CAIRO - A global Muslim body has condemned sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, calling for concerted efforts to abort strife in Africa's most populous nation.
The International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS) strongly condemns gruesome massacres committed against Muslims and Christians in Nigeria and worship places, the IUMS said in a statement obtained by OnIslam.net on Thursday, January 12.
Fears of sectarian war have gripped Nigeria in recent weeks following attacks by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram.
At least 40 people were killed in attacks by the radical groups on churches in northern Nigeria on Christmas Day.
In response, Christian leaders have vowed to take measures to defend their community, sparking fears of revenge against Muslim communities.
We are following with deep concern the tragic incidents in Nigeria and the massacres committed against Christians, which the IUMS had strongly denounced, as well as the massacres committed by Christians against Muslimsâ¦which sent the country into abyss and bloody conflicts, the IUMS said.
In a video on Wednesday, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said anti-Christians attacks were in revenge for assaults on Muslims.
"Christians, everyone knows what they have done to us and Muslims, Shekau says in Hausa, sat in front of two Kalashnikov rifles and wearing a camouflage bullet proof jacket, Reuters reported.
We were attacked and we decided to defend ourselves and, because we were on the right path, Allah has made us stronger.
The Boko Haram leader also said that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan had no power to stop the group's attacks.
"Jonathan, (you) know full well that this thing is beyond your powers," he added, referring to the president.
Shekau is understood to have taken over control of Boko Haram after the group's founder Mohammed Yusuf was killed in police custody in 2009 following an uprising in which 700 people were killed.
"Everyone knows how our leader was murdered and everyone knows the way the Muslims were killed," Shekau says, remaining stony faced and calm throughout.
"Catastrophe is caused by unbelief, unrest is unbelief, injustice is unbelief, democracy is unbelief and the constitution is unbelief.
"Anyone who attacks us, we will attack him back even if he is a Muslim. We shall kill anyone who works against Islam, even if he is a Muslim," Shekau said in the online tape.
The IUMS called for peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria.
We call for co-existence and tolerance in the country, said the Dublin-based body, chaired by prominent scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi.
The IUMS also called for concerted efforts to end sectarian strife in heavyweight African nation.
We call on the Nigerian government to provide security for all to help prevent any strife and give no room for foreign interference, the Muslim body said.
We also appeal to the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation to do utmost efforts to help Nigeria out of this crisis and dispatch a fact-finding mission to help defuse the strife.
On Wednesday, the Christian Association of Nigeria called for talks with Muslim leaders to help defuse the sectarian tension in the country.
"We need Muslim leaders to be more proactive, CAN head Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor told the BBC News Online.
Number two, the government must find ways to empower the security agencies.
The third point is the fact that one way or another, there must be room for some dialogue. But that dialogue must begin between myself, probably, and the leader of the Muslims."
Nigeria, one of the world's most religiously committed nations, is divided between a Muslim north and a Christian south.
Muslims and Christians, who constitute 55 and 40 percent of Nigeria's 140 million population respectively, have lived in peace for the most part.But ethnic and religious tensions have bubbled for years, fuelled by decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands with migrants and settlers from the Hausa-speaking Muslim north.