Fundamental Tenets and Practices of Sierra Leone Indigenous Religion (SLIR) and Culture    

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CHAPTER 4 Comparative Analysis of ATR with Islam, and with Christianity


The greatest challenge and condemnation of traditional spirituality and culture in Sierra Leone, still comes from the Christians. Although the present Arab brand of Islam is attempting to purge the long existing syncretistic brand of Islam, its opposition to ATR is much milder than that of Christianity. The discussions on the fundamental tenets of Sierra Leone Indigenous Religion, and the basic beliefs of Islam and Christianity in the preceding chapters, have provided a background for the analysis of traditional religion and its intersections with Islam and Christianity. This chapter tries to discover the affinities and differences between ATR and the two immigrant religions, as an attempt to hopefully map out possible strategies for mutual understanding and for the inclusion of ATR in interfaith dialogue and cooperation in Sierra Leone.
Although in most cases, Ancestral veneration, sacrifice, and charms and medicines, are the three aspects of ATR that some Muslims and Christians most frequently dismiss as false religion, in what follows, I have endeavoured to discuss a variety of issues based on some of the fundamental tenets of ATR, as described in chapter 2.

The Supreme Being

 Which God do Traditionalists Serve?

The Supreme Being holds the highest status in indigenous spirituality which is also the case in Islam and Christianity as seen in the previous chapter. God is the central focus of each of the three religions. They all accept the existence of God. Just six decades ago, Hargrave, an Anthropologist, writing about these three religions in Sierra Leone said, “the belief in God, the Creator, all powerful, invisible … is accepted by all religious groups” (1944:63).
Most Traditionalists in Sierra Leone continue to make the claim that the God they serve is not different from the God the Muslims and Christians serve. This view resonates with the teaching of Islam that, the Supreme Being is not just the God of the Muslims, nor the God of a particular race, religion or nation, but the only God for all peoples.
At the first conference of African theologians in Ibadan, January 1966 on the theme, “Biblical Revelation and African Beliefs”, a consensus was reached “that the God whom African religion acknowledges is the same God as in the Bible” (Mbiti 1989b:61). This conviction was unanimously expressed by the participants in the following statement:
We believe that the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ … has been dealing with humankind at all times and in all parts of the world. It is with this conviction that we study the rich heritage of our African people and we have evidence that they know God and worship God. We recognize the radical quality of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ … This knowledge of God is not totally discontinuous with our people’s previous traditional knowledge of God (Mbiti 1989b:61).
Most Christians do not dispute the fact that Traditionalists have a belief in a God. However, Christians contend that the God served by Traditionalists is not the same one true God who has revealed himself as the eternally self-existent “I AM”, the Creator of heaven and earth and the Redeemer of humanity. Further, it is not the God, who has revealed himself as embodying the principles of relationship and association as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Deut. 6:4; Is. 43:10-11; Matt. 28:19; Luke 3:22). Thus, the Christians do not equate the God of ATR with their own. The following discussion will help readers make a decision if the God of ATR shares affinity with the God of Islam, and, especially with the God of Christianity.

 God above

In indigenous religion, the Supreme Being lives above in the skies, likewise in the Qur’an, Allah is portrayed as living above where he attends to humans on earth (7:26; 15:21; 39:6; 57:25). In Bible, the transcendence of God is displayed in the concept that God dwells in heaven/sky. Shamayim (“heaven(s)/sky”), ouranos (“heaven/sky”) is the abode of God (Deut. 4:39; Josh. 2:11; Matt. 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 2:14). Jesus taught his disciples to pray “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9; cf. Matt. 5:16, 45: 6:1; 7:11; 18:14). And like Traditionalists, Muslims and Christians balance their belief in God’s transcendence with their belief in his immanence. In the Qur’an, Allah is nearer to humankind than life vein (50:16; 2:186). Although God lives in heaven, for the Christian, the Supreme Being “is not far from each of us” (Acts 17:27b).
The Bible makes reference to “God in heaven above and on earth below” (Deut. 4:39; Josh. 2:11). This speaks not so much of a perceived residence, but of God’s domain. God controls both “heaven above” and the “earth below” (Gen. 24:3; Luke 10:21; Isa. 66:1; Matt. 5:34-35; Acts 7:49).
While neither Muslims nor Christians acknowledge a “God below” they do identify a single personal force responsible for much of the evil in the world. Both in the Qur’an and in the Bible, this force is called Satan. Muslims believe that Satan was a jinn who disobeyed God (15:26-42), Christians that he is an angel who fell from grace (Isa. 14:12-15). Jesus referred to Satan as the prince and ruler of this world (John 12:31, 14:30). While ATR does not identify a single, personal “big evil” the Limba belief in Kanu Wopothi (“God Below”) a general category used to describe any evil spirit is somewhat similar to the Muslim belief in disobedient jinn and to the Christian belief in demons (Matt. 8:28-34; 1Tim. 4:1-10).

