This nation is founded on a strong belief in God. Even before we gained our independence, God was known to many of the local communities and had revealed himself to them in various forms.
Among the Agikuyu, God had revealed Himself to them as Ngai. He was the creator of man, existed in spirit form, and was omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. Among the Maasai, God revealed Himself as Enkai with the same attributes as those of Ngai. Among the Abaluhyia, He revealed himself as Nyasae, with similar attributes, and among the Giriama as Mulungu.
When the first Christian missionaries came, barely 100 years ago, they found communities that were monotheistic. These communities readily identified Jehovah, the God of Abraham, as Ngai, Enkai, Nyasae and Mulungu. They therefore took up Christianity without much difficulty, and in their Christian worship, imported the traditional identity of God in their beliefs.
More than 600 years ago, Islam had come to the east coast and had been also easily accepted by the local communities. Those who came into contact with Muslims quickly identified Allah as the God they believed in and took up Islam as speedily as others were later to take up Christianity.
No Islamic evangelical missions
Possibly because there were no Islamic evangelical missions, Islam took root in only a few areas, mainly those near the coast-line. In North Eastern Province, Islam came from the Somali coast. The attitude of most Kenya communities towards the Islamic identity of God was, however, determined by the European Christian missionaries. These missionaries, while comfortable with the merger of the traditional identities of God with Christianity, were averse to the merger of these identities with Islam. Ngai, Enkai, Nyasae and Mulungu were allowed to be identified as Jehovah, but never as Allah.
Today, therefore, the Kenyan Christian majority do not allow their consciousness to accept that the “God of all creations”, to whom our National Anthem appeals, is also known as Allah. We live with our Muslim brothers and sisters as though they worship one God and us another. Our comfort when Jehovah is referred to as Ngai, or Nyasae is rattled when He is referred to as Allah. But that is a religious problem. It may never be sorted out until the second coming of Christ which, interestingly, is also foretold by the Holy Qu’ran.
But when it reflects itself in our national policy, it becomes a problem of governance.It becomes necessary to ask what obligations a government of a Christian majority owes to a religious minority which believes in the same God.
What rights do Muslims have as a religious group in our national policy? The insensitivity of our Christian majority government towards Islam is best evidenced by the official response to Muslim needs during the Holy Month of Ramadhan. During this month, Muslims in Kenya join other adherents all over the world in observing the mandatory full moon of prayer, humility, sacrifice and fasting. In the life of any Muslim adherent, this is the most solemn period, and also the most demanding.
One of the unfortunate realities of Christian colonisation and Christian majority rule in Kenya is that the Muslims comprise one of the most economically marginalised groups in Kenya. The levels of abject poverty at the Coast and North-Eastern provinces are the highest in the country.
Reliance on relief food
In urban centres, Muslim minorities live in ‘slums that are commonly known everywhere as Majengo. Even on a good day, a large section of the Muslim community in Kenya relies on donations and relief food for their survival.
Shamefully, a lot of these donations, particularly during Ramadhan, come from outside governments. Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Libya are some of the largest donors to our own Muslim brothers and sisters.
Though at the end of Ramadhan, Muslims are allowed one day off to celebrate Idd UI Fitr, they have no concessions in the working hours. The fasting Muslim, particularly in Nairobi and other large towns, has to leave work at 5 pm to struggle with our chaotic transport system and is caught up in the traffic jam by the call for prayers to break the fast.
For a country that is known not to be in any particular’ hurry, a one-hour concession at the end of each day becomes too expensive for the Government to grant. And at the end of Ramadhan, most Kenyan Muslims find it impossible to obtain a passport to enable them to travel to Mecca for the Haj.
In comparison, Christianity enjoys special privileges in Government policy. In the education sector, there exists a long tradition by which the Government co-sponsors education with the most established Christian denominations, which are allowed to maintain Christian worship, while the Government undertakes to provide teachers for secular education. During religious celebrations, the Government also gives special privileges to Christianity. Every other consecration of a Christian Bishop has always been attended by the Kenyan President while the Maulid in Lamu has been attended to only once by President Kenyatta.
Since the debates for constitutional review begun, Kenya’s Christian majorities have shouted down the provisions for Khadhis’ courts and sworn to see them removed from the constitution. Both the governments of President Moi and President Kibaki have sat back and watched the fiasco without giving any assurances to Muslims.
Bad taste in the mouth
The handling of the recent hostage crisis in Iraq has also left many Kenyan Muslims with a bad taste in the mouth. It is little wonder then that Kenyan Muslims feel isolated and neglected in their own country. Indeed, the only official recognition of Islam occurs during national celebrations when the Imam of the Armed Forces is allowed a few minutes to say a prayer on national television.
The Holy Month of Ramadhan begins after the next fortnight. It is a second chance for the Narc Government to change the way that governments have always treated Muslims in Kenya. Having missed the first chance last year, one hopes that genuine concern will be shown this year round, and that the Narc luminaries will not let it pass and wait for the Kisauni polls to trot to the Coast, dressed in Muslim caps and kaftans, in a cheap display of community with the Muslims.
For the rest of us, we would be better Christians if we followed Christ’s teachings and loved our neighbours as much as we loved ourselves. If you are an employer, allow your Muslim employees an hour early out of work so that they can make it home in time for prayers. In any event, they will be spending their lunch time in the office and you shall still get your eight hours a day worth of work.
Mr Mwangi is a lawyer practising in Nairobi.