THE CHALLENGE OF ISLAM

The Bishop of Dar-es-Salam considers the bleak future of the "evangelism of love" in East Africa

At the International Bishops' Conference on Faith and Order, held at Canterbury Christ Church College, September 14-18 (see Roger Beckwith on page 10) papers were delivered about conditions in the different parts of the Communion represented. The following is one of those papers, by the Rt Revd B.M. Sambano, Bishop of Dar-es-Salam.

In this paper I shall try to give a brief account of the Churches' response to the challenge of Islam in Tanzania: therefore I am dealing neither with the history of Islam nor with its philosophy and belief. Nevertheless, it is very important to have a short glance at the rapid growth of Islam, both in Muslim countries and in countries with a minority Muslim population. The challenge of Islam is not only in Tanzania: it is a world wide problem. For example: the stated goal of the Los Angeles Muslim Conference was to win 50 - 70 million Americans for Islam. The Islamic Conference in Europe recently targeted London: "Unless we win London for Islam we will fail to win the whole Western World".

We need to recognize that Islam is a considerable force in the modern world. It boasts more than six cities of over eight million people (Jakarta, Teheran, Baghdad, Cairo, Istanbul, Karachi), and is well-equipped for evangelism. Muslims are used to putting strong convictions into militant action; they are aided by rapid biological growth, by long traditions in business and commerce; by the petro-dollars of the Gulf states, by extensive medical and educational services, and by attractive literature and media propaganda. In countries with a tradition of polygamy their marriage discipline is an added attraction. And, alas, they are also aided by the weak testimony of Christians in many areas.

Before going on to our particular circumstances in Tanzania, I need also to focus on some of the factors that hinder Christians from sharing the gospel, and therefore give ground to Islam. They are lack of courage (both physical and emotional); lack of sound preparation for witnessing; lack of faith; and lack of that inner confidence which enables self-sacrifice.

But what of the situation in Tanzania? First of all, the Muslin population has reached about 32.5% of the total population of approximately 26 million. There may be therefore not less than 9,620,000 Muslins in he country. The majority are found on the East Coast, where the islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia are predominantly Muslim, with Arabic cultural influence.

From the early 70s to the end of that decade, Christians became aware of a significant and rapid growth of Islam. Through the Christian Council of Tanzania and the National Christian Council of Kenya we began a joint venture, conducting seminars at Kamanai (Mombasa) and at the Church Army College, Nairobi in order to motivate, mobilise and raise the awareness of church leaders to the Islamic challenge. I attended these courses myself and found myself being equipped with essential educational tools. The emphasis of these seminars was on "Evangelism through Christian love"

Islam reached Tanzania early (around 950 AD with the Arab slave traders); and Christianity began to spread from the 40s of the last century. A pattern of strong family and tribal relationships during this time contained conflict. People of differing beliefs belonged to the same clan or tribal background; they lived and worked together in harmony, sharing common interests and problems. Generally there was peace, love and mutual concern.

This period lasted until the early 80s, then, notably in 1985, a new pattern began to emerge. Hatreds began to develop which threatened the peace and security which both communities and enjoyed over the years. Abusive language about Christians became common place among Muslim extremists, despite warnings from government leaders of the danger to peace. Eventually, on Good Friday 1993, things came to a head. Groups of extremist Muslims began to demolish butchers' shops, on the ground that all non-halal butchery and especially pork butchery ought to be forbidden. The Muslim taboo (or najis) ought to be observed by the whole community, as though everyone lived under Islamic law (sharia)!

Before all this happened some of us (bishops) had been summoned by the president to the State House to assist him resolve the problems created by increasingly poor relations between the religious communities. We narrated many stories of problems caused by Muslims and said quite frankly that we thought the situation was highly dangerous and might well end in bloodshed. When the ‘butchery' episode came along the government took all the necessary steps to maintain order; they arrested the initiators and brought them to trial. But they were released on undertakings to keep the peace. Unfortunately, due to their strong Muslim convictions they continued to use threatening language - threatening even to kill Christians.

In approaching this challenge, member churches of the Tanzania Christian Council sent a memorandum to the Government, adding to the warnings which the Episcopal Church had given earlier, warning of the seriousness of the situation and again envisaging bloodshed.

On the Christian side, strong emphasis is being placed by church leaders on the teaching of Christian love, patience, mercy and forbearance. But in such a situation one wonders what the future of Christian evangelism and of the nation as a whole can be. For Moslems believe that if they die in the course of what they suppose to be a Holy War (or Jihad) they will go directly to heaven. We are dealing with a religious philosophy where war is a must! The whole weight of the challenge is now on our shoulders. Christian evangelists are also the upholders of peace. Who can tell how successfully we will respond?

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