According to Morning Star News, Islamists burned several church buildings in various parts of Tanzania this week after two children’s argument about the Koran resulted in a Christian boy allegedly defiling Islam’s sacred book.
A church on fire in Zanzibar
The attacks took place in the normally peaceful country from its western border to its semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar. In Kigoma, on the western border, two church buildings were set ablaze on Sunday (Oct. 14), and the roof of another one was destroyed; on the island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean some 25 kilometers (16 miles) off the Tanzanian coast, Muslim extremists on Saturday (Oct. 13) demolished a building belonging to the Evangelical Assemblies of God-Tanzania in Fuoni, near Zanzibar City; and in Dar es Salaam on the mainland, where two boys’ argument over the Koran set off the violence, three church buildings were set on fire on Friday (Oct. 12), and another was destroyed yesterday, sources told Morning Star News.
Morning Star News said that yesterday’s destruction of the Evangelical Lutheran Church building in Dar es Salaam’s Teneke district took place at 1 p.m., said a source who requested anonymity, adding that agitators were stirring up rancor in mosques throughout the country.
“‘We shall continue attacking the churches until they are no more in Tanzania’ was a word echoed in several mosques in Tanzania,” the source said by phone.
Brighton L. Killewa, secretary general of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania, confirmed that suspected Islamic extremists burned down the church building in Dar es Salaam’s Teneke district on Thursday (Oct. 18).
The attacks on church buildings came after Muslims began falsely asserting that Christians had sent the Christian boy to his Muslim friend with the intent of urinating on the Koran in the Mbagala area of Dar es Salaam on Oct. 10, sources said.
The Muslim boy, 12-year-old Zakaria Hamisi Mbonde, had left a madrassa (Islamic school) and had his Koran when he met up with his friend Emmanuel Mwinuka, 13, an area source who spoke with the Muslim child told Morning Star News.
When Emmanuel asked to see the Koran, Zakaria jokingly told him that if he played with it or urinated on it, he would turn into a dog or snake, the source said. The comment turned into an argument that led to Emmanuel allegedly testing his friend’s assertion.
“When I arrived at home, my parents questioned me regarding the affected Koran, and I told them my friend Mbonde urinated on the Koran,” Zakaria told the area source.
The two families met and tried to settle the matter, without full satisfaction; word of the incident spread fast, quickly inflaming passions in area mosques in Chamanzi, an area within Mbagala Ward of Dar es Salaam, the source said.
Obeid Fabian, who as chairman of the Pastors’ Fellowship in Zanzibar is a spokesman for Christians to the archipelago government, said he received details about the incident from contacts in Dar es Salaam.
“As tension mounted up in the mosque, Emmanuel was picked up by the police at his home place and taken to the Chamanzi police station for interrogation,” Fabian said.
Morning Star News added, “Enraged Muslims stormed the police station on Oct. 12, demanding that the boy be handed over to them to be slaughtered. Police refused, and the group became furious, mistakenly assuming Christians had sent Emmanuel to desecrate the Koran, Fabian said.
“The mob burned a Seventh-day Adventist church in Mbagala, causing damages of an estimated 25.2 million Tanzanian shillings (US$15,710); then they burned an area Anglican church, though a church secretary there was unsure of the amount of damages; the mob also set fire to a Tanzania Assemblies of God (TAG) church building, with Assistant Bishop Magnus Mhiche saying damages amounted to 40 million Tanzanian shillings (US$24,940).
“Several cars of unconfirmed value were also destroyed, and two Catholic Church buildings were also reportedly damaged.”
Tanzania’s Muslims, 31 percent of the total population, are largely tolerant but have become increasingly polarized between moderates and extremists, according to Operation World. Christians make up 54 percent of the country’s population.
In the attacks on the other side of the country in Kigoma, the two church buildings burned on Sunday (Oct. 14) belong to the TAG and another to the United Pentecostal Churches in Tanzania; an Anglican church building on the outskirts of Kigoma, in Ujiji, lost its roof to the mob that day, a source told Morning Star News.
The previous night (Oct. 13) on Zanzibar Island, Muslim extremists in Fuoni, on the outskirts of Zanzibar City, attacked an Evangelical Assemblies of God-Tanzania church, pulling it down during the night, a source said. By Sunday morning, separatists from the extremist group Uamsho, the Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation, had raised their flag at the site, he said.
On Tuesday (Oct. 16), Bishop David Mwasoda, general secretary of the Pentecostal Churches in Zanzibar, released a statement appealing for protection.
“The Pentecostal Churches in Zanzibar do hereby appeal to the president to offer protection to the churches and Christians in Zanzibar who have become victims of attack in the recent years,” the statement reads.
The story goes on to say that more than 126 people associated with the violence in Tanzania have been detained, including Sheik Ponda Issa Ponda, secretary of the extremist Council of Muslims’ Organizations, who was reportedly arrested on charges of inciting religious hatred. The council is linked to Uamsho.
It adds that on Wednesday (Oct. 17), Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania leaders released a statement saying churches had also been set ablaze in Mdaula, Mto wa Mbu, Tunduru and Rufiji. The Mbagala attacks, they stated, resulted from inflammatory statements by local religious leaders. They also blamed media outlets for instigating religious hatred.
Calling on Christians to continue fasting and praying for peace, they stated, “Christians are not ready to kill, punish or take revenge . . . Our God is not defended through violence, killing and burning other people’s properties.”
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