Church Burned in Latest of Zanzibar Attacks
Feb 27 2013 “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Romans 8:17
Recent incidents of violence against Christian ministers and churches in Tanzania have left believers in the Eastern African nation concerned over the future of religious freedom.
On an otherwise quiet Sunday morning on the island of Zanzibar, two gunmen waited for Father Evaristus Mushi as he parked outside the Betras Church in St Joseph’s parish where he was preparing to celebrate the first Sunday mass of Lent. They surrounded the car and killed him inside the vehicle before fleeing on a motorcycle. Mushi was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. Islanders knew Fr. Mushi as a philanthropist and advocate for interfaith dialogue. Police have arrested three suspects in connection with the February 17 murder, but their motive remains unknown.
Two days later, in the city of Kianga on Zanzibar Island, a police spokesman reported to World Watch Monitor that unidentified arsonists set fire to the Evangelical Church of Siloam. No one was hurt and the fire was extinguished. The church was being rebuilt following an attack in January 2012.
‘‘Tanzania is a peaceful country, but a small group of extremists with outside influence want to spoil it,’’ Bishop Methodius Kilaini told World Watch Monitor. These incidents are the latest in a string of attacks on church leaders and Christian property across the country.
Earlier in the month, on mainland Tanzania, Assemblies of God minister Pastor Mathayo Kachili was hacked to death in Geita, on the southern shores of Lake Victoria, when he intervened in an altercation between villagers over the slaughter of an animal. According to sources, a group of Muslims had demanded immediate closure of butcheries owned by Christians. From the information Open Doors could gather, the demand seemed to be based on a longstanding tradition, together with a local government directive, that gave Muslims the sole right to act as butchers. Recently however, Christians in Geita district have entered the butcher trade. The recent violence began when the church hired a non-Muslim butcher to prepare meat to be served at a funeral. When the Muslims heard about this, they went on a rampage against the church and Pastor Kachili was killed in the melee.
In a separate incident two months ago, on the Christmas Day, unidentified gunmen shot and seriously wounded a Catholic priest, Ambrose Mkenda, in the Tomondo area of Zanzibar Island.
The rise of violence has social and economic motivations, according to Dismass Lyassa, a Social Editor at the Mwananchi Newspaper in Tanzania. “Poor Muslim coastal areas in Kenya and Tanzania have proved fertile recruitment ground for Somalia’s al-Shabab militants,” Lyassa said. Additionally, the threat of terrorist violence in Zanzibar has grown in recent years with the rise of a group called the Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation, also known as Uamsho, a Swahili word meaning “awakening.” Originally founded in 2001 as a charitable organization, Uamsho has evolved into a strong opponent of the perceived excesses of tourists on the archipelago, as well as an advocate for Zanzibar secession. Some Muslims, Lyassa reported, point to the widespread closure of government offices on Sundays as evidence that Christians have forced their religion on the country. For Muslims, Friday is the traditional day of prayer.
On the recently released 2013 World Watch List of countries where the persecution of Christians is most severe, Tanzania is ranked No. 24. Though Tanzania as a whole is 60 percent Christian and 36 percent Muslim, on semi-autonomous Zanzibar Island, more than 97 percent of residents are Muslim. In recent months, violence against the tiny Christian minority on the island has been increasing.
Father, with heavy hearts we pray for the families and friends of Pastor Kachili and Father Mushi as they grieve the tragic loss of these church leaders who are now rejoicing in Your presence. But their passing has left a void in these communities, and we ask Your comfort to rest upon their loved ones and those they shepherded. Raise up godly men to step into their places of leadership in Your church and grant Your wisdom, love, courage and compassion to grow Your church. And we pray for a quick recovery for Father Mkenda that he might again take on his responsibilities. We call on You to bring about peace and justice in Tanzania and for the government to bring about swift resolution to these cases. In the name of Jesus who rules justly over all the earth, Amen.