Muslims and Christians prays togetherat the Jamia Mosque in Nairobi as part of religious integration and tolerance process in Kenya. PHOTO: PIUS CHERUIYOT

NAIROBI: Muslim leaders hosted their Christian counterparts for Friday prayers in Nairobi’s Jamia mosque for the first time in the country history in a bid boost interfaith harmony that has been harmed by terrorist attacks.

The leaders, drawn from various Christian denominations in the country, joined thousands of Muslim faithful in the mosque to listen to the Friday sermon and observe the prayers.

This comes as Kenya prepares to mark the International Day of Peace on Monday organised by the United Nations to promote peace among communities amid threats of divisions and violence.

Muslim leaders are also expected to visit various churches and other religious institutions  in the coming days to reciprocate the mosque visit.

During the sermon, Sheikh Abdullatif Essajee a member of Jamia mosque management emphasised the need for Muslims to exercise tolerance towards Christians and people of other faiths in the country saying that was a central part of Islamic teaching. He called on other Kenyans to do the same.

“No human is entitled to dehumanise another human being just because he or she follows a different religion. Let us work together in harmony despite our religious differences,” he said.

Daniel Juma, Country director and CEO of Global Peace Foundation who spoke to Muslims after the prayers said the move by Christian leaders to visit the mosque was a gesture of goodwill  to boost cooperation among Kenyans of different faiths.

“We are moving away from merely tolerating each other as Kenyans of different faiths and instead actively cooperating with each other to make our communities better. Building understanding and trust is the necessary first step,” he said.

Interreligious Council of Kenya’s Paul Chepkwony who is from Seventh Day Adventist Church called on Kenyans to live and work together peacefully, regardless of their religious differences, saying religion should not be a dividing factor.

Secretary General of Jamia Mosque AbdulHamid Slatch said that for many years, Kenyans of different religions have co-existed peacefully until terrorist attacks begun to drive a wedge between them.

“As Muslims, cooperation with Christians in Kenya is nothing new. We worked with them closely during the making of the constitution. So we just want to enhance the common agenda that we share to ensure that Kenyans live in peace,” he said

On his part Mandera Senator Billow Kerrow said the visit to the mosque by Christians would enhance understanding and harmony among Kenyans of different faiths and address misconceptions that may be fueling religious intolerance.

“Let us avoid the habit of collective blaming of religious communities. If one person commits a crime, let them person be condemned as an individual. This applies to both Christians and Muslims,” he said.

In the recent years, frequent attacks by the Al Shabaab militant group in Kenya  have significantly increased interreligious tensions and hostilities in the country but Muslims have been keen to discount perceptions that the attacks are  a war between Muslims and Christians.

Other Christian leaders who attended the prayers were Rev. John Alusiola from the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya,  Arthur Oyange of the Global Peace Foundation, Dr. Tuesday Gichuki executive director of Africa peace service corps among others.

The Christian leaders were  also given a guided tour of the mosque, interacted with Muslim faithful and were also hosted to an interfaith lunch organised by the Management of Jamia mosque.

On Monday, religious leaders from various faiths are expected to play a football match to send a message to Kenyans on the need for peaceful co-existence.

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