Sunday 23 June 2019

Islam and Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: Kenya

Muslims in Kenya, though in minority but constitute about 9-11% percent of the total population of Kenya. Muslims mostly abound the Kenyan coast, while the capital Nairobi has a sizable Muslim population and have several mosques. The majority of Muslims follow the Sunni Islam of Shafi school of jurisprudence. There are also Shia Muslims of Ismailis and Dawoodi Bohra sects.

Muslim presence in lands which constitute present day Kenya date back to the 10th century as archaeological evidence attests to a thriving Muslim town on Manda Island. The Moroccan Muslim traveler, Ibn Battuta, visiting the Swahili Coast in 1331 AD, reported a strong Muslim presence. Ibn Battuta said: The inhabitants are pious, honourable, and upright, and they have well-built wooden mosques.
Ruins of the Great Mosque at Gedi, discovered in 1920s [Photo Wikipedia]

As Islam started to spread and made inroads into the interior lands, there was strong resistance toward Islam by the majority of communities. The resistance was because conversion was an individual act, leading to de-tribalization and integration into the Muslim community going against the socially acceptable communal life. specially resistance by fierce tribes like the Masai. However, embracing of Islam by large portions of coastal tribes in the Nineteenth Century aided in its spread. Although coastal rulers did not send missionaries to the interior, local Africans embraced Islam freely through attraction to the religious life of the Muslims.

Moreover, the ingress of Islam to the interior was aided by the posting of the Muslim agents by Europeans in the 19th century as subordinate labourers to assist in the establishment of Colonial administration centres. Since they were  advantageously placed throughout the country, it brought the Islamic influence to the interior.Each place where a European installed himself, military camp, government centre, or plantation, was a centre for Muslim influence.

The spread of Islam in Kenya came between 1880 and 1930 and Islam introduced new religious values. The ease, with which Islam could be adopted led to conversion. Although most of the conversions were of individuals, there were communities that embraced Islam en-masse. Some of these included the Digo and Pokomo of the Lower Tana region. From these communities Islam slowly penetrated inland.

Maalim Mtondo, a Tanganyikan is credited with being the first Muslim missionary to Nairobi. Reaching Nairobi at the close of the Nineteenth Century. Muslim traders introduced Islam to the western region between 1870 and 1885. The chief Mumia of Nabongo accorded the Swahili traders warm welcome. During an inter-ethnic war, the Muslims assisted Chief Mumia to overcome his enemies. In return, one Idd day, Chief Mumia, his family and officials of his court converted to Islam. Henceforth, Islam spread to the surrounding areas of Kakamega, Kisumu, Kisii and Bungoma.

Kadhi Courts are central to serving Muslim interests in Kenya. These courts existed in the East African coast before colonization. In Kenya, the coast was under the Sultan of Zanzibar. In 1895, he gave the British power to administer the 10-mile coastal strip if they respected the courts. But he retained sovereignty. During the independence talks, the courts were legislated. Kadhi’s Courts in Kenya deal with Islamic matters. The court is composed of a Chief Kadhi and at least three other Kadhis or as may be prescribed by Parliament. Each kadhi’s court is subordinate to the high Court. A Kadhi is proficient in Islamic law. The jurisdiction of these courts is however limited to personal matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance. These do not have any criminal jurisdiction.

Prolonged Muslim awareness has led to attraction to Islam, giving the converted a sense of pride. There has been increased social action, building of schools, health facilities, and relief food distribution. Moreover, proselytization is carried out through print media, broadcasting, increased formation of Missionary organizations, and organization of public debates. 

Muslims and Christians have lived together peacefully as compared to other countries such as Nigeria and Central African Republic. Kenya is unique in the sense that despite terror attacks both on Muslim and Christian establishments, there have never been full-blown violence between the two communities. This is perhaps attributed to the national motto Harambee, meaning pulling together. The Harambee philosophy serves as precursors to attaching value to human life irrespective of diverse faith background.

