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In Kenya, hopes that the democratic changeover of power in 2002, would propel the amendment of the constitution have proven vain. Besides the demands of certain Christian groups to identify Christianity as the religion of the state in the constitution, the role of the so called kadhi’s courts in a future constitution have produced irritations amongst the different religious groups of Kenya [1].

These kadhi’s courts have been an integral part of the Kenyan legal system since independence. Their competence is strictly restricted to Muslim personal law. But attempts by Muslims to secure their recognition in the constitution, in the form of a “Kadhi Court of Appeal” which would hear appeals from the long-existing inferior kadhi’s courts, have sparked fears on the Christian side of a creeping Islamisation of Kenya – where the Sudanese and Nigerian experiences play an important role in the public debate. For their part, the Muslims are afraid of being reduced to the status of second class citizens in a state dominated by Christians and Christian symbols. This situation furthers extreme positions in the current debate.

The ‘Kenyan Church’, formed from a broad spectrum of Christian groups has taken upon itself a role of defender of Christianity and Kenya against kadhi’s courts in the constitution, without apparently taking it on themselves to understand the historical place of the courts nor to exhibit any sensitivity towards the Muslim community. The Muslims have been left feeling marginalised; confirming them in their feeling of being treated as second-class citizens.

The debate, which has focussed itself on the kadhi’s courts and the constitutional review, has allowed extreme elements from both sides to speak out with great vehemence and so increased tensions between the two communities. It has crystallised the perceived hurts and prejudices that have lain under the surface of a thin veneer of mutual tolerance. Aspects of the entire situation must be examined for the influence of political elements who use religion for their own ethnic reasons.

[1] See E. Stockreiter 2002; concerning the living together of Christians and Muslims in Kenya see D. Cruise O’Brien 1995; on relationship of church and state see D. Throup 1995; on the development of Islam in Kenya see A. Oded 2000; B. B. Brown 1993; C. Coulon 1989; S. F. Hirsch 1998; H. Müller 2000; J. Chesworth 2004.


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