Courting Trouble

Christians oppose embedding Islamic tribunals in Kenya's new constitution

Muslims are working to make Kadhi courts a formal part of the country's new constitution, but Christians are fighting the move. They say the change would give preferential treatment to Islam.

Kadhi courts settle marriage and inheritance disputes between Muslims, and they have been legally recognized at the district level since Kenya's independence in 1963. The Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC), responding to requests from Muslim groups, has proposed expanding Kadhi jurisdiction to civil and commercial disputes. Under the proposal, taxpayers would begin financing the Islamic tribunals.

Islam represents roughly 16 percent of the population. It is already the country's fastest growing religion, at about 4 percent annually. Islam has gained more visibility in recent years. Muslims have opened dozens of new mosques outside of their traditional strongholds along the coast and in the country's northwest.

Charitable work by Muslims has attracted converts amid an economy in which the average per-person income is stuck at around $340 a year. Kenyan Muslims offer free education to orphans in Nairobi's sprawling slums. They also provide scholarships for college-age students to attend Arab universities. Muslim-run hospitals in Nairobi, such as Crescent Medical Aid and the Iran Clinic, offer subsidized medical services.

Muslims say strengthening the Kadhi court system is non-negotiable. "We are not going to compromise on the issue," Abdulghaful El Busaidy, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, told CT. "It is the right of Muslims to have the courts."

While a few Christians support an explicit constitutional reference to Kenya (which is 76 percent Christian) as a Christian nation, most want to keep religion—including ...

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