STORIES ON TOLERANCE

In 2003, the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief announced a youth and student contest on "Writing Stories about Tolerance". The writing contest inspired many young writers from different parts of the world and national contests were held in Nigeria and Indonesia. In the international competition, a panel of experts evaluated more than one hundred and fifty stories. In the final round, three winning stories were selected: “The Reconciliation”, “Our Gods are so great” and “The Lost Fairy”. The winning stories are hereby made available online. Together with these three, another 15 stories have also been printed in a booklet entitled “Stories on Tolerance” (ed. Ingvill Thorson Plesner, The Oslo Coalition, September 2004).

 


The Reconciliation

By Mfornobong Udo Nsehe (from Nigeria)



"There!" Mr. Danladi sighed. He had just concluded his moral instructions lesson on the topic "Tolerance." Checking his time piece, he had just 15 minutes left of his time.

 

"Since I’ve finished the main lesson, I might as well buttress my point on the necessity of tolerance with a story."

 

"Yeah!" The whole class roared excitedly. "That's the part we were waiting for!" Usman, the naughtiest pupil in the class put in.

Chairs creaked out loud as pupils adjusted themselves to a most convenient position to hear Mr. Danladi's story. All sitting up, one could definitely see optimistic expectancy written all over their little faces. It was obvious they did not enjoy the main lesson much, and this was the segment of the lesson they were waiting for -" the story part", as they referred to it in Primary SA of Gifted Children School.

 

Mr. Danladi was unarguably one of the best teachers in Gifted Children School. As a moral instructions teacher, he never failed to end any lesson with the illustration of a story to throw more light on the lesson. Every pupil in primary 5A looked up to his stories at the end of every lesson. Tens of eager pairs of eyes focused on Mr. Danladi, all wanting to hear his story.

"Amos and Mustapha were best of friends." Mr. Danladi began, sitting down on a chair so as to be in the best position to tell his tale.

 

"They did everything together - they played together, ate together, shared whatever they had with each other, and they even topped their class together as they always studied together. Everyone attested to the fact that they made an indomitable pair.

 

Things went wonderfully for the two friends, and even all around them. They were always very happy and enjoyed each other's company. However, as time went on, they had cause to break the bond between them - the bond that kept them together by virtue of their friendship.

 

A play was going to be staged in the town hall at 6pm on a particular day, and both friends had made up their minds they were going to attend it, as they had a passion for drama. They had purchased their tickets earlier than usual all in a bid to get front seats for the drama. That was about a week ago, and they had both waited eagerly for the day of the play. They talked about the play with books in their hands, they talked about the play on phone, they even talked about the play in between mouthfuls in the school cafeteria. It was a much awaited day for the two friends which had finally come.

 

It was ten minutes past 5 O'clock, and they needed to reach the town hall before 6pm to secure their seats. Amos hurried to his friend's house and waited in eager for Mustapha who had just finished washing the dishes to dress up for the evening.

 

"Can you just give me ten minutes, Amos I need to say my prayers". Mustapha pleaded.

 

"Ten minutes! If I wait 10 minutes, when are we going to reach the town hall? Do you have any idea of how long it will take for us to reach the hall on foot?"  Amos, who was already impatient, blared.

 

"I'll hurry, please." Mustapha pleaded as he dragged his praying mat out.

 

"I have no such time to waste. I am going there right away. I see no reason why your religion should subject you to praying five times a day. After all…"

 

"But you know I have to meet the demands of my religion. Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. If serving Allah is worth doing, I need to serve him to the best of my ability," Mustapha explained.

 

"It's sheer folly. Taking the pains to kneel on a mat five times all in the name of praying is sheer folly. Only fools would do that."

 

"I don't get it. Are you calling me a fool because I have to pray to God?" Mustapha was fuming.

 

"What if I do! Better hurry up."

 

"I don't understand you. Because of a mere play, you insult me even in my own house. You can go to your play. Don't come here rushing me up. You can get out!" Mustapha blared angrily.

