Anglican Archbishop David Gitari and an interfaith team confronted rioting Muslim youths armed with swords and clubs on December 1 in Nairobi, Kenya. In response to this attempt to quell Kenya's worst outbreak of violence between Christians and Muslims, the rioters pelted the archbishop and his team with rocks.
Moderate Muslim leaders plucked Gitari from the mob and rushed him to a nearby hospital, where he was treated for head injuries. "I survived only because Muslim leaders formed a human shield around me and in the process got more injured than myself," Gitari later said in local media reports.
The trouble began on November 30, when fighting broke out between Muslim youths and residents of the Mukuru slum. A 12-acre piece of land adjacent to a mosque was the focus of a dispute between Muslims and Mukuru traders who had been using the property.
Significant tensions have been building regarding constitutional reforms supported by moderate Muslims and Christians. Many conservative Muslims are suspicious of reform and instead seek the implementation of Shari'ah, the Islamic legal code which Muslims feel restricts their freedoms. The next day the fighting spread. By the end of the day, four people had lost their lives; hundreds were injured. A mosque and two church buildings burned to the ground, and an international Christian center was destroyed.
George Smith, a Scottish priest, stood in front of Our Lady Queen of Peace Church and tearfully pleaded with his young parishioners who were arming themselves to battle Muslims. "This is craziness; this is stupidity," he said. "This is blasphemous and has nothing to do with God." Religious leaders quickly identified a scapegoat: the unpopular government of President Daniel arap Moi. The violence "was part of a wider government scheme to instigate religious clashes countrywide, pitting Christians against their Muslim brothers and sisters," a joint statement said."There have been several attempts in the past by these forces to drive a wedge between us [Christians and Muslims], but they will not succeed," said Sheikh Abdullahi Abdi, an official of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims. He charged that the government is trying to frustrate constitutional reform efforts spearheaded by Christian and Muslim clerics and opposition politicians. Muslims constitute between 6 and 10 percent of Kenya's 30.3 million people.
Learn more about the Anglican Church in Kenya at its Web site.
Other media coverage of the rioting in Nairobi includes:
Riots Fear Over Rally — AfricaNews (Dec. 12, 2000)
Several hurt as police break up rally NAIROBI — The Times Of India (Dec. 11, 2000)
82 People Arrested over Riot in Kenya's Capital — Xinhua (Dec. 3, 2000)
Riots over land in Nairobi — BBC (Nov. 30, 2000)
Previous Christianity Today articles about Kenya include:
Kenyan Bishop Calls on Widows to Take Stand Against Wife Inheritance | Joter, polygamy customs criticized for contributing to spreading HIV. (Sept. 1, 2000)
Debt Cancellation a Question of 'Justice', Kenya's Anglican Archbishop Tells Japan | Tokyo skeptical toward Jubilee 2000 message. (April 13, 2000)
Southeastern Seminary student beaten, robbed in Kenya | Family says not attacked because of Christianity, but it's the reason they're going back. (Jan. 10, 2000)
Toppling Tradition? | Christian teachings conflict with tribal customs, national laws. (Sept. 6, 1999)
Cursed by Superficiality (Nov. 16, 1998)
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