Religious Leaders Screen Film on Peacebuilding Partnership

May 21, 2009

Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye at Brandeis after screening a film on their lives called The Imam and the Pastor

Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, founders of the Interfaith Mediation Center (IMC) in Kaduna, Nigeria, appeared at Brandeis yesterday to screen a documentary on their lives called The Imam and the Pastor, which depicts how they overcame a violent past and built a partnership for peace.

Former sworn enemies who as youth participated in the ethno-religious violence that plagues Nigeria, Ashafa and Wuye have since gone on not only to reconcile with one another, but have joined forces to found the IMC, which works to strengthen coexistence among Muslims and Christians throughout Nigeria and increasingly, in other parts of the world.

The film, which has been shown at the UN and the British House of Commons, details their participation in militant groups involved in conflict between Muslims and Christians in Kaduna, northern Nigeria. In a defining event that occurred while taking part in violent conflicts, Wuye lost his hand while Ashafa’s spiritual mentor and two close relatives were killed.

The imam and pastor describe how they made a transition to a peaceful path, fueled by a commitment to their religious faith and its teachings on the importance of peace and forgiveness, which inspired them to come together for the good of their community. “We stay together for the human family,” said Wuye, “just as a married couple sometimes stays together for the sake of the children.”

Yet their reconciliation was not always easy, as Wuye demonstrated with a startling admission in the film that he sometimes imagined killing Ashafa during the first three years that they worked together. Their bond deepened, however, as the film shows them traveling together to lead mediation task forces across the nation, including their efforts to help forge peace agreements in Kaduna and Nigeria’s Plateau state.

The film acknowledges that some people from their respective religious groups criticized the interfaith effort. But they say they now enjoy majority support, with 75 percent of those who fought in militias in Kaduna “singing the song of peace,” said Wuye after the screening.

Following the screening, the imam and pastor answered questions, including on the role of women in peace efforts as well as the influence of religion in Nigeria. “Religion has been misused and abused,” said Ashafa. Religious identity can trigger violence, he added, but the cause is typically political or over resources.

The event was cosponsored by Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries, Brandeis Interfaith Chaplaincy, the BUILD (Brandeis University Interfaith Leadership Development) Fellow Program, the International Center on Ethics, Justice, and Public Life, Coexistence International, and the Graduate Programs in Dispute Resolution at the University of Massachusetts/Boston.

For more information about the film, see

Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa speak about their peacebuilding efforts in Nigeria.