Chrislam

Marloes Janson 

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CHRISLAM TIMELINE

1939 (September 1):  Tela Tella was born in Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun State in southwest Nigeria.

1962 (August 15):  Samsindeen Saka was born in Ijebu-Ode, a town in Ogun State in southwest Nigeria.

1971:  Tela Tella received a “divine call” from God.

1976 (April 18):  Tela Tella answered the “divine call” from God to establish His will on earth by founding Ifeoluwa, Yoruba for “the will of God,” in Agege: a densely-populated suburb in Nigeria’s former capital Lagos.

1985:  Upon meditation and divine inspiration, Tella coined the term “Chrislam” for his mission.

1989:  Samsindeen Saka received a “divine call” from God during his pilgrimage to Mecca.

1990 (February 28):  Samsindeen Saka answered the “divine call” from God by establishing his Chrislam movement, Oketude, in Ogudu: a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Lagos.

FOUNDER/GROUP HISTORY

During a sermon, Tela Tella, the founder of Nigeria’s Chrislam movement, Ifeoluwa, proclaimed that “Moses is Jesus and Jesus is Muhammad. Peace be upon all of them; we love them all.” One of his followers, who called himself a “Chrislamist,” claimed that “You can’t be a Christian without being a Muslim, and you can’t be a Muslim without being a Christian.” These statements reflect well the basis of Chrislam, a series of religious movements that emerged in Nigeria’s former capital Lagos in the late 1970s, a time of religious revival that involved the mixing of Christian and Muslim beliefs and practices.

The oldest Chrislam movement was founded in Lagos in 1976 by a Yoruba (the second largest ethnic group in Nigeria) named Tela Tella. To prevent accusations of favouring Christians above Muslims or vice versa, Tella has refused to talk about his religious background. The name Ifeoluwa, Yoruba for “The Will of God” or “The Love of God,” was revealed to him by divine revelation. After receiving the revelation, he meditated for twenty-one days at the spot where he later built the mission. In addition to Ifeoluwa, Tella refers to his mission as “Chrislam,” a term that he coined to create awareness of unity among Christians and Muslims. Similar to Islam, Ifeoluwa is based on five pillars, with love being the first (The others are: mercy, joy, good deeds, and truth). Tella sees himself as God’s love incarnated in a human being, who has been ordained to “enlighten the world”:

I’m the will of God personified. The word of God is Jesus. The motor of my mission is love, peace, and abide. My followers abide by the laws, rules, and regulations of Ifeoluwa. I’m an instrument in the hands of God.

According to Tella, God communicates with him via divine revelations, which he conveys through glossolalia. Until the world is ready to receive these revelations, Tella lives a secluded life with his two wives (the Lady Apostles) and their children (the Prayer Warriors) on the Mountain of Power, which is a whitewashed compound in Agege, a densely-populated suburb in Lagos. “Mountain” has a strong reference to Mount Sinai in Egypt, where, according to Christian and Jewish traditions, Moses received the Ten Commandments. On the compound’s fenced wall, Ifeoluwa’s symbols are painted; a slate (shaped like that used in Qur’anic schools on which students learn to write Arabic) with a Christian cross in the middle, and a heart signifying love. [Image at right]

Like Tella, Samsindeen Saka established his Chrislam movement after receiving a divine revelation. Saka, who was born in a Muslim family, has made the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj) four times. During his second hajj in 1989, he received what he called a “divine call.”

When I was on pilgrimage to Mecca and rested near the Ka‘aba [the most sacred side in Islam], God showed me in a dream photographs of religious intolerance in Nigeria. He assigned me to bridge the misunderstanding between Christians and Muslims … This is how it started.

His divine call urged Saka to give up his booming business in herbs, divorce his five wives, and to establish his Chrislam mission. Following in the footsteps of his father, who was a renowned herbalist, Saka had gained a name for himself as an herbalist in the 1970s. With the money he earned as an herbalist, he bought a plot of land in Ogudu (Lagos), where he opened his worship centre in 1990. From the outside, the worship centre looks like a church, but, with its pillars, the inside resembles a mosque. As in a mosque, visitors perform ablution (wudu) and remove their shoes before entering, and there are separate seating areas for women and men. [Image at right] The worship centre can host around 1,500 worshippers, although Saka believes he has 10,000 followers.

