Volume 19 Number 6
Building Peace From the Grass Roots
01 December 2006

THIS MONTH sees the release of a new film, The Imam and the Pastor, which tells the story of a remarkable peacemaking partnership in northern Nigeria, a region where thousands have been killed in Muslim-Christian conflicts.

The film’s protagonists, Imam Muhammad Nurayn Ashafa and Pastor James Movel Wuye, have first-hand experience of the violence, both as victims and as militia members. Close relatives of Ashafa were killed by Christians; Wuye lost his hand when Muslims tried to kill him. Today they are joint Directors of the Interfaith Mediation Centre in northern Nigeria’s main city, Kaduna.

‘The pastor is a Pentecostalist, an evangelical Christian,’ says the film’s producer/director, Alan Channer. ‘The imam describes himself as a fundamentalist and is a member of Kaduna’s Sharia
Implementation Committee. They are rooted in their religions and passionate about them, yet they have this rapport. They have been in the militias and seen the redundancy of violence. So they speak with great authority.’

The two men spoke about their work at a conference at the IofC centre in Caux, Switzerland in August 2004. Channer’s father, David, and the film’s assistant producer, Imad Karam, heard them, and felt that they had found a story which might make the basis for a film on Muslim-Christian relations. They sent Philip Carr, an experienced director and cameraman, to Nigeria to see them in operation on the ground.

‘When Philip rang us on his return, his voice was quivering with excitement,’ says Channer. ‘He had been the only foreign media representative at a peace festival in a town where only a year before hundreds of people had been killed in communal clashes. Even as the festival began it was not clear whether the peace would hold: the military police were there and there was colossal tension under the surface. He returned convinced that this was an authentic grassroots initiative.’

In June 2005 David (then aged 79) and Alan Channer went to Nigeria to film interviews with the two men. ‘We arrived at the airport, expecting to go to Kaduna. But instead we were taken to Jos, 200 miles south-east, where they were holding a training camp. We found the imam addressing a crowd of spell-bound Christian and Muslim youths, and the pastor conducting a role play with another group.’

The film has a special poignancy for Channer, because his father developed cancer shortly after returning from their second visit to Nigeria in December 2005, and died in September just before the film was completed. ‘The Nigerians have such respect for elders and they loved seeing him filming,’ says Channer. ‘They all called him “Dad”. When he died I got a text message from the imam saying we had lost “a hidden jewel”. The pastor left a phone message, “I’ve just heard that your Dad has transited... The Lord has taken Daddy, but his spirit lives on.” His life and his work came together, and a Nigerian conducted his cremation service in London.’

For Karam, a Muslim from Palestine, working with Christians on the film has been ‘an amazing insight into the other side of Christian-Muslim relations’. He hopes that the film will spark debate about dialogue. ‘It’s an amazing, authentic story in the midst of all the negativity.’

The Imam and the Pastor will be launched at the UN in New York on 28 November and in the House of Commons in London on 6 December.
Mary Lean