Coast leaders, clerics unite in preaching religious harmony

By Standard Team

In a telling and very public show of interfaith unity, Muslim and Christian leaders in Mombasa prayed together and condemned last week’s riots and burning of churches in the coastal city.

It was the first Sunday since last Monday’s shocking murder of radical Sheikh Aboud Rogo on the Mombasa-Malindi road that sparked riots, burning of churches and killing of security officers in an orgy of grenade and gun attacks and arson that lasted three days.       On Sunday Christian and Muslim leaders called for peace, unity and reconciliation amidst tight security at church buildings and demanded the prosecution of rioters, arsonists, looters and Rogo’s killers.

They also prayed for security officers and civilians killed or wounded in the violence. But Christian leaders sought guarantees that freedom of worship will be ensured and protected in this largely Muslim city, with Reverend Robert Wafula of the Neno Evangelism church in Mombasa claiming that Sheikh Rogo’s killing was used as an excuse to attack churches.

Probe demands

“This (burning of churches) was something pre-planned,” said Wafula, echoing claims made last week by Prime Minister Raila Odinga that there was a hidden hand in the violence. A cleansing ceremony was conducted at the Seventh Day Adventist church in Ziwani, which was destroyed in the violence.

Muslim leaders said those who torched churches or killed in the name of Islam were not true Muslims and that the Government ought to investigate the killings of Christians and Muslims alike.

They disclosed that Islam does not consider Christians to be infidels as taught by the late Rogo, and that Muslims are expected by the Koran to protect Christians, Jews and Muslims and their places of worship.

They also condemned hate sermons against Christianity in the region and asked police to investigate the April grenade attack on Christians in Mtwapa besides the July massacre of Christians in Garissa. Mombasa Catholic Church Archbishop Boniface Lele and Anglican Bishop for Mombasa Julius Kalu urged Christians not to seek revenge for last week’s attacks, but called for speedy investigation to cover all criminal acts committed last week.

Compensation claims

The SDA church demanded compensation for its property destroyed in the chaos and asked Muslim leaders to restrain their youths. The SDA President for the Kenyan Coast region, Pastor Zacharia Marwa regretted that the violence, which erupted following Rogo’s killing, targeted Christian establishments.

“We have no connection whatsoever with Rogo’s killing and should not have been the target for retaliatory attacks in the first place,” he said. Speaking to the media at the church’s Coast headquarters in Port Reitz, Changamwe, Mombasa County On Sunday, Pastor Marwa said that the SDA has actively co-existed with other religious denominations including Muslims for a long time.

Assistant minister Ali Hassan Joho, who is also Kisauni MP where some of the worst violence including the killing of three prison warders took place, led Muslim leaders and officials of the Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council, led by Sheikh Juma Ngao, in condemning the violence and calling for unity and reconciliation at the Neno Evangelism Church.

Former Cabinet Minister and Mvita MP Najib Balala whose constituency was most affected by last week’s chaos, said a team probing Rogo’s killing should also investigate those behind the burning of churches and looting of bars.

Separately, a Mombasa aspirant for the post of governor, Mr Suleiman Shahbal, who hosted an interfaith meeting in Mombasa when the riots began said it is criminal to burn churches but urged the Government to equally investigate the recent killings of Muslim clerics.

“I pray for peace and tranquility in our country and may God Almighty answer that prayer,” said Joho who condemned last week’s killing and demanded “mutual respect between religions”. Joho said Islam does not condone murder and pillage “regardless of religion, race and tribe” and urged Muslim leaders to seek justice for all whenever such crimes occur.

Reverend Wafula claimed Christians in Mombasa were threatened and pushed into a corner by the local municipality that he said denies them land to erect churches, while Islamic extremists mocked the Bible and preached against Christianity.

Christian persecution

Wafula also claimed the Government had not addressed alleged Christian persecution in Mombasa, including the killing of two priests in Jomvu in May. “We are provoked but do not know how to fight back. We do not attack any religion,” he said adding that radical Islamists exploited Sheikh Rogo’s murder to vent pent up hatred on churches.

According to the priest, attacks on churches should not be dismissed as “normal crimes” because “there has always been something underground which cannot be dismissed. What happened was an eruption that had been planned.” But quoting the Bible, Sheikh Ngao called for the prosecution of all criminals implicated in last week’s event and condemned street preachers for inciting violence. “If you see anybody burn a church in the name of Islam that person is going contrary to the teaching of Islam and Prophet Mohamed,” said Ngao.

Report by Willis Oketch, Philip Mwakio, Lina Benyawa and Patrick Beja