When he was still an herbalist, Saka had a show on Lagos Television in the mid-1980s. Many of his Christian and Muslim clientele who knew him from television joined his Chrislam mission. Initially, Saka had wanted to register his mission under the name of “Chrislamherb,” a portmanteau word expressing a mixture of Christianity, Islam, and traditional religion that believes in the power of herbs for healing purposes. However, the government did not approve of this name, which Saka, after a night vigil during which he went into trance for seven days, changed into Oke Tude, which in Yoruba means “Mountain of Loosing Bondage,” a name that is redolent of Pentecostal discourse. Similar to Pentecostal churches, the basic idea behind Oke Tude is that worshippers’ progress in life is blocked by evil powers that hold them trapped in bondage with Satan. By fasting and participating in a ritual called Tude or “running deliverance,” it is believed that they can be delivered from these demonic forces. Deliverance, which is accompanied by possession by the Holy Spirit, is expressed through good health and wealth.

Both Tella and Saka preach the unification of Muslims and Christians, with love, unity, and peace being their missions’ focal point. However, Ifeoluwa and Oke Tude are not represented by the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), which was established in 2000 with the aim of promoting greater understanding among Nigerian Christians and Muslims. According to NIREC’s leadership, Chrislam is unrelated to NIREC’s aim of laying the foundations for religious harmony.

Rather than situating Chrislam against the backdrop of religious violence plaguing Nigeria, Ifeoluwa and Oke Tude need to be interpreted in the context of the unstable flux of life in Lagos. Anthropologists Brian Larkin and Birgit Meyer explain the dynamism of Pentecostal Christian and reformist Muslim movements in West Africa by their ability to provide “the networks and infrastructures that allow individuals to negotiate the material anxieties of living in uncertain economic times” (2006:307). In a similar vein, Chrislam’s appeal can be explained by its ability to negotiate the culture of insecurity that marks everyday living in Lagos, a megacity with an estimated population of over 20,000,000 where one out of two lives beneath the poverty line (Human Development Report 2006). Lagos’s huge population and process of rapid urbanization contribute to a sense of life that is turbulent and hectic, where survival depends on improvisation and ingenuity. In such a context of uncertainty and insecurity, Chrislam is not considered a contradiction in terms but an example of the resourcefulness of Lagosians who, by adopting Christian and Muslim beliefs and practices, strategically mobilize potency from both religious traditions in their search for health and wealth.

In addition to an urban phenomenon, Chrislam can be considered a typical Yoruba movement: it is the shared ethnicity that makes the mixing between Christianity and Islam possible, as well as acceptable. Political scientist David Laitin elucidates the particular situation in southwestern Nigeria, a region called Yorubaland, as follows: “Muslim and Christian Yorubas see themselves culturally as Yorubas rather than as Muslims or Christians” (1986:97). That the Yoruba attach more value to common ethnicity than to religious affiliation explains the “nonpoliticization of religious differentiation” (1986:97).

Ifeoluwa and Oke Tude are certainly not the only movements in Yorubaland that mix Christianity and Islam. But what is distinctly new about Ifelowa and Oke Tude is their deliberate appropriation of Christian and Muslim beliefs and practices, as reflected in the name they appropriated for their self-designation: Chrislam. Despite their inclusive conception of religion, there is surprisingly little interaction between Ifeoluwa and Oke Tude. Somewhat paradoxically, inclusion and exclusion work here side by side.

DOCTRINES/BELIEFS

The Chrislam movement is premised on the belief that “Christianity and Islam are one.” For example, a dedicated Ifeoluwa member responded to the question as to whether he worshipped Jesus as the son of God (as in Christianity) or as a prophet (as in Islam) that “he is both.” Highlighting their similarity, Tella preached: “Jesus Christ is on my right-hand side, the Prophet Muhammad is on my left-hand side; they are two of my best friends.” Although Tella and Saka put Christianity and Islam on the same footing as prophetic traditions, the most fundamental doctrine in Islam is tawhid, which holds that God is One. The Islamic principle that God is Unitarian differs from the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. However, the adherents of Ifeoluwa and Oke Tude do not necessarily consider this a clash in these doctrines because they are not preoccupied with an imperative notion of singular truth in religion. As a result, they do not feel the need to give up the faith in which they were born upon joining Chrislam. Because Christianity and Islam are seen as complementary and mutually reinforcing rather than as contradictory, Ifeoluwa and Oke Tude adherents often remain loyal to the religious tradition in which they were born (in most cases Islam), while making use of and interacting with another religious tradition (in most cases Christianity). This openness to religious pluralism is not only a factor in drawing people to Chrislam; it also explains why membership of Chrislam is not accompanied by a formal conversion ritual such as a baptism or sacramental communion.

