A Muslim cleric has explained why he hid Christians under his roof when murderous herdsmen came calling. 

Imam Abubakar Abdullahi, the 83-year-old Muslim cleric who hid 262 Christians in his home and mosque when rampaging herdsmen arrived baying for blood in Plateau on June 23, 2018, says he’s always believed in the sanctity of the human life.

Herdsmen of Fulani extraction who had launched coordinated attacks on Christian farmers in 10 villages in the Barkin Ladi area of Plateau State, had showed up at Abdullahi’s doorsteps and ordered him to give up the Christians he was providing shelter for.

"The imam gave refuge to his Christian neighbors, sheltering 262 Christians in his mosque and his home.... then stood outside the doors confronting the Muslim attackers, pleading with them to spare the lives of the Christians inside, even offering to exchange his own life for theirs," said U.S International Religious Freedom Ambassador, Sam Brownback. 

Precious human life

Speaking on the sidelines of the 2019 Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah, Abubakar said he did what he did because he considers human life too precious to be wasted.

Imam Abubakar Abdullahi risked his life for 262 others (BBC)
Imam Abubakar Abdullahi risked his life for 262 others (BBC)

 “It has always been my cardinal principle to save a life, no matter who is involved, Christian or Muslim,” Abubakar said at the event organised by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON).

“Life to me is so precious to be wasted”, he added.

Honor from the United States

In July of 2019, the United States government honored Abdullahi for his actions.

"His actions bear witness to true courage, true selflessness, and true brotherly love”, Brownback said.

The US State Department which organizes the award to recognize advocates of religious freedom around the world, said it's such a big deal that the Muslim cleric selflessly risked his own life to save the lives of members of another religious community.

A constant crisis

More than 80 persons were killed by suspected herders during the 2018 attacks.

Many homes in the villages were also burnt to the ground at the time. 

Clashes between farmers and nomadic herdsmen over grazing land have claimed hundreds of lives in Nigeria’s north central region and beyond since 2013. 

Religious clashes and ethnic tensions are also common in Nigeria; where the population is almost evenly split between a predominantly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south.

Nigeria's Vice President Yemi Osinbajo with Imam Abdullahi Abubakar in 2018 (PMnewsnigeria)
Nigeria's Vice President Yemi Osinbajo with Imam Abdullahi Abubakar in 2018 (PMnewsnigeria)

In a related development, Imam Abdullahi has called on Nigerians to shun violence and tolerate one another a lot more, despite religious and ethnic differences.

He also thanked President Muhammadu Buhari for honouring him with the membership of the Ulama team and prayed God to grant him sufficient wisdom to govern Nigeria the right way. 

Abdullahi Muhammad, acting chairman of NAHCON, commended the Imam for the show of love.

He also said President Buhari had ordered that Abdullahi be included in the membership of the national Ulama committee.

Abdullahi is part of an 80-man Ulama committee charged with the responsibility of enlightening Nigerian pilgrims in Muna.