Kenya Christian, Muslim clerics debate radicalization

By Yassin Juma, Saturday, March 29, 2014

NAIROBI – Local Christian and Muslim leaders in Kenya are engaged in a debate over the radicalization of local youth in the country's coastal region, which last Sunday witnessed the murder of six people at a Mombasa church.

"It's time that Muslim leaders control their congregations," Bishop Joseph Maisha told Anadolu Agency.

Church leaders and Muslim clerics met Friday in Mombasa to try to mend fences and reconcile their communities, whose relations have been made tense by the recent church killings.

"We have lived in harmony for years. But this latest incident is threatening our relation," said Maisha after meeting some of the Muslim clerics.

Gunmen attacked Mombasa's Joy in Jesus Church during a Sunday morning service, killing six and wounding a number of others.

The attack came a few days after Kenyan authorities announced they had foiled a major terrorist plot after seizing two men driving an explosives-laden car through the coastal city.

Shariff Muhdhar Khitami, a Mombasa-based Muslim cleric, took exception to Bishop Maisha's assertions.

He heaped the blame on the government for failing to swiftly deal with increasingly frequent terror attacks on Kenyan soil.

"Instead, the government should up its game to ensure the security of all Kenyans," Khitami told AA.

"We need more surveillance and police to deal with terrorism," asserted the Muslim leader.

Church leaders and Muslim clerics – who plan to meet regularly in the days to come in a bid to achieve reconciliation – also visited six of the church shooting victims at the Coast General Hospital.

It is not the first time that a Christian congregation has been targeted in Mombasa.

Angry youth torched a church in October of last year following the killing of a Muslim cleric.

And in February, a church was set ablaze by rioting youth following a spate of arrests at a local mosque.

Ensuing clashes between police and angry Muslims left two of the latter and one police officer dead.

At the time, police had claimed that preachers had used the mosque to radicalize young Muslims.

Local leaders, however, condemned police for violently dispersing the young people and entering the mosque without removing their shoes, which is considered an insult to the Muslim faith.

The current population of Mombasa is estimated at 1.2 million, according to figures by the County Council of Mombasa.

Muslims reportedly constitute around 65 percent of the city's population.

However, new arrivals from Kenya's hinterland have in recent years seen an increase in the number of Christians and evangelical churches in the coastal city.

-Vacuum-

For years, Muslim leaders in Kenya have been seen as having avoided public condemnation for increasing radicalization among Muslim youth.

"There is a clear leadership vacuum within the Muslim community in Kenya caused by ideological differences between two main Muslim bodies: the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya and the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims," Abdullah al-Mazrui, a Mombasa-based religious affairs analyst, told AA.

A number of Muslim clerics have been accused of having links with Somali militant group Al-Shabaab.

So far, five of them have been killed in mysterious circumstances amid protests by human rights activists, who say such incidents amount to nothing less than extrajudicial killing by Kenyan security forces.

Sheikh Abubakr Makaburi remains the Kenyan coast's most outspoken cleric.

He has publicly justified acts by Al-Shabaab, including last September's Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi in which 67 people were killed.

Abubakr is accused of being involved in recruiting young people from Mombasa for the Somali militant group.

He is due to appear in court next week in connection with a 2010 grenade attack in Nairobi that left one person dead.

Although he also faces charges of belonging to an outlawed group, he nevertheless remains free on bail and continues to preach.

Parliament majority leader Aden Dualle, for his part, largely attributed increasing radicalization to a lack of leadership in Kenya's Muslim community.

"We shall hold a major forum in Nairobi soon to bring together Muslim clerics and Muslim political leaders to discuss radicalization," he told AA in exclusive comments.

Imam Swaleh Mohamed Swaleh of Nairobi's main Friday mosque says it's time Kenyan Muslims started working to undo increasingly negative perceptions of them.

"Let's not play into the hands of our enemies," he told AA.

"We're all Kenyans; we're affected by every act of terror, too – whether Muslim or Christian," added Imam Swaleh.

"Look at the number of innocent Muslims killed in the Westgate [mall attack]. We're also feeling the pain."

Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency