Monday, 7 March 2011

Islam and Healing in Rwanda

This is an old article, but one about an issue I recall reading about in an English newspaper which I could nott locate again, butt which was a pertinent example for me about the way Islam can transcend race and nationalism. This article comes from the Washington Post (23 September 2002) and is about the way many Rwandan's turned to Islam following the genocide that occurred in that country:

We have our own jihad, and that is our war against ignorance between Hutu and Tutsi. It is our struggle to heal," said Saleh Habimana, the head mufti of Rwanda. "Our jihad is to start respecting each other and living as Rwandans and as Muslims."

Since the genocide, Rwandans have converted to Islam in huge numbers. Muslims now make up 14 percent of the 8.2 million people here in Africa's most Catholic nation, twice as many as before the killings began.

Many converts say they chose Islam because of the role that some Catholic and Protestant leaders played in the genocide. Human rights groups have documented several incidents in which Christian clerics allowed Tutsis to seek refuge in churches, then surrendered them to Hutu death squads, as well as instances of Hutu priests and ministers encouraging their congregations to kill Tutsis. Today some churches serve as memorials to the many people slaughtered among their pews.

In contrast, many Muslim leaders and families are being honored for protecting and hiding those who were fleeing.

Some say Muslims did this because of the religion's strong dictates against murder, though Christian doctrine proscribes it as well. Others say Muslims, always considered an ostracized minority, were not swept up in the Hutus' campaign of bloodshed and were unafraid of supporting a cause they felt was honorable.

"I know people in America think Muslims are terrorists, but for Rwandans they were our freedom fighters during the genocide," said Jean Pierre Sagahutu, 37, a Tutsi who converted to Islam from Catholicism after his father and nine other members of his family were slaughtered. "I wanted to hide in a church, but that was the worst place to go. Instead, a Muslim family took me. They saved my life."

Imams across the country held meetings after Sept. 11, 2001, to clarify what it means to be a Muslim. "I told everyone, 'Islam means peace,' " said Imiyimana, recalling that the mosque was packed that day. "Considering our track record, it wasn't hard to convince them."

At a recent class here, hundreds of women dressed in red, orange and purple head coverings gathered in a dark clay building. They talked about their personal struggle, or jihad, to raise their children well. And afterward, during a lunch of beans and chicken legs, they ate heartily and shared stories about how Muslims saved them during the genocide.

"If it weren't for the Muslims, my whole family would be dead," said Aisha Uwimbabazi, 27, a convert and mother of two children. "I was very, very thankful for Muslim people during the genocide. I thought about it and I really felt it was right to change."

You can read the full article here.


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