Mathew Limo* knows what to expect when he goes to church with his family. On the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, where 98 percent of the population is Muslim, Christians are given the cold shoulder. The past year has been characterized by renewed violence against Christians. So far the violence remains aimed at religious, but the teacher has a great fear: that his wife and children may be forced to convert to Islam.
“If we go to church on Sunday, we have to go through a crowd of people who often try to intimidate us,” Limo told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. “We have a relatively large parish, about 400 people. Of these, usually 200 come to Mass. But the houses around the church belong to Muslims. They often shout that we are fools to go to church or that our women are naked. In fact, the Muslim women are all covered from head to toe.” He himself does not feel intimidated, “but a lot of comments are directed towards our women and children.”
Murder of priests
Christians on the island have become even more cautious since a wave of violent attacks on churches and individuals started in December of 2012. A Catholic priest and Protestant pastor have been killed and another priest shot and wounded sparking widespread fears among the Christian community. The Catholic priest Father Evarist Mushi (55) was shot to death with three bullets upon arriving in his car at the entrance of St. Joseph’s Cathedral to celebrate Sunday Mass. Father Ambrose Mkenda sustained serious injuries in a subsequent ambush.
The perpetrators are still at large and according to many Christians, local police have sometimes obstructed the investigation distorting evidence at the crime scene. According to Limo the perpetrators are to be found among the inhabitants of Zanzibar: “They’re not outsiders, but local people who have been radicalized and have even been trained by Al–Shabab, the terrorist group which has Somalia as its home base. The organization is closely linked to the religious group Uamsho (Awake), which seeks the establishment of an independent Islamic state on Zanzibar.
Fear of conversion
Limo still feels safe enough to leave home and travel. “If there are elections, like next year, the atmosphere is often explosive. On the street, people try to embarrass you or to make you angry. In periods like that I come home early and do not go out in the evening.” He explains that although this is not the case at present, he still worries about his children. “At home we try to encourage and to teach them a love for Christ and the Church. But we are insecure about what others do. We often hear stories about Muslims trying to convert children. Sadly enough we need to tell our children to be careful in building friendships with Muslim children.”
(*For security reasons a pseudonym has been used.)
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries.www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)