July 22, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — The Trump administration honored a Nigerian Muslim Imam last week among its first-ever International Religious Freedom Award winners for his efforts that saved hundreds of Christians during a 2018 terrorist attack.
“Imam Abubakar Abdullahi of Nigeria selflessly risked his own life to save members of another religious community, who would have likely been killed without his intervention,” the proclamation from the U.S. Department of State said.
Abdullahi had hidden 262 Christians in his home and mosque when, “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.”
The 83-year-old cleric was one of five people honored at a July 17 ceremony with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and International Religious Freedom Ambassador Sam Brownback.
This was the first time for conferral of the award, which honors advocates of religious freedom around the world. The award to Abdullahi, who was not present to accept, and the four others was covered in a report from The Daily Wire.
The State Department proclamation additionally states:
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,” the State Department added. “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.
“Instinctively, the imam gave refuge to his Christian neighbors, sheltering 262 Christians in his mosque and his home,” Brownback told those attending the award ceremony. “Imam Abdullahi 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.”
“His actions bear witness to true courage, true selflessness, and true brotherly love,” stated Brownback.
Pompeo said of the five awardees, “They’ve risked their own reputation, their personal comfort, their own well-being, and in some cases even their lives to help strangers, many of whom practice faiths that are different from their own.”
Pompeo also tweeted a photo from the award event, saying,
Privileged to present five extraordinary #religiousfreedom advocates with the @StateDept’s first-ever #IRFAwards today. Their heroic efforts to build bridges & protect vulnerable religious minorities, often at their own personal risk, are an inspiration to us all.
More than 80 people were killed in the June 23, 2018, attacks, according to a report form CNN, which said violence in central Nigeria between the mostly Muslim Fulani herdsmen and mainly Christian farmers dates to 2013.
“Armed herders have unleashed mayhem on communities in central states to evict farmers in a conflict said to be deadlier than the Boko Haram insurgency,” the report said.
The State Department’s other 2019 International Religious Freedom Awardees were:
Mohamed Yosaif Abdalrahan of Sudan has worked tirelessly to defend the rights of the country’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 their country.
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.
The State Department released a Statement of Concern the following day along with some 30 other nations calling on all governments to respect the right of the individual to practice any faith tradition or none at all, and condemning “horrific acts committed in the name of religion.”
President Trump pledged permanent support to a multi-faith delegation of survivors and victims of religious persecution from more than 16 different countries who visited the Oval Office on Sunday.
The visit, statement and International Religious Freedom Awards were all in conjunction with the administration’s second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.
“It’s really an honor to be with you and I will stand side by side with you forever,” Trump stated, according to a report from The Washington Times. “You’ve been through a lot — more than most people could ever endure, and I want to congratulate you.”