Ghana’s chief imam, who recently turned 100, has been praised for championing peace after he attended a Catholic Church service as part of his birthday celebrations.
Pictures of Sheikh Osman Sharubutu, sitting attentively in the pews of Christ the King Catholic Church in the Ghanaian capital Accra, have gone viral on social media.
The grand mufti, leader of Ghana’s minority Muslim community, was pictured alongside parish priest Father Andrew Campbell during a service on Easter Sunday.
The images of the two men have been given added poignancy as they were captured on the day of the Sri Lanka terror attacks, in which Islamist suicide bombers killed more than 250 people at churches and hotels across the country.
Sheikh Sharubutu was criticised by some for participating in Christian prayer, but insisted he was not worshipping and was only trying to enforce Islamic values of tolerance and engagement.
“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,” his spokesperson Aremeyao Shaibu told the BBC.
Supporters of his actions have taken to social media to praise the 100-year-old. “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 has been Ghana’s top Muslim cleric for 26 years, after being appointed chief imam at the age of 74.
Until then, Ghana had not had a national Muslim leader. Muslims make up 18% of the population in the predominantly Christian country.
The centenarian has always insisted the key tenets of Islam are rooted in peace and love, and frequently cites his favourite Koranic verse to which he attributes his peaceful philosophy.
“Allah does not forbid you from showing kindness, and dealing justly with those who have not fought you about religion and have not driven you out of your homes. Allah loves just dealers,” the passage reads.