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Religious Tensions Threaten Zanzibar

Published: 15/12/2013 04:47:57 PM GMT
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ZANZIBAR – A recent escalation of religious tensions in the Muslim majority archipelago of Zanzibar is adding to concerns about their effect on tourism, amid fears over the unrest could make the economic situation worse in the islands where unemployment reaches 34 percent. We are all Zanzibaris, we are all Tanzanians, we have to respect e...(more)

ZANZIBAR – A recent escalation of religious tensions in the Muslim majority archipelago of Zanzibar is adding to concerns about their effect on tourism, amid fears over the unrest could make the economic situation worse in the islands where unemployment reaches 34 percent.

"We are all Zanzibaris, we are all Tanzanians, we have to respect each other's religion, each other's ideology," Sheikh Fadhil Soraga, a popular Muslim scholar, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Sunday, December 15.

"This is what Islam teaches, but most of the modern Muslim youth, they don't know about this -- they take any Christian, any non-Muslim, as an enemy."

A Historical Overview of Islam in Africa

After years of peaceful religious coexistence on the majority Muslim island, a series of acid attacks on tourists, Muslim and Christian scholar has spread concerns in the east African archipelago.

It all started last August when two British teenage girls who had been teaching in a school were doused in acid and severely burnt.

The attackers were arrested later as Zanzibari officials denounced the attack as "a shame on the people of Zanzibar”.

Soraga was himself the victim of an acid attack by an unidentified assailant.

Not only Muslims.

In February a Catholic priest was also shot dead, and several churches have been torched following violent protests.

After the Assemblies of God church was burned last year, a flag of the hardline Islamic group Uamsho, Swahili for "The Awakening", was raised over the ruined structure.

"The youth here is used just as a tool for Uamsho to get their position," said Zanzibar's police commissioner Mussa Ally Mussa, who is keen to downplay the problem as a "really small group" who want to exploit wider tensions.

"Sometimes they are used by the opposition party, so for Uamsho now, their objective is to break out from the union," Mussa added.

Uamsho has recently evolved from a religious charity into an Islamist political movement, and they are seen as growing in influence among youth.

Umasho is one of the most widely followed groups in Zanzibar after political parties.

The group fights for the full autonomy of the Zanzibar Islands within the Union with the United Republic of Tanzania. It has been doing so since the formation of the Zanzibar Government of National Unity in 2010.

Denial

The influential Uamsho group denied any link with extremist groups in east Africa, dismissing charges of planning recent attacks.

"Uamsho is not doing the attacks on churches and Christians," Azaan Khalid Hamdan, Uamsho's second in command, told AFP.

"We don't have any hate against Christians, we don't have any enmity against Christians.... Our religion guides us into preaching good things including tolerance and unity.

"Who is behind the attacks? I don't know. Uamsho has not such policy," Hamdan added.

"We continue to help the government with their investigation into the incidents, and who is behind them."

In a country where unemployment reaches 34 percent, the group warned that these attacks pose a danger to tourism amid fears that the unrest could make the situation worse.

"As the tourists are being attacked and religion is becoming tense, this will give a bad name to Zanzibar, and lead to a poor economy," Hamdan added.

According to CIA factbook, Tanzania’s population is divided into 30% Christian, 35% Muslim and 35% indigenous beliefs.

More than 99 percent of Zanzibar's population are Muslims, with most of the remaining 1 percent are Christians.

Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net - Read full article here

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