The U.S. State Department conferred the International Religious Freedom Award on an 83-year-old Muslim leader who saved the lives of 262 Christians during an attack in Nigeria.
Imam Abubakar Abdullahi was among four religious leaders honored as advocates of religious freedom. He was presented with the award for hiding the Christians in his home and mosque during an attack from Muslim herdsmen on June 23, 2018.
According to a statement from the State Department, Abdullahi “selflessly risked his own life to save members of another religious community, who would have likely been killed without his intervention.”
“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,” said the statement.
“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,” it said.
The other recipients of the 2019 International Religious Freedom Award include the following leaders (descriptions provided by the U.S. State Department):
- 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.
- 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.