Bishop who teaches Islam

For the immediate past Kaduna Diocesan Bishop of Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, the Most Rev. Josiah Atkins Idowu-Fearon, the time of glory has come having just been appointed Secretary General of the Anglican Communion Worldwide, with headquarters at Lambeth, United Kingdom.

The position makes him the second in command after the Archbishop of Canterbury. Breaking a record as the first African to hold the position, Idowu-Fearon has had a number of other high profile albeit controversial achievements in his over half a century of dedicated service to the development of the Anglican Church not only in Nigeria but also across the world. He is expected to serve for an initial renewable period of seven years.

Most Rev. Josiah Atkins Idowu-Fearon

When at the height of the Kaduna religious riots of 2000, Idowu-Fearon, against all odds, established a centre for the study of Islam in his Kaduna Diocese, a cross section of his flock virtually demanded for his head, calling him all manner of names including that of a Muslim Bishop, infiltrating the Church of Christ.

That name tag has tended to accompany the Bishop over these years for a man who actually speaks Arabic apart from holding a Master’s Degree in Islamic Theology.

The valedictory lecture and send-forth ceremony for Idowu-Fearon and his wife, Amina, which held Saturday at the Jakaranda Farms, on the outskirts of Kaduna metropolis, attracted a number of dignitaries from within and outside Nigeria, Muslims and Christians alike.

Kaduna state Governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufa’i was there, along with former Governor Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, Taraba state Governor, Dairus Ishaku, a former Military Governor of Edo state, Senator Tunde Ogbeha, and a former Minister of Defence, Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, among several others.

The Cleric-Scholar and Passion for Islam

Born on January 17, 1949 at Gerinye in Kogi state, Idowu-Fearon said he formally embraced the Christian religion in 1964. Originally enrolled in military school to train as a soldier, the passion to be a priest apparently overwhelmed all other aspirations and as Idowu-Fearon explained during his valedictory speech.

“In my fourth year, it had become very clear that the Lord was calling me to be a soldier in His Army, to the extent that in spite of a direct entry to the Nigerian Defence Academy, I was given a sympathetic discharge by the late Gen. Hassan Katsina, in Lagos.” The development, according to him, “turned out to be the channel through which the Lord saved me.”

Several years later and in the course of his pastoral training across many institutions, Idowu-Fearon said he developed a special interest for Islam, more so, at a time in Nigeria when the religious harmony that hitherto existed between Christian and Muslim communities went sour.

At the Immanuel College, Ibadan, Idowu-Fearon said he met a certain Dr. Stadey who introduced him to what he described as the world of Islam, and, as he put it, “my interest was aroused, I pleaded with the Lord for a scholarship to do some further studies in Islam and I felt the need to carefully study how the Koran presents the nature of Jesus Christ.” The quest later led to Idowu-Fearon’s Master’s Degree programme in, Islam and Muslim-Christian Relations, at Birmingham University.

From then on, he delved further into Islam and also studied the Arabic language in the process, at the University of Jordan, Amman, and, eventually turning the Bishop into a visiting Islamic lecturer and Faculty member at both the Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, Canada, and at the Canterbury International Centre, United Kingdom.

Back home in Nigeria and applying his various trainings to his primary assignment as Bishop in Kaduna and Sokoto, Idowu-Fearon ran into muddy waters as a number of his flock apparently could not explain how and why a Bishop can be “so close to Islam and Muslims.” This is aside the fact that the Nigerian Anglican community also has its fair share of divisions pertaining to certain ideologies in the Christian religion and Anglicanism in particular.

Perhaps,   Voltaire’s philosophy may apply to Idowu-Fearon as it is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong. As a Theology student and researcher, Idowu-Fearon is quite familiar with the concepts of     Monophyisitism and Nestorianism, a twin Christology position that insists that Christ has only one nature as opposed to the traditional belief that Christ has two natures, one divine and the other human.

Moreover, as a self-confessed disciple of Richard Hooker who is believed to have laid the theological foundation for understanding of the church for Anglicans, Idowu-Fearon says he shares the concepts of the mystical church which is invisible and the visible church. For him, membership of the visible church is determined, among other things, the profession of the Lord Jesus Christ while only God knows those who belong or may eventually be part of the mystical church.

Whatever the arguments, for Idowu-Fearon, “in order to create and promote a culture of respect for differences within our Communion, I encourage our bishops in this part of the Communion to cultivate the habit of understanding other positions other than their own. Our bishops in Nigeria within their diocese should promote robust debates between the lay and ordained members and such will get the bishop well-informed.”

Blackmail, Mischief, in God’s Name

After his consecration in 1990 and given what he describes as his exposure and experiences which were compounded by his “undue” knowledge of Islam, Idowu-Fearon said his colleagues, fellow bishops, did everything possible to frustrate him in the course of his service. According to him, “my being elected as Bishop of Sokoto was seen by some in the then House of Bishops   as a way of humbling me but God used our time in Sokoto to expose us to the international community.

And, when Kaduna Diocese was going to be vacant, efforts were made to send me to be bishop in Cyprus and the Gulf; this was to get me out of the country. The form was filled and my signature forged without my knowledge. In Cyprus for an interfaith meeting, the Lord revealed it to me through Australian missionaries who volunteered to host me for the conference and the plot was confirmed by the then Secretary General of the Anglican Communion.

After my first five years as the first ecclesiastical Archbishop of Kaduna province, again, the powers that be felt that I was too close to the then Archbishop of Canterbury and the Communion at large, that I was promoting Western relativism and that I was going to sell the province of Nigeria to the West. Two bishops were specially commissioned to sell me as a convert to Islam and that Fearon is a Muslim, drinking tea with the Sultan and that Fearon was promoting homosexuality in Nigeria.”

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