African religious teachings are being put into written form
Stabroek News
January 15, 2002

Dear Editor,

I refer to Dr Shamsud Ali's letter captioned "Allah is infinite" (24.l2.200l) in reply to my letter mentioning the concept of God in the African Tradition.

Dr Ali declares that the Quran and Islam define God in precise terms and he mentions that the failure of the Christian religion to precisely define God has resulted in much confusion in that religion. But if the God of the Quran is infinite as Dr Ali claims, then it could not be defined since to define the infinite is a contradiction in terms. Accordingly, if God in the Quran is defined, then it follows that the Quranic concept of God is finite.

Finite things are limited. But Dr Ali need not despair as all Faiths use the finite to move to the Infinite. And as you move to the Infinite, the realisation will come to you that God is 'Neither This nor that'. And our African religions use this technique of moving from the finite to the infinite by strict discipline.

Dr Ali asks me to mention "my sources of African bibliography on beliefs and God". I do not think that Dr Ali means the bibliography on African beliefs and God as that would run into hundreds of titles. He could get such s bibliography by going on the Internet or by using a catalogue of any of the major libraries. I think what Dr Ali means is if we have a special book in the African religious tradition equivalent to the Quran. The answer is no.

In our African religious tradition, the preservation and handing down of the ethical and metaphysical teaching has been oral, though from the 20th century, some of these teachings are being written down. The scriptures of all religions were in oral form before they were written. The New Testament of the Bible was in oral form before it was written. And in Islam, the revelations to Muhammad had to be in oral form before scribes wrote them down since Muhammad was an illiterate. And in Islam, since the vast majority of Muslims in the world are illiterate, the Quran is taught and preserved by oral means. Thus, the "Hafiz" (one who knows the Quran by heart) is a prized and respected person in all Muslim lands.

"Hafizes" are a comparative rarity in the Muslim world but among Africans many more people know our traditional teachings by heart as they do not depend upon the written word.

The African religious teachings are now being put into written form and Dr Ali may use his Internet to access them. These teachings are in many books and they do not form an inflexible corpus of dogma as in the Quran. The African religious texts resemble those of the non dogmatic scriptures such as the Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu and Confucianist. All these faiths, like our ancient African religions, do not depend upon one single text.

There are several advantages in having many texts and not a single one such as the Quran. The non dogmatic religious texts are able to respond to the concept of Change; dogmatic texts do not since they are inflexible, thus in the Quran there are embarrassingly non factual and unscientific statements and assumptions such as the world being flat and travelling over the world each day ending up in a muddy pool at night.

But the most important value of the non dogmatic religious texts is that there is no chance of Book worship (Bibliolatry) occurring. In Islam, an excessive reverence and almost worship is paid to the inanimate book, the Quran and in many mosques, the Quran is kept there as a very revered icon. In Islam, the Quran has become an idol receiving greater reverence than the Cross, the Crucifix or the Madonna among Christians or any of our many African icons. Bibliolatry (Book worship) would never occur in African religions; we use our icons and idols as helps or stepping stones in our quest and movement towards the Divine and Infinite and we have no excessive reverence or worship of them.

Yours faithfully,

Accabre Nkofi