Religious leaders in the West African country of Côte d'Ivoire are calling for a unified response to violence carried out by Islamic extremists. At a March 18 summit and press conference, held at the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s regional headquarters in the capital city of Abidjan, religious leaders from many different faith communities urged the people of Cote d’Ivoire to reject intolerance and violence in the name of religion.
The peace summit was prompted by a jihadist attack that took place just five days earlier in the nearby seaside resort of Grand-Bassam. A group known Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for the attack in which three gunmen stormed the Étoile du Sud Hotel, killing 19 people and wounding 23 more. Grand-Bassam is the farthest AQIM has gone outside its traditional North African bases of the Sahel and Sahara regions.
The March 18 peace event was coordinated by the National Forum of the Religious Confessions of Côte d’Ivoire, and included representatives from many different Protestant groups, along with Roman Catholics, Muslims and Buddhists.
Pastor Elie Weick-Dido, president of the Adventist Church in West-Central Africa, welcomed the religious leaders to the meeting, and affirmed the church’s commitment to building a culture of peace and tolerance.
Imam Mahamadou Dosso, vice president of the National Islamic Council and spokesperson for the National Forum of Religious Confessions, read out a prepared statement from the group. In it, the religious leaders of Côte d'Ivoire condemned the terrorist act at Grand-Bassam and expressed their deep compassion for the victims and their families. The statement urged all citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to embrace peaceful co-existence, and to reject any form of violence in the name of religion.
“No religion should lead somebody to kill his or her fellow beings,” the statement read. “May God help us to overcome this evil.”
The mass shooting at Grand-Bassam by Islamic extremists has shaken this West African country, which in recent years has taken strides toward building a stronger, more stable society following years of unrest. The past two decades has seen two major armed conflicts between the government-held, predominantly Christian south and the northern regions under the control of Muslim rebels.
Since the end of violence in 2011, however, Côte d'Ivoire has focused on promoting peace between people of different faiths, and religious leaders have played a large part in these post-conflict reconciliation efforts.
At the March 18 summit, Pastor Irineo Koch, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty director for the Adventist Church in West-Central Africa, invited the representatives of the National Forum of Religious Confessions to attend a church-supported religious freedom event to be held next year, August 22-24, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The 8th World Congress for Religious Freedom, an event organized by the International Religious Liberty Association, will explore “religious freedom and the hope for peaceful co-existence.”