I’ve just been watching a documentary film about the work of 2 Nigerian faith leaders-one a Muslim Iman and the other a Pentescostal Christian pastor. Culture unplugged, who are screening The Iman and the Pastor online give this synopsis below:
“The Imam and The Pastor” depicts the reconciliation between Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, and the peace-making initiatives which have flowed from it. The film, narrated by Rageh Omaar, shows that it is possible for the perpetrators of inter-religious violence to become instigators of peace. It is both a story of forgiveness and a case study of grass-root initiatives to rebuild communities torn apart by conflict. In the 1990s, Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye led opposing militias in Northern Nigeria. Now the two men work together bridging religious conflicts that have killed thousands. In recent decades, tens of thousands of Nigerians have been killed in communal clashes between Christians and Muslims. “We formed a militia to protect our people”. states Pastor Wuye. “My hate for the Muslims then had no limits”. The victims of his militia included Imam Ashafa’s spiritual leader and two cousins. The Imam spent three years planning revenge. Then one day, a sermon on forgiveness changed his life. The two men met and “gradually the relationship began to grow”. They played a leading role in negotiating a historic peace accord. As Imam Ashafa explains, “even though we differ in some theological issues, we will make the world a safer place”.
At its first screening in Parliament, London in 2006 Iman Ashafa noted that ‘Differences arise out of ignorance of own tradition and of the other traditions. We studied our scriptures together and found 70 values in common and 25 areas of disagreement on core values that cannot be compromised. We reject the word tolerance because of its negative connotations. What is needed is acceptance of the other for what he is.’ Pastor James emphasised that ‘Nigeria is a very religious country. The conflict entrepreneurs use faith as the medium to inspire violence. We’re using faith to de-programme violence.’ They both affirm that at the heart of both Christianity and Islam the message is one of non-violence and that teachers of both faiths need to dig deeper and teach more faithfully the message of peace.
In the last week, Iman Ashafi and Pastor James have been sharing their model for inter-religious peacebuilding at a workshop in Cairo, Egypt. In An African answer, the sequel to this documentary, their work is tracked through their involvement in peacebuilding workshops in Kenya which was racked by renewed inter-religious violence post-elections.
Pastor James says: “We are like a husband and a wife. We must not divorce. If we divorce, our children…(the next generation of Nigerians) will suffer.”