SUPKEM calls for laws to punish preachers who mislead their flocks

Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM) chairman Alhajj Hassan Ole Naado when he appeared before the Senate Adhoc committee on Shakahola deaths at County Hall in Nairobi on Monday, June 12, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM) is recommending that the government comes up with regulations that will identify what will be regarded as religious crimes as a way of dealing with rogue preachers.

The council said this will play a key role in dealing decisively with preachers across religious beliefs and institutions, who have been accused of misleading their flocks.

SUPKEM chairman Hassan Ole Naado told the Senate Ad Hoc committee investigating the deaths in Shakahola, Kilifi County, that going against conventional religious doctrines should be treated as a crime punishable by the law.

Naado accused the government, political leaders and the Ministry of Interior of sleeping on the jobs as hundreds of people were being killed in Shakahola.

The deaths of over 250 people, including children, have been linked to controversial pastor, Paul Makenzi, of Good News International Church.

The bodies had been buried in shallow graves in Shakahola forest. Many of the bodies are still unaccounted for.

“Considering that it may not be easy to define which religious teachings contain extreme indoctrination and radicalization of followers, we propose that every religious umbrella organization establishes caucuses of distinguished religious scholars within its leadership structures,” said Naado.

The SUPKEM Chairman proposed that each religion should form a caucus of eminent religious scholars whose role will be to monitor sermons and determine whether they are in line with declared doctrines besides taking into account those who commit crimes in the name of religion.

He said that the said religious laws the government should come up with should target individuals who misinterpret religious doctrine for personal or selfish gain.

“People have reached dangerous levels of socio-economic desperation to the extent that they are too susceptible to religious misadventure as a way of escape from their desperation,” he said.

Naado lamented that security policies on religious extremism have been applied selectively against Muslims and that is why nobody cared to check out what Makenzi was doing compared to how the perceived radical Islamic preachers are dealt with.

The SUPKEM chairman proposed that each religion should form a caucus of eminent religious scholars whose role will be to monitor sermons and determine whether they are in line with declared doctrines besides taking into account those who commit crimes in the name of religion and dealing with them.

“When the government was dealing with those perceived to be radical Islamic preachers, we saw heavy-handedness deployed to eliminate them through extra-judicial means and forceful disappearances. Why was Paul Makenzi allowed to operate when his activities border on terrorism,” said Naado.

He wondered how Mackenzie could have been treated by Kenyans if he was a Muslim cleric considering the magnitude of the crimes he had committed and that there should be equal standard measures in dealing with all those who are involved in religious crimes going forward.

Naado also wondered where the National Intelligence Service (NIS) and the vigilant state security machinery established to address religious extremism and terrorism were as Makenzi presided over activities that led to the deaths of hundreds of Kenyans.

Naado said that there should be proper mechanisms to ensure freedom of religion is exercised without going into indoctrinating citizens with messages that will mislead them into engaging in self-destructive behaviours such as what has been witnessed at Shakahola.

“What if Makenzi was a Muslim? Your guess is as good as mine. He would probably not even be in court now. This biased approach has left lingering questions among the Muslim community over whether the government sees us as equal citizens,” said Naado.

He said that it was important to note that Kenya was a secular country with citizens affiliated with various religions and that it was time to treat religious extremism as a crime and give a standard approach across religions on how it should be handled to ensure that it was brought to an end.

Naado said that religious organizations must come up with robust structures to regularly review religious teachings and preaching. He said that the State should not appear to have a particular religion in mind.

Tana River Senator Danson Mungatana, who is the committee chairperson, termed the proposals made by SUPKEM as very important and asked the Muslim leaders to recommend the kind of punishment that they feel should be meted out to those who are involved in religious crimes.

“This committee is taking seriously the recommendations made by the Muslim community which will be incorporated in what other stakeholders will come up with to ensure that what has happened in Shakahola will never be seen again in the history of our country,” said Mungatana.

The Committee is investigating the proliferation of religious organizations in Kenya and the circumstances that led to the deaths in Shakahola.