October 1, 2009

African Islam in Tanzania (excerpt)

More materials towards a historical understanding of Islam in Tanzania. Please click the title to be taken to the full article. The latest book from Felicitas Becker called Being Muslim In Mainland Tanzania is the latest scholarly entry I know of to take up the topic of Islam and Muslims in Tanzania. We hope to review that book here in the future.

African Islam in Tanzania
By Abdulaziz Y. Lodhi and David Westerlund (March 1997)

Islam in society
Mainly on account of the leading role of the Catholic president Julius Nyerere several Western researchers have underestimated the importance of the Moslems in shaping the Tanzanian socialism in the 1960's. Because of the Christians having better access to higher education they became overrepresented in the administration. But Moslems constituted a majority in TANU, called CCM (Chama cha Mapinduzi = The Revolutionary Party) after the 1977 merger with its sister party ASP (Afro-Shirazi Party) on Zanzibar. After the introduction of the one-party system, CCM was the major political factor in societal change. The socialism of Tanzania has many similarities with Islamic Socialism, and especially Nasserism influenced many Moslems in Tanzania.

The few Moslems who turned against the socialist politics were mostly of Asian origin. Some of the Moslem resistance was in the beginning channeled through the East African Muslim Welfare Society (EAMWS). It was founded in Mombasa in 1945 by the then Aga Khan with the aim of promoting Islam and raising the standard of living for the East African Moslems. Asian Shiites, especially Ismaili, dominated and financed the organisation, but Aga Khan recommended that all Moslems regard EAMWS as an organization with pan-Islamic ambitions. When its headquarters were moved from Mombasa to Daressalaam in 1961, the Nyamwezi chief and TANU opponent Abdallah Fundikira, regarded as Nyerere's principal political rival in the 60's, became the president of the organization. EAMWS concentrated on building schools and mosques, providing scholarships and spreading literature. There were also plans for founding an Islamic university in Zanzibar or Mombasa, but they were never realized. However, the Muslim Academy founded in Zanzibar in early 50s continued to exist as a training college for teachers of Arabic and Islamic education until it was closed down by the autonomous Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar in 1966. In regard to this it is interesting to note that Zanzibar has several times since January 1993 announced plans for a separate Islamic university and high schools connected to the University of Daressalaam; and since the middle of the 70s the Muslim Academy has been reopened, a new Muslim Secondary School has been built and Arabic has been adopted as the third official language of Zanzibar.

Because of the pan-Islamic tendencies and the capitalist oriented leadership of EAMWS, pro-TANU Moslems opposed it. The organization, it was claimed, constituted a threat to the ruling party. The antagonism culminated in 1968, when the organization was declared illegal in Tanzania. Other Moslem organizations were dissolved as well. Instead the pro-TANU Moslems, with several leading Qadiriyya sheikhs playing important roles, formed with the support of TANU the new national organization Baraza Kuu la Waislam wa Tanzania (Tanzania Muslim Council), BAKWATA, whose constitution was in large parts a copy of the TANU constitution. Because of the close connection to the ruling party and many leading Moslem politicians' interference in BAKWATA's activities, the role of the organization has been controversial. Its achievements have been limited due to poor finances. Criticism against BAKWATA increased during the 1980's, when the opposition to the socialist politics of Tanzania grew and liberalization started.

Under internal Moslem pressure and international Islamic tendencies BAKWATA has lately become somewhat more profiled. The organization has arranged lectures on Islam in different parts of the country and in 1987 it called on the government to reinstall the system of Moslem courts that existed in colonial and post-colonial times. With the increased profile international Islamic contacts are on the rise. Some Arab countries have financed new mosques, schools, scholarships, dispensaries and provided teachers to the newly established schools.

The question of schools and Islamic education has for a long time been Tanzanian Moslems' main issue. They had few equivalents to the mission schools whose activities not only spread Christianity but also led to a higher educational level among Christians. The decision by the TANU government to nationalize the schools in 1969 was therefore warmly welcomed by the Moslems. The Islamic schools which have been founded lately in a political climate more favorable to private initiatives, for example Kunduchi Islamic High School, seem to have an uneven standard but constitute an interesting development for the Moslems of Tanzania.

The proposal to reinstate separate Moslem courts is very controversial. Under the slogan "Don't mix religion with politics!" the governments of Tanzania have endeavored to "privatize" Islam or marginalize the effects of Islamic law. An example of religious conflicts involving legal matters is the discussions about a government proposal to a new marriage law which was presented in 1967. The implementation of the law in 1971 was preceded by two years of intense discussions particularly regarding the position of sharia in the judicial system of the country were debated.

Before 1971 Moslems, as well as Christians and Hindus, followed their own marriage and divorce laws. Traditional judiciary systems of the different ethnic groups practising customary law were also in force. In addition, one could marry monogamously in a civil marriage. To counteract religious and ethnic exclusivism in favour of increased national consciousness, the government presented its aim in its 1969 White Book to create more uniformity in the sphere of family laws. The other important aim was to improve the position of the woman. One of the tangible proposals was that the minimum marital age for boys was to be eighteen and for girls fifteen. The fifteen-year limit for girls was presented with reference to UN recommendations. According to sharia puberty decides when a girl is marriageable.

