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Peacemakers

Imam Muhammad Ashafa & Pastor James Wuye | Nigeria

Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, Nigeria | credit Andrew Sheargold

Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye are religious leaders who live in Kaduna, a city in northern Nigeria. Today, they work together to teach warring religious youth militias to resolve their conflicts peacefully. But they did not start out as peacemakers. Ten years ago, Imam Ashafa and Pastor James were mortal enemies, intent on killing one another in the name of religion.

In 1992, violent interreligious conflict broke out in Kaduna State. Christians and Muslims fought each other in the marketplace, destroying each others’ crops and attacking each others’ families. Both the Imam and the Pastor were drawn into the fighting, and both paid a heavy price for their involvement — Imam Ashafa with the loss of two brothers and his teacher, Pastor James with the loss of his hand.

After this event, they each dreamed of revenge against the other. Nonetheless, as leaders in their communities, the two men reluctantly agreed to meet. Imam Ashafa recalls what happened: “A mutual friend…took both of us by the hand and said: ‘The two of you can pull this nation together, or you can destroy it. Do something.’” Over the next few years, through increasingly frequent meetings and separate religious epiphanies, the two men slowly built mutual respect, and decided to work together to bridge the divide between their communities.

In 1995, Ashafa and Wuye formed the Interfaith Mediation Centre, a religious grassroots organization that has successfully mediated between Christians and Muslims throughout Nigeria. Their organization, now with over 10,000 members, reaches into the militias and trains the country’s youth—as well as women, religious figures, and tribal leaders—to become civic peace activists. Under their leadership, Muslim and Christian youth jointly rebuild the mosques and churches they once destroyed through war and violence.

Ashafa and Wuye’s story was featured in the documentary entitled The Imam and the Pastor, produced by FLT Films and supported by the United States Institute of Peace. A 2010 follow-up documentary, An African Answer, chronicled their journey since and the reconciliation process approaches in neighboring Kenya.

The dynamic duo remains committed to a peaceful Nigeria through their work with the Interfaith Mediation Centre.