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Nigeria Christians, Muslims Work to Ease Tensions

Kaduna state, Nigeria

Kaduna state, Nigeria

In recent years, mobs have repeatedly set fire to this Evangelical Church of West Africa in the Tudun Fawa neighborhood of Kaduna, Nigeria's fifth most populous city.

But on Sunday night, Muslims and Christians sat together in the pews for an interfaith service meant to mark an end to years of conflict between the two communities.

“The essence of today’s service is to tell the world that peace is possible, and that Christians and Muslims can coexist," said Reverend Yunusa Madu, general overseer of the church. "So we have called our Muslim friends so that we can come and worship together.”

Damaged by outbreaks of religiously-fueled violence, the northern Nigerian city — just like the state that shares its name — is religiously mixed, with Muslims dominating the city and the state’s northern half, and Christians dominating the southern part.

The bloodiest clash came after the 2011 presidential election, when rioting across Nigeria left 800 people dead — many of them in Kaduna.

With this year's election of President Muhammadu Buhari, Kaduna faith leaders say it's time to put the rioting behind them.

“This is a stepping stone," said Abubakar Miki, a local youth leader who has offered to protect the church, even though he’s a Muslim. "By the grace of God, in doing this, I project that in five years time, things will be far better than what we are in the past.”

Nigeria’s approximately 173 million people are about evenly split between Muslims and Christians.