Christians fearful after priest is killed in Zanzibar

Christians are living in fear following the murder of a priest in Zanzibar, the archipelago's bishop said, warning that Islamist groups on the islands are stirring up hatred.

Bishop Augustine Ndeliakyama Shao of Zanzibar has warned of an increase in religiously motivated violence, saying that the murder of Fr. Evarist Mushi on Saturday, February 17th, is the latest incident in a series of attacks.

Catechetical center in Mtandika parishThe Bishop of Zanzibar told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that extremists on the semi-autonomous islands, which are part of Tanzania, are preaching a radical form of Islam.

He said, “The ideology that is disseminated by a few Islamists in Zanzibar asserts that the Islamic majority must not tolerate any other religions.”

According to Bishop Shao tensions in the West African island have steadily increased in recent months with clerics receiving numerous threats.

He said, “We have become a target for these fundamentalists. Already at Christmas a priest was shot at, and now another of my priests has been shot dead.”

“A sheikh who had appealed for moderation was attacked with acid and is now in hospital.”

On the day that the murdered priest, Evarist Mushi, was buried February 20th, all the country’s dioceses held prayers for peace.

Bishop Shao called on the government of Tanzania to act decisively to resolve the growing problem.

He said, “The government must guarantee the security of the people, and especially that of minorities.”

“For too long it has remained silent and allowed propaganda and hatred to be spread against those of other religious persuasions.”

“We hope that the international community will urge the governments of Zanzibar and Tanganyika to stop the violence.”

Father Andrzej Halemba, head of ACN projects in English-speaking Africa, described the situation in Zanzibar, where the majority of the population is Muslim, as precarious.

He referred to the torching of a number of Christian churches in December 2012 as an example of the growing problems the country faces.

The upsurge in violence at the end of last year was triggered by the arrest of members of Islamist organization, Uamsho, which campaigns for an independent Zanzibar governed by Sharia law.

Father Halemba said, “The development is causing us great concern. It is obvious that extreme forces, deliberately set on destabilizing the country, are at work here.”

“But it is precisely for this reason that ACN also seeks a dialogue between Christians and Muslims. The Bishops of Tanzania wish to secure a peaceful cooperation.”


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