 

"So, it has come to that, eh? Of course, I will leave your jungle, tool. You can commune with your god even hundred times... idiot."

 

Amos turned and stormed out of the house. He felt he now hated Mustapha passionately. "How dare Mustapha tell me, Amos to get out?" He asked himself. He went to the drama alone and watched the play. Everyone declared it was a wonderful drama, but his mind was not focused on the play.

 

He recapitulated on the events that took place in his friend's house on his way home after the drama. He hadn't enjoyed the drama much because his friend wasn't with him. It was only normal. Five years of friendship, they had done virtually everything together. As a matter of fact, he was thinking of his friend, Mustapha who did not show up after all because he was annoyed with Amos.

 

The next day, the two friends did not greet each other as they did daily. They did not eat in the school's cafeteria together; they did not play as they always did. They did not say a word to each other. Their classmates knew at once that the friends were not on speaking terms and all attempts, to bring the two friends together proved fruitless.

 

The two friends missed each other's company, even though they pretended they didn't. Amos was losing on his part because he was not good in Mathematics which Mustapha was terrific in. Mustapha on the other hand needed Amos who was terrific in science class to explain some problems which he couldn't bring to the teacher for explanations. Their academic records suffered as they did not read together anymore and encourage each other the way they did in the past.

 

The end of term came, and the two friends academic work came down woefully. It was a terrible experience for both friends. In bed that night, while recapitulating on the events that domino effected his come down academically on his bed that night, Amos reasoned that his come down found its root in his intolerance of Mustapha’s religious values. He wanted his friend to neglect his god because of a mere play." How could I have called Mustapha's religion folly”, he asked himself. He reasoned that Mustapha's religious values should be appreciated by him in order to avoid quarrels of this sort. Mustapha was only being devoted when he had to pray on that fateful day he had quarrelled with his friend. He made up his mind; he was going to apologize to Mustapha the following day.

 

The next day, he was only on his way to his friend's house when he met Mustapha on the road, approaching his house.

 

"Hello Amos", Mustapha greeted.

"Hello Mustapha", Amos responded with a smile.

 

Mustapha explained that he was on his way to apologize to Amos as he had told him to get out of his house some time ago which had resulted in their strained relationship

 

Amos on the other hand also told Mustapha that he was genuinely sorry for not tolerating his religious values in the first place. He told Mustapha of how much he missed him and needed him. He also promised him he was always going to appreciate the demands of Mustapha’s religion.

 

"There's another play at the town hall tomorrow. Shall we go and purchase tickets?... They are very cheap. I did not enjoy the last one because you weren’t around”, Amos confessed.

 

"Why not!" Mustapha smiled to his friend very tenderly. And so on the road were two friends hand in hand once again, enjoying the bliss of a new found friendship. Amos thanked God in his heart, and Mustapha whispered a “thank you Allah" for restoring his long lost happiness. They were happy once again."

 

Mr. Danladi checked his time piece. "Now, my period is over. See how time flies…Hope you now see the importance of tolerance. You need to tolerate even one's religious values, and ...” He noticed his pupils were not focused on him any longer, but on two little pupils who were hugging themselves. Who were they? He had been explaining a point to them, and two children were doing..."What nonsense!” He exclaimed.

 

"May I know what's going on”? Mr. Danladi demanded, seizing the cane he seldom used.

 

"Sir, Effiong, the class captain volunteered. "Salami and Tunde had been quarreling for the past week as they had a minor misunderstanding. They had been arguing on the need of praying five times a day as Salami's religion demands, and the need of the holy communion as is the demand of Tunde's religion. They had been arguing on these and as such, a strained relationship ensued which ...

 

Mr. Danladi was listening no more to Effiong. "At least I have put an end to a misunderstanding in my own little way ... with my little story." He smiled thoughtfully to himself and walked out of the class. This lesson was over.