Challenging the conventional equation of religion with “belief,” Ifeoluwa and Oke Tude members tend to privilege the performative power of religious practice that helps them confront the contingencies of daily life in Lagos. Because of its emphasis on orthopraxy (correct religious practice), Chrislam offers more room for religious mixing than the orthodoxies of Christianity and Islam allow. Opposing the conventional understanding of religion as normative doctrine, Tella remarked: “I don’t like dogmatic teachings.” Saka went as far as defining Oke Tude in terms of a “practical religion,” offering members the tools to “instant deliverance”:

People come here to fight their enemy. Their enemy is illness, barrenness, death, poverty, disillusion, frustration, failure, sorrow. We teach them how to pray to God, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad in order to conquer their enemy. Prayer is the key to success.

To enable his congregants to achieve a successful life, Saka has published many religious pamphlets and books with imaginative titles such as Key to Happiness, Today’s Success is Mine, and Prayer Points: Your Spiritual Vitamins  and True Messages: Similarities in the Bible and Qur’an, which are sold in Oke Tude’s bookstore.

Underlining that pragmatism outweighs doctrine in Chrislam, one of Saka’s ministers, who introduced himself as an alfa-pastor (alfa is the Yoruba term for a Muslim cleric), said: “God is not interested in our faith; to Him it doesn’t matter whether we are Christians or Muslims. All He is interested in is what we do with our religion.” Since religion is for Chrislamists not primarily about belief but about practical concerns, the mixing of diverse, and often contradictory, religious elements is permitted as long as it helps them living life more profitably.

Whereas Christian and Muslim theological doctrines put more emphasis on salvation and the afterlife, Chrislam promises a better life on earth. The general conviction among Ifeoluwa and Oke Tude adherents is that God (referred to as “the living God” in Chrislam discourse) is immanent and active in their lives, and concerned with solving their problems. Because God is believed not to be a remote entity but someone (a “lover” in Tella’s terms) with whom one can communicate through prayer, Ifeoluwa and Oke Tude adherents may influence Him through their ritual actions.

RITUALS/PRACTICES

Tella has a small congregation, composed of about fifty followers, who meet every Saturday, and not in a mosque or church but in a temple:

I don’t want to lean on Friday since Friday is for the Muslims, and I don’t want to lean on Sunday since Sunday is for the Christians. Therefore we congregate on Saturday, which is the Sabbath. In previous years, services took place on both Fridays and Sundays but because people accused me of practising my faith half-way, I decided to switch to Saturdays … Ifeoluwa is unique. I don’t love Jesus more than the Prophet. I love them all and they love me.

The Saturday service starts with the singing of the Ifeoluwa songs, which are recorded in three hymn books. According to Tella, these songs came to him by divine revelation: “Bach nor Beethoven could have composed the songs of Ifeoluwa – it’s God who composed them.”

The singing is accompanied by African drums, a Western drum kit and a keyboard. After the singing of the Ifeoluwa songs, the creed is recited:

I believe in God Almighty

I believe in Jesus Christ

I believe in all the Messengers of God

I believe in the Holy Spirit

I believe in the Day of Resurrection

I believe in Ifeoluwa and his precepts

May God help me to do His will

Amen

Tella then enters the temple accompanied by his disciples, who hold burning candles and ring bells with which to summon the angels. Resembling the Muslim practice of tawaf (a ritual during the pilgrimage to Mecca when Muslims circumambulate the Kaʿaba seven times), Tella circumambulates the Holy Spirit Square (an open space in the auditorium decorated with a cross) seven times while holding both a Bible and a Qur’an. After circumnavigating the Holy Spirit Square, Tella delivers a sermon in Yoruba and English recounting passages from the Bible, Qur’an, and Ifeoluwa Book. [Image at right] According to Tella, the holy scriptures are incomplete. To complement the Bible and Qur’an, Tella is working on his own Holy Book, the Ifeoluwa Book. Tella’s sermons contain moral lessons that are interpreted by his followers as “religious pep talk,” instructing them in how to combat their feelings of despair and how to become successful in life.

