Imam Abubakar Abdullahi: A life-saving angel
In every edition, we address this same question, who or what is a guardian angel? There are many situations where a guardian angel may appear to play their role, but fundamentally it is someone who comes to a person’s rescue; a hero who saves a life; or a person who delivers a miracle to another. 83-year old Imam Abubakar Adbullahi is an example, as guardian angels are often defined, of someone “assigned to protect and guide a particular person, group, kingdom or country – and right from our very own nation, Nigeria. There is a special Islamic principle, written in the Qu’ran that states: “Whoever saves one life, it is written as if he has saved all humanity.”
Not only did he save one life, but by hiding 262 Christians in his mosque, the Muslim cleric saved them from the slaughtering hands of herdsmen last year on June 23, 2018 in Plateau State. To honour this humanitarian act of mercy towards others practising another faith, the US State Department, marking the principle of religious freedom as a core American value, awarded Abdullahi with the International Religious Freedom Award on July 18, 2019 – a befitting acknowledgement for his service to humanity.
His actions were certainly risky and could have cost him his own life, but during a recent interview with the BBC, the Imam humbly admitted that he wanted to help because more than 40 years ago the Christians in the area had allowed the Muslims to build a mosque. The Imam was one of the five people honoured with the special award this year.
Imam Abdullahi, during the attacks in the night, dared the attackers by locking the doors of the Mosque after the Christians had entered while he stayed outside. When the trigger-happy assailants came and ordered him to open the doors so that they could go and slaughter the refugees inside, he refused, telling them that they could do that only after they had killed him.
In July last year, the United States Embassy Charge d’Affairs, Mr. David Young, stressed that the pre-occupation of the United States is to ensure peace in the world.
Young added that at the US Embassy in Nigeria, their biggest focus is on how to help promote peace and reconciliation, adding that one of the things he has seen during his four visits to Plateau State was the importance of people who act as peace-makers.He pointed out that whatever tradition people come from and whatever religion professed by them, their paramount focus should be peace as honest human beings.
He spoke at the National Film Institute Auditorium, Jos on the occasion of a premiere documentary film by Kenneth Gyang on the heroism of Imam Abubakar Abdullahi, who saved the lives of the over 200 Christians that day in his Mosque during the June 2018 bloody clashes in the state, especially in Barkin-Ladi.
He directly spoke to Muslims and Christians whom he regarded as people of faith to embrace peace, adding that it is the most powerful way to work for the dignity and rights of all people.Young recalled that during his visit the previous year, there were terrible attacks where over 200 people were killed, sympathising with those people who lost their loved ones in the unfortunate tragedy.
“I think one of the things we want to emphasise is that every loss of a human life is a tragedy because every human life is sacred. And no matter who you are, we are all equal in God’s eyes. We are all children of God and I think it is important to emphasise that we need to work to save each life that we can.
“What happened in Barkin Ladi last year was quite extraordinary. There were many people who fled as a result of the violence and fled to the home and the mosque of one of their neighbours.“And we are very fortunate to have today that person who was the focus of this saving home, Imam Abubakar Abdullahi,” he pointed out.
Young urged the audience to attentively watch the extraordinary film that reminded him of the importance for all to work for peace. He stressed that each person has an important role to play “because whether you are a religious leader or a traditional leader or you are a student or a community leader, you can work to achieve peace.”
“Because only when we all work for peace that we work for a better world, a better Plateau, a better Jos,” he stressed.
In his remarks, Imam Abdullahi, thanked God for granting everyone the grace to witness the epoch-making event, saying that God is the Creator of human beings and the universe. He pointed out that God in His infinite mercies, “ who created human beings and made them into different tribes, different colours, different shapes, has put us together in the same place so that we can co-exist with one another.”
Abubakar further said that the reason for the gathering that day was to promote peace and to be one another’s keeper, adding that Nigerians should eschew impunity “because it is impunity that makes human being to consider a fellow human being less important, that the person can even try to take another person’s life which he did not create. We should all work for peace.”
He cited Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who lived with Christians and non-Christians and even with Animists, adding that he was an epitome of peaceful co-existence and tolerance.
On July 18, Imam Abubakar Abdullahi, along with four religious leaders from Sudan, Iraq, Brazil and Cyprus, were awarded the 2019 International Religious Freedom Award (IRFA), which is given to advocates of religious freedom. Although he could not make it to the main ceremony in the US, his profile was read and his actions were applauded.
Abdullahi was recognised for providing shelter for hundreds of Christians fleeing attacks from Muslim herdsmen who had launched coordinated attacks on Christian farmers in 10 villages in the Barkin Ladi area of Plateau State on June 23, 2018, the award organisers said in a statement.
A statement from the US Department of State read that the cleric refused to give them up when their attackers asked about their whereabouts, International Religious Freedom Ambassador, Sam Brownback, said at the awards ceremony in Washington.
According to the US Department of State website: “Imam Abubakar Abdullahi selflessly risked his own life to save members of another religious community, who would have likely been killed without his intervention. On June 23, 2018, ethnic Fulani herdsmen, who are predominantly Muslim, launched coordinated attacks on 10 villages in Barkin Ladi, killing hundreds of ethnic Berom farmers, who are predominantly Christian.
“As Imam Abdullahi was finishing 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 Christians into the mosque and his home next to the mosque. The Imam then 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. Although the gunmen killed 84 people in Nghar village that day, Imam Abdullahi’s actions saved the lives of hundreds more.
“Born in Bauchi State around 1936, the Imam has lived in Nghar for 60 years and led the Muslim community through the mosque, which was built on land provided by the Christian 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.”“Another awardee who could not make it tonight, but I just have to read this about him,” Brownback said during the event.
Back home in July last year, President Muhammadu Buhari also directed the Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, to bring to him the Fulani Chief Imam of Akwatti Mosque in Barkin Ladi Local Council for a presidential handshake and a national award for saving the lives of over 200 natives during the attacks.Describing the incident as a rare feat, Buhari urged other Muslims and the locals to emulate the good gesture because saving the lives of several Christians by a Fulani Muslim “is not a joke”.