Thursday, July 13, 2006


In Malawi like any other country in the word, there is no field of human study whose language is in such a chaotic state as religion. This causes dialogue and debate to be almost impossible among Christians, and even more difficult between Christians and followers of other religions especially Islam. BACK GROUND Other than animism Islam, perhaps the oldest religion in Malawi has been a dominant force, especially among the Yao people.

The Yao and Swahili speakers who were associated with the slave trade brought Islam to Malawi in or around 1870. The expansion of Islam is also attributed to the trading caravans, which usually had Muslim teachers. Being educated, these teachers joined the nomadic caravans as secretaries to the heads of the caravans, but also helped convey messages that local chiefs might wish to send to each other or to their contacts on the coast.

The Muslim Association of Malawi, headquartered in Blantyre, evolved out of a central board for Muslim education which was set up in the 1950s to coordinate the work and represent the interests of the Muslim community as a whole. The Association has received and continues to receive financial help from Kuwait and other Muslim sources to fund radio programs, women’s conferences, and youth camps not least other related charity oriented activities. For a long period of time, Muslims and other faiths have continued to live in peace. This peaceful co existence was first tested by the federal government in the early fifties and later against the mighty ruthless power of the Malawi Congress party government.

Although unofficial estimates indicated Muslims to consist of 12% during and through out the entire MCP era, no Muslim rose to the position of high of prominence in the public life which was dominated by products of Christian mission, mainly from the Protestants comprising of CCAP(Dr Banda,hon Tembo,Aron Gadama) and Seventh-Day Adventist(Late Khanga,Bwanali and Chakuamba) Churches and later the Roman Catholic(Late Lunguzi,Maxwell Pashane and Yohane) to mention a few The only Muslim to have risen to a position of prominence in the party or government was Mr Elson Bakili Muluzi who succeeded late Albert Muwalo as MCP’s secretary general in 1976 but it was not long before he was fired. Several theories have been circulating concerning his fate.

Many people believe his dismissal had something to do with abuse of party funds and other indiscipline issues like allegations that he was caught stealing tobacco bales from Dr Banda’s Mgodi farm in Machinga and that he was also reported to have been fond of making inapropriate advances towards party women members, the serious being rape allegations against Mrs Somanje, wife of Mr Somanje-MCP’s Treasure General at the time. However none of these allegations were brought to court and Dr Muluzi himself continue to deny their existence insisting that he resigned on personal grounds. To the contrary though, Dr Muluzi was forced to resign on none of the above mentioned allegations. My investigations on Dr Muluzi’s forced resignation which I believe he might not even know was purely based on religious grounds. In fact he was forced to resign days after an article in the Herald newspaper in Zimbabwe(Rhodesia) at the time ,described the Malawi Muslim community as “fundamentalistic” and owing allegiance to ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran chief architect of the Iranian revolution .Keeping Dr Muluzi as his second in command was therefore too risky to Dr Banda,he had to go and it happened.


Although there was no official policy like the Jehova witness against Muslims at that time, several hostility actions did occur .For example,Muslims were not allowed to open Islamic education schools to the public till late 80’s.In 1989 a newly opened primary school was quickly closed by the government in Zomba apparently as a result of lobbying from Christian quarters. Unlike government and Christian schools, the school was free and was increasingly becoming popular.A year earlier an Islamic missionary from the Ahmadiyya sect Mr(sheik) Hajiiri was imprisoned and spend considerable weeks in prison without any charge. Since the closure of the Zomba based Islamic primary school, there was no Incident what so ever between Christians and Muslims.


On March 12 1990 an Italian based christian NGO Droits de l’homme sans frontières reported thus: " The number of mosques has grown enormously, following a precise expansionist strategy , the foodstuffs that are being sold (above all the meat products) are all in accordance with Islamic law. This last fact, although seemingly secondary, is a cause of great tensions because the Christians have no intention of being subjected to such customs” the truth of the matter is, there was no incident in 1990 concerning Muslims apart from closure of an Islamic primary school in Zomba 1989. Despite enormous differences in Christianity-sects called denominations, there seem to be unanimous unity when it comes to making a stand against Islam. Differences between Catholics and many anti-Catholic protestant churches are quickly mended to form a frontline against Islamic growth. It comes without saying that whenever a Christian comes across the word Islam, his/her mind is pre-occupied with generelarising terms such as fundamentalists, terrorists, or at worse a bunch of crazy people without formal education. Against this unfair prejudices from most Christians, Islam seem to be growing at un precedent levels. What i find breath taking and moving is that despite Christian demonisation against Muslims, Muslims still refer to Christians as "OUR CHRISTIAN BROTHERS"

In 1995 "Lot Mbale Mbuu," founder of the Ndirande based controversial pharisaic Seventh-day apostolic church, represented the Christian community in a hot debate with Muslims on the theme "Which of the two, Christianity or Islam, is a true religion?" The debate was held on the Nyambadwe School Grounds near Ndirande township. The Islamic faith was represented by "learned sheiks."The debate was very emotional and was disrupted by people who jeered at the Muslims in their confusion and declared Lot the winner. Korans and Muslim skull-caps were grabbed, torn and burnt. From then on, he was known as the "Christian Lawyer." His staunch opposition to Islam was also evidenced in his establishment of "Christian butcheries" to rival the Halaal butcheries. He urged Christians to eat meat slaughtered by their Christian friends rather than to give the Mwalim's a living, a very common practice in Malawi but thankfully,the incident was Isolated and confined to Ndirande boundaries and surprisingly, Islamic followers did not retaliate.


