The conversion of a pastor’s daughter in Nigeria’s mainly Christian South-eastern region has ignited a row between Nigeria’s umbrella Christian and Muslim groups, raising questions about freedom ofreligion in the volatile tribal region.
“I joined Islam purely on my own terms. I love the character of Muslims that I have related with, particularly the way they behave. You know Muslims believe in God,” Charity Uzoechina, a 25-year-old daughter of a pastor, whose conversion has attracted nationwide debate, told OnIslam.net.
“I have Muslim friends and I watched what they do, that enticed me to join Islam.”
The conversion of Charity, the daughter of Pastor Raymond Uzoechina of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), has stirred a controversy about Islam acceptance in Nigeria’s mainly Christian South-eastern.
When she decided to revert to Islam, she faced accusations that she was abducted and converted by force.
Feeling that her life is under threat, Charity sought refuge away from her family for fear of possible backlashes.
A former student at the Federal Polytechnic Bida, she asl stopped going to school for fear of being harmed by her relatives.
Approaching the court for protection from her parent, Charity’s custody was entrusted by the Shari`ah Court to the Etsu of Nupe, a Muslim emir with dominion over the ancient city of Bida in the Nigeria’s North-central Niger state.
Nevertheless, her father, Pastor Raymond Uzoechina, and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) sought to take back the lady, accusing the Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar, of abducting and forcibly converting her to Islam.
The Etsu Nupe and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) have, however, insisted that she converted voluntarily and sought refuge in the Etsu Nupe’s Bida palace in Niger State out of fear of her father.
Charity also rejected suggestions by her father and said her conversion was “strictly personal, gradual and well thought-out.”
The new Muslim said with the advice of her friends and new tutor, she has chosen the name Aisha.
“I love what I read about Aishah, the wife of the prophet,” she added.
“I dream to be like her in terms of spreading the message of Islam and being pious.”
The Uzoechinas are from Nigeria’s Southeast, a region with extremely low population of Muslims and where conversion to Islam is rare and deemed ‘abnormal’.
A monarch who is Vice Chairman of the Council of Village Heads in Nigeria’s Southeastern Imo State, Chief Sylvester Dimunah, converted to Islam early this year. A few others had also done so in the past.
The repeated accusations from Pastor Raymond Uzoechina and CAN were rejected by Muslim leaders as unfounded.
“Islam being a religion of moderation, peace and truth will continue to spread to every corners of the world,” Disu Kamor, executive director at Muslim Public Affairs Centre, told OnIslam.
“Once any non-Muslim approaches the message of Islam with open mind, with guidance of Allah, they will accept its message. This is what has happened to Miss Uzoechina,” Kamor said.
“We welcome her into the fold of Islam. She has our support in this trying time. We pray Allah to stand by her and others like her.”
Kamor condemned suggestions that the lady was coerced or hypnotized into joining Islam.
“That is a wild suggestion,” he said.
“The earth and the heaven belong to Allah who can open the heart of the worst of unbeliever to come into His deen.”
Sheikh Abdurrahman Ahmad, a Nigerian Muslim intellectual, prayed “Allah to stand by Miss Uzoechina and others in her shoes. Having guided her into the light of Islam, we beseech Him to continue to be with her.
“And we pray for her family too. It is cheery enough that Islam is spreading to everywhere even at a time some people have made demonizing Islam a major campaign.”
Nigeria, one of the world’s most religiously committed nations, is divided between a Muslim north and a Christian south.
Muslims and Christians, who constitute 55 and 40 percent of Nigeria’s 140 million population respectively, have lived in peace for the most part.
But ethnic and religious tensions have bubbled for years, fuelled by decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands with migrants and settlers from the Hausa-speaking Muslim north.