The Imam and the Pastor

A guest post by Carol Kingston-Smith. Carol and her husband Andy spent several years working with the church in Bolivia, and now teach justice and advocacy at Redcliffe College, and blog at

I’ve just been watching a documentary film about the work of two Nigerian faith leaders – one a Muslim Imam and the other a Pentescostal Christian pastor.

Culture Unplugged, who are screening The Imam and the Pastor online give this synopsis below:

The Imam and The Pastor depicts the reconciliation between Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, and the peace-making initiatives which have flowed from it.

The film, narrated by Rageh Omaar, shows that it is possible for the perpetrators of inter-religious violence to become instigators of peace. It is both a story of forgiveness and a case study of grass-root initiatives to rebuild communities torn apart by conflict.

In the 1990s, Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye led opposing militias in Northern Nigeria. Now the two men work together bridging religious conflicts that have killed thousands. In recent decades, tens of thousands of Nigerians have been killed in communal clashes between Christians and Muslims. “We formed a militia to protect our people”, states Pastor Wuye. “My hate for the Muslims then had no limits”. The victims of his militia included Imam Ashafa’s spiritual leader and two cousins. The Imam spent three years planning revenge, then one day, a sermon on forgiveness changed his life.

The two men met and “gradually the relationship began to grow”. They played a leading role in negotiating a historic peace accord. As Imam Ashafa explains, “even though we differ in some theological issues, we will make the world a safer place”.

At its first screening in Parliament, London in 2006  Iman Ashafa noted that “Differences arise out of ignorance of own tradition and of the other traditions. We studied our scriptures together and found 70 values in common and 25 areas of disagreement on core values that cannot be compromised. We reject the word tolerance because of its negative connotations. What is needed is acceptance of the other for what he is.”

Pastor James emphasised that  “Nigeria is a very religious country. The conflict entrepreneurs use faith as the medium to inspire violence. We’re using faith to de-programme violence.”  They both affirm that at the heart of both Christianity and Islam the message is one of non-violence and that teachers of both faiths need to dig deeper and teach more faithfully the message of peace.

In the last week, Iman Ashafi and Pastor James have been sharing  their model for inter-religious peacebuilding at a workshop in Cairo, Egypt. In An African Answer, the sequel to this documentary, their work is tracked through their involvement in peacebuilding workshops in Kenya which was racked by renewed inter-religious violence post-elections.

Pastor James says: “We are like a husband and a wife. We must not divorce. If we divorce, our children…(the next generation of Nigerians) will suffer.”


Photo from FLT Films

RELATED ARTICLES – Tahir Square, Meet Shane Claiborne

Can Christmas Still Really Change the World ?

Can Christmas still really change the world ?

This post is for those who are a little less than certain about Christmas, whether Christians concerned about the extent of the consumerism and materialism that modern Christmas celebrations in the West seem to have embraced, or humanists who might share the same concerns, but who also perhaps believe there’s something positive in the message of ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all men’.

In these difficult times there seems to be an increasing disillusionment with Christmas, in its current form as a two month long expensive consumer event, which so often seems devoid of any real meaning, and frequently fails to meet our unrealistic expectations.

A lot of people are interested in devising a new version of Christmas.

This is nothing new, of course, many of our traditional Christmas celebrations have no religious connection at all, with the whole history of Christmas being in fact rather complicated. The first record of Christmas being celebrated appears to have been in Rome around 350AD. There are many suggestions why December 25th was chosen, but it seems likely it had no real religious basis. What is certain is that since it’s origin Christmas and how it should be celebrated has changed considerably and been the subject of much debate and disagreement. Celebrating Christmas was banned in England under Oliver Cromwell, and it later came close to dying out during the 1700s. Its revival occurred during the Victorian period, influenced in particular by Charles Dickens – who popularised carol singing, gift giving, family gatherings, feasting and did much to make ‘Merry Christmas’ the traditional festive greeting.

Today’s Christmas looks a little different.

Christmas is now the largest shopping and spending event of the year across much of the world. In the UK 40% of the population are expected to go overdrawn over the Christmas period, with a typical UK family spending between £500 and £700. Many of us overeat and drink too much over Christmas and Boxing Day, consuming on average an estimated 11,000 callories ! The advertising of the mighty spend began at the start of November . . . complete with easy credit, emotional blackmail and over-sweet sentimentality – ponder the Christmas messages contained in the Littlewoods Christmas ad!

Whether you share any part of the Christian faith or not, it’s difficult to connect the Christmas messages of peace, love, family togetherness and compassion, with the consumerism, materialism and general excess that are so often a part of our modern celebrations.

In the words of the Christian organisation Advent Conspiracy; Christmas should be a story of promise, hope, and a revolutionary love, but has become a season of stress, traffic jams, and shopping lists, and when it’s all over, too many of us are left with unwanted presents, debt, an expanded wasteline and an empty feeling of missed purpose.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can opt-out with a downsized Christmas, an ethical Christmas, a simplicity Christmas or a home-made Christmas when it comes to gifts.

More importantly we can also chose to give our time, our friendship, and our compassion.

Whatever Christmas means to you, have a Merry one.


Photo by mhohimer, via Flickr

The Eye of a Needle

The three books below are written by Christians primarily for Christians, in large part to remind some sections of the church of the parts of Christian teaching that relate to unjust social and economic conditions – often referred to as Liberation Theology, or Social Justice.