Ifeoluwa’s service ends with a joint prayer. Unlike Muslims, who pray five times a day, Ifeoluwa’s congregation prays only twice a day. Tella explained: “My adherents are required to pray every three hours. But because life in Lagos is hectic, I have been pleading on my adherents’ behalf for God’s grace to accept prayers twice a day. They don’t have time to pray more than twice a day, but they love God constantly in their hearts.” The closing prayer, during which Ifeoluwa adherents gesticulate wildly with their arms to open the way for deliverance, is followed by testimonies and thanksgiving. Similar to Pentecostal services, the testimonies recount the “miracles” experienced by Tella’s followers when they accepted God’s love in their lives, in the form of healing, finding a spouse, the birth of a baby, finding employment, or a windfall. After the service, the congregants assemble to receive manna, that is, blessed food.

In addition to the weekly service, which lasts for about three hours, Ifeoluwa’s congregation assembles every Thursday to attend a night vigil. The purpose of the vigil is to develop spiritually by maintaining a closer relationship with God. Other weekly events are the Barren Women Consultation Hour on Wednesday, the Pregnant Women Hour on Thursday, and the Friday Victory Hour where the sick get healed. Every Wednesday afternoon, selected elders of the mission assemble to attend the Holy Ghost service, a three-hour prayer session. Once a year they set out on a pilgrimage to the “Mount of Authority” in Tella’s home town of Abeokuta, where they pray and fast uninterruptedly for three days. Another annual event is the Dancing Anniversary, when Tella (who similar to King David has been commanded by God to dance for Him) dances and brings out the religious paraphernalia that are normally kept inside the temple. This is an important event for the congregation, who receives special blessings on that day. Other annual events are the anniversary of Tella and his mission. The last Sunday of December the Harvest Thanksgiving Day is celebrated.

Membership in Ifeoluwa requires spiritual training. In order to elicit a higher spiritualty and moral lifestyle that will promote social harmony, members must observe eighty rules and regulations concerning codes of moral behaviour (such as “any member who wears Ifeoluwa’s uniform should not rebuke or talk against any religion”), dress codes (Tella’s female followers are obliged to cover their heads and all followers must dress modestly), and food taboos derived from the Old Testament and the Qur’an (members must avoid drinking alcohol, abstain from eating fish without scales, such as catfish, and pork; only halal meat is allowed). Like in Islam, several rules and regulations emphasize the importance of “purity” (women must stay away from the temple during their menstruation plus one extra day, after which they must sanctify themselves; members must take a bath after sexual intercourse and stay away from the temple for at least six hours).

During their spiritual training, members earn different spiritual ranks, symbolized by coloured belts worn on their white gowns. [Image at right] The wearing of white gowns by Ifeoluwa members is a reminder of the dress code in the so-called “White Garment Churches” (alasofunfun), that is, African Independent or Aladura churches (Peel 1968). In addition to coloured belts, they also earn religious paraphernalia such as prayer staffs. These religious items are believed to protect members against spiritual attacks by evil forces, and enable them to heal fellow worshippers.

Rather than undergoing spiritual training, potential members of Oke Tude are encouraged to buy a Bible and Qur’an and to run Tude for seven consecutive days. Tude, meaning “running deliverance” in Yoruba, resembles the saʿi ritual during the pilgrimage to Mecca when pilgrims run or rapidly walk seven times back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah, re-enacting Hagar’s search for water before Allah revealed the water of the Zamzam well to her. Oke Tude members who participate in the Tude ritual run or rapidly walk seven times around a replica of the Kaʿaba containing a well with Tude water while shouting “Hallelujah” and “Allah Akbar” (“God is great”). [Image at right] Some of them hold photographs of their relatives who are in need of deliverance and on whose behalf they pray.

