Religious leaders and sociologists estimate that the Christian and Muslim communities in Tanzania are approximately equal in size, with each accounting for between 30 – 40 per cent of the population. However, about 97 per cent of Zanzibar is Muslim. On the mainland, Muslim communities are concentrated in the coastal areas although there are large Muslim minorities that can be found in the inland urban areas. The Tanzanian Constitution provides for freedom of religion and the government generally respects this right in practice.
While the Muslim-Christian ratio in the Tanzanian population as a whole is almost equal and while the government safeguards religious freedom, the conditions in Zanzibar are very different. With 97% of its population being Muslim, there is increasing pressure from Islamist groups to apply sharia law to all aspects of legislation in attempt to Islamize the Island. One way in which these extremist groups try to achieve total Islamization is by kidnapping Christian children and forcing them to convert to Islam. Also in recent years, churches have been bombed.
Meanwhile, mainland Tanzania is facing an ongoing debate on whether to introduce sharia law alongside the existing secular law. One church leader who warned that it would undermine the secular nature of the state was arrested and imprisoned. New mosques are being built at an astonishing rate, and according to barnabas aid, wherever a new mosque is built, weekly financial incentives are offered to each household in a bid to get people to attend. Food and clothes are distributed, and jobs or capital to start businesses are available for those who become Muslims.
Here are the more recent reports about religious persecution in Tanzania.
- Churches in Tanzania fear persecution will spread to their country. Bishop Dickson Kaganga, who now has bars on the window of his office, says he and his fellow Christians are "living in fear". The Pentecostal priest, whose car was also torched in the assault, talks darkly of a rising tide of radicalism on the Indian Ocean archipelago once famed for its cosmopolitanism and religious tolerance. [Read More]
- A 14-year-old boy was threatened with beheading for urinating on the Qur'an. After police protected him from an angry mob, the Muslims responded by burning five churches, lighting tyres on the road and breaking store windows. [Read More]
- A teenager in Tanzania was recently sentenced to two years in prison after being accused of desecrating the Qur'an. Eve Abdullah, 17, converted to Christianity from Islam three years ago. Her parents disowned her after her conversion and a group of radicals in her hometown of Bagamoyo tried to persuade her to renounce her Christian Faith. When she refused, they falsely accused her of desecrating the Qur'an. Many Christian leaders were afraid to defend her because of the Muslim dominance in the district. On July 26, Eve was sentenced to two years in prison by a judge who was allegedly bribed by the Islamic militants. [Read More]
- Hundreds of supporters of a separatist Islamist group set fire to two churches and clashed with police during protests in Zanzibar over the weekend against the arrest of senior members of the movement, police and witnesses said. [Read More]
Sources: barnabasfund.org, persecution.org