Tanzania’s population is 31 percent Muslim and 54 percent Christian, although only about eight percent attend church. Fundamentalist Islam has advanced as preachers from Sudan and Saudi Arabia spread their radical creed. Muslims are becoming more assertive with their political demands and in their attacks. On 10 October reports spread in Dar es Salaam that a 13-year-old Christian boy had desecrated a Qur’an. To appease the mobs, police arrested the boy. After Friday prayers on 12 October Muslims besieged the police station, calling for the boy to be handed over for beheading. When the police refused the Muslims rioted, burning five churches. In July Eva Abdullah (17), a convert from Islam, was imprisoned for two years after Islamic fundamentalists falsely accused her of desecrating a Qur’an. Please pray for Tanzania.
Tanzania’s population is 31 percent Muslim and 54 percent Christian, although church attendance is only about eight percent (Operation World 7th Edition). According to the Catholic Bishop of Kondoa Diocese, Bernadin Mfumbusa, Islamisation is advancing. Since the mid-1980s, itinerant preachers from Saudi Arabia and the Sudan have been entering the country and spreading intolerant, fundamentalist Islam. Consequently, Muslims are becoming more assertive with their political demands and more aggressive with their verbal attacks. Demands are growing louder for Sharia Law and Kadhi (Islamic) Courts, for Fridays to be public holidays and for Tanzania to join the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC). Bishop Mfumbusa recently told the Catholic Charity, Aid to the Church in Need, that there has been a marked increase in veiled women and Qur’anic schools (madrassas), adding, ‘In the church schools, which are also attended by Muslim children, we must be very sensitive and cautious to avoid any undesirable incidents.’
As in Kenya, US-mandated anti-terror laws enacted post 9/11 have fuelled division along religious lines. Christians are generally supportive and Muslims strongly object, claiming the laws purposely target them. In the lead-up to the 2005 elections the Christian-dominated Revolutionary Party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), successfully wooed the Muslim vote by promising to establish Kadhi (Islamic) courts. However, after winning the election CCM shelved its promise. Religion has since come to dominate Tanzanian politics. Tensions are rising.
On 10 October Zakaria Hamisis Mbonde (12) was walking home from Qur’anic school, carrying his Qur’an, when he came across his Christian friend, Emmanuel Mwinuka (13). When Emmanuel asked Zakaria if he could see his Qur’an, Zakaria warned him that the Qur’an had the power to turn anyone who defiled it into a dog or a snake. An argument ensued, prompting Emmanuel to disprove Zakaria’s claim by urinating on his Qur’an. Naturally Zakaria’s parents wanted to know what had happened to his Qur’an. As word spread through the Mbagala Ward of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, tensions soared.
To appease the mobs police arrested Emmanuel, taking him to the police station for questioning and keeping him there for his own safety. After Friday prayers on 12 October masses of enraged Muslims laid siege to the police station, demanding Emmanuel be handed over to them so they could behead him. When the police refused, the Muslims rioted, setting fire to Mbagala’s Agape Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania. Over the next few days more churches, including an Anglican and a Church of Christ, were attacked: two in Kigoma and one in Zanzibar. Cars were also smashed and burnt. Subsequently, 86 were arrested for rioting and 32 for destroying church properties. Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda, the secretary general of the Council of Islamic Organisations, was arrested for inciting the violence which he blamed on the police, saying that if the police had given the matter ‘its due weight’ then Muslims would not have felt so ‘sidelined’.
But is it a crime in Tanzania to blaspheme, defile a Qur’an or hurt a Muslim’s feelings? I don’t think so! Yet on 23 July 2012 a judge in the coastal town of Bagamoyo sentenced Christian teen Eva Abdullah (17) to two years in prison after Islamic fundamentalists falsely accused her of defiling the Qur’an. Eva, who had been driven from her home after converting to Christianity, had been resisting pressure from Islamic fundamentalists to return to Islam. After falsely accusing her, these radicals allegedly bribed the judge to punish Eva. Fear of the Muslims reportedly has kept local Christians from getting involved. Eva thanks the Lord that he has provided her with kind and sympathetic prison guards who are caring for her and protecting her.