Pastor James Wuye is the co-director of the Muslim-Christian Interfaith Mediation Center, leading task forces to resolve conflicts across Nigeria. In the 1990s, Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa led opposing, armed militias dedicated to defending their respective communities as violence broke out in Kaduna. The documentary film “The Imam and the Pastor” is based on their experiences. It is an inspirational presentation on forgiveness between two former sworn enemies. Pastor Wuye is a 2006 Ashoka Fellow and was conferred with an honorary doctorate degree in alternative medicine in India in 2005.
Born in Zamfara State, in the shrubby side of a small town, Wuye grew up with a soldier as a father figure who had fought in the Biafra war. As such, the young Wuye grew up in his immediate surrounding with war, violence, and tension spreading. He began school in the small town in Zamfara before proceeding to Kaduna where he studied theology. The young graduate then wanted to tie his interest in international affairs with theological studies and as such enrolled with Link International, in Vision International University, which was based in Ramona, California. After the completion of his B.A. program, Wuye went on to complete a master’s degree in theology.
The remarkable information about Pastor Wuye is that he was brought up in a Baptist Church, but turned out to be a Catholic by being enrolled in a Catholic School. After that, he then went to visit an uncle who was a keen member of the Assemblies of God, and after striking many interesting conversations with him, Wuye was ordained, as a pastor in the Assemblies of God Church. Till today, that is his spiritual home. His life was a journey that gave him a good appreciation of the tenets of different Christian denominations.
Pastor Wuye became an activist in 1979, at the time he was graduating from high school. He was an active young Christian person, very much involved with Church-linked youth groups. He subsequently became the representative of his church to several groups, including the Youth Christian Association of Nigeria. Wuye’s desire was to do the work of God was evident and he felt the calling with passion. He loved preaching as such being a pastor and mission work was the dream job for him. Wuye was also very keen to bring the voice of young people into the national debates as well as the global fora. Drawing from those passions, he took on the leadership role in a youth militia group in 1992.
During a confrontation between Christians and Muslims in Zongon Kataf, James Wuye lost his right arm, while Muslim Youth Councils Secretary General Muhammad Ashafa lost two cousins and his spiritual mentor. In 1995, the two former opponents decided to work together and build bridges between their respective communities
As former hard-liners it was a difficult task to bring the leadership of their respective organizations into a process of mutual discovery and dialogue, but they began the process. Visits were made to the meetings of each organization. Wuye visited a mosque, and Ashafa visited a church. Symposia with Christian-Muslim dialogue were held and met with great success.
With this aim in view, they launched the Interfaith Mediation Center of the Muslim-Christian Dialogue, an organization with over 10,000 members providing interfaith training to young people in schools and universities, to women, religious leaders and politicians. The center has thus contributed to defusing tensions in the 2002 and 2004 clashes in Kaduna and Yelwa.
This organization has held educational events and published books and pamphlets on interfaith mediation and peace-building. They co-authored The Pastor and the Imam: Responding to Conflict that tells their stories, explores the similarities and differences of Christianity and Islam, and calls for Christians and Muslims to work together for understanding and peace.
These two leaders renamed their organization the Interfaith Mediation Centre. They have conducted many educational events related to peace building and reconciliation across religious lines. They also are active in the streets seeking to quell violence. Once, Imam Ashafa provided shelter in his own home for a Christian woman fleeing violent Muslim youths. Pastor Wuye also saved a Muslim woman at risk from Christian youths who threatened her.
Ashafa and Wuye have become key figures both in Nigeria and around the world in efforts to promote peace between Muslim and Christian communities. They both find some of their harshest critics within their own faiths as disagreements about how to interact with the other faith are very deep and intense. Both Ashafa and Wuye are committed to extending their faiths, even in the other communities. But they acknowledge that they have to find the space for coexistence, a commitment that they discovered was deeply rooted in their own religious traditions.