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4972Muslims say faith growing fast in Africa - Reuters

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  • Zafar Khan
    Nov 29, 2004
      Muslims say faith growing fast in Africa
      Sun 14 November, 2004 09:22
      By Arthur Asiimwe and William Maclean


      KIGALI/NAIROBI (Reuters) - The veil that cloaks the
      head of Zafran Mukanwali is a modest symbol of a
      potentially dramatic shift in religious affiliation in

      The former Roman Catholic put down her rosary and
      embraced Islam a decade ago out of disgust with ethnic
      murders committed by Catholics, including priests, in
      Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

      "I realised that the Catholics do not practise what
      they preach," said the 22-year-old Tutsi, whose
      parents were among the 800,000 people butchered by
      extremist Hutus.

      "When I realised that the people I was praying with
      killed my parents, I decided to convert to Islam
      because Muslims saved many lives and did not take part
      in the killings."

      Before 1994, Muslims comprised between 1 percent and 2
      percent of the overwhelmingly Catholic population in
      Rwanda. Today that figure is 5 percent, census returns
      show. Muslim leaders say the number of mosques has
      risen to 570 from 220.

      The shift is prompting new interest in Islam's long,
      uneven spread elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, where
      Christianity normally predominates and indigenous
      faiths are in retreat.

      Those who gauge political risk are on alert for any
      sign of strain in the usually equable relations
      between Christians and Muslims south of the Sahara,
      and for any evidence of the arrival of radical Islamic
      movements from the Middle East.


      While anecdotal evidence suggests a growth in the
      proportion of sub-Saharan Africans embracing Islam, as
      well as "born again" forms of Protestant Christianity,
      data is scarce.

      Hassan Mwakimako, who teaches religious studies at
      Nairobi University, says census surveys either do not
      track religious affiliation, or if they do, tend not
      to publish it.

      Ephraim Isaac, director of the Institute for Semitic
      Studies at Princeton University, said there are
      estimates but none are authoritative.

      "There is a kind of statistical warfare with Islam
      said to be growing by leaps and bounds on one side,
      and growing Christianity, especially Pentecostalists
      and charismatics, on the other," said Isaac, an
      Ethiopian. "Statistics have influence. People like to
      be on the winning side."

      But Bah Thierno Amadou, 36, a Sierra Leonian Muslim
      living in Madagascar, has no doubt his religion is on
      the march.

      "More Africans are converting to Islam. There was
      hardly any Islam in Sierra Leone in the 1960s. Now it
      has a big following, and it's getting bigger in each
      generation," said Amadou, who also lived in Liberia
      for 16 years.

      He says the wars pursued by U.S. President George W.
      Bush are powerful recruiting tools for Islam in many
      parts of a continent with long memories of 19th
      century cooperation between European missionaries and

      "He (Bush) says he's a Christian and he does things to
      destroy people's lives and property who are Muslims.
      Africans identify with the victims of Bush, because
      they suffered under the European colonisers, also
      Christians," Amadou said.

      "In Uganda, Islam is growing so fast. Every single
      minute we are getting people converting," says Sheik
      Harun Sengooba of the Union of Muslim Councils for
      East, Central and Southern Africa.

      In South Africa, Islam is growing among blacks in a
      country where 80 percent of the 45 million people are

      Currently, less than 2 percent of South Africans, or
      about 650,000 people, are Muslim, mostly members of
      the country's Indian and Coloured (mixed-race)

      But the semi-autonomous Human Sciences Research
      Council (HSRC) estimates 74,700 Africans are Muslim
      from fewer than 12,000 in 1991 when apartheid outlawed
      racial interaction.

      "The gap is closing and we are finding each other,"
      Sheik Thafir Najjar, who heads the Cape Town-based
      Islamic Council of South Africa, says of
      reconciliation since the end of apartheid.

      Money helps. Islamic non-governmental groups in
      Africa, many backed by Gulf oil cash, grew from 138 in
      1980 to 891 in 2000, more than twice the rate of
      increase in the total number of Africa's NGOs in the
      period, says Mohammed Salim, a Sudanese political
      scientist at Leiden University in the Netherlands.


      Islam or Christianity, both proselytising religions
      that are inherently competitive, have long co-existed
      in Africa.

      Tensions between the two have been mitigated by the
      influential legacy of tolerant African traditional
      religions, communal movements that have no ambitions
      to convert humankind.

      But the contest can be violent, feeding sectarianism
      into wider conflicts such as those in Sudan and Ivory

      A report by the Roman Catholic church as far back as
      1990 said Catholics and Muslims in Africa risked going
      on a dangerous collision course over efforts to
      convert new followers.

      Relations seems to be at their worst in Nigeria,
      Africa's most populous country, where the two
      religions share roughly equally its population of 130
      million people.

      Religious violence there has killed at least 5,000
      people since 2000, when 12 northern states
      predominantly inhabited by Muslims established Islamic
      Sharia law.

      A demonstration by Muslims in Nigeria's northern city
      of Kano against the U.S. war in Afghanistan in October
      2001 flared into communal riots with at least 200
      people killed.

      Kenyan historian Ali Mazrui says tensions have been
      stirred in parts of Africa after September 11 as
      Washington demanded African nations cooperate in a
      crackdown on Muslim militants.

      "The aftermath of September 11, 2001, may begin to
      undermine the multiracial solidarity of post-apartheid
      South Africa. It has already deepened the cleavage
      between the Christian-led central government of
      Tanzania in Dar es Salaam and the overwhelmingly
      Muslim separatist islands of Zanzibar and Pemba," he

      More about Islam and Muslims in Africa at:

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