Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Kenya: Muslim tensions rise and churches burn.

Date: Tuesday 1 July 2003
Subj: Kenya: Muslim tensions rise and churches burn.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator

On 13 June, Muslims rioting over the arrest of one of their clerics torched five churches in Bura, Tana River district, not far from Mombasa in Kenya. The churches razed were the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) in Bura, the Bethel Church, and churches belonging to the Pentecostal Evangelism Fellowship of Africa (PEFA), the East African Pentecostal Church (EAPC), and the Full Gospel Church of Kenya (FGCK). (Link 1)

Of great concern to Christians in Kenya is the fact that no one has been charged over the burning of the churches. Christian leaders are still waiting to see if the arsonists will receive justice or impunity. As impunity equals permission, this is a serious issue of national significance at a time when Muslim tensions are rising to boiling point.



The Reverend Simon K. Mungumba, the Assistant Chairman of the Bura Pastors' Fellowship, has written a report of the incident. Rev. Mungumba writes (14 June) that on the evening of Thursday 12 June 2003, the Divisional Officer (DO) was passing through Manyatta withsome security officers in his vehicle. When they stopped in Manyatta and alighted from their vehicle, some Orma and Somali youths started stoning them, forcing them to retreat into their vehicle and flee.

According to Rev. Mungumba's account, the DO returned the following morning to inquire of the local Imam as to why they had been attacked. The Imam told the DO that the local Muslim youths had a visiting preacher in town and feared he may be arrested.

This 'visiting preacher', Sheikh Khalifa Mutiso, is a former Christian pastor who converted to Islam and now preaches aggressively against Christianity and Christians, with offensive messages that, according to Rev. Mungumba, "border on incitement".

Rev. Mungumba reports that at that point the DO decided to take Sheikh Khalifa Mutiso in for questioning. Once again the DO and his accompanying security officers were pelted with stones and abused by Muslim youths and women. The attack became so violent that the police fired their weapons into the air in the hope of dispersing the rioters. When that did not help, the DO arrested Sheikh Khalifa Mutiso and took him away for police questioning.

At that point the Muslim rioters stoned the police station and commenced burning and looting the churches, while others chanted, "release our sheikh, we want him to continue preaching".

The rioting lasted from the arrest at 9:00am until Sheikh Khalifa Mutiso was released at the intervention of a local MP.

There is little shade in Bura, so in an act of great solidarity and generosity, the Catholic Church provided tents for all of the churches that were burned down.

At a subsequent meeting of Christian leaders, Ibrahim Ormondi of the Evangelical Fellowship of Kenya spoke with Bishop Kinnogah, who told him that he had met with the Provincial Commissioner, who promised to order the arrest of Sheikh Mutiso for inciting Muslim hostility in Bura. So far, however, he has not been arrested.

The local Imams say they do not know Sheikh Mutiso, however Christian leaders know him as a preacher from Mwingi who has been preaching the same way in Mombasa and the administration are aware of his threats and inflammatory statements, which are usually directed towards youths, most of them of school age children and teenagers.

The Bura Pastor' Fellowship is calling on the Kenyan government to investigate the incident and compensate the churches that have lost their buildings.

"Also," says Rev. Mungumba, "as Bura leaders we feel the security in Bura needs boosting. The Muslim youths need to know the worth and authority of the government. This occurrence should be addressed with the decisiveness it deserves."


Kenya is 78.6 percent Christian and 6-8 percent Muslim. This incident over Sheikh Khalifa Mutiso and the burned churches is only one of several issues in the pot - under which the heat is rising. This is why it is imperative that the Kenyan government deal decisively with religious violence.


The Catholic Diocese of Embu wrote to the Officer Commanding Police Division (OCPD) in Embu, Eastern Province, recently, requesting an investigation into a series of killings. Since March this year, at least 12 church watchmen and one church cook have been killed. The victims all had their throats cut or were decapitated and only churches and church related institutions were being targeted. There are no clues however as to the culprits or their motives (other than
theft). It is quite mysterious and unsettling. (Link 2)


Kenyan Muslims are pushing to increase the power and influence of Kenya's Kadhi (Islamic / Sharia) Courts. Muslims want the Kadhi courts to be fully entrenched in the new Constitution with national rather than just local jurisdiction. Christians maintain that the entrenchment of Kadhi Courts in the constitution, elevating them to national level and giving them authority equal to the state's secular courts, will compromise Article 10 which states that, "The State shall treat all religions equally". Muslims maintain that they will accept nothing less than the entrenchment of the courts in the constitution and some Muslims unfortunately, have made inflammatory threats to establish a separate Islamic state if the Kadhi Courts are not accepted -- this has not helped the debate. (Link 3)


On Monday 23 June, four Kenyan residents were brought before Chief Magistrate Aggrey Mchelule in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to face murder charges. They have been in detention since March 2003 on suspicion of harbouring the terrorists who carried out the car-bomb attack on the Israeli-owned beachfront Paradise Hotel near Mombasa in November 2002 that killed 18 people. They were remanded in custody and will appear before court again on 8 August.

The charges against the four - Kenyan father and son Mohamed Kubwa and Mohamed Kubwa Seif, and Said Saggar Ahmed and Aboud Rogo Mohamed, whose nationalities were not known - were the latest in a string of anti-terror measures.

Some 80 Muslims are currently detained on suspicion of terror links. Muslims are outraged by the arrests, saying that they are being used as scapegoats and that the cases are unduly influenced by foreign (USA, CIA) interference, pressure and funding.

Kenyan Muslim politicians and clerics believe that Kenya's proposed Anti-terrorism Bill abuses the rights of Kenyan Muslims. (Three MPs from the ruling NARC party have crossed the floor to support the opposition in this, and several lawyers are saying that it violates the constitution.)

Muslim leaders, led by the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK) secretary-general Sheikh Mohammed Dor, and the chairman of unregistered Islamic Party of Kenya (IPK) Sheikh Mohammed Khalifa, have threatened to form their own political party. At a public rally in Mombasa on Sunday 29 June, Islamic speakers "blasted the Government for what they termed arassment of Muslims after branding them terror suspects on the whims of America and Israel." Sheikh Dor comments, "The way things are going on today, civil strife is looming." Dor also branded "America, Israel and the (ruling Kenyan) NARC Government as enemy number one of Muslims." (Link 4)

- Elizabeth Kendal

1) Five Churches Torched in Tana River District
The East African Standard (Nairobi) 20 June 2003
By Philip Mwakio And Jesse Masai

2) Church Condemns Killings. 24 June 2003
Catholic Information Service for Africa (Nairobi)

3) Christians Fear Shariah Will Undermine Tolerance
Joyce Mulama NAIROBI, 18 June 2003 (IPS)

4) Kanu, Muslims attack Govt.
The East African Standard
By Daniel Nyassy 30 June 2003