23 November 2021

Two Different Pictures, Two Different Stories: Overcoming Prejudices

Rev. Evans Nyamadzawo’s (Zimbabwe, Cohort XIV) reflection on Christian-Muslim relations

A person lives to the fullest as long as there is a place for sincere astonishment in his or her life. Here is an example of such a revelatory encounter. This year Russell Berrie Fellow Rev. Evans Nyamadzawo (Zimbabwe, Cohort XIV), shares his personal story of meeting the Other, a Muslim, who has become a friend and has changed his perception of Christian-Muslim relations.

A lot of people have seen the effects of violent extremism carried out by some Muslims through the media. However, my case is different. My studies in Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria, exposed me to the first-hand brutality carried out by some of the Muslim believers in the name of religion. I witnessed a series of religious clashes between Muslims and Christians and some brutal killings done by Islamic related groups, such as the Boko Haram or Muslim Gunmen. Once, a bomb was discovered in the town to which I was traveling. Each day was unpredictable; there was a constant fear for my life. I remember one day recording a video message to my family and friends in case I would not see them again. I was therefore longing to finish my studies and go back home to Zimbabwe as soon as possible.

The Nigerian experience made me have a strong dislike of Muslims. I remember meeting Emma from the UK, with whom we became very good friends. I could not understand it when she told me that she had Muslim friends back in the UK. In Jos, some areas were highly populated with Muslims, and one would go there at his or her own risk. That made me divide the world into “us” (Christians) and “them” (Muslims). After my return to Zimbabwe, I felt great hatred each time I saw a Muslim person, recalling my Nigerian experience. However, my hatred was overpowered by the love for peace and coexistence. I started seeking ways I could foster and encourage interfaith harmony and dialogue. Hence, I applied to study Interreligious Dialogue at the Angelicum.

However, I have never expected that one day I would be taking pictures with a Muslim friend, Meilia. On the first day we met at school, she made me laugh more than 30 times without exaggeration. She was so kind and helpful too. I told her that I needed to get my codice fiscale and permesso di soggiorno, and her response was, “Those places are very far, but I can accompany you.” That was something I had never thought of – getting help from a Muslim person. After the classes, she asked if I wanted to go to the Vatican City or see some other places. There I was in the streets of Rome walking around, taking pictures, and having fun with a Muslim girl.

Meeting Meilia helped me to overcome the dangers of the one-sidedness of the story; it made me flip and see other perspectives, not to treat all Muslims as dangerous people. My experience with this beautiful soul encouraged me to rethink my view of Muslims.

You might be like me if your first encounter with the Muslims was challenging, but I would like you to know that there is another Meilia out there, very friendly and cheerful! Special thanks to the Russell Berrie Foundation, John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue, and Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas for allowing me to study Interreligious Dialogue and offer an open space to meet great people like Meilia.