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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Muslim, Christian rivals turn peacemakers in Nigeria


NICOSIA, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Once leaders of opposing religious youth gangs, Nigerians Muhammad Ashafa and James Wuye are now using their respective faiths to nurture peace in a part of their country long riven by sectarian conflict.

Espousing inter-faith dialogue at a conference in Cyprus this week, the two make an odd couple. Ashafa, a Muslim Imam, is in flowing white robes, Wuye wears a Christian pastoral habit, with a large silver crucifix around his neck.


Twenty years ago, the two men were at each others' throats. But, thrown together in a government-sponsored child immunisation programme, they say they overcame deep-rooted hatred of the other through their faith.


Ashafa and Wuye, who founded the Interfaith Mediation Centre in Kaduna, northern Nigeria in 1995, use grassroots contacts to help reconciliation, particularly when the conflict appears religion-based.

Both say they are guided by the philosophy that the best way to eliminate an enemy is to make that person your friend, and need to accept, not tolerate, differences.

"We work in the community, sometimes we are invited, sometimes we invite ourselves. Where we see conflict or indicators that there could be conflict we go. .. we engage in interreligious activities, trying to understand the conflict from each group and bring them together," said Wuye.

They say they plan to embark on a speaking tour of the Middle East next year.


Wuye admits that it took him three years to get over his desire to seek revenge on Ashafa. It took a clearer-minded cleric to point out that he was going against the basic tenets of his faith.


Ashafa says his healing process was shorter. "You cannot be a true Muslim when you have an unforgiving spirit in you, you cannot be a true Muslim without compassion, and I tried to be a good Muslim."

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