Recent newspaper headlines about religious issues

As in the case of so many troublesome things in Tanzania these days it all began in Zanzibar. Tension between Christians and Muslims is nothing new in Tanzania. It had been building up for some time but Zanzibar’s unilateral act in joining the ‘organisation of Islamic Conference’ (OIC) without prior consultation with the mainland part of the united Republic created a storm, soon fanned by the very free Tanzanian press, a number of Christian leaders, the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, many angry Members of Parliament, and, according to one rumour, at least one Western embassy.

Zanzibar’s membership of the OIC was said to have breached the Tanzanian constitution because, firstly, the country is a secular state and should not be part of an international organisation based on religion and, secondly, because it was done unilaterally in what was described as a secretive way.

Members of Parliament demanded an enquiry into the matter and a ‘Parliamentary Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee’ was set up under the Chairmanship of Philip Marmo MP to examine whether the constitution had been breached by Zanzibar’s membership of the OIC and also by President Mwinyi who may have connived in it or at least failed to prevent it. Fire was added to the flames when the 12-person Committee came out with a forceful report, described by some, as one of the most direct results of Tanzania’s new policy of openness and frankness.

The report stated that Zanzibar’s membership of the IOC violated articles of the Union constitution and that Zanzibar should be directed to withdraw immediately from the OIC and those responsible for the move (assumed to be the President of Zanzibar and the Chief Minister) should be asked to resign; two other Zanzibar ministers, who had refused to appear before the Committee, should be punished. The report of the Committee said that Zanzibar had been admitted to the OIC only after receiving written assurances from the Tanzanian Embassy in Saudi Arabia but that the assurances given had not been authorised by Dar es Salaam. President Mwinyi, himself a Zanzibari, was not mentioned by name but appeared to be so by implication as he had earlier defended Zanzibar’s action by arguing that the OIC was not an organisation of Islamic states; many of its African members had Christian Presidents (e.g.: Uganda, Cameroon, Guinea, Burkina Faso) and some even had Christian majorities in the population. But the Marmo report said that the issue was not ambiguous – foreign affairs was under the jurisdiction of the union Government.

After what was described in the Daily News as a heated and at times emotional debate in Parliament a motion from the Attorney General was passed by 186 votes against 23. It stated, inter alia, that ‘This House:

– congratulates the Parliamentary Committee for the good job it did in a very short time;
– agrees that Zanzibar joined the DIC, which is an international institution dealing, among other things, with economic and social development issues and that it did so as stipulated in the Zanzibar constitution of 1984 …;
– accepts that some sections of the constitutions of the united Republic (1977) and Zanzibar (1984) conflict with each other;
– advises that the Union Government in collaboration with the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar should resolve the issue by reviewing the two constitutions with the objective of removing the conflicts between them … and that the work should be completed in not less than twelve months;
– where it has been established that some leaders … misbehaved then the government should look into the issue and take the necessary legal steps … ‘

In the meantime, the Supreme Council of Tanzania Muslims, ‘Baraza Kuu la Waislamu Tanzania’ (BAKWATA) filed a petition with the National Assembly requesting the MP’s also to investigate the long standing diplomatic relations between Tanzania and the Vatican.

The Family Mirror then quoted the Daily News as having said that in Dar es Salaam seditious preachings, masterminded by Muslim fundamentalists, were urging Muslims to prepare for ‘Jihad’ (religious war) and were advising Muslims to burn CCM (the ruling Party) membership cards and to vote for a Muslim President in the 1995 general elections. Cassettes criticising Christians were said to be circulating in Dar es Salaam.

There followed responses from Christian groups. Reacting to a statement from the Catholic Church (supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church) whose bishops had complained about government inaction when certain groups were ‘openly moving around preaching contempt and blasphemy against the Christian faith’, President Mwinyi summoned Christian bishops to State House for consultations. He promised to react to their concerns. The Tanzania Episcopal Conference had also earlier criticised the government for its silence in the face of ‘continued scandalisation of the Christian faith’.

