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11 July, 2008

Musa Aliyu and Howard Grace spent a week leading sessions in Berkshire Sixth Forms based on the film The Imam and the Pastor. They report on their experience. At the end of their final session, a girl said with conviction “You are actually doing something about the situation”, and that she wanted to do something in her setting. Musa will be visiting schools in Oxford, Nottingham and London in the coming weeks.

Musa Aliyu talking with pupils in Berkshire

Musa Aliyu talking with pupils in Berkshire

Musa Aliyu spent the week of 23-28 Sept with Howard Grace facilitating sessions in nine Berkshire Sixth Forms, mostly in Reading and Newbury. A 12-minute excerpt (starting at chapter 2) of the film The Imam and the Pastor was shown. This set the scene for questions to Musa, with lively and searching discussion.

Musa is a Nigerian who is doing a PhD in London on, 'The role of the media in the inter-religious conflict in Northern Nigeria'. During this conflict, in which over 50,000 people were killed, he was working as a journalist with one of the biggest Nigerian national newspapers. At one point, when he was covering a story, a Muslim mob attacked a Christian girl and it looked like she would be killed. So he, a Muslim, abandoned his camera and notepad and intervened. The girl was saved but in the process Musa’s arm was fractured and he was nearly beheaded. For the following year he felt traumatized.

It was such experiences which led to a deep conviction in him to play a part in reconciling and building community, also to do a PhD exploring the role of the media in this. The students we met (often in groups of 100 – 150) were struck and challenged by what Musa shared. This helped to give context to what they saw in the film of the deep change, reconciliation and working together of Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye.

We were able to try different approaches in the various schools. The one that enabled us to have the best interchange was when we started the session by quoting a student who said, 'Deep down we all long to make a difference.' The students were asked whether they agreed with that. We then quoted a boy who said, 'I just want to have an easy life and make lots of money.' It became clear that we all have both sentiments acting inside us to different degrees. This discussion got the students used to contributing their ideas and also led to a deeper search on the main theme.

Earlier in the week, we asked for any questions or comments after the film. This worked quite well as we also had follow-up questions ready to ask them, such as, 'What were the key steps that led to Ashafa’s change of heart?' Most answers focussed on the challenge he felt from the Qur’an and the example of forgiveness the Prophet Mohammed showed when people attacked and stoned him. It was an eye-opener to most of the students in our sessions that this was the true message of Muslim teaching. Students were also struck by the fact that the Muslim changed his attitude before the Christian, but also that both the men had to radically move out of their comfort-zones to begin their reconciling work together.

As the week went on, we found that a better approach to initiating discussion was to simply ask, 'What struck you most about what you have just seen?' That led more naturally to the issues we wanted to get to. We also asked whether you need to be religious in order to forgive such deep wounds. Generally the students felt that anyone could go through that experience, but that being religious would probably help to focus the process. However, all felt challenged by the fact that their experiences pale into insignificance compared to what the people in the film went through and had come to terms with.

We were left with the sense that, in those schools we visited, if any issues come up in the future which involve Muslim/Western conflict, the students will have a much more constructive reaction to it. The film makes a great impact and our discussions were very worthwhile. But what seemed to also make a real impression is the fact that we, Muslim and Christian, were going beyond understanding and tolerance, to deliberately work together to address this important issue in society. At the end of our final session a girl stood up and said with conviction that she was struck by our launching out together. 'You are actually doing something about the situation.' She then said that she wanted to do something in her setting.

Many of the students had their perceptions broadened towards the lives and challenges of Jesus and Mohammed. This is not just about believing in certain doctrines, but it concerns deep personal change and reaching out to others with love in our hearts.

Howard Grace & Musa Aliyu, October 2007

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