The proposal that caused the most serious debate was the idea that a man who wanted to marry a second wife had to get permission from his first wife. The proposal that would forbid men to punish their wives corporally was also met with some resistance as well as the installation of an obligatory reconciliation agency for couples on the verge of divorce. If the agency failed to reconcile the parties concerned the husband in a Moslem marriage would legally be able to pronounce the divorce formula talaka (Ar. talaq).

Many Moslems who were taking part in the discussions opposed the idea of creating a more unified marriage law, especially where the proposed marriage law was in conflict with sharia. Since family laws are a central part of the Islamic law, any change which does not conform to them is particularly sensitive and controversial. Despite the criticism from the Moslems the government's proposed law was passed in 1971 with only minor changes.

The proposals of BAKWATA in 1987 to reinstate separate Islamic courts is only one example which demonstrates that the question of the position of sharia in Tanzania is still a burning issue. In 1988 Sofia Kawawa, leader of the Tanzania Women's Union, UWT, (Umoja wa Wanawake wa Tanzania, closely affiliated to CCM), came under fire after having publicly criticized Islamic rules that she felt were oppressive to women. According to Sofia Kawawa polygyny should be forbidden and women should have the same right of inheritance as men. Her statements caused protest and some riots. A group of young Moslems wrote an open letter which demanded that the secular regime refrain from interfering with religious matters. In Zanzibar two men died in the riots against the leader of the UWT. The Moslem president Ali Hassan Mwinyi, who a few years earlier had succeeded the Catholic Nyerere, hurried to explain that Kawawa had expressed her personal views and not the views of CCM or the government. Mwinyi saw no need to change the law, while Kawawa and other Moslem women continued to argue against certain Islamic laws. In some of her statements in 1990 Kawawa provocatively claimed that polygyny helped to spread AIDS.

In questions concerning for example polygyny, Moslem critics like Kawawa have gained some support from the Christian quarter. Christian criticism is, to some degree however, part of a wider propaganda campaign against Islam. It may be noted that many Christian men, especially outside the circles of leadership, actually have defended polygyny, albeit with reference to traditional African culture rather than to Christian belief. This was especially obvious during the parliamentary debates preceding the law changes in 1971. Many Christian men and women also support female circumcision which is practised rather widely, even by fourth or fifth generation Christians, and which is forbidden in law; but nobody talks about it. Female circumcision does not exist among Tanzanian Moslems other than those of Somali origin, and a mild form of it is secretly practised among the few Asian Shia Bohra.

The relationship between Moslems and Christians has by and large been harmonious in Tanzania. A certain tension has certainly existed under the surface, but it has seldom led to open conflict. In his valedictory address in 1985, Nyerere stressed the fact that the risk of religious conflict in Tanzania has been greater than ethnic strife. According to him large religious conflicts have been avoided not least because most Moslems have set national interests ahead of religious concerns. Lately however a tendency toward increasing conflict between Moslems and Christians has been discerned in Tanzania. One of the reasons for this is growing Christian fundamentalism. To many fundamentalist Christians Islam is considered the archenemy, particularly since Communism is no longer perceived as a threat.

New organizations and tendencies
New Islamic organizations have also added to the increased polarization between Christians and Moslems. Few of these organizations are officially registered. More rigid Islamic groups spreading propaganda for the surrection of an Islamic government in Tanzania are few and small, but less far-reaching signs of revitalization of Islam are evident. Zanzibar constitutes a special problem with its deeply rooted Islam and some Moslems who emphasize the importance of Islam want to see the Union dissolved. This is also desired by the Christian fundamentalists, particularly the unregistered Democratic Party led by the Rev. Mtikila.

One of the Islamic congregations which more or less openly has criticized the "official" BAKWATA is Warsha ya Waandishi wa Kiislam (Islamic Writers' Workshop). Warsha was founded in 1975 as a unit within BAKWATA, its main concern being educational issues. The unit had many young and well-educated members, some of whom were Shiites. This radical group was supported by the BAKWATA secreterary general sheikh Muhammed Ali and demanded Islamic education alongside secular subjects in the Islamic secondary schools run by the organization. Moslems faithful to the regime argued that this went against the secular foundation of the state and after some conflict the Warsha group was excluded from BAKWATA in 1982 and its members were forbidden to work at BAKWATA institutions.

The young Warsha members have however continued striving for their goal. In their simple headquarters at Daressalaam's Quba mosque, courses are arranged and literature is published. One of the Swahili publications, Uchumi Katika Uislamu (Economy In Islam), which deals with Islamic economy, has drawn attention due to its severe criticism of the Tanzanian socialist system Ujamaa, which they consider Communist. Most of the publications however deal with the so called Pillars of Islam, for example Sala with the horary prayer and Falsafa ya Funga ya Ramdhani with fasting during Ramadan. Warsha also tries to reform the old and mosque based Quranic schools where education is still largely based on memorizing parts of the Quran.

