Former enemies now peacemakers through faith

WelCom October 2019: Fr Ron Bennett In August this year I met two men who are wonderful activists in the peace process around the world. I had previously heard their story…

WelCom October 2019:

Fr Ron Bennett

Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa – two religious leaders working together to spread messages of interfaith unity, peace and reconciliation. 
Photo: via Sheargold

In August this year I met two men who are wonderful activists in the peace process around the world. I had previously heard their story in a 2010 documentary, ‘The Iman and the Pastor’ but never thought I would meet them face to face. They were here in New Zealand at various events around the country to spread their messages of interfaith unity, peace and reconciliation, hope and healing, embracing diversity and celebrating differences.

Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye are religious leaders who live in Kaduna, a city in northern Nigeria. Today, they work together to teach warring religious youth militias to resolve their conflicts peacefully. But they did not start out as peacemakers. Ten years ago, Imam Ashafa and Pastor James were mortal enemies, intent on killing one another in the name of religion.

In 1992, violent interreligious conflict broke out in Kaduna State. Christians and Muslims fought each other in the marketplace, destroying each other’s crops and attacking each other’s families. Both the Imam and the Pastor were drawn into the fighting, and both paid a heavy price for their involvement – Imam Ashafa with the loss of two brothers and his teacher; Pastor James with the loss of his hand.

After this event, they each dreamed of revenge against the other. Nonetheless, as leaders in their communities, the two men reluctantly agreed to meet. Imam Ashafa recalls what happened. ‘A mutual friend took both of us by the hand and said, “The two of you can pull this nation together, or you can destroy it. Do something.”’ Over the next few years, through increasingly frequent meetings and separate religious epiphanies, the two men slowly built mutual respect, and decided to work together to bridge the divide between their communities. 

For the last 25 years, they have been sharing their story around the world. They are grateful for the New Zealand response to Christchurch. We have set a high bar. But we must go further. We cannot rest on our laurels. We must continue what we have done and break down the barriers that divide us. 

Religion can be important in this peace process. Good religion can help immensely. Bad religion can cause harm. The Golden Rule – ‘not to do until others what you would not have done unto you’ is shared by at least 10 of the great religions of the world. If we could just live that Golden Rule our world would be so different.