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The Imam and the Pastor are still mediating peace

Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye at the Riverglenn Conference Centre. Photo by Frank Dingle
“Peacebuilding is like giving a dangerous animal food to eat at the risk of your life,” said Nigerian Pastor James Wuye. He and Imam Muhammad Ashafa have been on a long journey over the last decade from being warring enemies to struggling to come to terms with their religion’s call to forgive and make peace.

In recent decades tens of thousands of people have been killed in Nigeria in religious and tribal wars. At one time 2,500 people were killed in three days. This time religious leaders called for peace. The city of Kaduna where both Wuye and Ashafa live was the epicentre of the violence. As a result of their programs there is much peace. The new President of Nigeria says the pattern of conciliation used in Kaduna is the model for his government.

Says Ashafa, Peace-building has been hard. We are held in suspicion in some parts of our communities. The biggest enemy we have to overcome is ignorance,”

Now visiting Australia at the invitation of Initiatives of Change (IOC) they demonstrate how it is possible for Christians and Muslims not only to live together in peace but to be active mediators.

“It is not about compromise. It is about creating a space for the other. ‘The earth is the Lord’s’. Let us make space for others in it,” both men kept reiterating in the six community and University events conducted in Brisbane and Toowoomba last week where they addressed about 500 people.

180 people attended Indooroopilly’s Riverglenn Conference Centre with support from I.O.C., A.M.A.R.A and Indooroopilly Uniting Church to hear them, ask questions and see the DVD, The Imam and the Pastor. Some came armed with scripture to find fault with Muslims and Christians working together. Asked what in each of their religions challenged them to end their enmity and work for reconciliation, they said, “We don’t have full agreement on beliefs and values of course, but we are children of Abraham and sons of Adam and as such have a duty to each other as fellow humans.”

Specifically Ashafa said, “The Koran teaches that Islam is inclusive and acknowledges other religions. All those who believe in God have their reward. Mischievous religious leaders with the help of political interference have led people to follow hate and twisted the teachings. Islam teaches forgiveness and respect and is a compassionate religion and its followers are taught to aspire to the highest level of responsibility. At this point we hope people move their thinking from us OR them to us IN them and them IN us.”

Wuye responded, “The Bible says to pursue peace with all men, and holiness without which we cannot see God. Peter’s vision of God asking him to eat unclean foods taught him that anything, any person God made is good. The misinterpretation of Jesus’ words to take up the sword have led to much killing.(Luke 22.36) When Ashafa sought to show respect and compassion and seek forgiveness I was troubled and wept, ‘How can I forgive this enemy of mine who has killed my countrymen and caused the loss of my right hand in the fighting. Just as his prophet had led him to forgiveness so did Jesus challenge me.

“Before we had programmed people to train and to kill as militia. Now we had to go back to our true teaching and reprogram people again. We are teaching people through radio broadcasts and mediation meetings. This has brought a huge reduction in violence.”

In Canberra and Sydney following their Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane visits they gave a challenge to Australia as a multicultural society to become a salad pot rather than a melting pot.

“Australia has taken seriously an important first step in acknowledging the past,” said Ashafa. “It is important then to match the theory with the practical acts of reconciliation. We need to talk in new paradigms not in negative terms like tolerating the stranger but instead accepting the other person.”

Wuye reminded us, “There are no strangers but a friend to be met. As Abraham Lincoln said, ‘You destroy your enemy by making him your friend’. There is much to be done in Africa – Sudan, Kenya, Somalia and Australia and the world. The change begins within ourselves.”

We dare not ignore this call.

Photo : Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye at the Riverglenn Conference Centre. Photo by Frank Dingle