Ali and Frank have a friendship that has lasted several decades. They have many things in common, a fact which serves to nourish their friendship even more. There are also many things which they don’t necessarily have in common. One is that Ali is Asante whereas Frank is Ewe. Another is that Ali is a Muslim and Frank is a Christian. The first has no consequence because much of it is socially constructed. In other words, all the cultural differences between their ethnic groups are man-made and there can be no consequence thereto. The second one however has a consequence; in Ali’s mind, being a Muslim will produce a positive consequence namely a divine reward in the form of heaven whilst not being a Muslim will have a negative consequence. Same is true for Frank.
So there you have a Christian who has a Muslim friend. They are so good to each other that he will do whatever it takes to protect the friend from harm. The feeling is mutual and his Muslim friend will do just the same. But both of them believe in Hell fire to be the greatest of all harm, yet Frank must believe that Ali will go to Hell because he (Ali) doesn't believe in Jesus Christ as his Lord and personal Saviour. In the same vein, Ali must believe that Frank will go to Hell because he (Frank) doesn't believe in Prophet Muhammad as the last and noblest prophet. It is their humanity that makes them believe in a spiritual being (God) yet their spirituality insists a betrayal of their humanity. Such is the great dilemma which is better not thought of, let alone spoken about but holds true nonetheless.
Could the solution lie in Ali changing his faith to become Christian? Perhaps! For certainly, he will not have to believe that Frank will be burnt by the fire. He will now believe that both of them are saved from the punishment of the fire. But that is only in respect of Frank. What about Salim, the other friend who is not as close to Ali as Frank but who grew up together with in the same neighbourhood and who he certainly will not want to be in harm’s way? Salim is a Muslim and by virtue of Ali’s new faith must be believed to be a companion of the ultimate fire. For a person who has several Christian friends and several Muslim friends, it is impossible to escape this dilemma.
Millions of people across the world have this difficulty; and it exists even if they have never thought about it. Through their life and work, they come into contact and form lasting friendships with people of different faiths and if they happen to be religious people, then their dilemma is the same as Ali’s. Sometimes it is so unpleasant that one will rather push it to the side of the brain where he will never remember it. But it remains a fact of his life regardless.
Clearly, it is an unending affliction. For as long as people believe in institutionalized religion, no matter what it is, which makes them believe in God, heaven and hell, their dilemma will forever remain. How to resolve it is the question with which all humanity must grapple.
There are those who do not believe in institutionalized religion; they may believe in God but they don’t believe in any religious creed. These people are somewhat free from such an affliction because for them, God does not reward based on belief in Jesus or Muhammad or any intermediaries for that matter. There are yet those who do not even believe that there is God. For them, everything religion is socially constructed and is of no more consequence than ethnicity. They too have no dilemma. But it is inevitable that their Christian or Muslim friends and family – if they have any – will think of them in the same light that Ali and Frank of each other regarding the hereafter. Indeed in most cases, the Christians and Muslims categorise themselves into “Believers” in opposition to the “Disbelievers” and when this happens, there is the conception among the “Believers” of a higher grade punishment reserved for the “Disbelievers”. The believers are seen as the saints while the disbelievers are seen as the devil. In other words, a believer friend of a disbeliever will certainly believe that the latter will go to hell even if the disbeliever does not think same of him.
In all this, the common humanity between humans is often relegated to the background because it is supposed to be of this world and in the hierarchy of things that follow man to the other world, it is not very high up. For if not so, then why must Christians believe that someone who has done so much good to fellow human beings is headed for hell fire simply because he is not a born again Christian? And why must Muslims believe that regardless of what good you do on this earth, you cannot be rewarded Heaven if you don’t believe in Prophet Muhammad? And why would God create humans but yet make humanity count so less?
Perhaps there is the need for a rethink of what humanity really means and what place spirituality should have in humanity or what place humanity should have in spirituality; for the dilemma of the saint seems perpetual.