 


Our Gods are so great

By Samihah Sifat Zaman (from Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates)



“Sing louder," the teacher ordered. Shireen pretended to raise her voice a little. She hoped the teacher would not notice that she was only opening and closing her mouth. She was not singing the prayer song. She had always tried not to. She didn't believe in the God they prayed to. She never had. And she didn't like being disloyal to her own God, to her Allah.

 

The assembly soon ended. Shireen was relieved as always. To her, the end of the assembly signified that she could stop pretending. Pretending was such a hassle anyway: there was always the fear that someone would notice you weren't actually doing the real thing. You'd be caught, discovered, and dragged to the principal's office. Shireen didn't know how such an experience would prove to be, but she sure did not want to find out! She imagined herself sitting in front of the principal's large mahogany desk. The principal would stare at her with steely eyes, while she squirmed and stuttered; and proved to be absolutely hopeless at explaining why she had an inner compulsion that simply told her not to sing the prayer song every morning.

 

Shireen Mehdi belonged to a devoutly religious Muslim family. Her parents had brought her up to follow the code of conduct mentioned in the holy Qur'an, and live her life by the rules and regulations mentioned. So though she was only in grade three, Shireen did only whatever she thought was lawfully permitted by Islam. She was scared that if she didn't, God Himself would 'discipline' her.

 

However, the problem was that she went to a school whose principal and founder was a pious Christian, as were most of the teachers hired by her. Every morning, a few verses were read from the Bible, and after a few announcements, a prayer song was sung. The whole school whole-heartedly sang to Jesus, all except Shireen. She felt it would be a betrayal of her own faith. But then she was also scared that if the teachers found out, she would be penalized. She didn't know what the worst punishment she could be given was, and she didn't even know why or if she would be penalized at all: she had never tried to find out. But it was this unnatural fear of being discovered and punished that made her pretend to sing along every single day.

 

It was no wonder then that the morning assembly was an ordeal for little Shireen. She struggled to please Allah, and at the same time avoid being spotted at her 'misdeed' by the teachers.

 

As the third graders filed out of the gymnasium in neat lines, Shireen noticed the very same teacher - the one who had ordered her to 'sing' - glaring at her. Shireen was scared beyond her wits, and was almost trembling as she passed the teacher. "I will be watching you," she heard the teacher whisper to her. "I'll have to be extra-careful tomorrow," Shireen thought.

 

She had almost been caught, and she was afraid. So, turning her face upwards, she offered a silent prayer. "I want to be loyal to you Allah, so please help me."

 

Nevertheless, Shireen's prayer remained unanswered. She had tried so hard, the next morning, to look like she was actually singing the prayer song, but the hawk-like teacher had seen through her pretence. Before she knew what was happening, Shireen was seated in a chair, facing the school's strict, religious principal, Miss Maria.

 

The scene was not very different from what she had imagined. But it was even scarier than she had thought. Miss Maria, in her short black hair and stylish outfit did not seem the religious kind. But there was more to her than met the eye.

Her ultimate goal was to convert all of the school's pupils into devoted Roman Catholics and she did not tolerate any violation of the rules, especially those related to religious belief. A year ago, another girl had been found talking while the prayer song was being sung. She had last been seen when she was being dragged to the principal's office after being caught in the act. She never returned to school. Whether Miss Maria had expelled her or whether she had been too scared to return to school after that was anyone's guess. Either way, the consequences hadn't been pleasant.

 

Shireen sank into the large chair, trying to seem as inconspicuous as possible. Miss Maria continued reading a document placed on the table in front of her. Though it seemed unlikely, behind the smiling lady with the kind face was a severe woman who did not tolerate disobedience of any sort. Shireen stole glances at her and silently prayed that she would never finish reading the document. But all too soon, Miss Maria was done with it. She folded up the piece perfectly along the creases, then put it back in the envelope and set it aside. Shireen's heart was beating wildly. She knew she was trembling but she couldn't help it.