Another organization is Baraza la Uendelazaji Koran Tanzania (Tanzania Quranic Council), BALUKTA, whose 1987 constitution states that its main aim is promoting the reading of the Quran and spreading of Islam through financial and material support to Moslem schools. The organization is also making an effort to establish and run Islamic centers and institutes for Islamic higher education. Other constitutional aims within the educational field are among others publishing and conferences. Business projects like hotels and restaurants have also been announced. Holders of positions of trust are expected to have a sound knowledge of Islam. Compared to Warsha, characterized by its young members, BALUKTA seems somewhat old-fashioned. In April 1993 some BALUKTA members under the leadership of its president, sheikh Yahya Hussein, were involved in attacks against butcheries selling pork in Daressalaam. Three slaughterhouses were destroyed and some thirty people, including sheikh Hussein, were arrested. The background to this is that rearing and slaughtering of pigs have become common in religiously mixed areas and some Moslems have reacted vehemently.

The Daressalaam University Muslim Trusteeship is another organization striving to protect Moslem interests in higher education; it has produced statistics which point to the much publicised under-representation of Moslems at the universities and in the administration. (A parliamentary commission of inquiery has also come to a similar conclusion, followed by a report of the Roman Catholic Church of Tanzania in 1992 which confirms the political and educational imbalance between Christians and Moslems. A book in 1994 by Aboud Jumbe, a former president of Zanzibar, further describes the dominance of the Christians and the underprivileged position of the Moslems in the country.) The members of the Trusteeship try to promote a better understanding of Islam as a way of life. Another organization, Baraza Kuu la Jumuia na Taasisi za Kiislam (The Supreme Council of Islamic Organizations), founded in 1992, has a strikingly large number of university employees among its membership. This new council tries to take over the leading role of BAKWATA as a unified organization for all the Moslems of the country, and its activities are closely monitored by the government.

Islamic renewal in Tanzania has been supported by organizations abroad. The World Council of Mosques, with its headquarters in Jeddah, has opened an office in Daressalaam to facilitate its work in Tanzania. Some foreign organizations have supported minor domestic Islamic movements which aim to change the country into an Islamic state. The Iranian Revolution has inspired some Tanzanian Moslems, among others Khamis Muhammed, who is the editor of the new Islamic magazine Mizani. In a 1990 interview he said that the Islamic Revolution should be followed by all Moslems in the world. Khamis Muhammed has also been influenced by, and has written about, Wahhabism.

Embassies of some Islamic countries have in different ways tried to support the radicalization of the Moslem forces in Tanzania. Some Moslem heads of state have also supported the Moslem aspirations. Through the embassies, means have been provided for the building or renovation of several mosques, Moslem secondary schools, hospitals and clinics. Favorable loans have been given through these channels to Moslems engaged in commercial activities. But the activities of the embassies has caused divisions among Moslem groupings in the country.

In connection with a visit by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury in 1993, president Mwinyi, adhering to the secular stance towards religious issues of his predecessor Nyerere, complained about some extremely religious individuals abusing freedom of speech to create chaos in the country. Archbishop Carey talked about the fundamentalist threat. Zanzibar's becoming a member of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) was heavily criticized by Christian leaders, who argued that this contravened the secular constitution of Tanzania. The sharp criticism and the risk of a dissolution of the Union resulted in the Zanzibari government decision to leave OIC.

On some occasions, as in connection with the government crisis in Zanzibar in 1988 ( the year when the demonstrations against Sofia Kawawa took place ( Mwinyi and other representatives of the regime have pointed to Moslem groups in Zanzibar and in exile who, despite the great autonomy of the island state, are disputing the Union. One of the controversial groups is the Pemba based Bismillahi who want a referendum on the Union between Zanzibar and Mainland Tanzania. A visitor to Zanzibar soon realizes that Islam is not only a private matter, although the authorities nowadays are less concerned with for example public eating and drinking during Ramadan, which have become more common because of the influx of tourists and Westerners.

For many years organs critical of the regime, among others Warsha and the magazine Mizani, issued propaganda for a multi-party system. When Tanzania in 1992 introduced multi-partyism it was understood that all parties should have a national profile and that religion and ethnicity must not constitute the base for new parties. Especially Moslems were warned not to use the multi-party system for religious purposes. Besides the usually limited political demands, Moslem revival in Tanzania, as in other parts of Africa, has been noticeable in the growing number of mosque goers and that Islamic style clothing has become more popular. In the propaganda activities some Christian influences are descernible. Public Moslem sermons are being held in streets and squares. The practice of inviting foreign "revivalists", spreading tracts and pamphlets, as well as putting stickers on vehicles and distributing cassettes and videos has become more common among Moslems.


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