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

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  1. Interesting post. However I think you ireonrcctly emphasise the role of resentment and social unrest at the expense of much more serious threats.Small wars and skirmishes are terrible, but they are nothing compared to the terror and devastation of world wars, or escalated wars fuelled and perpetuated by outside interests.Get this: States will soon realise that the magical rise in demand they’re all hoping for to kick-start the global perpetual growth’ economy isn’t going to be forthcoming. They might be able to boost investor confidence, and increase the money supply, but they can’t make up a glut in demand and prop up a whole economy. It wasn’t building the Hoover dam that launch the USA out of depression, it was the second world war.Industry loves nothing more than a war. The demand for bombs, bullets, fabric, fuel, food, energy, aircrafts, computers, the unemployed, technology is insatiable. As industries feel the pinch and contract (or collapse), the positive outcomes of war for industries and States will only rise, and rise, and rise.What will stop this happening. Sustainability is a solution to the world’s incipient woes, but why will those who control the direction of the State listen to academics when they’ve got crony industry reps hammering down the door, crying for support.

    • Khate…Yes! Thanks for pointing those issues out. You are right of course, that inter religious unrest is often manipulated by a ‘divide and rule’ imperial agenda. I think that that is actually implied in the post in reference to the ‘conflict entrepreneurs’-but I agree with you it needs to be made more explicit.

      That said, I do think that one of the points the Iman and the Pastor makes is precisely in relation to that very problem-if we build more resilient and more united communities on the ground, we will be in a better place to resist external (imperial) agendas which may not be in either of our best interests in the long run.

      The war machine is a very profitable business as you say and keeping conflicts going can be literally imperative to certain aspects of the current economy (that this be the case is a travesty!)…which is why resistance to conflict (from the ‘little people’-ie us on the ground) is so important…if ‘another world is possible’ then surely we need to start by living as if that were true and start identifying the real threats to all of us which you address.

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