Over the past two decades in Nigeria, thousands have been killed in violent clashes between Christians and Muslims. Imam Muhammad Nurayn Ashafa, a Muslim cleric, and Pastor James Movel Wuye, a Christian preacher from Kaduna State in northern Nigeria, were at first sworn enemies. Both were members of militias which fought each other in the town of Zangon-Kataf, which erupted in violence in 1992. They are now inseparable friends. They set up the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Forum in 1995 and also the Interfaith Mediation Centre. In 2002 they signed the Kaduna Peace Declaration with many other religious leaders. They have been awarded the Heroes of Peace Award from the New York City-based Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. They are now seeking to replicate their efforts through centers in Jos, Owerri and Lagos in Nigeria, and more recently they have conducted interfaith work in southern Sudan and Kenya. They have published a book, The Imam and the Pastor: Responding to Conflict, and a film, The Imam and the Pastor was released by FLT films in 2006. (See the trailer at: http://www.fltfilms.org.uk/imam.html)
SGI Quarterly: How did you move from hating each other to working together?
Pastor Wuye: I am a primary victim. It took me three years to forgive the Muslims for the hurt done to me. I had this ambition to retaliate for the hand that I lost in the conflict. Now, I have found strength to forgive them, through the inspiration I had from the Holy Bible and the Christian texts.
Imam Ashafa: The essence of Islam is faith, tradition, to shift people from hate to love, from hate to cooperation. It started from Muhammad in Mecca when he insisted that there are no slaves and no masters, we are all equal before God. When he had victory over Mecca, instead of transferring hate, he transferred love to the people of Mecca. Instead of vengeance, he transferred the hand of cooperation. And that was the spirit I later discovered in the close reading of Islam. Sincerely speaking when I tried, it was difficult. Pastor James’s groups were the ones that killed my spiritual teacher, and some of our brothers. I was very sad about it
SGIQ: Is achieving peace and reconciliation easy or difficult?
Imam Ashafa: For me, building a culture of peace is a very difficult challenge. There are many walls that prevent this. For me there was the fear of the unknown and of another culture. But religion has the culture of creating an alternative to violence. If only one person is able to see the light and influence one person, then we are already creating ripples. To go beyond our fear as Muslims is to go beyond the law of reciprocity. To do for others because we are trying to get to the others’ need, across the line, across the border, because we feel it is divine to do so.