The Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa (PROCMURA) is the oldest and pioneer interfaith organisation in the continent of Africa, with a specific focus on Christians’ relations with Muslims. Founded in 1959, PROCMURA is dedicated to promote within the churches in Africa:
- Faithful Christian witness to the Gospel in an interfaith environment of Christians and Muslims;
- Christian Constructive engagement with Muslims for peace and peaceful coexistence.
The Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa (PROCMURA) is a programme established by the churches in Africa with the support of partner churches in Europe and North America. The background to the founding of the programme goes back to the political and religious climate of Africa in the 1950’s. The political climate of those years was marked by an increase of African nationalist movements which agitated for independence from the colonial masters. These movements advocated for co-operation and collaboration across the diverse linguistic, ethnic, religious and cultural frontiers to rid Africa of colonialism. On the religious front the churches were very much aware that Christianity was portrayed more and more as the religion of the colonialists, and the missionary presence seen as a symbol of the continuous presence of colonialism. In a situation like this, the churches were considering how they would become self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating once independence was achieved. It was in the area of self-propagation that the seed of PROCMURA was sown. The churches became conscious that in post-colonial Africa, nation-states would evolve and nationals of a particular country would be made up of Christians and Muslims, among others, and that the need for Christian-Muslim positive engagement as co-citizens would be imperative. This perceived reality that the churches confronted were dwarfed by the lack of expertise to attend to such a reality. Theological studies for pastors at the time had little to say about Islam, and where much was said it was either clouded in ignorance, or otherwise contained a lot of medieval polemical presentations and responses to the religion. The blanket crusading image of Islam as a religion of violence, and Muslims as enemies of Christianity, for example, lingered on (as it still does in some circles today). Principles of Christian mission in relation to Muslims were not part of the theological training of pastors either. Christian mission was very much focused on the propagation of the gospel to adherents of African Traditional Religions.
It was in this context that the churches saw the need to evolve a programme specifically focusing on the Christian encounter with Muslims in independent Africa. Against the backdrop of the political and religious climate in the continent and the role the churches were to play in this, African Churches represented at the last meeting of the International Missionary Council (IMC) Assembly held in Accra, Ghana, in November 1957, expressed the need to evolve a more intensive study, and action plan in respect to the Protestant Churches’ approach to Islam in Independent Africa. Two months later (January 1958), an All Africa Church Conference was held in Ibadan, Nigeria, under the theme “The Church in a Changing Africa.” Special attention was given to the issue of Islam raised at the Accra meeting. A paper delivered by Bishop S. O. Odutola, Anglican Bishop of Ondo in Nigeria, on the topic “Islam as it affects life in Nigeria” re-emphasized the concerns raised in Accra. Discussions stimulated by the paper centred on how Christians in Africa needed to interpret the Gospel in a more meaningful way to Muslims without violating the principle of good neighbourliness.
It was the considered view of the conference that the Church in Africa, in its bid to bear witness to Christ, should avoid medieval responses to Islam that led to polemics and eventually contributed to the Crusades. Avoidance of confrontation, the conference concluded, required an adequate and objective study of Islam and informed knowledge of the history of Muslims in the continent. At about the same time that the African Churches were considering the most appropriate approach to Islam in the African context, the Missionary Society of the Netherlands Reformed Church offered to send to Africa one or more specially trained personnel in Islam to assist the African Churches in their quest to have a meaningful encounter with muslims.
The International Missionary Council, perhaps aware of the Dutch intentions and certainly having in mind the issues raised by the African Churches in Accra and Ibadan, facilitated a consultation of about twenty missionary leaders drawn from different countries in Europe at Oegstgeest in the Netherlands in September 1958. The consultation, which was held under the theme “Islam in Africa Project” was to discuss how Europe could be of help to the African Churches in their stated objective to be faithful witnesses to the Gospel in an interfaith environment of Christians and Muslims. The theme of this consultation was eventually adopted as the name for the project, while the missionary organisations represented at the meeting were to later form the core of the European Liaison Committee of the Project.
A similar meeting of North Americans was held in the same year at Hartford, Connecticut, to respond to the same request by the African Churches. A resolution was tabled at the consultation in Oegstgeest to send a messenger to West Africa and some parts of East Africa to embark on a fact-finding mission.
The new organization
Rev. Pierre Benignus of the Paris Missionary Society, also the secretary to the consultation, was chosen to make the trip. His mandate was to consult leaders of Protestant and Anglican churches and missions in Africa on practical steps that could be taken to assist them in equipping the Christian community in Africa for its stated task of Christian approach to Islam. Rev. Benignus’ trip took him to Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Kenya and Tanzania. His findings and recommendation led to the founding of the ‘Islam in Africa Project’ (IAP), which was inaugurated in Accra in 1959. Rev. Pierre Benignus later died in a plane crash at the Cameroon Mountains in 1963 while journeying to promote PROCMURA’s activities. With this historical background, it can be summarized that the seed of IAP, now PROCMURA, was sown in Accra in 1957, watered in Ibadan in 1958, nurtured in Oegstgeest in 1958, and transplanted as an African continental organisation to Accrcan be read about in the book
50 years and more…
The first 50 years of PROCMURA history can be read about in the book “PROCMURA at 50 – 1959 2009” presented elsewhere on our website.