, which seem to have a political rather than a religious motivation. Chad is in fact one of the countries that supplied troops to African forces fighting against Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria and surrounding territories and was only targeted by militia after this decision was taken. Obviously, tensions are high and it is partly for this reason that the Al-Mouna centre organised three days of celebrations for the end of Ramadan, with the participation of various local artists. Naturally, the numbers are not the same as those recorded during the day of peace celebrated every year in November in N’djamena’s mains quare, Nation Square, in the presence of 5000 approx. people who gathered to pray together. But, Fr. Pietro says, “the fruits of dialogue are seen in everyday life”.
Dinners together, trips organised together, courtesy visits during festivities such as Easter or Eid-al-Fitr: “Elsewhere, it would be difficult to imagine this happening , here such initiatives help bring people together and therefore to eradicate fear of the unknown,” the missionary went on to say. This encounter continues in every-day life, when Christians and Muslims meet in the street or at the market. These every-day encounters give Sister Aida hope: “Overcoming the panic caused by the attacks is a question of time and trust which will come little by little,” she concludes.