Meanwhile, the long standing dispute between the splinter group (Bulletin No 42 of May 1992) Mount Meru Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania (claiming 84,000 followers) was declaring that its adversary, the Meru Diocese (which it claimed had only 2,500 followers) was ‘an ice block which would melt in the sun’ according to the Family Mirror (January 1993 Issue). The Lutheran bishops have been opposing strongly the establishment of the breakaway Mount Meru Diocese and strenuous efforts have been made to bring about reconciliation. The government felt it necessary to intervene: Minister of Home Affairs and (now) Deputy Prime Minister Augustine Mrema held meetings throughout Meru and said that everyone wanted to have only one diocese. Unless the people of Meru made it clear that they wanted more than one, the government would enforce an agreement which had been reached between the 19 Lutheran parishes in Meru. An indication that the problem had not been resolved, however, was the reported arrest of 18 people, two of whom had been been convicted in connection with violence related to the issue.

A similar religious dispute has been reported from Kyela where 22 persons have been arrested on a charge of attempted murder related to a religious conflict in the Moravian Church. The accused are alleged to have set fire to nine houses as part of their demand for a diocese separate from the Rungwe headquarters of the church.

Adding to the religious ferment in Dar es Salaam has been the visit of the German Pentecostal Evangelist Reinhardt Bonnke who, according to the BBC, which intends to present a television documentary about him later this year, attracted a crowd of 100,000 people during his Dar es Salaam crusade.

In February the Business Times reported that representatives of various faiths – Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Bahai (which sponsored the gathering) and Zoroastrian had come together in Dar es Salaam and proposed the setting up of an ‘Inter-Religious Association (IRA) to promote fellowship amongst different religions. After all they, agreed, ‘all people worship and believe in God as the universal creator; all believe in the brotherhood of man: every religion teaches a code of ethics and moral values’.

However, angry religious expression amongst a small group in Dar es Salaam continued. The next event was on April 9th when a group of Muslim fundamentalists stoned and demolished three pork butcheries in Dar es Salaam. Thirteen people were subsequently arrested and Deputy Prime Minister Mrema said that the attacks had been the work of a group of externally financed persons. Another 13 people were arrested during a protest march about the arrest of their colleagues. The protesters were carrying a red and white flag with the slogan ‘Muslims are ready to die in defence of their fellow Muslims. Help us God’.

A few days later Sheikh Yahya Hussein, leader of the extremist Koran Reading Development Council (BALUKTA), who had admitted that the people who had destroyed the butcheries were his followers, was also detained.

Chief Sheikh Hemed bin Juma bin Hemed and the Muslim Council of Tanzania (BAKWATA) gave their full support to the government’s action saying that Tanzania was a secular state: they advised Muslims to maintain peace and stability. Tension increased further on April 22nd when police used tear gas to disperse about 100 people trying to make their way to the courtroom where now 36 Muslims were being charged with illegal demonstration and destruction of property. They were refused bail.


As this Bulletin goes to press the Daily News (April 29 1993) reported that the Government had struck BALUKTA off the Register of Religious Societies for engaging in activities other than those for which it was registered. Minister of Home Affairs Augustine Mrema, addressing a meeting of religious leaders at the Diamond Jubilee Hall, said that since 1988 BALUKTA had been undertaking activities such as marriages which were the responsibility of BAKWATA. Mr Mrema called on BAKWATA to set up its own Koran reading section to replace that of BALUKTA. He also said that anyone in possession of seditious tapes recorded by BALUKTA should surrender them or face prosecution. In future, the Minister said, any religious sect wanting to be registered would have to have the blessing of BAKWATA for Muslims and the Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT) for Christians. The meeting ended with religious leaders present shaking hands. However, several Muslim fundamentalists refused outright to shake hands with anyone including their fellow Muslims.

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