YAOUNDE, CAMEROON— Cameroon has started a nationwide campaign against religions that preach violence. The campaign, which also is encouraging interreligious tolerance, is targeting young people who allegedly are being contacted to join the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram.
Cameroon has always prided itself on its peaceful character, even amid a glaring heterogeneity that cuts across religion, language and culture.
Religious intolerance is rising in both Nigeria to the west and the Central African Republic to the east, though, and so Cameroon's government has embarked on a campaign to promote religious dialogue.
Imam Djibrilla Ousman of Cameroon's Muslim council said the campaign for tolerance is being carried out in all denominations. "We have talked about interreligious dialogue. You can be an imam, a priest or a pastor. We are doing our best, educating our children, our populations, our faithful servants in churches to live in peace."
Boko Haram's trangressions
To many Muslims in Cameroon, the Boko Haram phenomenon is being instigated by a hate group that is simply using the name of Islam to defend a cause that has no foundation in conventional Muslim beliefs.
Imam Sitan Mohammed said true Islam promotes friendly relations between neighbors.
"Good neighborliness is trying to treat every people around us in the best on manners. When Islam starts to look at neighbors, Islam goes beyond looking if they are Muslims or non Muslims and so on," he said. "Islam pays attention on the fact that they are human beings like us. Allah says serve Allah and do good to parents, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near and neighbors who are strangers."
David Kengang of the Full Gospel Mission said Pentecostal denominations should join the crusade to make Cameroon an exception in Africa, where religious violence has surged in recent years. He said they intend to take the campaign to other African countries.
"In the African continent there are very turbulent areas that militate against peace, and we felt that since Africa is a religious continent, it is very important especially for Christians and Muslims in Africa to meet and reason together on matters of peace for development," he said.
Cameroon also invited other countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission to join in the solidarity campaign.
Nafissatou Salifou of Niger said thus far, her country has avoided the type of conflict tearing apart Nigeria and the C.A.R. "In Niger for now, even though we are surrounded by many countries that have such conflicts, we do not live such conflicts because our people are very tolerant, and let me also point out the strength of our government. Our government is very very strict and very strong," she said.
Religious tolerance, however, has not been embraced by all, said Neveille Beri, a Catholic man in Cameroon. "Christians complain that Muslims wake up in the morning and start praying using [loud] speakers, disturbing the neighborhood. Presently, when you look at Pentecostal churches, they also have been using the speakers. They pray loudly even near the mosques so this has been creating tension between the two parties."
The campaign for religious tolerance is part of plans to check Boko Haram, which is said to be infiltrating into Cameroon.
The Nigerian sect has killed thousands of people in the past five years as part of what it says is a campaign to turn northern Nigeria into an Islamic state.