October 14, 2002

US Warns of Religious Tensions in Tanzania

The US State Department is warning of increasing tensions in Tanzania between Muslims and Christians and between secular and fundamentalist Muslims. Tanzania's government recognises the problem but is failing to act in response to it, the Department adds in its latest annual report on religious freedom world wide.

Muslim fundamentalist organisations have engaged in "increasingly confrontational proselytising" during the past year in Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar and Morogoro, the report says. "Anti-Christian slogans became more prevalent in newspapers and pamphlets and on clothing." Christian fundamentalists have acted in a similarly confrontational manner, distributing leaflets branding Muslims as "unbelievers" or "servants of Satan," the report notes. Moderates and fundamentalists within Tanzania's Muslim community have meanwhile been vying for the control of mosques in Dar es Salaam and other cities, the State Department says. Fundamentalists are critical of secular Muslims who have taken positions in the government, which the Islamists view as a Christian institution. The State Department says some Muslims complain that they are under-represented in civil service and parastatal institutions in part because colonial-era and early post-independence administrations refused to recognise the credentials of traditional Muslim schools.

Tanzania's population is closely balanced between Christians and Muslims, according to figures cited in the report. Each of the communities is said to comprise between 30 and 40 percent of the population. The Tanzanian government generally respects the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of religion, the State Department says. It adds, however, that "there were a few limits on this right." The government recognises that tensions are worsening between Christians and Muslims, "but it chose not to take action," the report says. "Even senior Muslim officials in the government appear unwilling to address the problem, apart from general criticism of those who would foment religious conflict." (THE EAST AFRICAN)

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