Africa’s Tolerance Icons: Imam Abubakar of Nigeria, Ghana’s Sheikh Sharubutu

Africa’s Tolerance Icons: Imam Abubakar of Nigeria, Ghana’s Sheikh Sharubutu

Friday, May 31, 2019 3:10 am

Imam Abdullahi Abubakar,

Ghana’s Sheikh Osman Sharubutu. Photo credit: BBC


Ademola Adegbamigbe

*VP Osinbajo calls Abubaka hero, deserving of honour

In Africa today, two icons of religious tolerance stand tall. Could it be because of their ages? Perhaps, they have seen it all! There is the 83-year-old Nigerian Muslim Cleric, Imam Abdullahi Abubakar, who saved the lives of hundreds of persons fleeing from attacks by suspected bandits in Yelwan Gindi Akwati, Swei and Nghar villages in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State. There is also Ghana’s chief imam, a 100-year-old Muslim cleric, Sheikh Osman Sharubutu, the grand mufti, leader of Ghana’s minority Muslim community. According to the BBC, Ghana’s chief imam is a man of few words, but the 100-year-old Muslim cleric certainly knows how to make waves – by attending a Catholic Church service as part of his birthday celebrations. “He wants to ensure that his legacy is peace – the fruit of inter-faith harmony. Pictures of Sheikh Osman Sharubutu, sitting attentively in the pews of Accra’s Christ the King Catholic Church for an Easter service, as BBC reported, went viral on social media.”

In Nigeria, Abubakar, has been described as a hero by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN. Prof. Osinbajo stated this on Thursday at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, when he received Abubakar; the Village Head, Damafulul Mangai; other community leaders and a delegation which included diplomats from the US, UK and the European Union. This is contained in a press statement, signed by Laolu Akande, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Office of the Vice President,

Abubakar, who is Hausa and the Chief Imam of a mosque in Yelwan Gindi Akwati village, in the Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State, alongside his assistant Umar Abdullahi, who is Fulani, saved the lives of over 200 persons when suspected bandits attacked communities in the LGA.

The reported attack took place on Saturday June 23, 2018, on Yelwan Gindi Akwati, Swei and Nghar villages in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area, where scores of persons were killed by suspected bandits. Abubakar reportedly hid over 200 persons, who had fled from nearby communities, inside the mosque and in his personal house, until the attackers left. Many of those the Muslim Cleric provided shelter for were from the Berom ethnic group which are predominantly Christians.

Reports indicated that Abubakar, in defending “my guests”, insisted that the attackers would have to kill him if they refused his pleas not to attack those he was hiding. At a point, the Imam was said to be on his knees and then rolling on the floor to appease the attackers.

Describing Abubakar’s act as heroic, the Vice President noted that the Imam had done so much more to promote peace by his singular acts than most politicians could do and so deserves all the commendation and high honour.

Prof. Osinbajo urged politicians to avoid using religion and tribal sentiment to create division among people, noting that Abubakar has demonstrated to leaders that the way to resolve whatever conflict is not by violence, but a demonstration of love.

Turning to the Imam, the VP said, “I commend you for your wonderful act, Imam Abubakar. Yours is one of the most courageous acts any man can possibly do, by offering your own life, for others especially those who are not of your tribe or faith.

“This is one of the most compelling stories I have heard. The love an individual can show for others not from their own tribe or religion.”

The Vice President urged all Nigerians despite tribe and religion to eschew bitterness and embrace peace and harmonious living.

He said, “It is far easier for people to create religious tensions between Christians or Muslims through their acts or words. And in a community where people have lived together in harmony and peace for so long, it shows how much a little of such tension created, in a matter of hours, can destroy harmony and peace built over the years.”
Before the attacks, the community had reportedly lived in peace.

Continuing, Prof. Osinbajo noted that, “Most people in this country do not see the differences in tribe or religion, but it is easy to stoke religious tensions and divisions. So, one must be careful of those who want to play politics and create differences using religion and tribe. This is not just in Nigeria alone, but all over the world. No tribe or religion is superior to another.

