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October 16, 2013

Nigerian Eid Feast Bridges Divides

by Heather Murdock

On Eid al-Adha, Muslims slaughter an animal for their supper but most of the meat is required by Islam to be distributed to relatives, friends and the poor. 

In Kaduna, Nigeria, a city known for hostilities between Christians and Muslims, some clerics are celebrating the holiday and trying to bridge the divide by distributing the meat together to the disabled. 

At one residence, about 200 Muslims are dining on a cow, slaughtered properly by a Muslim for Eid al-Adha -- the sacrifice holiday -- and delivered by a Christian pastor.
 
All of the diners are either disabled or the children of the disabled. They live on a remote government compound in Kaduna with dirt floors and no sewers.  Ordinarily on this day, they would be on the streets begging.
 
Islam requires the wealthy to sacrifice animals on this holiday, and deliver at least a third of the meat to the poor.  Maryam Abubakar, one of the organizers of the feast, say the point is that no one should go hungry during the holidays.

“We want all these people to benefit from what we have," Maryam said. "It’s a privilege. Instead of us to stay at home to eat what we have alone, no we decide, let us come and share with them. Let them rejoice with us.”
 
For other organizers, delivering holiday food is not a religious obligation, but part of a larger plan to try to end sectarian violence.
 
Pastor Yohanna Buru says the best way to prevent violence between Muslims and Christians in the region is for leaders of both faiths to do charity work together.

“We want peace in northern Nigeria, in Nigeria, West Africa, Africa and the world entirely," he said.
 
Kaduna state has a long history of violence between Christians and Muslims, who have segregated their communities in the state capital, also Kaduna, mirroring the rest of the country, with mostly Christians in the south and mostly Muslims in the north.
 
Last year, nearly 100 people were killed in sectarian violence in Kaduna, sparked by triple church bombings that left nearly 20 others dead.  In 2011, more than 800 people were killed in fighting between Christians and Muslims after the presidential election.
 
However, analysts say the violence is not about religious differences.  In Nigeria, ethnic, political and religious lines are often the same and the fights are usually about political or economic differences, or sparked by insurgent attacks.
 
Holiday times are often the most tense, and large numbers of beggars come out to partake in the festivities.
 
Rilwanu Mohammed Abubakar, a former leader in Nigeria’s Persons with Disability organization, says besides fears of holiday violence at public festivals, feeding the poor in the compound prevents accidents like cars hitting polio victims who, without use of their legs, use makeshift skate boards to get around.

“Some of our members, most particularly the children, do have accidents as they normally go search for food when it is a celebration like this," he said.
 
But feeding the disabled in their home, he added, does have its drawbacks. 

Organizers brought enough food for 200 people, which is roughly the capacity of the building.  But in this city, where most people live in abject poverty, the disabled people are the poorest and organizers found hundreds more people living in the home than they expected.
 
Next time, they plan to bring enough food for a thousand.

Ibrahima Yakubu contributed to this report from Kaduna.