 

Finally, Miss Maria looked at Shireen. Shireen froze. "May I ask why you are here this morning, Miss Mehdi?" Miss Maria asked in a seemingly neutral tone of voice. But Shireen knew the principal had been briefed about her 'misdeed' by the teacher who had caught her, and Miss Maria's indifference was only a prelude to the actual thing. So she remained silent. Miss Maria repeated her question once more. "Miss Mehdi, may I ask why you are here this morning?" Shireen continued looking down at her shoes. "We are very stubborn this morning, are we?" Miss Maria said. Her voice had turned chilly. There was no way one could refuse to answer her when she used that tone. Shireen stuttered, "Umm...Miss, I umm...I..." But then she stopped. She didn't know what to say.

 

She wanted to scream, "Because I don't believe in Jesus, Miss Maria. Because I never learnt the words of that prayer song when you tried teaching them to us. Because I am more scared of the punishment that Allah will give me if I sing it, than the one you will give me because I didn't sing the stupid prayer song." But Shireen couldn't get herself to tell Miss Maria the truth. She was too scared.

 

Miss Maria was getting impatient. "Miss Shireen Mehdi, I will give you one last chance to explain yourself. I want you to make good use of it because you will not get another. If you refuse to answer my question, I will assume that you did whatever you did just to be disobedient, and I will punish you for being a bad girl. You will not come to school for two weeks after that, and I will reprimand you in front of everyone in tomorrow's morning assembly. Now if you want to avoid all of this, give me one good reason why you did not sing the prayer song in spite of knowing that you must if you study in this school. I am making things easy for you so just answer my question truthfully." Shireen listened quietly to Miss Maria's calm `outburst'. It scared her beyond description. "Oh Allah, help me, help me, help me," she prayed fervently.

 

But her prayers weren't working. She did not know what to do. Miss Maria had asked her to speak the truth. But Shireen knew she would be punished if she revealed her reasons for not singing. Yes, she had a reason for not singing a silly prayer song (as she thought of it), but would her reason be good enough for Miss Maria? It probably wouldn't. But then, if she did not explain her conduct, she would be called a bad girl and punished. Then how would she ever face her friends again? They would all hate her for being a disobedient girl

 

Shireen was in a dilemma. She felt confused and helpless, and unable to take the pressure any longer, she burst into sobs. Her face in her hands, Shireen cried her heart out. The picture of a small third-grader crying her heart out must have aroused some sympathy in Miss Maria, for she got up and came around to Shireen's chair. "Shireen, just tell me why you didn't sing with the rest this morning," Miss Maria asked softly but firmly.

 

Her tone was firm but understanding, and before Shireen knew what she was doing, she began to speak. "Miss Maria, I am Muslim and I worship my Allah. I don't like to sing to Jesus because he is not my God. At least my parents say he is not. I think I am being unfaithful to Allah if I pray to Jesus. And I never really learnt the song by heart because it was dedicated to Jesus..." Shireen trailed off and began to cry harder.

 

Miss Maria was stunned. For some time, she said nothing. After Shireen's tears had subsided enough, she said in a soothing voice, "Miss Mehdi, it was perfectly reasonable for you to have been as scared as you were. I believe you know that another girl did not sing the prayer song with the rest of the children too, and she never returned to school. But that was a year ago. After she left, I thought about what I had done. It struck me that I should not have punished her. You see, she has her God and I have mine. She worships him in a manner different from the way in which I worship Jesus. However, that does not mean she believes in the Divine Being less than I do. She did it differently, and she shouldn't have been punished for that. But by the time I realized this it was too late. The girl had already left this school."

 

Miss Maria paused, and looked back at Shireen. Shireen finally gathered enough guts to face Miss Maria, who was by now standing behind her desk and looking out of the window behind it. The principal turned round and continued: "So today, I will not punish you. Though it is part of the school rules to follow all the instructions issued during the morning assembly, I accept that you worship Allah. I would love it if you too would worship Jesus, and I could force you to sing with everyone else. But I won't, because forcing you to sing to Him won't make you love Him with all your heart. Instead of punishing you, I will let you be ... simply because Jesus has asked us to be tolerant of one another. And I am sure Allah has asked the same of you, so I only ask you to be silent and respectful when we sing the school prayer song. Can you do that much?"