“When people have been wronged, it is always easier for people to accept that revenge or vengeance is the right approach. But as you know, vengeance breeds bitterness and hatred, and doesn’t solve the problems created, but causes more deaths and harm.”

According to the Vice President, it was wrong for anyone to kill in the name of religion, noting that Abubakar’s incredible act of courage in saving others passed messages to both Christians and Muslims, and people of different tribes and religion.

He said, the Iman sent two important messages.

Firstly, Imam Abubakar sent a message to Christians and the Berom community “that their own lives are as valuable as his own life. This is a very powerful message.
Secondly, according to the VP, he sent a message to Muslims by keeping people of other faith safe in a mosque, which is a sacred place; “that is a strong message to Muslims on the sanctity of live, regardless of faith or tribe, and that other religions and lives are equally as important to God. The Imam did not preach this by word but by deeds of love, by putting his life on the line to make a point.

“Like President Muhammadu Buhari said, anyone who says “Allah Akbar”, and then goes to kill someone either does not know his faith or is insane. It is the same in the Christian faith. The gospel of Jesus Christ says we must first love, even our enemies and those that despitefully use us. And anyone who preaches something different is certainly not speaking from the Bible or the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Vice President recalled that President Buhari had said during a meeting with the Catholic Bishops that all through his life as a public servant, he believed that people should be judged by their performance and character, and not by tribe or faith only, and also that everyone must have a right to worship God the way they chose.”

The Vice President further said the Federal Government would look at further ways to improve the communities in Barkin Ladi, and others affected by ethnic/religious crisis.

“We will look at how the Plateau State government and the Federal Government can help in the rehabilitation process. Government has been doing this in phases, to restore areas devastated by crisis. But we would look at ways to help further,” he said.

Abubakar, as well as his deputy, Alhaji Umar Abdullahi, were recently honoured by the US Embassy in Nigeria, for the heroic deeds.

“Imam Abubakar should be celebrated everywhere in this world, and I am happy that the US Ambassador has honoured him with an award. It is well deserved. We are very proud of what they have done. For putting their lives at risk to ensure the safety of other tribes and people of different faith,” Osinbajo said.

The VP also commended the Village Head, Mangai, for being supportive of a peaceful community “where everyone of different tribes can live together in peace”, while also thanking the US Embassy for its role in promoting peace by honoring Abubakar.

In his remarks, Abubakar, who spoke through an interpreter, thanked the Vice President, noting that he didn’t want this to be publicized, but he felt that God chose him to do what he did to be used as an example. The Imam said he told the attackers at some point that they had to kill him first before harming his ‘guests’. That statement dissuaded them, he added.

“I pleaded with the attackers in the mud and rain not to harm my guests. By God’s grace, no one was hurt. God created mankind differently but he wants us to live together in peace and harmony, and not harm each other. Such incident (the attack) is rare in my community, but I hope such does not happen in my village again,” he said.

The visit of the delegation at the instance of the US deputy Chief of Mission was composed of the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington; Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy in Nigeria, David Young; another senior US Embassy official, Kathleen Fitzgibbon; and the German Ambassador to Nigeria, Bernhard Schlagheck.

In Ghana, Sheikh Sharubutu’s attendance was, according to BBC, given even more resonance as on the day he was being pictured alongside parish priest Father Andrew Campbell, Islamist suicide bombers unleashed attacks in Sri Lanka, killing more than 250 people at churches and hotels.Those on social media championing the imam’s approach described him as a light shining in the darkness. The report of 12 May had it further: “Not everyone was happy – some critics condemned his actions as an abomination, for a Muslim to participate in Christian worship. But Sheikh Sharubutu insisted he was not worshipping but moving the relationship between Muslims and Christians from mere tolerance to engagement.”

“The chief imam is changing the narrative about Islam from a religion of wickedness, a religion of conflict, a religion of hate for others, to a religion whose mission is rooted in the virtues of love, peace and forgiveness,” his spokesperson Aremeyao Shaibu told the BBC.

Join The Conversation

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.