When Fatima Isiaka, a respected Muslim leader in Abuja, Nigeria, asked a cab driver to drop her off at St. Kizito Catholic Church, the driver thought she was lost.
Isiaka, who wears a jilbab head covering and robe, recalled: “He told me, ‘This is a church!’ I said, ‘Yes, I know.’”
Isiaka was part of an innovative effort to bring Christian and Muslim women together in hopes of fostering religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence. The Women of Faith Peacebuilding Network was started in 2011 by Agatha Ogochukwu Chikelue, a sister of the Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy congregation, and Maryam Dada Ibrahim, a local Muslim businesswoman.
Isiaka, now deputy director in the network’s Abuja branch, looks back fondly on her time at the St. Kizito Catholic Church.
“I loved every bit of my stay there,” Isiaka said. “I found a place in the church where I performed ablution, to set up my mat and pray.”
Since the group began, the Women of Faith Peacebuilding Network’s activities have reached more than 10,000 Muslim and Christian women across the country. The network also offers vocational training in catering, bead making, fashion design, and soap production to a smaller group of women who participate in an annual 21-day seminar.
Nigeria’s population is evenly divided: about half Muslim and half Christian. Northern Nigeria is majority Muslim, while southern Nigeria is majority Christian. Ensuring equal Christian and Muslim political representation at local, state, and national levels is an especially sensitive subject.