A Nigerian imam is being hailed a hero for saving the lives of some 262 Christians who were being targeted by Fulani herdsmen in 2018. Imam Abubakar Abdullahi received the International Religious Freedom Award from the U.S. State Department yesterday. The 83-year-old Abdullahi even offered the attackers his life in exchange for the people he was sheltering.
“God had a reason for creating us as diverse humans. No one has a reason to question the existence of the other,” Abdullahi told David Young, the deputy chief of mission at the United States Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria.
The imam is a firm believer that “we should all respect one another, follow the rules, and be selfless advocates for peace.” He has lived for decades in “peace and harmony” with Christians in his village in Plateau State, Nigeria, which is why the recent attacks by Fulani herdsmen (who are mostly Muslim) took him by surprise.
Abdullahi Pleaded With Fulani Herdmen to Spare Lives
On June 23, 2018, around 3:30 pm, Abdullahi was in his mosque with other worshippers (wrapping up mid-day prayers) when they started hearing gunshots in the distance. As the sound of gunshots got closer, chaos erupted in the village where the mosque is located. Abdullahi and his deputy directed the people running around the village to come inside the mosque and his home for shelter.
Abdullahi told everyone to lay down on the ground to avoid being shot and also locked the doors to the mosque and his home. Then the imam stood guard outside the buildings. Abdullahi says he pleaded with the attackers to leave the people alone inside the buildings. He called it a “tense moment,” but he refused to allow them to harm his “guests.” The attackers sought other ways to get inside the mosque and the house, which gave Abdullahi a chance to try calling for help. The phone lines weren’t working, though.
Abdullahi pleaded “in the name of God” for the armed attackers not to harm anyone—making himself vulnerable by prostrating on the ground in front of them. The attackers couldn’t find a way into the locked buildings, so eventually, they left.
Everyone in the mosque and the house joined Abdullahi for a meal after the attack, as they could not go back to their homes. Some of the people were later transferred to a camp for displaced persons.
Muslims Can Live in “Peace and Harmony” With Christians
The imam says he protected the people because he has been living in “peace and harmony” with them for several years. He says Christians and Muslims even intermarry in his village. When Christmas comes, the Christians and Muslims exchange food and gifts. He believes the reason these conflicts are happening now between Muslims and Christians is due to selfishness and greed.
Abdullahi says the experience left him traumatized and he couldn’t sleep for a week. However, he believes his faith is helping him overcome the trauma and stress.
He also prays this will be the last time his community experiences “this type of violence” and that God would “touch the hearts of those behind these conflicts toward the path of peace.” If they can’t be ushered toward peace, Abduallhi says, he prays God would do with them what he will.
You can watch the full interview with Imam Abubakar Abdullahi below.