Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Imam and The Pastor

Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye are two
Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye are two of the unlikeliest of allies

By Amjad Mohamed-Saleem

"My hate for Muslims had no limits," said the Pastor. "We had a zeal to protect and revive the glory of Islam," said the Imam.
Emerging from the 1990s in Northern Nigeria after being on the frontlines of confrontations that saw thousands dead, Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye are two of the unlikeliest of allies. Forging new grounds with their Interfaith Mediation Center, they became responsible for mediating peace between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria's Kaduna state.
They both came out of the heart of the religious teachings of their communities to become bitter enemies determined to kill one another. Imam Ashafa was committed to the total Islamization of Nigeria, and Pastor James to its total evangelization.
Their story in the documentary film “The Imam and The Pastor” is one that needs to be learnt to fully comprehend the importance of moving beyond clash to reach out and develop an alliance with one other.
Tough Journey
Joining rival militias, the pastor had his hand hacked off while defending his church against Muslims, and the imam had his spiritual adviser and two of his brothers killed by Christian extremists. "For 48 hours, we were killing and maiming each other. Each of us was fighting believing that we had to defend our faith," said Ashafa.
In 1995, a chance meeting between the two at a mediation conference held under the auspices of the Kaduna State Women's Commission saw them discovering a lot of commonalities between themselves. This started their journey toward healing and forgiveness. As they each began to question what the cost of violence is, they reverted back to their scriptures for guidance on common approaches. The culmination of this was the Interfaith Mediation Center, which has been described as a prototype of global conflict resolution. The journey has been tough. They were labeled as betrayers by their own respective people, and when they visited each other's religious institutions, they were met with suspicion.
Their personal journey was equally tough. Moving away from hating each other was a hard endeavor. The turning point for Imam Ashafa came when he heard a Friday sermon about forgiveness and the example of prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) who forgave the people of Quraysh upon the conquest ofMecca.
For Pastor James, it took him three years to really overcome his hatred. He says that sometimes when they would be travelling together, even sharing a room, he was sometimes tempted to suffocate Ashafa in retaliation for the loss of his hand. However, it was with the sickness of his mother and the support shown by Imam Ashafa that Pastor James began to really embrace the concept of reconciliation.
He was further helped by the words of a fellow evangelist, "You cannot preach to someone you hate. You must begin to forgive them for every hurt against you."
Lessons Learned
The two men are now working together and, more importantly, helping to empower others to understand and rejoice the commonality with the faith of others and to speak of those faiths with the respect they deserve, while remaining faithful to their own religions.
In fact, it is this demonstration of the importance of staying faithful to one's own religious principles while reaching out to others of a different faith that has been the appeal of their story over the last decade or so. This, and the fact that their solution is home-grown (becoming part of the solution after being part of the problem) means they talk not only with credibility but with a refreshing sense of uniqueness. This credibility is important, especially for a continent that has suffered from being told how to solve its problems rather than being provided with the space and facilitation it needs to solve the problems for itself.
Ashafa and James have been described by the Archbishop of Canterbury as a "model for Christian-Muslim relations." Their story shows how the power of responsibility can push them to rise above their narrow confines of individualistic concerns to face the broader concerns of all humanity and to redress contradictions of society. This is not something to be left to politicians or formal institutions, although no one can be ruled out from playing a part and contributing. Ultimately, the contradictions of society will be redressed when people come together, confident in their universal principles, strengthened by their common values, becoming defenders of pluralism in their societies, and respecting the identities of others. They must take up the challenge of joining forces in a revolution of trust and confidence against the tide of discrimination, intolerance, and poverty.
For Pastor James, it took him three years to really overcome his hatred
Their journey of forgiveness and reconciliation is about taking an individual responsibility to create a safe space for people to talk and share ideas. This safe space entails not only moving beyond victimhood, but also being cognizant of the past, accepting and facing up to the past honestly.
The story of Ashafa and James shows that strong ethical commitment in religious traditions can sharpen identity politics, but, more importantly, can also form the basis of inter- and intrafaith collaboration. Thus, religious pluralism not only can lead to an absence of violence, mainly due to better understandings and interaction, but it opens a space for discussion, dialogue, and engagement.
In short, we must learn to listen closely to one another, not simply because it is polite, but because it is just possible that we might learn something important about ourselves and build a better global village in the process. This is perhaps the greatest lesson we can get from the story of the Imam and the Pastor.

No comments: