Nigerian Peacemakers Documentary Stirs Hope for Interfaith Relations

Politicians and faith leaders have praised the dedicated commitment to peace of the former leaders of violent Muslim and Christian militias in Nigeria who laid down their weapons in the name of forgiveness.

A moving documentary has had its first screening in the UK, revealing the amazing journey taken by two formerly bitter enemies on opposite sides of Nigeria's Christian-Muslim divide that became inspirational models of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Politicians and faith representatives were captivated as they watched The Pastor and the Imam, a documentary telling the story in their own words of Pentecostal Pastor James Wuye and Muslim Imam Mohammed Ashafa, formerly leaders of violent militias in the northern state of Kaduna who came to find peace with one another.

During years of unrest and mutual suspicion between Nigeria's Muslim and Christian populations - roughly equal in size - their militias and many others clashed repeatedly causing much death and exacerbating the mutual suspicion and hatred. Pastor James lost a hand in the clashes, which have left more than 10,000 dead, while Imam Ashafa lost two of his cousins and his spiritual leader.

After a spiritual struggle to realise the message of forgiveness inherent in both Islam and Christianity, the two men were able to lay down their hatred and their weapons in the name of forgiveness and peace and start up a Christian-Muslim Interfaith Mediation Centre in Kaduna.

The centre has developed over the years to play a key role in building peaceful relations in high tension spots where Pastor James and Imam Ashafa work to assuage misunderstandings on both the Muslim and the Christian sides by holding workshops and preaching the message of peace and forgiveness.

The two leaders are currently in Britain to promote the film, narrated by former BBC correspondent Rageh Omaar, and to speak to politicians and faith leaders about the transformation of their relationship and the possibility of building peace from seemingly impossible circumstances.

The documentary received rapturous applause at its screening in the Houses of Parliament last night and was praised for its insights by the evening's host, John Battle MP, Tony Blair's envoy to the faith communities.

Mr Battle said Pastor James and Imam Ashafa "personify what can be done" and that the documentary demonstrated that we "can put the strongest possible contradictions together when we don't think we can and bring around change".

"We can learn from that," he said. "It can be done."

Mr Battle invited communities experiencing interfaith tensions to use the film and relate it their own personal experiences.

The Archbishop of Canterbury will welcome Pastor James and Imam Ashafa to Lambeth Palace next week.

He said: "Imam Ashafa and Pastor James and the film that captures their honest and inspiring story, offer a message of hope for those with hate in their hearts, and for everyone who believes in the loving potential of all human beings.

"They are a model for Muslim-Christian and inter-faith relations in Britain and abroad."

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