Muhammad Ashafa is an Imam, from Kaduna, in northern Nigeria. As the eldest son of a Muslim scholar and spiritual leader from a long line of Imams, Muhammad Ashafa grew up in a conservative environment, eventually following the family vocation and becoming an Imam himself.
He joined an Islamist group determined to islamize northern Nigeria and drive out non-Muslims. This movement reached its peak during the 80's and 90's. Ashafa went on to become Secretary General of the National Council of Muslim Youth Organizations, an organization promoting debate and confrontation against Christians. During a confrontation between Christians and Muslims in Zongon Kataf, Muhammad Ashafa lost two cousins and his spiritual mentor.
Following the violence, in 1995 he developed a relationship with Pastor James Wuye, who had lost his right arm in the riots. The two former opponents decided to work together and build bridges between their respective communities and founded Interfaith Mediation Center of the Muslim-Christian Dialogue, leading task-forces to resolve conflicts across Nigeria. The center has thus contributed to defusing tensions in the 2002 and 2004 clashes in Kaduna and Yelwa.
A documentary film, The Imam and the Pastor, tells how they made this remarkable transition. It is both a moving story of forgiveness and a case-study of a successful grass-roots initiative to rebuild communities torn apart by conflict. The film has won a number of prizes, and the two protagonists have also received international recognition and a number of awards for their work.
Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye have received the Breme Peace Award in 2005, the Prize for Conflict Prevention awarded by the Fondation Chirac in 2009 and the Deutsche Afrika-Preis awarded by the German Africa Foundation in 2013. They were among five recipients in 2017 of the prestigious ‘Intercultural Innovation Award’, conferred by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and BMW, for their successful mediations in conflicts in Nigeria. The award ceremony took place at UN Headquarters in New York on 29 November 2017.