On 17 July, 2019, the U.S. Department of State presented an annual award for courageous acts in upholding religious freedom anywhere in the world.
Notably, one of the five people honored with the International Religious Freedom Award is Imam Abubakar Abdullahi, the Muslim religious leader who selflessly risked his own life to save Christians who would have likely been killed without his intervention.
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.
Here are few facts about the heroic Imam Abubakar Abdullahi:
Imam Abdullahi was born in Bauchi State around 1936 and has lived in Nghar for 60 years.
After living in Nghar for 60 years, He’s leader of the Muslim community in a mosque that was built on land provided by the Christian community.
He was announced as one of the recipients of the 2019 US International Religious Freedom Award.
Imam Abdullahi 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 June 23, 2018, on Yelwan Gindi Akwati, Swei and Nghar villages in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State, where scores of persons were killed by suspected bandits.
On the day of this incident, Imam Abdullahi was said to have just finished midday prayers, he and his congregation heard gunshots and went outside to see members of the town’s Christian community fleeing.
Instinctively, the Imam ushered 262 of them into the mosque and into his personal home next door.
Abubakar Abdullahi hid 262 Berom Christians in his mosque and in his house in June 2018, when herdsmen launched a bloody attack on 10 villages in Barkin Ladi, Plateau State.
According to news reports, the mosque is now the home and refuge of those hidden by the Imam.
Many of those the Muslim Cleric provided shelter for were from the Berom ethnic group which are predominantly Christians.
Many people have commended Abdullahi’s courage in the face of imminent danger and his history of outreach across religious divides as this shows his lifelong commitment to promoting interfaith understanding and peace.
However, reports gathered in 2016, suggested that Nigeria’s pastoral conflict was the cause of more deaths that year than Boko Haram. Violence between the nomadic herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria’s middle belt dates back to 2013. Hundreds of people have been killed in 2018, and the tit-for-tat violence has been ongoing for several years.
Had the imam not intervened, the death toll may have been much higher, as the armed men stormed into the mainly Muslim village in pursuit of those who had fled the mainly Christian village nearby.