However, recently there have been problems. The civil war in Somalia though has been contained, one of the militant faction Al Shabab has made inroads in Kenya and have been source of dissection in the otherwise peaceful Muslim community and has been responsible for many acts of terror in the country. The youth, who directly or indirectly support the Somali-based armed group Al-Shabab; while others actively work to eradicate extremism within their religious and social milieu. In the latter group there are individuals who oppose Al-Shabab and its ilk.

Majority of Muslims do not support acts of terror by Al Shabab activities. Recently thousands of Muslims took to the streets on Friday to show solidarity with the victims of a deadly terror attack on a Nairobi hotel compound Tuesday that killed at least 21 people. Locals closed their businesses in capital's Eastleigh suburb, dubbed Little Mogadishu, to join politicians and residents in a march to commemorate victims of the attack on a local hotel compound, claimed by al-Shabab militants, and to condemn terrorism and shun divisive ideology. Barkhado Amina, a shop owner in the heart of Eastleigh, said that Muslims in Eastleigh are always victimized and targeted by police whenever a terror attack occurred. "We are Kenyans, we are not terrorists, two Muslims were killed at Riverside terror attack, we are also crying, if they were fighting for Muslims, they would not kill us, al-Shabab does not have any religion, they are animals," she said.
Kenyan Muslim women offering prayers [Photo]

The crackdown on Muslims is nevertheless equally barbaric. In 2015 Kenyan security forces discovered at least a dozen graves on the outskirts of Mandera town in the province while they were searching for a missing mother of five.  A senior senator from the area and local residents alleged that the graves in fact belonged to Muslim victims killed by Kenyan security forces themselves. “We have been crying that we are being targeted, but report after report, no one comes to our aid; all the human rights groups have said that this is happening,” Fatah said, a resident of the area.

Despite all cases of killing from both sides and activities of Al Shabab, a group of Muslims recently shielded the Christians travelling in a bus when the militants asked Muslims to separate from the Christians. But the Muslims traveling in the bus refused and spared the killing of Christians.

However, all is all not that good when it comes development of areas where Muslims abound.  The Muslims are openly critical of the Kenyan government and what they view as its discrimination against Muslims. Muslim-dominated regions tend to be socially and economically underdeveloped relative to the rest of the country. Despite the inclusion of Muslims in most Kenyan governments, there is a perception that Muslim interests are under-represented politically. The heavy-handed police tactics such as mass-roundups of young men at mosques, have only served to reinforce perceptions of prejudice against Muslims by the anti-terrorism police. 

The curse of Kenyan Muslims today is the lack of leadership to unite some 300 Muslim organizations in the country, in the absence of which there is no central voice of the Muslims to be heard in the corridors of the government. Recently the Kenyan Supreme Court decision to overturn a 2016 High Court ruling allowing Muslim girls to wear the hijab in church-run schools has prompted a renewed round of debate on the role of religion and the place of religious pluralism in the country. This decision has also attracted a raft of criticism, most notably from Senior Counsel Ahmednasir Abdullahi, who said it was “inspired by a poisonous evangelical jurisprudence that repudiates the rights of Muslim pupils to wear a hijab”, and described it as an expression of Islamophobia.

Herein under watch a video about the Kenyan Muslims celebrating the Eid al Adha:
Despite all misgivings of Muslims, the government in place is always making endeavors to facilitate Muslims and put  greater emphasis on Muslim representation and empowerment than any other. A notable example of this is Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji, the point man in the war on corruption, perhaps the most important task of the Uhuru presidency. Majority Leader Aden Duale noted that “there is no time Muslims have held so many senior positions in government”, the same as Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala. Similar praise has come from senior Muslim religious leaders and scholars, including for the major investment in infrastructure projects in northern Kenya and the coast.

Author's Note: The data above has been collected from the references as given below. If any one differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

Photo | References: | Main Source:  Wikipedia | Other Sources : | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |
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