Churches accuse Muslim scholars of ‘inaction’ over attack

In the wake of the attack on Garissa University College by Islamist al-Shabaab militants on 2 April, in which 148 people were massacred, churches in Kenya have accused Muslim scholars and clergy of not doing enough to condemn the insurgency or counter radicalisation.

But Muslim scholars have sharply rejected accusations from church leaders that it is increasingly becoming difficult to differentiate Muslims from al-Shabaab.

Evangelical and other protestant Christian churches allied to the National Council of Churches of Kenya issued a joint statement following the Garissa assault, in which 142 students were among the 148 people murdered.

“The attack was committed by people professing the Islamic faith, but we have noted a marked indifference by the Muslim leadership to addressing the challenges of Islamist radicalisation in the country in a forthright manner,” said Bishop Julius Wanyoike of the Anglican Church.

Criticising a proposed government amnesty for local al-Shabaab cohorts, Cannon Peter Karanja, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, observed that the blanket amnesty did not require people to denounce or reveal what Islamist radicalisation entailed, or to identify radical local teachers and financiers.

“We have often turned the other cheek, but with the massacre of Christian students at Garissa University College, the cheeks have run out,” said Karanja on 14 April in Nairobi.

Muslims call for restraint

In response to those sentiments, the Council of Muslim Scholars in Kenya called for restraint, urging Kenyans to unite and refuse to be divided on religious or ethnic lines.

In a widely circulated statement, the academics called on government to tackle the drivers of radicalisation, which they said include discrimination, unemployment, historical injustices, marginalisation, corruption and harassment by police and other state security agencies.

“In the fight against terror, the government must not be seen to perpetrate terror,” said Sheikh Khalfan Khamis Ismail, chair of the Council of Muslim Scholars, Kenya chapter.

According to Ismail, for more than 150 years Muslims, Christians and other faiths have lived peacefully in Kenya and this ‘trying moment’ should not be used to divide faiths.

The academics defended themselves against accusations that they have been sitting on the fence, not just over Garissa but during the entire period that al-Shabaab had been making terror incursions – such as the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi two years ago and the killing of school teachers in Mandera last November.

“Contrary to the impression that has been created, we as Muslim scholars have been tirelessly working through various religious institutions and forums to address radicalisation, the threat of terrorism and other crimes,” noted a statement circulated to the media on 20 April.

Don’t play the blame game

Commenting on the Garissa attack, Dr Hassan Kinyua, director of religious affairs at the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, said religious organisations should not apportion blame to each other but should work together to overcome radicalisation.

According to Kinyua, it is wrong to associate Islam with terrorism. “The first fundamental objective of Shariah, or Islamic Law, is the preservation of life,” said Kinyua, who is also a lecturer in the department of religious studies at the University of Nairobi.

There is an emerging consensus that there is a need for Muslims, Christians and other religious groups to work together to avert terrorism.

But there remains the appalling fact that the Garissa University College terrorists took time to separate students, sparing Muslims and then killing Christians. “We know that Muslim students caught in the melee were spared while their fellow Christians were killed,” said Bishop Mark Kariuki, chair of the Evangelical Churches Alliance.

While Muslim scholars might have felt the need to condemn the Garissa University College massacre, their statement did not name al-Shabaab at all.

The nearest the statement came to mentioning the al-Qaeda linked group was when it noted: “We should not allow perpetrators of this crime to succeed by instigating us against one another.”

The impression has been created that al-Shabaab might have a shadowy arm that could deal ruthlessly with internal detractors within the Muslim community.

Keen to answer critics and to state their position on the war against terror and radicalisation of Muslim youth, the Council of Muslim Scholars reminded Kenyans that they had been in the forefront of the fight against terrorism, which is a global phenomenon.

“We have even lost some of our members while others have been threatened,” said the council. According to the Muslim academics, terrorism in all its manifestations is inherently evil and their resolve is to fight it.

Top security figures indicted

As the government came under pressure to conduct an in-depth investigation into the massacre, police officers interviewed by University World News alleged that security teams in Garissa had credible information that an attack was imminent.

The state has interdicted nine senior security officials over the al-Shabaab Garissa University College attack. Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery said the officials would be prosecuted if investigations proved that they failed to prevent the attack.

“The government is convinced of the need to probe any criminal negligence on the part of the officers, or relevant security committees,” said Nkaissery last Tuesday.

Those interdicted include North Eastern Regional Administration Coordinator Ernest Munyi, County Commissioner Njenga Miiri, County Administration Police Commander Christopher Muthee, County Criminal Investigation Department boss Musa Yego and Police County Commander Charles Wambugu.

Other officers suspended include Sub-county Administration Police Commander John Cheruyoit, head of the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit Mutuku Kimanzi, Officer Commanding the Police Division Benjamin Ongombe and his deputy Charles Ayoro.