Most observers of the religious scene in Tanzania agree that relations between Muslims and followers of other religions are generally good. But, perhaps reflecting conflicts with a religious element in other parts of the world, Tanzanian Muslims are showing increasing signs of unhappiness both within their own ranks and against Christians in the belief that Christians are better treated in Tanzania.
There have been several minor incidents during recent weeks: On February 26 the Chief Sheikh of the Parley of Clerics of Zanzibar blamed the Zanzibar government and in particular the newly-created Office of the Mufti for denying Muslims their constitutional right of freedom of worship. The Chief Sheikh said that the two recent incidents in which the police had used force against Muslims peacefully marching, one during the Eid el Hajj and the other on February 21, provided proof beyond doubt that the Government had created the Mufti’s office to intimidate Muslims. “We can’t see any point in having this Mufti office” he said. The constitution gave people the right to gather and preach.
Meanwhile Zanzibar Attorney-General Hassan Iddi Pandu Hassan reminded people that The Mufti (Constitution and Powers) Act of 2001, which was enacted to control foreign religious groups intending to disrupt peace and tranquility, must be followed to the letter. He said that members of religious groups from Pakistan and Afghanistan had been to Zanzibar and were sleeping in mosques. This could adversely affect the security of the nation.
The Guardian reported on February 18 that some people had been injured after being shot by members of the Field Force unit in Zanzibar; several people had broken into bars and wine shops and burnt government vehicles. 20 people later appeared in court over the disturbances and the loss of property.
On March 14 the Guardian reported that the Court of Appeal had quashed the conviction and set aside a sentence of 18 months’ imprisonment on Hamis Dibagula for uttering words with the intent to wound religious feelings at a religious meeting. In a 25page judgment, the judges pointed out that the prosecution had to prove that the appellant had a deliberate intention to wound the religious feelings of those within hearing range. When the appellant told his audience that ‘Jesus Christ was not the Son of God’ he was doing no more than preaching his religion. They quoted several Surahs (Chapters) from the Koran, one of which said that ‘Christ the Son of Mary’ was no more than a messenger. The question was a purely religious one and therefore could not fall for determination by a court of law. The judges concluded by saying that religious intolerance had launched many wars and caused endless streams of blood. Religious intolerance was a device which must not be permitted to find a place in the hearts of our people.
On March 15 some hundreds of Muslims demonstrated in Dar es Salaam against the proposed visit to Tanzanian tourist centres and game parks by a group of 100 American homosexuals. The Muslims chanted insults at the Government, BAKWATA and the ruling CCM party and threatened violence against motorists and bystanders.
At a symposium shortly afterwards to commemorate the Moslem New Year 1424 Al Hijiriyyah in Dar es Salaam, Moslem scholars, teachers, students and Imams began to make plans on the best way to combat homosexuality in Tanzania.
According to An-Nuur, a new Swahili newspaper in Zanzibar, tourist hotels in Arusha had been warned not to accommodate the gays from America.
The Sunday Observer (March 2) quoted a prominent Tanzanian clergyman as announcing that he also would organise a protest march over this planned visit. The paper’s editorial stated that homosexuality was a taboo practice in Tanzania and that whoever regarded homosexuality as un-Tanzanian could do so without fear of contradiction. ‘It is disturbing however’, the article went on ‘that no concerted battle is being waged against homosexuals.’ The Zanzibar Government, but not the Union Government, outlawed the proposed tour, which was cancelled before it began. Zanzibar Industries, Commerce and Tourism Minister Mohamed Aboud told Majira that the Government would not allow the gays to tour Zanzibar because they were not ‘normal’ people.
Nipashe quoted the Full Gospel Bible Fellowship Bishop Zakaria Kakobe as threatening to organise a massive demonstration against the proposed tour.
Pope John Paul’s representative in Tanzania, Michae1 Fitzgera1d, has called upon people not to regard every Muslim as a terrorist and instead to take steps to harmonise relations between Muslims and Christians. He was talking to the head of the Muslim Council, BAKWATA, Chief Sheikh Issa bin Shabaan Simba.
Fourteen Sheikhs, Imams and religious teachers underwent voluntary HIV testing early in the year. They were praised by health officials for ‘leading by example’. The leaders said that they had taken the tests in the hope that their followers would follow suit. However, they added that they would never condone the use of condoms.