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald Sider

First published in 1977, Ron Sider’s book was intended to shock and challenge mainstream Christianity into reevaluating it’s attitude and response to global poverty. It proved particularly controversial, as it cast the rich West as the ‘bad guys’, with systems and practices that are, if not entirely responsible for creating global poverty, are at least responsible for doing little to improve it.

A significant backlash developed from parts of the Christian right, especially in the US, with Dave Chilton publishing Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators in 1981, as a response. Sider’s book is now in its fifth edition, and has ‘mellowed’ significantly since its first publication – being now less judgmental and critical in tone, and less antagonistic to market capitalism.

At its core it still challenges disinterest and apathy within the church in the face of global poverty and injustice, and asks Christians to consider if their economic and social priorities are really in line with the Christian message of concern for the poor and marginalised in society, and if not, calls on them to do something about it. [Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger from Amazon]

A Just Church by Chris Howson

Chris Howson is a City Centre Mission Priest in Bradford, and in A Just Church writes the story of a small community church trying to live out what they believe, asking the question ‘what would Jesus do ?’ Chris’s church were partly inspired by the example of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, not just for his outspoken role in ending the apartheid regime, but also for his less well know criticism of the ANC once in government, of Robert Mugabe’s violent regime in Zimbabwe, and of the growing homophobia seemingly developing in parts the church.

A Just Church describes Chris’s church’s struggles and actions across a wide range of issues, including guerilla gardening, reducing their carbon footprint, challenging top-down urban regeneration that doesn’t consider local people, building relationships with Bradford’s Asian communities, anti-war protesting (including super-gluing themselves to the gates of a nuclear submarine base) and taking part in Make Poverty History.

As well as telling the story of the church’s activities and deliberations, A Just Church also contains a number of suggestions of how other churches, groups or individuals can educate, take action, reflect and sustain themselves on a range of issues. [A Just Church from Amazon]

The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne

Shane Claiborne has become a well known international figure, famous for his peace activism during the Gulf War, critiques of materialism, disparity and corporate greed, and support for the Occupy Wall Street protests. The Irresistible Revolution is his first book, published in 2006.

Shane argues the case for a simpler way of life (simplicity, he bemoans, has become too complicated to achieve) and describes the origin of the Simple Way movement in Philadelphia. There is plenty of humour, for such a serious subject, with Shane ironically pointing out that ‘simplicity is very popular nowadays – lots of people are very busy giving presentations about it, or being paid lots to write books about it’. He also points out the detachment of many who profess concern for the poor, whilst never having anything to do with them; ‘there is nothing more sickening than talking about poverty over a fancy diner’.

The Irresistible Revolution is an easy read, but poses uncomfortable and challenging questions. The preface describes it as not being for saints or martyrs, but ordinary people who are dissatisfied with how the world is and want to do something to change it. The revolution, Shane writes, must begin inside each of us. [The Irresistible Revolution from Amazon]

The irony of promoting books on a website opposed to consumerism is not lost on me.  Borrow them from a friend or library if you can or buy them second hand. If you must, buy them from Amazon through this site and make me some money :) Half of any income I make will be donated to Oxfam and Water Aid.

Similar articles – Foto Friday – Meet Shane Claiborne

Photo by James Fischer, via Flickr

Meet Jessica Jackley

The current series of ‘Foto Friday’ posts are focussing on individuals who are currently working in their own way to try and make a positive difference in the world.

In 2005 Jessica Jackley and Matt Flannery jointly founded Kiva, an internet based person to person microfinance project. Six years later Kiva has issued loans worth more than $240 million to entrepreneurs in the developing world, who have no other access to capital funding, to develop their businesses and lift themselves and their communities out of poverty.

The basic idea behind microfinance is to offer financial services to the world’s poor, that banks generally aren’t interested in offering.

Jessica was inspired by Professor Muhammad Yunis, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on microfinance in 2006, as it gave her a more positive way to respond to the needs of the poor, without feelings of guilt or shame. In this interview with Entrevista she talks about the need to start small in making a difference to the huge problems of the world.

Jessica is a committed Christian and has an interfaith marriage to Islamic scholar and writer Reza Aslan, who works to build bridges between America and the Arab and Muslim world.

I’m a big fan of Kiva – you can view Next Starfish’s profile here. If you’re interested in getting more involved and want to know how I’ve found the experience of being involved with Kiva just drop me a line.

Photo by Michael Dayah, via Wikimedia Commons

Meet Shane Claiborne

The next few ‘Foto Friday’ posts will focus on individuals who are currently working in their own way to try and make a positive difference in the world.

Shane Claiborne is a Christian activist and author, who champions the poor and marginalised in society.

He is also an outspoken critic of the arms trade and militarism. During the second Gulf War he travelled around Iraq for three weeks apologising to the Iraqi people about the Coalition bombing, worked with Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream on his Bombs and Ice Cream project, and in his 2010 tax return he witheld the 30% of his tax that he argues would go towards military spending.

He recently wrote an open letter to non-Christians for Esquire Magazine.

“I am going to Iraq to stop terrorism. There are Muslim extremists and Christian extremists who kill in the name of their gods. Their leaders are millionaires who live in comfort while their citizens die neglected in the streets. I believe in another Kingdom that belongs to the poor and to the peacemakers. I believe in a safe world, and I know this world will never be safe as long as the masses live in poverty so that handful of people can live as they wish. Nor will the world be safe as long as we try to use violence to drive out violence.” - SHANE CLAIBORNE

[More Ideas for ‘making a difference’ in The Year I Saved the World]