Wednesday 24 May 2023

Islam in Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, also known as Congo-Kinshasa and formerly known as Zaire, is a country in Central Africa. With a population of around 112 million, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is dominated by with various Christian denominations and sects. Islam was first introduced to the Congo basin from the East African coast during 19th century and remains largely concentrated in parts of Eastern Congo, notably in Maniema Province. Though estimates vary, it is generally believed that between one and 10 percent of the country's population identify as Muslim. [1] However, other estimates put the ratio of Muslims about 10-15%. [2]

Until the 1920s the Muslim presence was not felt strongly in the country which, since the 19th century, had been a Belgian colony. Since then, the Muslim presence in the country has been manifesting itself through the NGOs and Quranic schools that have been founded. But this time the domination of the educational system by Christian and colonial powers acted as a disincentive to Muslim involvement in public life and has always kept them away. Years of Belgian colonial rule not only saw restrictions on Muslim worship, but Muslim children were expelled from schools, force-fed pork, and people were forced to eat and drink during Ramadan. [2]

The independence in 1960 resulted into more oppression for and discrimination against Muslims instead of more freedom. The existing political and military conflicts in the areas where they lived contributed to the further marginalization of the Muslim minority. 

The Muslim minority has been in dire straits since the uprising affecting the eastern parts of the country, especially since 2010. Having been targeted by the government on account of accusations of collaborating with armed opposition groups, some Muslims have had to flee their homes and migrate to other regions. The existence of armed groups from the Muslim minority, such as the Allied Democratic Forces of Islam(ADF-Nalu), who have been involved in the events, has brought misery upon ordinary Muslims, despite their disengagement from the conflict. While mosques in the country have become a target for attacks, the problem of security still waits to be solved. [2] 

Muslims today form a sizeable minority in Congo of today. The highest concentration of Muslims is in Maniema Province and especially its cities of Kasongo and Kindu where they represent 80–90 percent and 25 percent of the population respectively. Besides indigenous Muslims, the population also includes immigrants from Lebanon, India, Pakistan and other parts of the African continent. The vast majority of Muslims in the country identify themselves as Sunni, following the Maliki school of jurisprudence (fiqh). Congolese Muslims are frequently divided between conservative Sufis and Reformists (Salafists) as well as along local ethnic, geographical, and generational lines.

Congolese Muslims are represented at a national level by the Islamic Community of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Communauté islamique du République démocratique du Congo, or Comico) which succeeded the Islamic Community of Zaire (Communauté islamique du Zaïre, Comiza) founded in the 1970s. However, Muslims have little political influence in national politics and are underrepresented in its institutions. Of the 450 MPs in parliament, only three are there to represent the Muslim minority. However, if representation was given in proportion relation to their numbers, there would need to be at least 65-70 Muslim MPs. [2]

As of today, while the majority of Muslims in the warn-torn areas is low to miserable, while Muslim minority living in the capital city of Kinshasa and in other urban centers seems unaffected that of the war-torn areas. Urban centers, where the central authority is powerful, are the primary destinations of migrants.

The religious education of Muslim children is almost non-existant as most Muslim schools are not Qur’anic and are open to children of other faiths. One of the few academic studies of Congolese Muslim schools noted that they may employ non-Muslim teachers and apart from religious teaching were not noticeably different from any other Congolese school. Muslims parents who want a more rigorous Qur’anic education for their children tend to arrange it as an extra-curricular activity. All of which seems to indicate that Islam in the Democratic Republic of Congo is neither orthodox nor closed, and despite their near invisibility in demographic and development studies, has a lot to offer in national reconstruction. [3]
The plight of Muslims is worse and threatening due to the civil war, syas Imam of Beni, Musa Angwandi, is the leader of approximately 35,000 Muslims in Beni Territory. He says the community is very stressed, they are accused of things they haven’t done and he is afraid that if they are further intimidated they may take things into their own hands. During one of my many forays into the bush I see an abandoned mosque near Eringeti and when I ask the reason why it is no longer used I am told that the worshippers were chased away and pigs heads were left on the steps. As is so often the case with Congo stories, deeper digging reveals that this was less a tale of religious scapegoating and was more likely a manifestation of local political skirmishes.[3]
To ease the sufferings of the Congolese Muslims, former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi financed proliferation of mosques in the greater North Kivu covering Butembo and Beni on to Ituri, regions which have seen growth of a Muslim community from the late 1980s and early 90s. It is here the UN Peace Keeping continegent from Pakistan has been based sine late 1990s and have had their influence on the growth of Islam. Pakistani contingent has built number of mosques in greater north Kivu and Ituri regions.
Pakistan troops in Bukavu, south Kivu [Photo]

The internal strife among the Muslim community is a bane for the community as a whole. The armed groups do not show mercy and many a killing has been reported. 
Muslims offering prayers [Photo: Getty Images/BBC]

In May 2021, a senior Muslim cleric in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo was shot dead while praying in the main mosque in Beni city. The cleric was a strong critic of Islamic militancy in the region, Reuters news agency reports. Eastern DR Congo has been badly hit by instability, including attacks claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group. Many armed groups operate in eastern DR Congo, a legacy of the conflicts that gripped the region in the 1990s.
However, despite being underrepresented in the media and politically, the Muslim community in the Congo seems to be expanding and shows a stronger desire to exist on the political and social scene. The fragile stability of the region pushes the inhabitants to organize themselves so as not to create misunderstandings. The association “ Islamic Dynamics for the Fight against Terrorism in the Great Lakes Region ” was created to respond to extremism and the stigmatization of Muslims. This structure pleads with the Congolese government, which is mainly non-Muslim. During our discussion, the Sheikh sighs and notes the lack of representativeness of the population of Muslim faith in the DRC: “Out of 26 provinces of the country, no governor is Muslim. In the general assembly, 540 deputies, only two Muslims ”. [4]
A study group as reported by alohanews Meeting with Muslims in a mosque in Goma

Muslims who, like elsewhere, are fighting against stigmatization following a painfully heavy global context to bear. Redefining themselves, asserting themselves, being represented, so many battles that Muslims are struggling to lead in Europe as well. A country historically weakened by the thirst for power, the slave trade, colonization... but which continues to believe in hope. The Congolese have in common a bloody history and present. However, various testimonies lean towards the desire to build together with a view to social peace. A slim hope that everyone dreams of. 

When would peace prevail in Congo, one is not very sure. But the effect of overall violence has permeated into the Muslim community as well and adversly affecting their lives.

PS: I could not find any video reflecting how Muslims celebrate their festivals and normal life in Congo. Will add as and when I find one. All videos on YouTube are about violence and conflicts.

Disclaimer: The data for this post has been collected from the references given below. If anyone 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.

To know more about life of Muslims in other non-Muslim countries, please visit our Reference Page: Islam and Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries

You may also refer to our Reference Pages for knowing more about Islam and Quran.
Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 
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