In addition to Tude, which takes place on an individual basis, Oke Tude adherents engage in congregational worship. Every Sunday they assemble at 8 A.M. to participate in a Muslim prayer session (wuridi) led by an imam. The imam opens the prayer session by saying “Glory be to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” before performing dhikr (remembrance of God by recalling His names) and reciting Qur’anic and Bible verses. The wuridi session is followed by a Christian prayer session led by a rotating group of gifted prayer leaders reciting special prayer formulas or “prayer points” for health and wealth; it is closed with a joint service led by Saka himself. Before the joint service starts, the choir sings Christian and Muslim songs, as well as the Oke Tude anthem: 

Oh God, the Heavenly One

The Creator, come and hear us

May the peace of God be upon Isa (Jesus Christ),

And also on Muhammad

May the peace of God be upon Samsindeen Saka and the noble prophets

God of Tude, deliver us

Deliver us from illness, sorrow, and the challenges in our lives

God of Tude, deliver us

The choristers are accompanied by musicians who play African drums and Western instruments.

Saka opens his sermon by quoting in both Yoruba and English verses from the Bible and Qur’an. The message during his sermons is always the same: God is love and Christians and Muslims are from the same source, namely Abraham or Ibrahim. The service ends with a joint prayer led by Saka in a mix of Yoruba and Arabic, fusing Christian and Muslim elements such as contemplation with folded hands and prostration.

In addition to the worship service, Oke Tude organizes a Healing School for those “physically or spiritually challenged” every Thursday. In Nigerian society, bearing children is a prerequisite for attaining complete social and moral womanhood. Women’s concern with bearing and successfully rearing children may lead them to the weekly Women Affairs Programme, which offer them the means to “destroy the yoke of barrenness.” Deliverance is expressed through good health. The crutches hanging on the wall of the worship centre [Image at right] serve as proof of the healing powers of Saka, who even claims to be able to cure HIV/AIDS. Physical healing is but one aspect of deliverance; there are also promises of affluence, fertility, virility, freedom from family problems, passing exams, and getting jobs when running Tude and taking part in Oke Tude’s programmes.

Besides barren women, unemployed youth attend Oke Tude’s “Prayer Warrior School”, where they study the Bible and Qur’an, on Wednesday. At a time when a school diploma is no longer considered sufficient to secure upward social mobility and the promise of a more successful life in Nigeria, religious movements such as Oke Tude offer disenfranchised urban youth the spiritual means (and sometimes also the material ones, in the form of business opportunities and small loans) to bridge the gap between their aspirations and actual possibilities. For instance, a man in his early thirties said that “Daddy G.O.” (General Overseer, i.e. Saka) helped him find a job and obtain a plot of land on which to build a house for his family. Although Oke Tude is not an exception, in that Pentecostal churches and Muslim organizations offer similar material support, what makes Chrislam exceptional is that, by mixing elements from both Christianity and Islam, members believe that they will be blessed multiple times.

In addition to the weekly programmes, night vigils during which congregants are anointed take place twice a month in Oke Tude and attract a large following. Other than Saka’s birthday and the ministry’s anniversary, which are accompanied by festivities and the distribution of gifts among the poor, other annual programmes are “Manna with the Man of God,” “Tude Deliverance,” “Power in the Tongue,” and “Armor of God.” These annual events are marked by prayer and fasting marathons during which the congregation is anointed by oil, Tude water, and the “blood of Jesus” (a drink made out of red corn that is ascribed healing powers).

The underlying idea in Chrislam is that to be a Christian or a Muslim alone is not enough to guarantee success in this world and in the hereafter, and therefore Ifeoluwa and Oke Tude adherents participate in Christian and Muslim rituals, appropriating the perceived powers of both. Instead of embodying competing sets of truth claims, both Christianity and Islam are believed to represent distinct powers for achieving a state of deliverance and may therefore well be combined in the hope it increases one’s chances of achieving a good life, that is, a life of good health and wealth.

ORGANIZATION/LEADERSHIP

Ifeoluwa is led by Tella, who is addressed by his followers as Papa, meaning “father.” Tella appears in public wearing sun glasses and a staff. There are strict rules regarding the interaction between adherents and Tella. For example, they must keep at least seven metres distance from Tella and must abstain from shaking hands with him. Instead, they salute and say “Love, Peace, Abide.” These rules and regulations all add to Tella’s charisma. Tella is assisted by his two wives, the “Lady Apostles.” Since Tella believes in the principle of “50-50,” or gender equity, both men and women hold leading positions in Ifeoluwa, but, on directives of the Holy Spirit, women must stay away from the temple during their menstruation. Tella’s children, the “Prayer Warriors,” act as choristers and prayer leaders.

