Cameroon is hosting a conference on Islamic fundamentalism and extremism. The aim is to educate Muslim clerics in the country about the dangers of ideology espoused by extremist groups like the Islamic State and Boko Haram, the Nigerian terrorist group that has recently declared its allegiance to the self-described Islamic caliphate.
Souleyman Abba, a Muslim cleric and member of Cameroon's Islamic Cultural and Development Association, said the group organized the conference in collaboration with the government to stop supporters of Islamic State ideology from extending their ideas to Cameroon. He said Islamic State ideology basically centers on promoting terrorism, violence and intolerance.
"Islam is against terrorism and Islam is against Boko Haram. Cameroonian Muslims have to defend their country which has been attacked by terrorist. And secondly, fight the ‘instrumentalization’ of Islam. We have some people who use Islam to reach their own interest. Islam is peace and every Muslim in the world should be an ambassador of peace," said Abba.
Cameroon's Muslim community traditionally receives funding to construct Islamic schools, mosques and health centers from mosques in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. But now students from the central African nation and clerics are being granted scholarships to study in Arab nations.
Souleyman said that since Boko Haram declared its allegiance to the Islamic State, his organization has received information that the Nigerian-based militants are extending their beliefs to Cameroon. He said some mosques are being asked to implement Sharia law, which is one of the objectives of Boko Haram.
"Sharia law is defined as the law from Allah. That law has the penal and the civil aspect. Today, when they are talking about Sharia, they just see the penal aspect. Sharia means for instance, praying, fasting during the month of Ramadan. We should not follow these terrorists who want to make us know that Sharia is just punitive. We have also a civil aspect we should take into consideration," he said.
But not every Muslim agrees. Modibo Moustapha Issa, a cleric in Maroua on Cameroon's northern border with Nigeria, a stronghold of Boko Haram, said Allah's message in the holy Koran should never be compromised for whatever reason. According to him, it was even wrong to invite Christians he described as unbelievers to discuss with Muslims.
He said that in the Holy Koran, Allah calls those who do not use their intelligence to know what He wants beasts. He said such people have eyes but do not see, have hearts but do not understand anything, and have ears but do not hear and will never be accepted by Allah.
The conference brought together Christians and Muslims to teach them to promote inter-religious tolerance and shun extremism. Reverend Pastor Libong Lili Keng of the Protestant church said Cameroon, more than ever, needs to preach tolerance to avoid inter-religious conflicts.
"You know people have different views. The normal thing is to accept but the abnormal will be the non-acceptance of people working in good ethics. What I teach is being committed to God and being active in social life. It is possible, you can have example of people who are really true believers and actors in the social scene," said Keng.
When the Nigerian terrorist group began fighting to create an Islamist caliphate in northern Nigeria, the fighting spilled over to Cameroon. Sociologist Bridgit Ndemba of the University of Yaounde One said the Islamic State ideology Boko Haram has opted for may have a dangerous spillover into Cameroon.
She said a military approach can contribute to reducing violence from terrorism groups, but as far as ideology is concerned, fighting it will take a lot of time because ideology cannot be fought with war weapons.
Cameroon has a history of inter-religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence with other denominations. As Boko Haram began attacking the country in its attempt to create an Islamic caliphate, Cameroon arrested dozens of Muslim clerics and their followers for collaborating with the terrorist group. Boko Haram's adherence to the Islamic State has sparked fears the country may come under the influence of extremists.