Religious leaders and sociologists estimate that the Christian and Muslim communities in Tanzania are approximately equal in size, with each accounting for between 30 – 40 per cent of the population. However, about 97 per cent of Zanzibar is Muslim. On the mainland, Muslim communities are concentrated in the coastal areas although there are large Muslim minorities that can be found in the inland urban areas. The Tanzanian Constitution provides for freedom of religion and the government generally respects this right in practice.
While the Muslim-Christian ratio in the Tanzanian population as a whole is almost equal and while the government safeguards religious freedom, the conditions in Zanzibar are very different. With 97% of its population being Muslim, there is increasing pressure from Islamist groups to apply sharia law to all aspects of legislation in attempt to Islamize the Island. One way in which these extremist groups try to achieve total Islamization is by kidnapping Christian children and forcing them to convert to Islam. Also in recent years, churches have been bombed.
Meanwhile, mainland Tanzania is facing an ongoing debate on whether to introduce sharia law alongside the existing secular law. One church leader who warned that it would undermine the secular nature of the state was arrested and imprisoned. New mosques are being built at an astonishing rate, and according to barnabas aid, wherever a new mosque is built, weekly financial incentives are offered to each household in a bid to get people to attend. Food and clothes are distributed, and jobs or capital to start businesses are available for those who become Muslims.
Here are the more recent reports about religious persecution in Tanzania.
- Churches in Tanzania fear persecution will spread to their country. Bishop Dickson Kaganga, who now has bars on the window of his office, says he and his fellow Christians are "living in fear". The Pentecostal priest, whose car was also torched in the assault, talks darkly of a rising tide of radicalism on the Indian Ocean archipelago once famed for its cosmopolitanism and religious tolerance. [Read More]
- A 14-year-old boy was threatened with beheading for urinating on the Qur'an. After police protected him from an angry mob, the Muslims responded by burning five churches, lighting tyres on the road and breaking store windows. [Read More]
- A teenager in Tanzania was recently sentenced to two years in prison after being accused of desecrating the Qur'an. Eve Abdullah, 17, converted to Christianity from Islam three years ago. Her parents disowned her after her conversion and a group of radicals in her hometown of Bagamoyo tried to persuade her to renounce her Christian Faith. When she refused, they falsely accused her of desecrating the Qur'an. Many Christian leaders were afraid to defend her because of the Muslim dominance in the district. On July 26, Eve was sentenced to two years in prison by a judge who was allegedly bribed by the Islamic militants. [Read More]
- Hundreds of supporters of a separatist Islamist group set fire to two churches and clashed with police during protests in Zanzibar over the weekend against the arrest of senior members of the movement, police and witnesses said. [Read More]
Sources: barnabasfund.org, persecution.org
The country's population is largely Christian. Though this may be the case, several instances of persecution directed towards Christians have been reported in various parts of the country. The examples below comprise of various case scenarios of persecution on religious grounds experienced in Ethiopia:
- In May 2009, an Ethiopian Christian was jailed for providing Muslims with Somali-language Bibles with covers that resembled the Qur'an. He was released in February 2010. After spending four months in jail, an Ethiopian Christian was sentenced in December 2010 to three years in prison for allegedly desecrating a Qur'an.
- At least 11 people die and more than 50 churches, nearly 30 houses, a school and an orphanage along with other Christian-own buildings destroyed by rampaging Muslims in Ethiopia
- July 2010 - 80 Christians left homeless when 25 Muslims burnt down ten homes near Jimma.
- August 2010 - a Christian is arrested in the southern town of Moyale, accused by a Muslim coworker of inscribing, "Jesus is Lord" on a cloth. A local imam then testifies that instead it had been written on a Qur'an. Without evidence of these charges, the Christian is sentenced to 3 years in prison. He is then transferred to Jijiga Prison, which is governed according to Sharia and where his life is in jeopardy unless he converts to Islam.
- November 2010 - a Christian man is sentenced to three years in prison, after Muslim friends accused him of writing, "Jesus is Lord" on the Qur'an.
- February 2011 - Christians are harassed and physically abused in Besheno by Muslims, after posting notices to convert to Islam or face death if they don't leave the city.
- 17 Christian college students stoned and beaten with rods by attackers shouting "Allah akbar!" after trying to distribute Bibles in a village.
- Muslim mobs in the south Ethiopian city of Besheno put death threats (if they don't convert to Islam or leave the city) on the doors of Christian villagers, take away church property, and beat evangelists, killing family members. Several church leaders have either left the city or been forced to convert to Islam.
- International Christian Concern reports that in Jimma Province, a Muslim majority area of the country, 69 churches (at the time of this writing), a school, an orphanage and an office have been burned and two Christians were killed and several wounded. Muslims framed Christians for allegedly desecrating a Qur'an and then started attacking. Police have not responded. 10,000 Christians have fled western Ethiopia.
- Elderly Christian leader assaulted in Asendabo, Jimma by armed Muslims who entered his house. When his grandson rushed in to intervene, the attackers turned to attacking the young man who sustained machete wounds. The family got him to a hospital 3 hours away.
- Churches and homes burnt down in by mobs in the Jimma region, leaving 10,000 people displaced, many living in the bush, in a strategically planned attack by an extremist Muslim group.
Muslim extremists have burnt two churches in Zanzibar over the weekend. This was in protest over the arrest of their senior members of their UAMSHO movement- a Swahili acronym of its full name, the Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation by police on 27th May 2012, as reported by Reuters Africa.
They set fire to one church and burnt it completely and the second one was partially burnt after the police intervened. The leaders of the movement have denied instructing their members to demonstrate in the streets but the police have arrested over 30 of the demonstrators who have turned out to be members of the UAMSHO movement.
There is lots of fear and tension between the Muslims and Christians that has been brought up by the attacks. This is a bad precedence being set and if left unchecked, it might blow out of proportion. This is especially true in a country where Muslims are the majority; we do not want the situation to escalate into another Nigerian scenario.
Zanzibar, a Nation of 1 million people is part of the mainland Tanganyika which they merged in 1964 to form the present day Tanzania and with the coming constitution referendum they want to secede to be a Nation on its own. UAMSHO group has been gaining popularity following the disenchantment of supporters of Zanzibar's main opposition Civic United Front (CUF) party after its decision to form a government of national unity with the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, a move that was not supported by the majority of the Zanzibar people.
There are a number of questions that are coming up out of these attacks; why did the demonstrators turn their anger to the church? Are there underlying issues that need to be resolved? Is this a projection of what will come if the Zanzibar nation is granted autonomy since Muslims are the majority? These and other questions need to be answered so that a lasting solution can be found.
EACLJ condemns these attacks and calls on the government of Tanzania to provide security for Christians and in extension Church property as is guaranteed in the Tanzanian constitution. EACLJ also asks the Tanzanian government to ensure that all religious groups exercise religious tolerance.