 

It took Shireen some time to understand the full impact of Miss Maria's words. Finally she blurted out, "Yes, Yes, I will. Thank you, Miss Maria. Thank you very much." She was surprised, and terribly relieved. Miss Maria turned back and smiled at the grinning nine-year old seated in the chair opposite her. "You better go back to class now," she said.

 

Shireen willingly got up. "Thank you very much, Miss," she said once again. Then turning, she walked to the door and opened it. As she softly walked out and closed the door behind her, she could hear Miss Maria distinctly humming the school prayer song:

 

“My God is so great, and my God is so good.
My God is so merciful and kind”

 

At that moment, had she been asked to, Shireen would have willingly and whole-heartedly joined Miss Maria in her redention.


The Lost Fairy

By Linda Ikwuagwu (from the United Kingdom)


 

Have you ever wondered what happens at night? While you lie in your bed fast asleep, unaware of what other things are going on. As your eyes drop shut and you leave reality and drift into your dreams, in your mind everyone is going to sleep … but are they? As your curtains are drawn, and your door is shut tight. As the noise and sounds die out and leave room for thoughts. To you the world comes to an end from the point you fall asleep until you awake, but to some others, the nightfall seems to be just the start of the day. Night is the time when the magical world comes to life … and not just in your dreams. It is very rare for humans like me and you to witness this magic, but if you do, you will never forget. Magic is everywhere just waiting to happen. It is around every corner, and behind every door, and although you do not realize it, magic could be happening just under your very nose.

 

Earth, although it may seem like one big world is just one world filled with other worlds. Some think of the world as they see it. To them magic does not even exist; they think you have to see it to believe it. However, they do not try opening their eyes to the little magic that happens before them every day. Some people think nothing goes on past the sky, but this is not true! What about the giants? Yes, giants do exist, and to them what we see as clouds, are like the stones on the ground. The sky is the lining separating their world from ours. That is one of the magical worlds, but not the only one.

 

Outside, as the moon glistens, brightly lighting up the dark night sky with the stars shimmering at either side, watching down on the world below. Magic is in the air. There is a faint noise interrupting the night’s silence; “Help, Help, Help”! A beautiful creature comes into view, but not just any creature….a fairy! It is small with a little pink dress and white glitterly wings and a beautiful face. As it flies through the night it carries a wand in its right hand and cries out for help. She came from the fairy world, but now she is lost, and do not know where she is. Where is she? She flies on getting more and more worried, but then to her delight she sees a light glowing down near the bushes. She starts approaching the light with caution wondering in the back of her mind what she would find at the light.

 

Meanwhile down by the light a group of pixies are gathered, some eating, some talking, some playing games, and one or two tired pixies are even still asleep, yet to awake. Now it is a well-known fact that pixies and fairies come from two different worlds and although some people get them mixed up, the truth is that they are quite different. Fairies are more graceful with a small body and little wings and have beauty both on the inside and the outside. Pixies are also small, but they do not have wings, have pointed ears, and are not guaranteed to have beauty on both the inside and outside. Some look beautiful on the outside, but lack that beauty on the inside and some are the opposite. Do not get the wrong idea about the pixies though. Some have a heart so pure with a beauty so divine. This certain group of pixies was run by a leader whom the other pixies referred to as ‘Chief’. Chief had a very strong belief. He believed that the magical worlds should not mix. He thought pixies should be friend with pixies and fairies should be friends with fairies and so on. He did not think it right for a pixie to be friends with a giant, or a goblin to be friend with a fairy. Not all the pixies agreed with this belief, but Chief was the leader so not many dared to stand up to him.

