Muslim Cleric who Hid 262 Christians During Attacks is Honored

He is one of five recipients of the first International Religious Freedoms Award from the US government.

Aug 5, 2019

Thanks to the courage, benevolence, and selflessness of 83-year old Imam Abubakar Abdullahi, who put his life on the line, 262 lives were saved.

For several years, there has been animosity between ethnic Fullani herdsman, who are predominantly Muslim and ethnic Berom farmers, who are predominantly Christian. In June, 2018 violence escalated when groups of herdsmen carried out a coordinated attack on 10 villages in the Barkin Ladi region of Plateau State in Nigeria.

The day of the attacks, the Imam and his congregation were praying when they heard gunshots from outside. Instead of avoiding the violence and staying safely inside, Imam Abdullahi opened the door, and ushered hundreds of Christians into the mosque and his private home. He then stepped outside and confronted the herdsmen; Imam Abdullahi not only refused to give up the victims, he even offered to sacrifice his own life in order to protect them.

Imam Abdullahi is one of five recipients of the first-ever International Religious Freedoms Award. Each individual is being honored for their dedicated and altruistic work fighting for religious freedoms in Cyprus, Iraq, Brazil, and Sudan. The ceremony, held by the US State Department, took place on July 17, 2019.

Below are the biographies of the recipients as published on the department’s website:

  • Mohamed Yosaif Abdalrahan of Sudan has worked tirelessly to defend the rights of Sudan’s religious minorities, both in his legal casework and through public advocacy.
  • Imam Abubakar Abdullahi of Nigeria selflessly risked his own life to save members of another religious community, who would have likely been killed without his intervention.
  • Ivanir dos Santos of Brazil worked exhaustively to support interfaith dialogue, combat discrimination, and create mechanisms for the protection of vulnerable groups.
  • William and Pascale Warda of Iraq have devoted their lives to advancing religious freedom and other human rights causes in Iraq.
  • Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud of Cyprus has fully committed herself to working with religious leaders, faith-based organizations, and religious communities on a broad range of issues, including religious freedom. She is also one of the architects and facilitators of an unprecedented peacebuilding initiative in Cyprus known as the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden based in Nicosia, Cyprus.

These incredible leaders followed their intuitions – going against the odds – in order to speak out and act against religious persecution and discrimination. They are honored for their bold initiatives and bravery by putting equality first. Thousands of others just like them exist all around us and are changing the way we view religion and religious freedoms every day.

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HILLA BENZAKEN, CONTRIBUTOR
Hilla Benzaken is a dedicated optimist. Her happy place involves cooking, acting, gardening, and fighting for social justice. She writes about all things sustainability, innovation, and DIY.