When Cyprian Ekwensi wrote The passport of Mallam Ilia, it was based on the life style of the Islamic Northern Nigeria and intertwined with the historical Kano uprising and the entrant of the British colonial troops. He discussed the traditional practice called Shanchi where brave men fought to the death among themselves in anticipation of winning a maiden's hand in marriage. A culture prevalent in 1902 when "human life was worth about as much as a fowl's." He discussed the lawlessness of gangsters, resistance, lust, abiding love, fidelity, abduction, rape and other vices. Mallam Ilia made a pilgrimage to Mecca after a scholarly period of studying the Koran under the tutelage of a great teacher Mallam Gobir. Even at Mecca, the miasma was revolting as human caprices gained a place within the supposedly holy ground. The Moslems were described as;
"people who loved their fellow-men, said their prayers morning,
noon, and night, had no fear of death; and never worried
themselves unduly over their grave misfortunes, but hopes that by
Allah's grace it would all come right in the end."
The critical Islamic injunction was the promise Mallam Gobir on his dying bed wrought out from Mallam Ilia as a code of conduct for his future life.
"Promise me, Ilia my son. Promise me one thing."
"Yes, my master."
"Promise me that you will always live according to the Prophet,
that you will do all you can to be good, to propagate the faith..."
"That's all I ask." (p.55)
This was the only direct reference to the religion and it did not blaspheme the Prophet or Islam. The principal theme of the novel was revenge and not religious supposition, arguments, additions or corrections. Yet the promise has to duel with a cry for vengeance and that was literary.
The purpose of literature is to entertain. The literature is not much of scriptural disquisition in sermon-like oration or an avenue for alarmists' propaganda of the reminder of the consequences of spiritual consequence of spiritual disobedience. But once there is a departure from the above trend, the work changes from the everyday cheap utterances of impending doom, to the entertaining type with moral codes referenced along the displayed characterization in the novel. This then is a literary genre.
Religious/Scriptural materials abound; the evangelizing types, biblical studies, family life, prayer, women issues, spirituality, marriage counseling and Christian education type. But this is not the literature type we seek. The literary genre discusses the Scripture only as a historical or cultural background and it mirrors life in the same style ordinary literary works do with their intrigues, suspense and climaxes. It is therefore not religious but literary.
The overall aim of a Religious/Scriptural is to create an insight and to bring a refreshed consciousness into a past cultural climate, and a new people's lifestyle based on the prevalent laws. In other words, it is the exploration of the possibility of living with and within the law of any age or time zone.
The fear of committing blasphemy had made Writers to shy away from fiction in the 'Religious/Scriptural literary genre. Another point of concern is the Scriptural portion;
"For I testify unto every man that if any man shall add unto these
things. God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this
book: And any man that shall take away from the words of the
book of this prophecy. God shall take away his part out of the holy
City and from the things which are written in the book." Rev. 22:18-19 (emphasis mine.)
This refers to the Book of Revelation mainly, which we could for the avoidance of doubt apply to the whole Bible. It is quite understandable if so much caution is exercised and thus abstinence is the result. But Scriptural literature does not mean assigning or purporting prose or verses to the Bible or insinuating that Prophets or Angels spoke prophetically when such was not recorded in the Scripture.
In a paper entitled Ikwerre Indigenous Religious Beliefs and Practices in Elechi Amadi's Works, Rev. Dr. W. 0. Wotegha-Weneka says, "in African literature, the theme of the Writers had been to present to the outside world the indigenous beliefs and practices of their people." But in Scriptural/Religious literature, it is to show how life is lived within the ambits of a Religion's do's and don'ts. It does not criticize but presents the impact of one life on another, and of lives affected by the laws.
There is a market for Scriptural/Religious fiction for themes which range from the thrillers to the romance types made familiar in other genre.