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Islamist Militants Are Responsible For Christian Persecution in Kenya And Africa, Faith Leaders Say

Posted by on February 16, 2021 — Drop A Comment

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) — The majority
of this East African country’s
population is Christian, and churches
are free to proliferate. It’s also not
unusual to find preachers setting up
loudspeakers to call people to Jesus.
Christian literature is sold on the open
street, and phrases like “Praise God”
and “Amen” are part of the common
But recently, Kenya was listed by the
U.S.-based anti-persecution watchdog
Open Doors as one of the countries
where it is difficult to be Christian.
According to the group, persecution of
Christians has been spreading,
especially in the predominantly Muslim
northeastern and coastal regions.
“The threats are there,” the Rt. Rev.
David Mutisya, Anglican bishop of the
Diocese of Garissa, in eastern Kenya,
told Religion News Service. Mutisya
said the challenge for both Muslims
and Christians is to be creative about
finding ways to co-exist without
Christians who have converted from
Islam live under constant threat of
attack, even from close relatives,
according to the organization. Many
have fled their homes to live close to
other Christians where they can feel
At the same time, al-Shabaab, the
Somalia-based Al Qaeda affiliate in
East Africa, has been posing a bigger
threat. Al-Shabaab militants have
reportedly infiltrated local cities and
villages and constantly monitor the
activities of Christians in these areas.
In Somalia, the group has been
carrying out amputations, flogging
women in public and executing those
who break its extreme version of
Shariah law. It is now attempting to
export its tyrannical strain of Islam to
Kenya, frequently attacking Christians
and churches, as well as security
forces near the border.
While al-Shabaab has flagrantly
attacked Christians — most memorably
in a 2015 incident where 148 Christians
were separated from Muslims and
killed after being forced to recite
Muslim prayers, the Rev. Wilybard
Lagho, a Roman Catholic priest and the
former vicar general of the Archdiocese
of Mombasa, said that in other cases,
“it is difficult to draw the boundary
whether some of the assaults are
religious or political.”
He cited recent attacks in the county of
Lamu, where Christians who had
migrated from central Kenya were
killed and their churches destroyed.
According to the report by Open Doors,
local officials charged with protecting
residents often turn a blind eye to
“As a country we have not legislated
enough laws on religious freedom.
There are no parliamentary acts on the
subject. The constitution does not say
how the courts or the police should
handle cases of religious persecution
or how protection should be provided,”
said Lagho. “Sometimes, it is left at the
discretion of the shepherds (clerics) to
provide some cover. It is a delicate
matter that is rarely publicized.”
But some Muslim leaders disagree with
Open Doors’ findings.
“We have one message, whether
Muslims or Christian. Our origin is the
same. We are Abrahamic faith,” said
Shaykh Ali Juma, the chairman of
Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims
North Rift Region. “I don’t think the
report is true.”
While he admits that some people have
been forced to relocate after converting
to Christianity, Juma said it is normal
for families to disagree on matters of
faith. “One person may not agree with
the rest and is forced to stay away.
This happens for a period, but they
finally agree,” he said.
At the same time, Juma called for
education and sensitization in local
communities about the commonalities
between the Quran and the Christian
Similarly, faith leaders try to focus on
issues that unite Muslims and
Christians, such as food security and
“When we go looking for food during
famines, everyone, regardless of their
faith, gets a share,” said Mutisya. “We
have a Christian school — one of the
best in the region — which admits
students from all faiths. We also
employ Muslim teachers and workers.”
By attending to the population’s needs,
not their differences, he said, faith
leaders can ameliorate the friction
between the faiths.

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