Humanist Voices
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Humanist Voices

Dr. Leo Igwe 4 on Banes in Islam and Christianity, and Witchcraft

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Dr. Leo Igwe is the Founder of the Nigerian Humanist Movement/Humanist Association of Nigeria and former Western and Southern African Representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, now Humanists International, and the Founder & CEO of Advocacy for Alleged Witches. He is among the most prominent African non-religious people from the African continent. When he speaks, many people listen in a serious way. He holds a Ph.D. from the Bayreuth International School of African Studies at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, having earned a graduate degree in Philosophy from the University of Calabar in Nigeria.

Here we talk about Islamic and Christian ironic reinforcement of charges or and teachings of witchcraft in Africa, and the effects of the lives of real human beings throughout Africa.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How are Nigerian flavours of Islam and Christianity poisoning the cultural well of the lives of individuals who may or may not practice witchcraft through demonization, e.g., shunning, ostracization, and the like, and abuse, e.g., burnings and beatings, and so on, as a set of ideas influencing the thinking of Nigerians about alleged witches?

Dr. Leo Igwe: With or without Nigerian adaptations, Christianity and Islam have a place for witchcraft in their teachings and therefore have served the purpose of reinforcing witchcraft beliefs and practices. Western missionaries and their Middle-eastern counterparts introduced these faiths, presenting them as ‘better religions’ that should replace and substitute traditional religious beliefs.

These religious imperialists introduced Christian and Muslim faiths with so much force and violence. They invested these religions with social, political, economic capital that have eventually transformed them into dominant faiths in the region. Thus Africans predominantly practice Christianity and Islam, at least on paper but never abandoned the traditional religious beliefs. A critical look at the manifestations of witchcraft beliefs in contemporary Africa reveals a holy alliance- these religions have intersected and interrelated in stoking occult fears and anxieties. Expediency has compelled Africans to mix and marry various religions- Christianity and traditional religion, Islam and traditional religion, Christianity, Islam and traditional religion as the case may be in making sense of everyday life especially their treatment of alleged witches. Christianity and Islam have been deployed against the practice of witchcraft and yes against witches. Christian pastors, Muslim imams and mallam have become ‘modern day’ witch finders, witch identifiers, witch hunters, witchcraft neutralizers and witchcraft exorcizers.

Even though Christianity in the West distances itself from witch hunting, designating it as a thing of the past, as a dark phenomenon that ended centuries ago, the church in Nigeria has remained a witch-demon-hunting institution. Nigerian Christians based their beliefs and practices (or least claim to do so) on the Bible. And the Christian holy book is replete with provisions that demonize alleged witches, and incite violence against those allegedly possessed by evil spirits. Various scriptural verses endorse and sanctify witch identification and killing. In the case of Islam, while many Muslims may claim not to subscribe to witchcraft beliefs, witchcraft allegation is pervasive in Muslim dominated communities. Mallams have Quran, Islam based remedies to identify witches and neutralize witchcraft. These Christian and Islamic layers have not been helpful in dispelling witchcraft fears and anxieties.

Jacobsen: What is Advocacy for Alleged Witches?

Igwe: Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW) is an initiative to build a critical mass of support for those who are accused of witchcraft and forge an effective alliance against abuses that are linked to witchcraft accusation and witch persecution. For far too long, those who are accused of witchcraft are treated in most horrific ways. Alleged witches are attacked, killed, and brutalized with impunity.

Recently in Nigeria, a parent set his two children ablaze after accusing them of witchcraft. And in Malawi, a mob stoned a 40-year-old woman to death for perpetrating magical harm. These abuses have taken place due to lack of effective mechanisms to support persons who are suspected of witchcraft. These atrocities happen due to a deficit in advocacy for alleged witches in the region. AfAW has been established to fulfill this need, and change this sad and unfortunate situation. The main objective is of AfAW is to realize a critical mass of advocates in every village, community, county and country in Africa. If a significant number of advocates exist across the region, witchcraft allegations will be nipped in the bud. Suspicions of occult harm will not turn into campaign of violence and abuse. AfAW plans to intervene to support and defend accused persons. The support for accused persons is predicated on the notion that alleged witches are innocent and that witchcraft is a form of superstition. Support for the accused is a reactive approach to ensure that survivors restart their lives. Support is deployed following allegations of witchcraft and includes rehabilitation, relocation and reintegration. Incidentally empowering alleged witches is not enough to realize a witch-hunting free Africa because alleged witches are victims, not victimizers. Witchcraft accusers and witch hunters are the victimizers.

In addition, AfAW will work to educate and enlighten witchcraft accusers and believers. This is because people indulge in witchcraft accusations due to fears, ignorance and misunderstanding of nature and how nature works. Witchcraft accusers need support to free themselves from those misconceptions of the causes of misfortune that lead to witch persecution and killing. AfAW is here to champion this program of cultural awakening, renewal and rebirth.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dr. Igwe.

Image Credit: Leo Igwe/Advocacy for Alleged Witches.

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