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Why expansion of Sharia laws remains perturbing

COMMENTARY
By David Oginde | June 4th 2017

Storm seems to be brewing in religious circles, with Church leaders raising eyebrows over an apparent expansion of Sharia laws in the country.

At a recent meeting of senior Church leaders, concern was raised over the amendments being made to several finance related laws to accommodate Sharia financial services. These are contained in the Finance Bill 2017, which is in its last stages in Parliament.

At the surface level, it appears that the changes are being driven by the desire by government to access cheap Islamic finance products to bridge its budget deficit. Indeed, this is the argument that was fronted by the Finance Secretary in his budget speech – during which the changes were mooted.

However, questions are being raised as to why the amendments are touching on almost all financial transactions, some of which have nothing to do with government borrowing.

As per the Finance Bill 2017, changes are to be effected on the Capital Markets Act, Cooperative Societies Act, Sacco Societies Act, and others – to make them Sharia compliant.

In fact, some have argued that there are provisions in the amendments that apparently grant exemption from various aspects of Value Added Tax, Capital Gains Tax, and Income Tax on various Islamic transactions that are deemed to be Sharia compliant.

The concern therefore is that such a move may result in a situation where the Muslim community enjoy preferential exempt status by government in the raising of taxes to fund national obligations, while non-Muslims continue to shoulder the burden.

But, at a broader scope, the issue of Sharia laws and their introduction and application in the commercial sector is not new. It may be recalled that the original draft constitution released by the Professor Ghai led Commission in 2002, had a whole raft of provisions on Sharia laws on commercial and economic activity.

These, together with the Kadhi courts in the Judiciary Chapter, are what led to a serious fallout between the Muslims and non-Muslims at the Bomas conference. In a major move to contain the situation, Prof Ghai led several meetings with representatives from both sides that eventually saw the commercial section being dropped, leaving only the contentious Kadhi courts in the final draft.

The fear among Church leaders, therefore, is that whatever forces were behind the extensive Islamic provisions in the original constitutional draft, simply retreated, but are still determined to achieve the same objectives through legislation.

This view appears to be founded on the fact that there have been several moves to introduce various aspects of Sharia laws in the business and economic sector. For example, Sharia banking is now almost a done deal and has been adopted by several banks. At the same time, regulations have been adjusted within the insurance industry to provide Sharai compliant insurance products.

Back in January 2015, the government announced that it was about to join the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as a member nation. According to Henry Rotich, the Finance Cabinet Secretary, this would give Kenya access to cheap loans from the Islamic Development Bank, extended on interest free terms as per Islamic banking practice. The moved caused an uproar in some quarters and the government appeared to retreat.

But, in February 2016, the Attorney General, Githu Muigai, announced that Kenya would be reviewing all relevant laws and regulations to aid the issuance of a debut Islamic law-compliant bond known as a Sukuk.

Clearly, somebody is either pulling strings within government to establish Sharia laws within the economic sector, or the government is so cash-starved that they are ready and determined to go the Islamic way. Either way, Kenyans deserve an explanation. Otherwise, the apparent preferential treatment of Islam is brewing a storm.

The writer is the Presiding Bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries (CITAM) [email protected]

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