Lagos, Nigeria (CNN)The US government is honoring an 83-year-old Muslim cleric who hid 262 Christians in his home and mosque during an attack in central Nigeria.
Imam Abubakar Abdullahi, along with four religious leaders from Sudan, Iraq, Brazil and Cyprus, were awarded the 2019 the International Religious Freedom Award, which is given to advocates of religious freedom.
Abdullahi was recognized for providing shelter for hundreds of Christians fleeing attacks from Muslim herdsmen who had launched coordinated attacks on Christian farmers in 10 villages in the Barkin Ladi area of Plateau State on June 23, 2018, the award organizers said in a statement.
The cleric refused to give them up when their attackers asked about their whereabouts, International Religious Freedom Ambassador Sam Brownback said at the awards ceremony in Washington on Wednesday.
"The imam gave refuge to his Christian neighbors, sheltering 262 Christians in his mosque and his home.... then 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," Brownback said.
"His actions bear witness to true courage, true selflessness, and true brotherly love," he said.
More than 80 people were killed in the attacks by suspected herders who also set fire on many homes in the villages. Violence between the nomadic Fulani herdsmen, who are mostly Muslims, and farmers, who are predominantly Christians, in Nigeria's middle belt dates back to 2013.
The State Department, organizers of the award, given to advocates of religious freedom, said the Muslim cleric selflessly risked his own life to save members of another religious community who without his intervention would have been killed.
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.