 

With a tap of her feet and a shower of magical fairy dust, the fairy landed on the ground. The grass was soft and dry on the soles of her feet. She had landed on the other side of the bush so the pixies had not noticed her and thought they were all alone. The fairy took a deep breath, counted to three, then stepped out from behind the bush. A silence suddenly came over the whole group of pixies as they spotted the fairy and their jaws dropped. Then they all began muttering their breaths. So many questions they wanted to know answers to. Who was this fairy? Why was she here? Who was she with? But before any of the pixies could ask a question, Chief started speaking, and when he started speaking everyone else stopped. Chief’s voice was loud and clear; “Who are you, fairy? Why are you here, and who are you with”?

 

With a faint stutter the fairy replied; “M-m-my name is Sparkle and I am lost. I do not know how I got here. I just remember being with my family and now I am here and I do not know what to do”! Then she burst into tears. One or two pixies began to feel sorry for Sparkle but others, who followed Chief’s beliefs, thought it was her problem and up to her to deal with it.

 

Although deep down Chief did feel a bit sorry for the lost fairy he could not go against his belief, he was strictly against different types of magical creatures mixing with each other. He told Sparkle she had to leave; she could take food and water with her, but could not stay on with his pixies. Tears continued to pour out of her eyes and rolled down her cheeks as she turned and walked into the darkness.

 

One of the brave male pixies, called Frodo, who not only felt pity for Sparkle, but was also overcome by her beauty, thought what the chief had done was very, very wrong. So wrong that he stood up to the Chief because of it. He had always been against the Chiefs belief, but had not showed it until now. “How could you do that to her? She is scared and lost! Do you not have a heart”? Frodo said this in a loud and steady voice to the Chief, and the chief was rather taken aback by this firmness.

 

“Yes I have a heart, but also a belief and that puts boundaries to how much my heart can attend”! Frodo was angry by this comment and looked round at all the other pixies and said;” Forget your belief and show kindness to all other magical creatures and let us come together as a magical community”! Frodo tried all he could to persuade them to be friends with the fairy and let her stay, but they all seemed to be on Chiefs side saying comments such as ‘she is a fairy’ and ‘she is not one of us’.

 

Then the Chief said; “Why treat other magical creatures with tolerance”? Frodo replied; “Because if you treat others with tolerance, they will also treat you with tolerance in return”. With that Frodo turned and walked into the darkness in search of Sparkle.

 

Some time went by and in the end Frodo managed to find Sparkle. She sat on the ground looking up at the stars and beginning to loose all hope. Her face lit up when she saw that Frodo had come looking for her, and he helped to restore hope in her. They sat and talked, and soon found a growing connection between them. They had a lot in common. There was quite some commotion back near the bush where the other pixies and Chief were. One by one the other pixies started realizing Frodo was right. With tolerance was the best way to act in this situation. After all, who were they to refuse to tolerate someone else just because they were a different type of magical creatures? One by one the pixies started going against Chief and his belief, and one by one the pixies left the group in search of Frodo and Sparkle.

 

Some time went by and in the end Frodo managed to find Sparkle. She sat on the ground looking up at the stars and beginning to loose all hope. Her face lit up when she saw that Frodo had come looking for her, and he helped to restore hope in her. They sat and talked, and soon found a growing connection between them. They had a lot in common. There was quite some commotion back near the bush where the other pixies and Chief were. One by one the other pixies started realizing Frodo was right. With tolerance was the best way to act in this situation. After all, who were they to refuse to tolerate someone else just because they were a different type of magical creatures? One by one the pixies started going against Chief and his belief, and one by one the pixies left the group in search of Frodo and Sparkle.

 

In the end all the other pixies found Frodo and Sparkle and a new group was established where there was no leader and everyone treated each other with tolerance. Chief saw that his belief had lead him to not tolerating others which had lead him to be lonely in the first place.

 

Now, because of all this that happened, the magical worlds are not seen as separate worlds, but just one big magical community. For a community to last there has to be tolerance, everyone has to tolerate each other. Chief did not tolerate others and that is why he ended up alone. As for Sparkle, she stayed with the pixies and they are all best of friends and it is even said that she and Frodo are in a blossoming relationship and true love. However, nobody found out how she got there! It is still a mystery! It must have been …magic!