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The Imam
& the Pastor

‘Imam and Pastor’ Film Premiered in UK Parliament

06 December 2006

John Battle MP, the UK Prime Minister’s envoy to the faith communities hosted the UK premiere of the documentary film ‘The Imam and the Pastor’ in the House of Commons before an invited audience which included MPs and Peers on Tuesday 6th December. The Imam and Pastor in question, Muhammad Ashafa and James Wuye, their flowing Nigerian robes contrasting with the sober wood panelling and flock wallpaper of the Parliamentary Committee Room, answered questions after the film.

The reason for the interest in their story is that they both led opposing armed gangs in defence of their communities in the early ‘90s when economic difficulties caused ethnic and religious conflict in their northern Nigerian city of Kaduna. Pastor James lost his right hand in one of those battles, and Imam Ashafa’s beloved spiritual mentor and two of his relatives were killed. Now the two men are co-directors of the Interfaith Mediation Centre in Kaduna… How they got from one position to the other, is the question the film sets out to answer.

After the film, Imam Ashafa asked for a moment’s silence in memory of David Channer who had the original inspiration for the film, but who passed away in September.

John Battle said the contrasting images in the film - of mass graves and of joyful dancing at a formal reconciliation ceremony organised by the two men - would stay with him. ‘We are all asked to live in the same place’, he said. ‘Our neighbours are those who are given to us to build community with. This film says “It can be done”! This is a very special story that needs to reach every corner of all our communities.’

Imam Ashafa said, ‘Religion is a candle to light the house or to burn down the house. It is an energy, and like nuclear energy, it can be used for good or destructive purposes. Our task is to see religion used for positive purposes.’ Pastor James said, ‘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.’

In the 24 hours since they arrived, they were interviewed on three BBC World Service radio programmes and Radio 4’s Today Programme, with interviews to come on BBC Five Live, Islam Channel, Channel S, Emel Magazine and numerous others.

Following the parliamentary launch, Imam Ashafa and Pastor James went to Liverpool for screenings at the Town Hall hosted by the Lord Mayor and at Liverpool Hope University.

 First Public Screening of 'The Imam and the Pastor' in UK

By Peter Riddell
9 December 2006

The film had its first public screening on December 9 before an audience of nearly 300 people in the Friends House, one of London's main venues for political and social meetings. After the film, Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye answered questions, several from people with pain in their hearts.

A man of Pakistani origin was reacting to a recent speech of the Prime Minister 'demanding that British Muslims live by "our values" without defining those values'. Ashafa responded, 'We all have lessons to learn from others to give us a magnanimous heart. We need to create space to understand each other better. Diversity is a source of strength and not a threat.'

In answer to a comment from a Palestinian woman on the dangers of fundamentalism, Ashafa said, 'Religion is a positive tool, but there are texts that can be used to incite people to genocide. Our story is about moving from the vicious cycle to the virtuous cycle.' James added, 'The crisis in the Middle East has a great impact on Africa and Nigeria. We are very passionate about our religions. Be careful in the global north what you say: due to the Danish cartoons controversy, more people died in Nigeria than anywhere else.'

A Somali woman said, 'In Somalia, everyone is Muslim, but they are divided by clan and tribalism. People don't communicate.' Again Ashafa turned the responsibility back on the questioner. 'The challenge in Somalia is very great, but you are the one who can bring change! Intolerance leads to hate, to suppression, to oppression, to demonisation, to war, to genocide. We generalise the failure of one person to a whole community. To remove the seed of genocide, deal with stereotypes and prejudices.'

To another question about how they deal with theological differences, Ashafa replied, '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.'

Another Palestinian asked how, if they had a 'wound' which is continuously bleeding, could they still do what they are doing? James acknowledged that it was a 'Herculean' task. His severed hand was no longer bleeding but he has to find someone to help him perform even simple tasks. 'But I am still bleeding as I see victims and even widows around me. It took me three years to get over myself. I challenge you to follow your heart and find a space in it for the others. Forgiveness is the weapon of the courageous, and the enemy will become your bosom friend and protector, because you will give him what he cannot give.'

Congratulating the two men and the film production team, Rev Ben Enwuchola, Anglican Chaplain to the Nigerian Community in the UK said, 'I am proud that something good is coming out of Nigeria and going out to entire world'. Prof Dawud Noibi, President of the Council for Nigerian Muslim Organisations, added, 'Crisis has been transformed into reconciliation. It is a small starting point for a greater reconciliation.'

The Chair, James Hore-Ruthven, concluded, 'Some people call Africa a "problem continent". Frank Buchman, who founded Initiatives of Change, held a lifelong vision that it was from Africa that answers to the world's needs would come. You are pioneers of the new statesmanship which is needed for this century. Thank you for coming to give us something - particularly as we used to be your colonial masters!'