Last week, Minister of National Guidance and Religious Affairs, Honourable Reverend Godfridah Sumaili held a press conference at which she invited Zambians to attend en masse this year’s Day of Prayer and Reconciliation.
The Reverend spoke with the passion and spiritual intonation of a real patriot who was demonstrating the need for harmony, love for one another and co-existence of citizens across divergent beliefs. The Minister went on to talk about how Zambia had rich cultural values, which need to be upheld and promoted. It all went well, until one clever journalist asked a question that was answered with a confirmation of how useless this entire ministry is.
The news reporter asked why Muslims were not being considered in the national prayers for the country, and Reverend Sumaili said they would bring confusion to a Christian event, and encouraged them to hold their own Day of Prayer outside government involvement.
“The President announced the national day of prayer fasting and repentance [but] the only thing is that when we meet as Christians in one place and then we say ‘Hindus [or Muslims] come’ I think there will be confusion, but they are free to meet on their own. It’s an arrangement that we want to warship God in the way that we are accustomed to. Ninety per cent of Zambians are Christians and we need to honour our Creator,” Reverend Sumaili said.
In our opinion, this answer is a confirmation that Reverend Sumaili is in charge of the Ministry of Christians and not all religious affairs as her title entails. To her, Islam and Hinduism are not religions, or if they are, they don’t fall under her responsibility. Therefore, she has no interest in Islamic activities; she doesn’t care about beliefs and values of Hindus.
We also understand that the minister’s statement meant that she personally cannot go to worship with Muslims at the Mosque, and she neither has any intentions of visiting a Hindu Temple to see how they do it. To her, there is a thick holy line between Christians and the rest, which must prevent them from comingling. Maybe she is right.
But Muslims are part of our society, and so are the Hindus, Atheists and Agnostics. The Republican Constitution says Zambia is a Christian nation, but it does not say that Zambia is a nation for Christians. What that means is that, non-Christians are not in any way less Zambian. Agnostics and complete Atheists are as Zambian as Reverend Sumaili and deserve to be recognized as such. If they prefer a cold beer on October 18, the minister must only urge them to drink responsibly without making them feel less Zambian.
Reverend Sumaili’s eyes must not be fixated on Christians and their needs only. She must consider the care that other religions like Islam show to Christians in this country. Look at how many young impoverished Christians, whom this government has neglected; look at how they line up along the corridors of Muslim-owned shops looking for Almsgiving. Muslims believe that giving to others purifies their own wealth and giving to charity is one of the five pillars of Islam. They do not only give to charity, but they run and fund schools, colleges and health facilities for the benefit of all citizens, regardless of their religions. So it is wrong for Reverend Sumaili to say that their presence at a Christian event would cause confusion, as if they detest or do not recognize Christianity.
But if Reverend Sumaili has a point when she says there could be confusion in bringing people of various faiths to worship together, then she is a little too late to realize now because this confusion started the day she was appointed minister.
In fact, this is not a problem of Reverend Sumaili; it is a problem of her appointing authority. When President Edgar Lungu was creating this ministry and appointing this woman, his intention was not to serve all religions, but merely to reward those that abused the name of Jesus Christ when campaigning for him. It was not meant for all Christians, but those who established a mortal covenant called “Christians for Lungu”.
It is no wonder the Catholic Church distanced itself from the declaration of this National Day of Prayer, established under the creation of this ministry. We remember that from the onset, Lusaka Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu questioned the motive and declared that, “we Catholics already have a prayer calendar which we dedicatedly follow, so we will not be part of this politics.”
It doesn’t surprise us now to see Reverend Sumaili get stranded on how to deal with questions which her employer did not think about. If indeed this ministry was created with a motive of uniting citizens of all divergent religious beliefs, there was going to be a list of directors at the ministry, in charge of every religion. When asked about Muslims, Reverend Sumaili should have been saying ‘WE AS GOVERNMENT, are organizing a similar activity for Muslims on this Day of Prayer, and another event for Hindus, etc.
Dear readers; this ministry is not a menace to other religions only; it has brought confusion even among Christian denominations. If we may ask; how does Reverend Sumaili react to Jehovah’s Witnesses who fall under her ministry, when they knock on her door for evangelism? Since she was appointed Minister of Religious Affairs, has she ever been to the Kingdom Hall to worship with our brothers and sisters, the Mboni za Yehova? While maintaining her ministerial duty of encouraging all Zambians to fully participate in their civic duty of electing their political leaders, what is her position against the Witnesses whose doctrine does not allow them to vote? Does her Ministry of Guidance encourage our sisters and brethren to refuse receiving blood transfusion when in need?
We understand how controversial these questions are, but we are asking them because we are trying to demonstrate how you cannot mix politics and religion to the extent of creating a government ministry to govern people’s faiths. It is senseless. We can even challenge the minister to hold a press conference at the end of the year to tell taxpayers’ how much she got from the national budget and what she achieved out of it.
Sorry madam Reverend Sumaili, we mean no disrespect to you as an individual, we have nothing against your persona. But we speak for many Zambians when we say your ministry is useless and it has brought total confusion to the religious faiths. It is not the Muslims or Hindus who are bringing confusion to the harmony that we have enjoyed for hundreds of years as a people of divergent beliefs, it is you and your President. So, after you have eaten and satisfied each other enough as Christians for Lungu, please come back to your senses and abolish this ministry as part of the austerity measures for next year!