A simple guide to navigating religious tolerance in Nigeria 

A simple guide to navigating religious tolerance in Nigeria 

“Tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you.” – Timothy Keller

Everyone has what works for them. For some, it’s Christianity; for others, it’s Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, traditional spirituality, or even astrology. The important thing is that each person earnestly adheres to the belief system that resonates with them the most.

As humans, our days and lives inevitably intersect, and our personal belief systems may sometimes clash. This could lead to disagreements over principles and ideologies. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.

There is no denial of Nigeria’s troubled history of religious conflicts, with numerous incidents of violence and intolerance. The brutal lynching of Deborah Yakubu in Sokoto in May 2022, the June 2022 massacre of over 50 worshippers at St. Francis Xavier Church in Owo, and the recurring clashes between Muslims and Christians in Jos since 2010 are just a few examples of the depth of religious hatred and intolerance that pervades the nation.

Over time, we have come to realise that these religious crises would only lead to blood being shed and women and children being displaced would be at risk of danger. This makes us ask a pertinent question: how do we put an end to religious intolerance?

By understanding our differences

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To bridge the gap between our diverse perspectives, we need to learn to accept and respect each other’s differences. Holding onto our beliefs is commendable, but we must also recognise that we are all human beings first and foremost, regardless of our religious affiliations. When interacting with people from different faiths, we should prioritize being good humans over being good followers of our specific religion.

For context, we spoke with several women about how they balance their religious beliefs with tolerance and how others perceive their faith.


“Growing up with an irreligious father and a devout Catholic mother has taught me the value of tolerance. In my family, we have relatives with diverse religious beliefs, and there is no sense of exclusion. My mother’s background, born to a traditionalist father and a Catholic mother, instilled in me the importance of embracing diversity. For me, it’s not about mere acceptance but about coexisting peacefully with everyone’s choices without causing any disruption. My guiding principle is simple: live and let live, ensuring that our actions and beliefs do not infringe on others.”


“I’m currently living with Muslim friends who have been kind and welcoming. I make an effort to respect their practices, and they respect mine. I believe that we can coexist peacefully as long as we respect each other’s differences. I’ve made an effort to have diverse friends from various continents, exposing me to different religious beliefs. My friends include agnostics, atheists, and Buddhists, and we manage to get along by respecting each other’s freedom of thought and religion.

I’ve come to realize that everyone’s beliefs are important to them, regardless of their faith. We should strive to understand and respect each other’s perspectives, rather than trying to impose our own beliefs on others. Ultimately, we should hope that the atheists are right, as otherwise, we risk ending up in a religious hell.”


“I’m an African traditionalist, a marine spirit, and an ogbanje. I’ve come to accept that my practices will never be widely accepted in society. People are often quick to dismiss anything that challenges their self-esteem and self-identity, and this is why religion is such a sensitive topic, especially in Nigeria.”

For many, their religious beliefs or spiritual practices are a crucial part of their identity, making it easy to dismiss others’ beliefs that contradict their own. When people see my representation, which includes cowries, facial marks, beads, and native chalk, they often assume I’m possessed and into witchcraft, which is actually the opposite. People are intolerant of African spirituality because of its complexities and the unknown depths it encompasses.”

11 ways to navigate religious tolerance

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Being religious implies remaining unwavering in your decision to conform to your religious principles and teachings. However, being tolerant of other people’s religions and eccentricities is vital to ensuring you live harmoniously with the people around you and the people you encounter on your journey through life. Here are a few things you can do to ensure that you become tolerant in your dealings with individuals of different faiths.

1. Educate yourself

Learn about different religions and belief systems. Understanding the history, values, and practices of various faiths can reduce ignorance and foster respect.

2. Engage in Dialogue

Have open and respectful conversations with people of different religious backgrounds. Ask questions and listen actively to their experiences and perspectives.

3. Attend Interfaith Events

Participate in interfaith dialogues, community events, and religious services. Experiencing different religious practices firsthand can demystify them and build connections.

4. Reflect on Shared Values

Many religions promote common values such as compassion, kindness, and justice. Recognizing these shared principles can build a sense of unity.

5. Challenge Stereotypes and Prejudices

Be mindful of and actively challenge your own biases. Avoid making assumptions based on stereotypes and encourage others to do the same.

6. Promote Inclusive Environments

Support policies and practices in your community, workplace, and schools that promote religious inclusion and respect.

7. Practice Empathy and Compassion

Put yourself in others’ shoes and consider how you would feel if your beliefs were misunderstood or disrespected. Compassion can bridge gaps in understanding.

8. Respect Religious Freedom

Acknowledge and support the right of individuals to practice their religion freely. Respecting religious freedom is a cornerstone of a tolerant society.

9. Read Diverse Literature

Explore books, articles, and other media that present diverse religious perspectives. Fiction and non-fiction works can offer deep insights into different religious experiences.

10. Encourage Critical Thinking

Foster an environment that values critical thinking. Encourage questioning and exploration rather than accepting information at face value.

11. Lead by example

Demonstrate tolerance and respect in your interactions. Be a role model for others in how you treat people of different faiths.

Why does religious tolerance matter?

Individuals must embrace and value diverse religious beliefs to foster a more tolerant and harmonious society. Religion should unite us, not divide us with hate and enmity. Embracing religious tolerance is crucial to coexist peacefully.

Religion’s true purpose is to provide faith, instil hope, and open our eyes to humanity’s endless possibilities. We must commit to learning, living, and teaching religious tolerance, ensuring it becomes a daily habit rather than a strenuous effort for future generations. Let us build a world where faith leads to understanding and unity, not division and conflict.


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