“The chief imam is changing the narrative about Islam."
The Chief imam of Ghana’s minority Islamic population, Sheikh Osman Sharubutu, is being praised for his interfaith unification efforts after photos of the centenarian sitting in at an Easter Mass have gone viral on social media. The pictures show the imam sitting attentively in Christ the King Catholic Church in the Ghanaian capital, Accra.
Sharubutu was also pictured with the parish priest, Father Andrew Campbell, an Irish-born cleric who has served in Ghana since 1971. The photos of the two clerics of different faiths were made all the more poignant as they were taken on the same day that a string of terror attacks claimed the lives of over 250 people in churches and hotels across Sri Lanka.
The peaceful efforts of Sheikh Sharubutu were criticized by some members of his own faith, but the imam insisted that he was there to enforce Islamic values of tolerance and engagement, rather than for worship. His spokesperson told BBC:
“The chief imam is changing the narrative about Islam from a religion of wickedness, a religion of conflict, a religion of hate for others, to a religion whose mission is rooted in the virtues of love, peace and forgiveness.”
Supporters of the 100-year-old’s actions have taken to Twitter with their praise, The Evening Standard reports. Some of the comments included:
“The grand mufti, leader of Ghana’s Muslim community, wants to ensure that his legacy is peace — the fruit of inter-faith harmony,” wrote one Twitter user. “Not all news is bad news. Everyone can emulate Sheikh Osman Sharubutu and reach out to someone different from themselves, even in a small way, and everyone should!” tweeted another.
Sheikh Sharubutu was appointed chief imam of Ghana at the age of 74 and has held the position for the last 26 years. Prior to his installment, there had been no national Muslim leader in the country, where Muslims make up about 18% of the population.
The 100-year-old continues to give weekly sermons every Friday, in which his favored topics are the evils of materialism and the teaching that the key tenets of Islam are rooted in peace and love. His residence in the poor neighborhood of Fadama has kept its gates open for years to offer fresh water for the people of the area and hot meals for the poor at night.
“Happy centenary anniversary to His Eminence Sheikh Osman Sharubutu, the National Chief Imam. May his humility, commitment to peace, religious tolerance and interfaith cooperation be an enduring feature of many religious leaders for many generations to come. “ pic.twitter.com/tVI6wBTW8f— Indrika Ratwatte (@IndrikaRatwatte) May 12, 2019
Sharubutu has also become known as a peacemaker, as he often travels great distances to areas that have been disturbed by social conflicts between religions. BBC reports more than one occasion in which the old imam’s peaceful, silent presence has been enough to ease tensions in such situations.
His serene nature has aided him in more than just his work, as Sharubutu cites his inner peace as an important factor in his longevity. His spokesperson quoted him, saying to BBC:
“I am old, strong and vital. I can see, [am] able to read and write without the support of any gadgets. I am able to walk on my own — God has not tested me with weakness … I am in perfect control of my mind, I have not grown senile. Placing God at the center of my life gives me calmness and inner peace in life.”