A few weeks ago, when AB commented on this blog saying
My biggest gripe with Christianity in Ghana is that it has become ubiquitous, and with that ubiquity comes assumptions about who you are and what it means to be a real Ghanaian, as well as extreme intolerance of other people's religious preferences. As someone who prefers not to be religious, I find that my choices are not respected - there was a lively discussion on this very blog about how someone would get irritated when people would insist on starting any meeting (not just at church) with a prayer. To which I say, Amen! (HA HA). It is never ok to not be a Christian in Ghana, and that is what worries me.
One of you, posted a response anonymously saying
That is not true that it is NEVER ok not to be a Christian in Ghana. Perhaps that has been your experience among the Ghanaians you've met. But among the Ghanaians I've met, it's ok to be whatever religion you are. SO that must mean that all Ghanaians are not the same then, are they?
S/he went on to say "I also don't know that discrimination and prejudice is the preserve of only Christians in Ghana"
Today, I'd like us to revisit this conversation. But I'd like us to move away from talking about Christians in particular and look generally at how it feels to be a minority in Ghana. With particular focus on how it feels to be Baha'i. In subsequent posts, I'll get other minorities to write about their experiences. As a people, how we treat minorities reflects a lot about who we are. That, after all, is what we do on this blog. We look at who Ghanaians are as a people.
The post that follows was written by an old friend of mine. His name is Kofi. Kofi and I met when we were in secondary school (over 10 years ago) and in this post, he details his experiences as a Baha'i in Ghana.
So here I am trying to put my thoughts together and asking myself, “why did I not think through the request before agreeing to it”. Well, I managed to convince myself that the basic reason is the feeling of flattery. For Worabae to ask me to write this article, in her words “...I know you can write” flattered me thus I had to live to the bill.
Indeed, I am blessed to be Ghanaian, I am blessed to have peace in my country, I am blessed to be free to exercise my right and freedom to associate and belong to any organisation of my choice. Thanks to Pastor Chris, I am able to clearly express my feelings, borrowing his much acclaimed pronouncement, as I try to share thoughts on the subject. I should be grateful that Ghana provides the environment for coexistence for people like me. I am a Bahá’í, and I am sure there will be the question, “what is that?” “Do you go to church?” will follow and others-“do you believe in Jesus Christ”,” how do you worship"?” I have had to answer to a barrage of such questions after my declarations of not being Christian or Muslim.
The Bahá’í Faith is a world wide independent religion that seeks to unite the world into one universal faith and one universal religion. With this objective, Bahá’ís believe there is one God, One religion and one human race. Despite this thinking, not all of us, including nations believe in the oneness of mankind and belonging to one universal family. In many strong Islamic nations, e.g. Egypt and Iran, several Bahá’ís counting in thousands are persecuted and face varied human rights abuses. Bahá’ís in Egypt have been denied their identity, and access to state services following the introduction of a national ID card which only recognises Christianity and Islam as the only religious groupings in the country. In Iran, where there are the worst acts of persecution against Bahá’ís, Bahá’ís are presently facing charges of treason by the government for being Bahá’ís.1 Others have been abducted, jailed with no fair trials in the government’s attempt to kill the Bahá’í faith in the country. A google search on this would lead you to alarming revelations unfathomed in our present world.
Being a Bahá’í in Ghana, I am confronted with my own kind of prejudices. Though least appreciated by others whenever I talk about the subject, I think it is about time Ghanaians woke up from their stereotyped beliefs and educated themselves on the essence of religion and spirituality. I have had two beautiful relationships end abruptly because the women involved claimed to be uncomfortable with my religion. When I asked specifically what was uncomfortable about my being a Bahá’í and how that should affect our relationship, the responses have been trivial and characterised by ill-informed and lack of understanding of the institution of marriage and the ingredients for it. Reasons start from No one in my family has married anyone other than a Christian and I don’t want to the first. I can understand if you do not have any religion, then at least I know I can convert you to be a Christian, I cant see myself waking up seeing my husband in a prostrate position praying. Interestingly, with all these excuses, I have had such girl friends tell of how caring, loving and a good husband any woman would want to have and blah-blah-blah. Oh, yes! I believe they just say it to make me feel good and not upset about their prejudices. In deed, it is prejudice if I cannot marry the woman who has the qualities I deem right to start a family and nurture kids to know God. How different is this from being denied a job just because you are a boy, girl, Christian, Muslim, black, white, African, Asian? I see this as no different from racism.
I have tried to find meaning or make sense of the reasons given for such strong family aggression towards daughters and quite subtly towards sons- which is mostly the case, who seek to marry persons other than Christians or Muslims. It is almost unheard off for Christian to marry a Muslim and vice versa. I make reference to these two religions because they constitute the main religious groups in the country. Everybody wants, would want, to have a happy marriage and I am sure that as persons in a relationship you are able to determine what kind of husband or wife the other person would be should you both decide to tread that path together. I have continuously asked and never gotten the responses to the question which is “will the mere fact that one marries someone of the same religious belief automatically insulate the couple from all the numerous troubles and challenges that come with marriage?” How many of the same church/ religious belief marriages have not had or do not have problems? A careful, objective, isolation of personal sentiments and focus on the issues generating marital problems will reveal that there is very little contribution of religious beliefs underlying them. The biggest challenge to marriages is the ability of couples to tackle the challenges they are confronted each day of their married lives. The problems arise from individual character formation generally influenced by the environments within which we spent our growing lives. If couples understand the essence of religion and do not live their lives concerned about the definitions and pronouncements of society- which is grappling to understand the surge in moral and spiritual decadence.
Uncle Ebo defines spirituality as the thought for mankind, and not the amount of time spent in church. It is deductible from his definition that love for your fellow man, unity, justice and upholding virtues are the constituents of a spiritual being and not necessarily professing faith in a church or religious denomination. What is the essence of religion if it does not seek to unite mankind? He also says “give me a country of spiritual people and close down the churches, Ghana will still survive”. He is not Bahá’í but I share his thoughts and therefore ask that we wake up from our religious stereotypes and become spiritual which is more than our church going activities, learn to appreciate the need to have independent investigation of truth about religion and its role in mankind’s search for God. I have almost become immune to this sort of discrimination but have not lost faith that I will some day be married to someone who is not of the same religious group as me not because I do not there are no women in the Bahai faith on the contrary to be an example to demonstrate that institution of marriage is built by the individuals who enter into it with support from family and society and not the other way round.
What do you guys think? Would you be open to marrying a Bahai'i? Why and why not? How do you feel about the points Kofi raises in his post? How much do you know about Baha'i's? I'm really looking forward to a good discussion:). Thanks, Deborah Ahenkorah for suggesting I do a post on how it feels to be a minority in Ghana.