Saka [Image at right] is referred to by his followers as “Man of God.” His official title is “Prophet [Dr.] S.O. Saka.” Based on his power to “see” (“seeing” is the term used in Pentecostal churches for prophecy), Saka regards himself as a prophet intermediating between God and his followers. Besides prophesying, another feature of Pentecostal churches is a growing trend towards intellectualization. In line with this trend, Nigerian Pentecostal pastors often adopt the title “doctor,” publish books, and open universities. As reflected in his title and activities, Saka (who allegedly never finished high school, but claims to have a honorary doctorate in divinity) has been influenced by this tendency. Inspired by Pentecostal pastors, who are referred to in Nigeria as General Overseers (G.O.’s), Saka acts as the G.O. of Oke Tude. Copying the style of Pentecostal pastors, Saka [Image at right] drives a Hummer and dresses flamboyantly in either Western suits or traditional attire.

Compared with Ifeoluwa, Oke Tude has a much more bureaucratized organization. Saka is assisted by a deacon and a deaconess. Next in line are the pastors and senior care ministers, followed by ministers and junior care ministers, who support spiritual guidance to the adherents. On the lowest level of the hierarchy are the counsellors and ushers. The positions in Oke Tude’s organizational structure are open to both men and women. Other than deacon and deaconess, which are full-time positions, the other positions within the organization of Oke Tude are voluntary.

Other than the headquarters in Ogudu, Oke Tude has four smaller branches in Lagos, one in neighbouring Ogun State, and one in Nigeria’s third largest city Ibadan. 

Ifeoluwa and Oke Tude are funded through voluntary donations by their adherents. In addition, members are expected to pay monthly tithes. To earn money for his mission, Saka is involved in the real estate business and second-hand car trade.

ISSUES/CHALLENGES

While this-worldly pragmatism explains Chrislam’s popularity in Lagos, it also makes it vulnerable to criticism from the outside. According to many mainstream believers, Ifeoluwa and Oke Tude are “cults” composed of “unbelievers.” In their opinion, because Ifeoluwa and Oke Tude adherents are neither “sincere” Christians nor “pious” Muslims they are “nothing.” Labeling a religious movement that is not aligned to mainstream Christianity or Islam a “cult” is a popular way of abusing minority religions in Nigeria (Hackett 1989). Besides these general challenges, Tella and Saka each struggle with more individual challenges.

Tella recalled how at the beginning of his mission, he was jeered at as a “fake prophet” in the local press. He reacted by avoiding the spotlight, and that is why he now leads a secluded life. He acknowledged that Ifeoluwa’s strict rules and regulations prevent adherents from committing themselves wholeheartedly to his mission. Adherents often attend weekly services for some months, but, when the problem that brought them to Ifeoluwa has been resolved, they return to their former church, mosque, and/or shrine. As a result, there is a high level of fluctuation within the congregation. Because Chrislam is a non-doctrinal religion, adherents’ withdrawal is not considered in terms of apostasy. To attract more adherents, Tella has joined Facebook. Although this has led to a small increase in worshippers attending weekly services, Tella wants to keep his congregation small so that he can rule it as a “spiritual family.”

At the beginning of his mission, journalists wrote sensational stories about Tella who reacted by avoiding the spotlight and leading a secluded life, waiting for “God’s instructions to come out to the world.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, that time had arrived. On April 25, 2020, Tella issued a press release, stating that an angel descended on the Mountain of Power to deliver a message to God’s Messenger, Ifeoluwa, ordaining the followers and all the religious leaders worldwide to follow ten instructions, which would end the global pandemic:

Begin the ceremony by walking three steps and stand together inside your place of worship. This can be at the front of an altar.

Hold your individual sword or staff of authority pointing upwards towards the sky. If you do not have one, you can hold a Bible, Qur’an or any other point of reference applicable to your faith.

While holding the sword, position yourselves by lying stretched on the ground with your chest downwards (prostrate position).

While in the prostrate position, say six times “Jehovah (Yahweh), take this evil away from us.” You can say this in the language best known to you. For example, “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” can be substituted for “Allah” if you speak Arabic or Olorun if you speak Yoruba.

Now change your position (kneel down), so your upper body is upright and supported with both your knees on the ground. Then say again six times “Jehovah, take this evil away from us.

