Muslim extremists burned down two church buildings last week on Zanzibar Island off the coast of Tanzania both were reduced to ashes. Compass Direct News reported that Pastor Leonard Massasa, who oversees Zanzibar’s EAGT churches, said on Saturday that Islamic extremists torched the building of the Evangelical Assemblies of God-Tanzania (EAGT). The assailants were shouting, “Away with the church – we do not want infidels to spoil our community, especially our children,” according to Massasa. Another church on the island was set on fire early in the morning on July 27th.
While Tanzania as a whole has a significant Christian population, the population on Zanzibar Island is 99.9% Muslim, and there have been clashes between extremist Muslims and the minority Christians. Similar examples of violence have occurred on Pemba Island, part of the Zanzibar Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Christian churches on Pemba have sought to purchase property on which to construct places to worship, but many of their attempts have been thwarted by government action. For instance, Pastor Yohana Ari Mfundo of the Tanzania Assemblies of God (TAG) church reported to Compass that he purchased a half-acre of land for a church building. But, when area Muslims learned of it, they arranged for a road to be built making it impossible to erect a church building and rendering the property fit only for residential use.
Then, Pastor Mfundo purchased land a bit closer to town, made the necessary agreements and payments, and was commencing the building process. But the court ordered the building to cease because the area was “waterlogged.” A recent visit by Compass Direct News reporters revealed that other structures have been built there and new building is taking place on this “waterlogged” land. Such are the difficulties churches are having in building places of worship.
Early in the 10th century, Muslim traders from the Persian Gulf settled on this archipelago after monsoon winds propelled them through the Gulf of Aden. In 1964, the Zanzibar archipelago united with Tanganyika to form the present day country of Tanzania. Muslims uneasy about Christianity have seen this merger as a means by which mainland Tanzania might dominate them, and tensions have persisted. Pemba has a population of about 500,000 and Zanzibar Island’s population is estimated at 700,000. There are only 60 Christian congregations on the archipelago, according to Operation World.
Join us in praying for the minority Christian population there. As Pastor Mfundo observes, “We are here in Pemba because God wants us to be. But Muslims always point a finger at us – especially at my house, and we have received several threats. But great is our God who is always ready to protect us.”
Father, the seed of the gospel has been planted on the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. We pray that You would continue to build their faith and give them opportunity to share the light of Christ with their friends and neighbors through the testimony of their lives as well as through their words. Grant them success in spite of the obstacles so that others might see Your power in their midst and praise You! Amen