Kenya: Islamic Courts Issue Stirs Strife

By: Elizabeth Kendal

Last Sunday 13 June, six people were killed and some 104 wounded when grenades were thrown into a massive Christian rally in Nairobi's Uhuru Park. The rally was organised by religious leaders who advocate that Christians vote 'NO' in the 4 August referendum on Kenya's new constitution.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 060 | Wed 16 Jun 2010

KENYA: ISLAMIC COURTS ISSUE STIRS STRIFE

Last Sunday 13 June, six people were killed and some 104 wounded when grenades were thrown into a massive Christian rally in Nairobi's Uhuru Park. The rally was organised by religious leaders who advocate that Christians vote 'NO' in the 4 August referendum on Kenya's new constitution. It included evangelism, prayer for the sick and addresses from several parliamentarians from the 'NO' camp. Whilst the rally officially ended at 6 pm, many believers lingered and continued in worship and prayer. At around 6.45pm an explosion occurred at the left rear of the gathering. Assuming it was something harmless, Pastor James Ng'ang'a, who was leading prayers at the time, called on those present to gather closer to the platform. However, as bloodied victims of the explosion were being brought forward, a grenade lobbed in from the right exploded close to the main dais. This killed some, wounded many and caused a stampede that resulted in many more injuries.

No security had been provided for the event though church leaders had requested it. Despite the explosions, police did not attend from the nearest police station just 2km away until Bishop Margaret Wanjiru drove there after an hour and requested their assistance. In highly provocative statements Professor Peter Anyang Nyong'o, Co-convener of the 'YES' campaign Secretariat, and Hussein Khalid, head of Muslims For Human Rights, insinuated that the 'NO' campaign might have bombed itself to gain sympathy.

The draft constitution includes several divisive issues, one of which is the entrenchment of Kadhi (Islamic) courts. Kenyan Muslims (8 percent) have long pushed to have Kadhi courts defined in the Constitution with national rather than just local jurisdiction. This would give Khadi courts authority equal to the State's secular courts. Christians maintain that Kenya's secularism, equity, tolerance and religious freedom will then be diminished.

On 24 May a three-judge bench declared the inclusion of Kadhi courts in the current Constitution illegal and discriminatory, prompting church leaders to petition for a recall of parliament so amendments could be made. However, former Law Society of Kenya chairman, Ahmednassir Abdullahi, charged that the constitutional court had acted outside its jurisdiction, a claim supported by Kenya's Attorney-General Amos Wako. Wako has launched an appeal that he wants heard before the 4 August referendum. Tensions are running high.

Meanwhile the 'YES' campaign is busy wielding 'hate speech' laws against those who dare speak out against the dangers they believe are posed by the draft constitution. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) is investigating complaints made against the Higher Education Minister William Ruto, who is spearheading the 'NO' campaign, and five other Members of Parliament. The NCIC wants them prosecuted for 'hate speech' since they opined that elements of the draft constitution could trigger bloodshed and evictions (as power is devolved from the centre to 47 self-governing ethnic counties) and 'religious warfare' (due to advancing Islamisation). The 'YES' campaign was greatly bolstered last week by the visit of US Vice President Joe Biden who publicly supported the 'YES' campaign, urging Kenyans to resist those who would use 'fear' as a 'tool' to perpetuate division. He also promised the Kenyan Government more American and foreign investment if the constitution were passed.  No wonder the government is hungry for a quick, untroubled 'Yes'. In the midst of this, the Church stands as a prophetic voice of opposition. Polls taken on 4 June show the powerful, elitist-led, Muslim-backed 'YES' vote clearly in front. They will be furious if the constitution fails.  It is a no-win situation for the Church.