President Buhari’s decision to join the Islamic coalition may be courting religious crisis. Here’s why

President Muhammadu Buhari has made yet another controversial move. In an interview with Aljazeera’s Maritine Dennis on March 5, 2016, the president of Nigeria inferred that he was reneging on his earlier decision not be a part of the Islamic coalition, formed by the king of Saudi Arabia. When asked about Nigerian’s position in the coalition, Buhari said “We are part of it because we have got terrorists in Nigeria that everybody knows, which claims that they are Islamic.”

This statement was obviously in reference to Boko Haram, the terrorist group which has been a thorn in the nation’s side since 2009. As if it wasn’t bad enough that Nigerians had the (dis)pleasure of being addressed by their President from the international media, Buhari’s decision to align the nation with the Islamic coalition may contribute to a descent into religious crises.

The Islamic coalition was formed by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in order to fight against terrorism in predominantly Islamic countries in the world. It was launched last year with a list of potential members, including Nigeria and 33 other Middle Eastern and African countries. Following this development, experts warned the President to be wary of joining the association, which may be more harmful than beneficial to the country.

One of the direct risks associated with collaborating with the Islamic coalition is the difference in religion. To tag Nigeria as part of an association of Islamic countries is to court religious crisis. Being a nation with various religious groups, there might be problems, not only between the two major religious groups (Islam and Christianity), but also between the sects in Islam. One of the groups that have tried to deter Buhari from joining the coalition is the National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF).

While the NCEF says that it is “imperative that Nigeria maintains its neutral, non-aligned status on internationally contentious issues, whether it is politics, ideologies, or religion,” the Christian Association of Nigeria believes that Christians must make a public statement showing their “discontent on this development which portends great danger to national unity and integration.”

Apart from fuelling an inter-religious crisis, intra-religious crisis may also be inevitable. Notably absent from the Islamic coalition list of countries are Iran, Iraq and Syria whose citizens are predominantly Shiite Muslims. Therefore, there’s a clear signal that the coalition consists of only Sunni Muslims and this may be another threat to Nigeria. Nigeria has both Sunni and Shiite Muslims, therefore, it is risky for the country to side with Saudi Arabia as a Sunni Islamic nation.

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