Names of God

The names of God in ATR are highly significant. This concept is also found in Islam, and Christianity. Although the proper and divine name of God in Islam is Allah, the Qur’an states that Allah has the best and beautiful names (7:180; 17:110; 20:8; 59:24), which are referred to as the ninety-nine names (Baldock 2004:213-21). Just as in ATR, these names express the excellent attributes, characteristics, and activities of God.
In Biblical times, names were significant because “they revealed character and identity and signified existence” (Achtemeier 1996:736). Generally, names indicated who people were, their conduct, and the way they lived their lives. As such, great care and attention to significance were given in the choice of names (Erickson 1992:83; Houtman 1993:71). In the Bible, the revelation of God’s name and its continued use were of great significance because it was the means by which God could be reached and known. Theophoric personal names are a valuable guide to qualities associated with God, and the personal names containing God’s divine name Yahweh depict his nature, character, and peculiar qualities (1996:734).
The tradition and terminology of God’s names in the NT was “inherited from the OT and Judaism as mediated by the Septuagint (LXX)” (1996:734). However, this inherited tradition was greatly modified both by the “understanding of the teaching of Jesus” and by the “understanding of the person of Jesus as the definitive expression of God” (1996:734). The names and titles of Jesus, tell us about his character, peculiar qualities, rank and power. For example, the name “Jesus” (Heb. “Joshua”) means “Saviour.” The instruction of the angel to Joseph was that the child Mary bore should be named “Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The name “Emmanuel” (Heb.) “means, God is with us” (Matt. 1:23). The title “the Christ” (Heb. “Messiah”) means the “anointed.” Jesus was the long awaited Saviour and Deliverer.
Although the vital Christian teaching of the Trinity is not present in indigenous religion, the Traditionalists, continue to argue that the God of other religions is the same God they serve on the grounds that if it was not so, Christian missionaries in particular would not have adopted traditional names for the Christian God. A majority of “Christian missionaries in their teachings and translations of scripture have adopted African names of God” (Smith 1950:34).1 They “proclaimed the name of Jesus Christ. But they used the names of the God who was and is already known by African peoples …” (Mbiti 1980:818). Christian Mende use the name Ngew ] , Kuru Masaba is the name used by Christian Temne, Christian Limba use the name Kanu Masala, and Yaata is the name used by Christian Kono.
Sanneh, may have provided an answer to the Traditionalists’ query as to the Christian adoption of traditional names for God, when he wrote, “the adoption by missionaries of African names for God was key to the effective transmission of the Gospel. It implied the abandonment of arguments of European ascendancy and, too, of the moral logic of permanent colonial and missionary tutelage” (2001:114). Sanneh’s argument is trying to portray the sensitivity of the missionaries in terms of superiority and status, which implies that the Christian adoption of African names has nothing to do with the religious conviction of the missionaries.
However, I believe that the missionary adoption of African names for God indicates a recognition of the religiosity of the people — that they knew God. In fact, this practice reflects a Christian principle based on Acts 17:22-32, which records the Apostle Paul’s adoption of the Greek word theos to refer to the Christian God.

God is Omnipotent

God, in ATR, is the one to whom absolute power and might are attributed. This belief is equally supported by Islam and Christianity. In the Qur’an, absolute power over all things is attributed to God (2:20,106, 284; 25:54). Allah is the only one who is powerful enough to give spiritual life (75:4), to chastise (6:65), to change things (70:40-41), and to control everything (4:85). As discussed earlier, there are many Biblical references to God as the possessor and source of all power. 4.2.5 God is Omnipresent
Traditionalists assume the presence of God in their daily lives and activities. Muslims and Christians teach about God’s omnipresence in terms similar to those used by ATR. In the Qur’an, Allah is everywhere (57:4; 58:7) and in all directions (2:115), so that no one can hide from God (4:108). He is closer to humankind than life-vein (50:16). In Christianity, God is not subject to the limitations of time and space. God is found everywhere (Erickson 1992:84). Christians, like traditionalists, also believe that God is especially present when they gather to worship him. Jesus said “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matt. 18:20) and later commissioned his disciples saying “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

 God is Omniscient

God’s omniscience is central to ATR, Islam and Christianity. In Islam, Allah knows everything (2:29; 6:101; 24:35; 29:62; 42:12), and he comprehends everything (6:80; 7:89; 20:98). God’s knowledge is described as covering heaven and earth (2:255; 29:52; 57:4), things visible and invisible (13:9; 32:6; 35:38; 49:18), every minute thing (10:61; 34:2-3), the content of human hearts and minds (2:235; 11:5; 29:10), human secret thoughts and open words (2:77; 6:3; 11:5) and every falling leaf (6:59).
In Christian theology, humankind is “completely transparent before God … He sees and knows us totally” (Erickson 1992:85). There is nothing, which escapes God’s knowledge. Humankind cannot hide from God (Psalm 139:7, 13; Jer.23:24) and even what may be hidden from humankind is laid bare before God (Heb 4:12-13).

