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In Tanzania, confrontations on the mainland between the Muslim minority and the Christian majority have flared up frequently in the past few years. These tensions are too complex to be labelled as a fundamental antagonism based on religion. Neither Muslims nor Christians form a homogeneous block. On the contrary both groups are divided among themselves over fundamental questions not only concerning religious dogmas, but also on the future development of society as such. Similarly, for historical reasons the Muslims of Zanzibar, who form a large majority of the population there, are split into different confessional groups.

Compared to some other African countries with a Muslim minority in Tanzania the debate on shari’a took a different dimension. This was caused by the state policy of independent Tanganyika to take secularist stand towards religion.[1] Shari’a in personal matters was discontinued to be applicable in courts and the kadhi’s courts were abolished immediately after independence. As a result all cases arising from Muslim parties were to be handled by the Primary courts. However, in practice Muslims still take their cases to the Muslim Council albeit the lack of judicial sanction. After independence, Tanzania embarked on the process of unification of personal laws with a view of having a unified law to all her citizens irrespective of their religious inclinations. The unification process resulted in the application of the Law of Marriage Act of 1971. Several sections of this Act contravened shari’a dictates. Interestingly enough, no significant voices of resentment were heard.[2] In 1991 a Non-Muslim member of Parliament presented a bill to re-establish kadhi’s courts in mainland Tanzania.[3]

Due to historical reasons in Zanzibar, kadhi’s courts have remained in place without interruption. Kadhi’s courts were retained after the 1964 revolution whereas all other conventional courts were abolished. Thus, kadhi’s courts are part of the national judicial system of Zanzibar and Islamic law is predominant in matters of personal status. This demonstrates the significance of religion / shari’a in the Zanzibarian context. Many Muslims of Zanzibar regard attempts by mainlanders to reform some aspects of the judicial system as attack on Zanzibar’s legislative autonomy.[4] Debates on the shari’a, which are entangled in these other matters, have existed since the 1980s.[5] With the view of accommodating religious leadership and containing religious activities, the Zanzibar Government enacted the controversial Mufti Act of 2001. Reforms on kadhi’s courts were undertaken smoothly by the State in 2003 without public engagement.[6] Within the Muslim community serious debates are going on about the future role of shari’a in Tanzania’s legal system. For instance some Muslim associations of female lawyers in Zanzibar have called for an implementation of the secular law of personal status of mainland Tanzania.[7]

Christians have been perceived as the ‘winners’ following independence and this has generated suspicion concerning any government initiative dealing with Muslims. This has led to Tanzanian authors giving a reassessment of the independence struggle and the counter charge of ‘revisionist histories’.[8]

When the first president, Julius K. Nyerere, a Christian, stepped down in 1985, the presidency went to Ali Hassan Mwinyi, a Muslim from Zanzibar, who had previously served as President of Zanzibar and Vice-President of the United Republic of Tanzania. The response of Christians was to look for signs of an expected favouritism towards the Muslims. Mohamed Said and the Workshop of Muslim Writers published research on the provision of Education and demonstrated that Muslims had been poorly treated.[9]

The move by Zanzibar to unilaterally join OIC in 1992 was seen as an attempt at breaking the Union and they were forced to withdraw in 1993.[10] The divisions can be seen as partially Christian-Muslim, but also bara (mainland) and visiwa (islands). The attacks on the Dar es Salaam Pork Butchers shops at Easter 1993 has been seen as an attempt at Islamising Tanzania, but the Police and Judiciary, showed themselves to be independent of any government pressure and cracked down. However, this can also be interpreted as the government structures being so entirely Christianised that they would not respond to perceived Islamising.

The Mwembechai Killings, in February 1998 which are fully documented by Njozi and the differences between the ruling party CCM and an opposition party Civic United Front highlight the tensions that could easily be utilised by groups to destabilise the state.[11]

Christians living in districts with a Muslim presence are aware of tensions and various initiatives have been started to help build up mutual trust. One such initiative is the Commission of Muslims and Christians for Peace, Development and Conflict Resolutions, known in Swahili as TUWWAMUTA.[12] This initiative has worked with communities, particularly in Dar es Salaam and has made some limited progress. Both the Protestant Christian Council of Churches (CCT) and the Roman Catholic Tanzania Episcopal Council (TEC) operate inter-faith desks and run programmes to educate Christians to have a greater understanding of Islam.

[1] See A. S. L. Ramadhani 2004.

[2] See R.V. Makaramba 1991, see also L. Rasmussen 1993 pp. 67-71.

[3] See R.V. Makaramba 2004.

[4] See I. Hanak 1994, pp. 70ff.

[5] On the current political situation in Zanzibar see K. Hirschler 2001; on the kadhi’s courts see E. Stockreiter 2002; on the situation of Muslim youth see S. Beckerleg 1995; on islamist movements in Zanzibar see D. Parkin 1995; on politics and religion in Zanzibar see G. Husby 2001; on Tanzania mainland see I. S. Yusuf 1990; N. N. Luanda 1996; F. Roger 1998; B. Mfumbusa 1999; F. Ludwig 1996.

[6] See A. H. Abdulkadir 2004.

[7] See E. Stockreiter 2002, p. 53.

[8] For a review of this see J. Chesworth 2005; also see M. Rajab, 1999a, 1999b; M. Said 1988, 1989, 1998; P. Smith 1990.

[9] M. Said 1993.

[10] See F. Roger 1998, pp. 24-25.

[11]See H. M. Njozi 1999 and F. Wijsen & B. Mfumbusa 2004.

[12]Tume ya Waislamu na Wakristo ya Amani, Maendeleo na Usuluhishi Tanzania. See J. Mbillah 2002, J. Chesworth 2002.



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