- With hundreds of millions of Christians and Muslims scattered across Africa, this period certainly is a solemn one for the continent.
- The sacred month of Ramadan is running concurrently with the Holy season for Christians.
- Muslim faithful draw close to The Almighty through fasting, prayers, almsgiving, and abstinence; Christians, similarly, honor the Supreme Being through prayers, Palm Sunday, the Holy Week, and Easter.
Across major cities of Africa, from the tail of this year’s first quarter to the beginning, through to the middle, of the second quarter, devout Muslims and Christians have been neck-deep into religious activities believed to help keep worshipers pious and bring them a tad closer to their Maker.
The traditionalists, seemingly out of season, are not necessarily left out as there have been reports of religious precessions from various traditional religious groups in different parts of Africa recently. But, in Africa, prominent this season are the Islamic and Christian respective observances – Ramadan for the Muslims, Palm Sunday and the Holy Week for the Christians.
In the southern Nigerian City of Lagos, one of the most populated African cities with about 20,384,299 people living in it, the 13,249,749 Muslims in the city are purportedly observing the Islamic rite of Ramadan while over five million Christians are supposedly involved in activities building up to the Easter Celebration.
Since Nigeria is shared nearly equally between Christians, largely in the southern part, and Muslims chiefly in the north, many Nigerians are either fasting or prepping for Easter. Like Lagos, other big cities in Nigeria, and even across Africa, are in similar situation with Christian and Muslim faithful seeking religious refuge through series of outlined activities. Thousands were involved in Palm Sunday processions in different blocs across the city on Sunday to herald the Holy Week for Christians, while Muslims held fast to the month-long daily Ramadan fast.
In Kampala, the largest Ugandan City, top clerics, religious leaders of different rights, and Preacher after Preacher dwelled on different messages drawn from the significance of Palm Sunday. At the Catholic church in Rubaga, Kampala, the occasion was an opportunity to reprimand rich politicians who used their influence exploitatively rather than for problem solving. Rev Father Pius Male, the Chief celebrant, said: “Judas got money and betrayed Jesus. How do we get our money? Do we get it through the right ways? You have a big house with many rooms, but you go to the poor to take their iron sheets.” The Priest asked that Christians should follow Jesus’ paths, and serving the poor rather than stealing from them is a major step on that Holy path. He highlighted Christ’s meekness displayed when he travelled on a donkey, instead of a healthy horse, during his triumphant entry into Jerusalem.
Also, Rev Canon Patrick Mutalwa, while preaching to Christians at St James Church in Jinja, admonished Christians to think deeply on their shortcomings during this season. He said Christians in the African country must let go of the bitter rifts against one another and seek repentance during the Holy Week. In Soroti City, Rev Emanuel Elianu, during a sermon at St Peter’s Cathedral, admonished the congregation to practice the spirit of love without attaching strings to it. At Uganda Martyrs Cathedral Nyangole in Tororo District, Rev William Ojulo, the parish priest, counseled Christians on friendship: “Some of them may end up betraying you as Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus,” he said.
Sighting a crescent moon kicked off the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims and sent many of the world’s nearly 1.9 billion Muslims into a monthlong dawn to dusk fast. Ramadan, the ninth and most sacred month on the Islamic calendar, is when Muslims accept as true that the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Holy Prophet Muhammad.
The fast is seen as a very comforting time for Muslims rather than a period of deprivation or turure; it is a period of charity, self-reflection, and gratitude. During this period, Muslims believe in drawing near to God not by abstinence from food and drink from dawn to dusk alone, but by also staying away from things like gossip, sexual activities, swearing, arguing, lying and similar vices. 29-year-old Amr Murad, who has been fasting since he was nine, says: “Ramadan and fasting’s main objective are to achieve taqwa, which is getting closer to God spiritually, secondarily, it’s to practice patience, self-control and discipline. Then, comes to feel for the less fortunate’’.
Back in Lagos, Tolu Piero, an art Curator who was part of the procession around the city said, “Palm Sunday means love. Palm Sunday for me also means willingness to be used.” This was his own version of the central message from Pope Francis who led Mass in St Peter’s Square on Sunday, kicking off the year’s Easter services, just a day after leaving hospital. “The Pope is like a father, maybe grandfather to all Catholics. And so, if you have a father who has been in hospital for ill health, and then he is discharged to go home, naturally it will bring joy that he’s getting better. That is why he is able to leave the hospital and go home. So naturally this news brings about joy. It also helps us to understand that we are humans after all.” Rwandan Reverend Father Raymond Emedo, said.
Palm Sunday honors the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem only a few days before Jesus would be betrayed by Judas. Jesus’ death and resurrection followed. According to Gospels of Christians, people flanked the streets saluting him, waving palm branches and praising him. Christians the world over mark the day in different ways. Many Christians celebrate this holy occasion simply by attending a church service. Similarly, church worshipers usually carry with them crosses made out of palm fronds which they eventually affix somewhere in their homes. During Palm Sundays, it is also common for churches, especially in Catholicism, to burn the palm leaves and keep the ashes for Ash Wednesday.
Palm Sunday is always celebrated on the Sunday before Easter but, just like Ramadan, the date each year is different. This year’s Palm Sunday was observed on the 2nd of April 2023., while Ramadan started, in most African cities, on the 23rd of March 2023.