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On February 24-25, Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye paid a flying 24 hour visit to Ottawa at the invitation of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT).
A screening of The Imam & the Pastor in the Cadieux Auditorium at DFAIT was hosted jointly by the Muslim Communities Working Group and the West Central and Great Lakes Region Division. The event was chaired by David Angell, Director General of the Africa Bureau and former High Commissioner to Nigeria, who had met the two men while he was there and displayed a deep appreciation of what they are doing. Introducing the film, he said that of those working to effect change, the Imam and the Pastor 'are not only among the most inspiring but among the most effective.' He spoke of Canada’s association with the Interfaith Mediation Centre (IMC), of which the two men are co-directors, and the assistance given through the High Commission for workshops they had run. 'The film presents the story of our guests,' he said, 'an extraordinary journey of peacebuilding at the grassroots'.
The audience of around 90 people consisted of officials from DFAIT, CIDA and other government departments, NGO representatives and interested individuals.
In remarks following the screening, Pastor James and Imam Ashafa thanked CIDA and the Canadian High Commission in Nigeria for their support. They said that it was always beneficial to have Canada associated with a project because of its good reputation and challenged Canadians to make the most of this privileged position to serve the world.
The 2nd Secretary at the High Commission in Abuja was nothing less than enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with them. 'It is a model not only for Africa, but for the world', he said. He made reference to situations in Somalia, Sudan and Sierra Leone, where the Imam & the Pastor had already been able to have a positive impact. They expressed their readiness to return to Kenya if invited.
Responding to questions about how to deal with those still ready to use violence, Pastor James acknowledged that it was a herculean task, but that it was better to spill 'a drum of sweat than a pint of blood. We have to pull the carpet from under the feet of those who dominate and give voice to the majority'. Imam Ashafa added that 'war begins in the minds of men and women' and that it was crucial for people to learn that their own self esteem did not depend on demonizing the other.
One questioner, while praising them for demonstrating the value of ‘mercy’, wondered if that always achieved ‘justice’. Pastor James answered that 'justice and mercy are partners. Justice will be seen to have been done when the perpetrator changes from being a violent person to being a peaceful person. If you live in unforgiveness, it is as if you drink poison and expect the other to die.' Imam Ashafa pointed out that 'those who are happy that people have been killed are also guilty. How do you deal with them? It is better that all acknowledge they have done wrong. This can only happen through religion. The idea that God is watching you can make the world a safer place.'
Imam Delic, Executive Director of the Canadian Islamic Congress, suggested that we (Canadians) should look at this model and see how to implement their ideas in Canada. Another questioner told the two visitors, 'You are an ‘inspiration’ because you have used your life experience to inspire others.'
Earlier in the morning, Pastor James and Imam Ashafa were given a warm reception at St Bartholomew’s Anglican church, where they spoke at a breakfast attended by 40 people representing the parish, other churches and different faith groups.
Who we are: Initiatives of Change (IofC) is a world-wide movement of people of diverse cultures and backgrounds, who are committed to the transformation of society through changes in human motives and behaviour, starting with their own.
Purpose: We work to inspire, equip and connect people to address world needs, starting with themselves, in the areas of trustbuilding, ethical leadership and sustainable living.
Omnia Marzouk, President, IofC International
'Nothing lasting can be built without a desire by people to live differently and exemplify the changes they want to see in society.'