After Nigeria Attacks, Religious Groups Band Together

In northern Nigeria, a radical Islamist group known as Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a series of deadly bombing attacks last week that left more than 200 people dead. The campaign of violence targeted churches as well as government institutions in the city of Kano and has left the minority Christian community there on edge. But as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports, Muslims and Christians are responding to the troubles by bonding and protecting each other.

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In northern Nigeria, a radical Islamist group known as Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a series of deadly bombing attacks last week that left more than 200 people dead. The campaign of violence targeted churches as well as government institutions in the city of Kano and has left the minority Christian community there on edge. But as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports now, Muslims and Christians are responding to the troubles by bonding and protecting each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Muslims gather for Friday prayers at the Al-Furqan Mosque here in Kano, which many describe as a progressive house of prayer.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: In his settlement, the imam, Bashir Umar, makes specific mention of last week's bloody attacks in Kano, which Boko Haram Islamists say they're responsible for. Both Muslims and Christians lost their lives. The imam tells the Friday worshippers these tragedies happen when people deviate from the path of God. Many Kano Muslims are quick to dissociate themselves from the violent actions of the insurgents. Book Haram is warning Christians to leave the north. And before the Kano bombings, threatening text messages were doing the rounds.

SALIHU TANKO: We said what are we going to do, you know, take that bold decision and visit this church, which is unprecedented in the history of Kano's state?

QUIST-ARCTON: Some Muslims, like Salihu Tanko, are so upset by anti-Christian threats and hate texts, that they've created a group called Concerned Citizens of Kano. The week before the multiple bombings on January 20th, they took the initiative to reach out to Christian leaders to tell them we're standing by you.

TANKO: And this particular effort was the one that really went straight to their hearts, the whole of the Christian community in Kano state. There was a little panic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

QUIST-ARCTON: Tanko says Muslims visited churches all over the city, making speeches of friendship, solidarity and confidence building.

TANKO: We got a very warm welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TANKO: They stood up, they were clapping, they were rejoicing. And you could see the happiness, the relief, in all their faces.

QUIST-ARCTON: In turn, Christians were also invited to visit the mosques. Apostle Isaac Bello, the general secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Kano, says in a period of strife and suspicion, the exchange is a welcome development.

ISAAC BELLO: In the past, nobody had come out to say anything. Now, we had groups of people coming out to say, look, this is not right. This is not part of the Islamic faith. This is not who they are.

QUIST-ARCTON: Even before last week's attacks in Kano, Christians shielded Muslims as they prayed, and Muslims protected Christians in churches while they worshipped, not only here in Kano, but in the capital, Abuja, and in other towns and cities in northern Nigeria.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

QUIST-ARCTON: At Sunday Mass in Our Lady of Fatima, Roman Catholic cathedral of Kano this morning, the congregation sung lustily but were still on edge. There are security checks and metal detectors and barriers to stop cars driving right up to the church gate. Father Emmanuel Mbah tells his flock to take heart in the aftermath of the fatal bomb blast and to come out of their cages of fear.

FATHER EMMANUEL MBAH: Stop trying to wait until it is safe for you to live. Get a life and start living. Touch somebody and say: Come out of your cave.

QUIST-ARCTON: For Salihu Tanko - his eyes moist with emotion - entering a church for the first time has been a revelation.

TANKO: It was overwhelming, you know, because no matter how you try to be liberal, you know, open-minded, in a society like ours, it's really difficult.

QUIST-ARCTON: Tanko says this is just a first step, but he's confident they're succeeding. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Kano.

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