Muslim Cleric Who Sheltered 262 Christians In Mosque From An Angry Mob, Honored In The US

Muslim Cleric Who Sheltered 262 Christians In Mosque From An Angry Mob, Honored In The US

The Nigerian Imam refused to give up those he had sheltered even after being confronted by the angry mob with guns

The US government has announced it is honoring an 83-year-old Muslim cleric who saved 262 Christians by hiding them in his home and mosque during an attack in central Nigeria. Imam Abubakar Abdullahi sheltered Christians fleeing from a mob of Muslim herdsmen, who had launched coordinated attacks on Christian farmers in 10 villages in the Barkin Ladi area of Plateau State, in Nigeria, on June 23, 2018, according to a report by CNN.


Four religious leaders from Sudan, Iraq, Brazil, and Cyprus along with Abdullahi were also awarded the 2019 International Religious Freedom Award. The award, as the name suggests, is given to advocates of religious freedom. 

Imam Abubakar Abdullahi was finishing his midday prayers when he heard gunshots, in 2018. He stepped outside the mosque along with his congregation to find Christians fleeing from a mob of Fulani herdsmen, who are predominantly Muslim. Without hesitation and at the risk of his own life, the Imam ushered 262 Christians into the mosque and his adjacent home.


As per a statement released by the government, the Imam went outside to confront the gunmen and he refused to allow them to enter, pleading with them to spare the Christians inside, even offering to sacrifice his life for theirs. Sam Brownback, the International Religious Freedom Ambassador, hailed the cleric for refusing to give up the Christians he sheltered even when confronted by an angry mob.


"The imam gave refuge to his Christian neighbors, sheltering 262 Christians in his mosque and his home.... then stood outside the doors confronting the Muslim attackers, pleading with them to spare the lives of the Christians inside, even offering to exchange his own life for theirs," said Brownback at the awards ceremony in Washington on Wednesday. "His actions bear witness to true courage, true selflessness, and true brotherly love.” 


The gunmen would go on to kill 84 people in Nghar village that day. The tension between Fulani herdsmen and farmers dates back to 2013. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari addressed the brutal killings at that time, "We will not rest until all murderers and criminal elements and their sponsors are incapacitated and brought to justice." 

Buhari had alleged that the armed herdsmen were trained by Libya's security services under the country's former ruler, Moammar Gadhafi, who was ousted from power and killed in 2011, according to a report by CNN. Imam Abubakar Abdullahi has lived in the village of Nghar for 60 years and has been a prominent figure in the local Muslim community. 


“Imam Abdullahi’s courage in the face of imminent danger and his history of outreach across religious divides demonstrates his lifelong commitment to promoting interfaith understanding and peace,” said the US government in a statement.

The US embassy in Nigeria’s Facebook post on the Imam was flooded with appreciation with one user writing, “Very inspiring. Selfishness is the root of violent conflict. This is indeed historic. There are many good Samaritans like this Imam in every society all over the world, but their humanitarian exploits are not often noticed or acknowledged.” Another wrote, “He simply put humanity above religion. Something we all need to learn. No human is better than another no matter their faith, race, ethnicity.”


Mohamed Yosaif Abdalrahan, another recipient of the award was recognized for defending the rights of Sudan’s religious minorities, both in his legal casework and through public advocacy. William and Pascale Warda of Iraq were awarded for devoting devoted their lives to advancing religious freedom and other human rights causes in Iraq.

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