Now fully stand up straight with your sword still held and pointing upwards.

Then carefully, in four movements, step forward with your left foot and return to the right foot. Then step backward with your right foot and return to the left foot.

Then say again six times “Jehovah, take this evil away from us.

Worship God by bowing three times and say, “Holy” the first time, “Holy” the second time, and on the third time “Holy Lord God Almighty”.

Position yourself upright and spread both of your hands outwards away from your body to pray (like you want to receive a gift) and say “Lord we believe you have heard us, it is your miracle that we are expecting. Come and perform your miracle for us in the whole world.” Then say “Hallelujah” seven times.

During an interview, Tella acknowledged that Ifeoluwa’s strict rules and regulations prevent adherents from committing themselves wholeheartedly to his mission. Adherents often attend weekly services for some months, but, when the problem that brought them to Ifeoluwa has been resolved, they return to their former church, mosque, and/or shrine. As a result, there is a high level of fluctuation among the congregation. Because Chrislam is a non-doctrinal religion, adherents’ withdrawal is not considered in terms of apostasy. To reach a wider audience globally, the Ifeoluwa mission has recently built a website and joined Facebook. Although this has led to a small increase in followers, Tella wants to keep his congregation small: “The more people, the more wahala (“trouble” in Pidgin English). I don’t care about numbers; I care about people being prepared to do the will of God.”

Unlike Tella, Saka seeks publicity by reaching out via the social media. He had plans to expand his mission, but while he was away on a business trip in London in 2008, his auditorium was bulldozed on local government’s orders. According to several state authorities, Saka had grabbed land that belonged to the Lagos State Government. Saka’s congregation did not accept this explanation; for them the auditorium’s demolishment was the sign that the government was “against Chrislam.” Their scepticism is not ungrounded as land allocation constitutes a strategic form of government control of minority religious groups in Nigeria (Hackett 2001).

Another challenge facing Chrislam is the future of its leadership. Because Tella and Saka are believed to have been chosen by God to become religious leaders, it is unclear what happens with their movements after their deaths.

According to both Tella and Saka, the challenges they encountered during the establishment of Chrislam could also be interpreted as opportunities for the spiritual growth of their missions. Echoing the words of the pioneer of reggae music Bob Marley, Tella said: “No pain no gain.”

IMAGES

Image #1: Ifeoluwa logo.
Image #2: Oke Tude members participating in the Tude ritual. Photograph by Akintunde Akinleye.
Image #3: Tella presiding at the Chrislam temple. Photograph by Marloes Janson.
Image #4: Ifeoluwa official dressed in a white gown with coloured belts. Photograph by Marloes Janson.
Image #5: Oke Tude members participating in the Tude ritual. Photograph by Akintunde Akinleye.
Image #6: Crutches hanging on the wall of the Oke Tude worship centre. Photograph by Marloes Janson.
Image #7: Prophet [Dr.] S.O. Saka. Photograph by  Akintunde Akinleye.

REFERENCES**

 ** Unless otherwise noted, the material in this profile is drawn from the author’s forthcoming book Religious Assemblages in Lagos (Cambridge University Press, for the International African Institute), and article “Unity through Diversity: A Case Study of Chrislam in Lagos.” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute (2016, Vol. 86 No. 4): 646–72. The profile is based on ethnographic research that was conducted by the author in Lagos between July 21 and October 3, 2010, October 20 and December 18, 2011, and March 6 and May 15, 2017.


Hackett, Rosalind. 2001. “Prophets, ‘False Prophets,’ and the African State: Emergent Issues of Religious Freedom and Conflict”. Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 4:187–212.

Hackett, Rosalind. 1989. Religion in Calabar: The Religious Life and History of a Nigerian Town. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Human Development Report. 2006. New York: UNDP.

Laitin, David. 1986. Hegemony and Culture: Politics and Religious Change among the Yoruba. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Larkin, Brian and Birgit Meyer. 2006. “Pentecostalism, Islam and Culture: New Religious Movements in West Africa”. Pp. 286–312 in Themes in West Africa’s History, edited by Emmanuel K. Akyeampong. Oxford: James Currey.

Peel, J.D.Y. 1968. Aladura: A Religious Movement among the Yoruba. London: Oxford University Press.

Publication Date:
12 June 2020

 

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