The Imam and the Pastor

27 May 2021

Former enemies in an ongoing, deadly Nigerian conflict, Christian Pastor James Wuye and Muslim Imam Muhammad Ashafa reconciled their differences to stand as an example to their community and honor both their faiths' teachings to "love your enemy."

The Imam and the Pastor

In the 1990s, Pastor James Wuye and the Imam Muhammad Ashafa led opposing sides of a deadly conflict in Kaduna, Nigeria.

Each man was deeply rooted in his own faith tradition. Pastor James had felt a strong calling to the Church since graduating high school. Imam Ashafa was the thirteenth generation in his family to become an Imam. Both men felt a passion to unify and energize their faith communities, and to protect them against perceived threats.

As the conflict escalated, both men trained militias to intimidate and even kill members of the opposite side. Crops and livelihoods were destroyed. Families were attacked. The need for revenge on both sides fueled an ever-growing hatred, and the leaders' roles became entrenched. Both suffered heavy losses. Imam Ashafa lost two brothers and his mentor in the conflict. Pastor James, in addition to losing close friends, lost his right hand.

But something incredible happened.

In 1995, during a UNICEF outreach program about child immunization against polio, the two leaders hesitantly agreed to put aside their differences for the sake of the larger community. They realized that their voices, speaking together, could convince more people to protect their children against a common threat. Their agreement was cautious and guarded at first - and then, gradually over the years, they built up the respect and trust necessary to form a partnership.

The two men eventually formed the Interfaith Mediation Centre (which is a URI member group) - an interfaith, grassroots organization that heals rifts between Christians and Muslims throughout Nigeria. With over 10,000 members, they now train former militia members to become peace activists. 

Today, Imam Ashafa and Pastor James work together to act as an example to their communities that peace is possible. They teach members of youth militias methods to resolve their conflicts peacefully rather than infinitely escalating violence, and have even led successful efforts to rebuild the churches and mosques that had fallen during their conflict. 

Hear it in their own words: Read a 2011 interview Pastor James and Imam Ashafa gave together. Their remarkable story was also featured on Oprah's BELIEF television series in 2015.