God is the Creator

ATR practitioners attribute creation to the Supreme Being, a view that resonates with Muslims and Christians. The creative power of Allah in Islam is similar to that in ATR and Christianity as discussed earlier. Allah is referred to as the Creator, Maker, and Fashioner (59:24), the Creator, who made all things (6:101; 13:16; 20:50), including the heavens and the earth (6:1; 14:32; 27:56-60), and humankind (55:3; 39:6). There is no one else with such power to have created the world, save Allah (13:16; 16:20; 31:11; 35:40), and he sustains his creation (11:6; 56:58-74).

Worship/Veneration — Sacrifice

Worship is a vital aspect in the practice of ATR. It is a way that God is accessible. Similarly, in Islam, and Christianity worship plays a crucial role in maintaining a close relationship with God. As already discussed, sacrifice is the primary method of indigenous worship. It should be noted here again as above, that Traditionalists claim they neither make sacrifice to the spirits nor do they worship them. Offerings are made to spirits to appease or to return thanks.
There are at least four non-Islamic sacrifices that some Muslims in Sierra Leone reluctantly take part in:
• Heroes’ Sacrifice is offered for the inclusion of the deceased into the ancestral world.
• State Sacrifice for appeasement or seeking the favour of the community’s respected and feared pantheon. This sacrifice is offered in the place which is presumed to be the abode of said pantheon. • Family Sacrifice is usually made to the dead.
• Individual Sacrifice is offered by an individual, usually, through the help of a sacred specialist for protection, prosperity, health, safe delivery of a baby, when seeking employment, or going on a trip.
Most of these sacrifices are strongly opposed by strict Muslims as pagan rituals, especially the Ahmadiyyas, and younger Muslim clerics who were trained in Arab institutions. The generally accepted Muslim sacrifices are Zakat and Fidahu. In addition to how Muslims in general disburse Zakat, Sierra Leoneans offer sacrifice (Zakat) on the eighth day after the birth of a child and Fidahu, a “redemption” sacrifice, on the third, seventh, and fortieth days after the death of a person. Fidahu is an African traditional rite which Islam has integrated into their practices.
Christian worship, while it does not offer physical sacrifices, remembers the sacrifice of Christ through the sacrament of the Eucharist. For some Sierra Leonean Traditionalists, the Christian teaching about the death of Christ as a sacrifice for the propitiation of sin seems strange and contradictory because missionaries have condemned human sacrifice as sinful and inhumane.2 If human sacrifice has been condemned by the God, how then could he, as a loving and faithful God, change his mind Christians take part in traditional sacrificial rites such as the Krio Awujoh feast, a ceremony performed in honour of the dead. Libation, prayer, singing, chanting, dancing, postures and signs are all symbols that serve as connecting links between the visible and the invisible, between the living and the supernatural. The Pillars of Islam and the Sacraments of Christianity are all symbols that represent spiritual realities.

CHAPTER 1 Introduction       
1.1 Objectives
1.2 Methodological Approach
1.3 Past and Present Academic Context
1.4 Literature Review
1.5 Socio-History of Sierra Leone
1.6 Outline
CHAPTER 2 Fundamental Tenets and Practices of Sierra Leone Indigenous Religion (SLIR) and Culture       
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Meeting our Subjects
2.3 Sources of SLIR
2.4 Components of SLIR
CHAPTER 3 Islam and Christianity in Sierra Leone
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Islam
3.3 Christianity
3.4 Conclusion
CHAPTER 4 Comparative Analysis of ATR with Islam, and with Christianity
4.1 Introduction
4.2 The Supreme Being
4.3 Worship/Veneration — Sacrifice
4.4 Angels
4.5 Ancestor Veneration or Veneration of the Dead
4.6 Spirits
4.7 Charms and Medicines
4.8 Sacred Places and Objects
4.9 Sin and Salvation
4.10 Afterlife
4.11 Conclusion
CHAPTER 5 Historical and Contemporary Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation, and Reasons for the Exclusion of ATR
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Historical interfaith encounter, debate/dialogue, and cooperation 174  5.2.1 Samuel Ajayi Crowther
5.3 Contemporary Interreligious Cooperation and Dialogue
5.4 Reasons for the Exclusion of ATR
5.5 Conclusion
CHAPTER 6 The Place and Recognition of ATR in Inter-religious Cooperation
6.1 Introduction
6.2 The Place and Recognition of ATR in Sierra Leone
6.3. The Progress and Level of the Recognition and Place of ATR Outside  Sierra Leone
6.4 Necessity of Dialogue with, and the Inclusion of ATR in Interfaith  Cooperation in Sierra Leone
6.5 Conclusion
CHAPTER 7 Concluding Remarks
7.1 Introduction
7.2 Recapitulation
7.3 Final Thoughts


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