Tanenbaum Peacemakers Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye Prepare Nigerians for Upcoming Elections

On February 7, 2015, exactly one week before Nigerians were set to head to the polls, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission postponed the Presidential and legislative elections for seven weeks (until March 28th). Concerned that Boko Haram’s violent insurgency in the North would jeopardize the safety of voters around the country, the Commission’s Chairman, Attahiru Jega, heeded the advice of national security officials – delaying the election and announcing a “major” multinational military operation against the terrorist organization. This decision has been widely criticized both in Nigeria and abroad; some worry the postponement will delegitimize the elections and others fear an increased likelihood of election-related violence.

Despite the danger posed by Boko Haram and the challenges posed by this politically charged environment, Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers – Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, Co-Executive Directors of the Interfaith Mediation Center – remain undeterred in their work. Much like their efforts prior to the 2011 elections, these Nigerian Peacemakers are tirelessly preparing Nigerian communities around the country for the election and for conducting it in a peaceful manner.

Interviewed before the elections were postponed, Pastor James discussed the unique challenges posed by Boko Haram, as well as by national ethnic tensions.

Rather than targeting Christians and pitting Muslims against Christians, Boko Haram targets “everyone,” not a specific religious group. Also, many Nigerians are unwillingly being “conscripted, and some are abducted from their families” to become members of the group. As a result, Pastor James believes the insurgents have actually mitigated religious tensions in the country.

Pastor James says that if the opportunity arises he would sit down and talk with the insurgents about their demands. He noted that, prior to the recent offensive, the government’s response to Boko Haram included “soft diplomacy,” which involved an effort “to reintegrate the young men and women who are involved in this insurgency.”

As the elections approach, Pastor James is also concerned about ethnic tensions. Nigeria’s population of more than 149 million people is made up of over 250 ethnic groups. He and Imam Ashafa are urging their fellow Nigerians to respect the election results and refrain from violence as a means of voicing any displeasure. They are focused on the role of religious leaders in the country and believe it will be critical – and, indeed, many of them have been “calling on the populace not to make provocative statements and to play by the rules of the game.”

Pastor James is proud of his homeland and remains hopeful for its future. Yet he understands the challenges that lie ahead and the great need for Nigeria’s “religious leaders to come together as they have before.”

A New Round of Airline Industry Mishandlings, Obama Under Pressure, and More: News Roundup

In the news this week: the airline industry faces new issues related to religion, 18 states do not provide Medicaid funding for circumcisions, and President Obama is pushed on faith-based hiring rules.

Delta Airlines is working to secure an alliance with Saudi Arabian Airlines. Once completed, the alliance would enable Delta to offer direct flights to Saudi Arabia, but only to passengers that are not Jewish or do not possess a passport issued in Israel. Delta has protected their position of following the Saudi restrictions by stating that they are bound by the individual laws of any destination country. Many in the U.S. are speaking out, arguing that by entering this alliance Delta is breaking U.S. discrimination laws, engaging in religious discrimination, and indirectly promoting anti-Semitism. (The Blaze)
In another example of an internationally based company conflicting with U.S. laws, an Air France employee in Washington was allegedly sent home because she refused to remove her hijab. The employee was apparently told that the hijab did not meet the company’s dress code. (Sacramento Bee)
Eighteen states have or are considering cancelling Medicaid funding for circumcisions in order to close budget gaps. Colorado recently took this step, which they believe could save the state over $150,000 annually. By doing so they join states such as South Carolina, Arizona, California, Maine, and Florida. According to one expert, Jewish populations are unlikely to be affected by such a decision, as Jewish circumcisions are typically performed by specialist trained in Jewish ritual rather than a hospital physician. (Sacramento Bee)
In 2002, President Bush introduced a policy meant to give faith-friendly organizations greater access to federal funding. In doing so, he allowed organizations that practice discriminatory hiring practices based on religion to have access to government money. Many religious organizations hailed the decision while staunch supporters of the separation of church and state decried it. Critics are now saying that Obama has yet to fulfill a campaign promise to reverse Bush’s policy and are pushing for answers. (USA Today)
In other news:
Sharia bill is based on a false premise    The Guardian (UK)