Chrislam encountering inter-faith taboos in Nigeria

Despite the attempt of a syncretistic movement known as Chrislam to bridge the differences between Islam and Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa, the public reception to such groups has been characterized more by sharp debate and hostility than interest and acceptance, according to a study by Corey L. Williams in the journal Studies in World Christianity (25:1). Chrislam has been especially active in the high conflict areas of Nigeria where it seeks to act as a counterpoint to the religious violence carried out by such extremist groups as Boko Haram. There have been several groups founded on these syncretistic beliefs and practices since the 1970s, adding up to a movement of around 15,000 adherents throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Williams focuses on the most recent group in this movement, the Ogbomoso Society of Chrislam (OSC), which, founded on a religious vision in 2005, teaches that Christianity, Islam, and African indigenous religions come from the same source and should be reunited as a single religious movement. The group, with about 1,200 people in its directory, has knitted together threads from the three religions into a distinctive mosaic that includes such practices as worshipping on Saturdays (as a compromise between Sunday Christian and Friday Muslim observances meant to allow members to keep their attachments to their former religious communities), sermons based on the Koran, Bible, and Yoruba proverbial literature, and rituals that draw on baptism and cleansing ceremonies.

Despite members’ conviction that they have received a divine call to counteract divisive religious politics and violence, the OSC “has received substantial criticism and what they term ‘religious persecution’ at the hands of the local…population.” The prospect of ostracism if they are seen to be involved in the OSC has led some members to leave the group. For their part, the OSC has been strident in their criticisms of religion as it is practiced by Nigerians, which has also fanned the flames of hostility. Williams concludes that the tolerant attitudes of the Yoruba people are being tested by Chrislam, since the movement threatens the “relatively stable boundaries between and interaction among different religious traditions in south-west Nigeria.” It seems the Yoruba can tolerate the syncretism of African indigenous religions with either Christianity or Islam, but that the attempt to mix Christianity and Islam is a step too far.

(Studies in World Christianity,