Malawi started simmering with religious tension between Muslims and Christians from 1999 when Bakili Muluzi, a Muslim, was re-elected president of Malawi. Mosques were set ablaze and some houses belonging to people suspected of supporting Muluzi were torched. The tension heightened when the ruling United Democratic Front pushed for a constitutional amendment to allow Muluzi another five-year term in office. The proposal splited Malawi's religious circles with the Muslim Association of Malawi supporting the amendment while Christian faiths mobilized all their resources to fight the bill. Another case was an attempt by government to introduce religious studies where Islam would get attention just as Christianity. The proposal though sensible in a circular state like Malawi where freedom of worship is enjoyed by all residents, it drew stiff resistance from most Christian faith establishments. Un founded claims were made to the extent that the UDF were trying to Islamize the country. In no time, tension rose between Muslims and Christians. A case in point occurred in September 2002 when the Catholic Church through Monsignor Joseph Kim officially launched a complaint to the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) on allegations that Radio Islam was airing what the Church described as provocative and insulting programs.

The tit for tat game would then change on 30th June 2003, when Islamic followers in Mangochi rioted against Christian establishments in reaction to the deportation of five foreign nationals suspected of belonging to the al Qaeda terror network. The riots went on for two days, targeting Christians. Seven churches in two cities were damaged, as were the national offices of the aid agency Save the Children. "They came chanting Islamic slogans," said Cedric Kamoto, pastor of the CCAP church in Mangochi at the time. "They said we should get out of Mangochi because it's not meant for Christians. They accused us of bringing Americans in Malawi to disturb their interests." He fled the church as rioters attacked it for an hour.On reflection, it turned out that rioters were largely villagers who had no clue about what alqaeda was in the first place and had no idea about the wider implications of entertaining the idea of hosting sympathisers of Alqaeda.Ignorance though not an excuse was the main problem.


While Islam was only found in the southern region and a few selected urban districts, there seem to be an increase in many parts of Malawi where the establishment of Islamic missions were unheard of. Dr Muluzi a Muslim by religion is often blamed by many Christians as a person behind the growth of Islam in Malawi. Surprisingly during my research, amongst converts to Islam, most of those whom I talked to had good, solid arguments for converting into Islam. A number of the individuals felt that Islamic Social laws are comprehensive, that they are a complete guide to life, and consequently, that they brought about orderly living.

They pointed to the fact that people need boundaries by which to live by, especially in the democratic Malawi where people seem to be taking matters of law into their own hands, while leaving out the needs of the majority. Islam, they felt was the only religion which was giving them these boundaries to live by. In contrast, quite a few respondents pointed out that Christianity was just not powerful enough to change the evils of modern-day life. This was compounded by a number of newly released inmates especially from Chichiri,Maula and Zomba prisons A number of those with whom I talked to had come into contact with Islam in prison, where they had been reformed by "Muslim brothers" who came weekly for the Jumma prayers and Qur'anic classes. Now that they were "on the outside," they believed that the disciplined lifestyle, espoused by Islamic law, was the sole reason which kept them from going "back in." They were appreciative of the local masjids role supporting them with work and small businesses start up capital as they start their new lives out side prison cells. Here it appeared like most Christian converts feel abandoned just after joining their respective churches. All they are given is hope for a better tomorrow and nothing tangible. Another attraction was Islam's lack of priesthood.

Islam has no medial agents. One will not find a "pope" or even a set of cardinals, reverends and pastors within Islam. As a result, the believer, they felt, is not dependent on someone else for his relationship to God, and therefore, can go directly to Allah. A further attraction for new converts was that of Islamic education for young children, "while they were still impressionable." It was the Muslim schools, they felt, which would reform society and instill just and orderly sets of values upon the next generation. While doing my research I asked a friend of mine to visit four schools between Dedza and Ntcheu where within religious manned schools are operated within a 70 miles.A catholic girls school around Bembeke and an Islamic school in Dedza with Mlanda girls and Lakeview secondary schools manned by CCAP and Seventh-day adventist churches and several other Qur'anic schools in Blantyre.While Islamic schools seemed to be small and ill-equipped, the children appeared to be well-disciplined and happy compared to those from other faiths.And, not surprisingly the Islamic manned school produced 4 straight distinctions in maths last year


I made a particular note, that among the respondents to my questionnaire, there were three women who felt that Islam gave them, as women, added fulfillment, for instance, permitting them to own property, while at the same time offering them the best protection from an outside hostile world. From memory I counted incidents where Christians widows have found themselves in property conflicts with their husband's relative and was shocked to come up with 6 names of women in a space of 10 minutes. While this may surprise some of us, the perception by most Muslims with whom I talked was that, "We take care of our women better than do the Christians." David Lamb, the Los Angeles reporter, who wrote the bestselling book The Africans, while living and traveling for four years in Africa echoes this point. He states that one of the best comparisons between a Christian and Muslim country in Africa was the safety of the streets within the larger cities. He felt that he would never let his wife walk alone at night, and sometimes even during the day in most of the larger African Christian cities.

Yet, he had no fear of permitting his wife to wander freely within any of the larger African Muslim cities. Here is another point where Truth stands Clear from error. In Islam, between 2 to 5 % of your income goes directly to the poor, which can include a relative. In Christianity, 10% of your entire Income, goes to the so-called 'non-profit' organization called the Church. This is named "Tithing" and the Church claims that the Bible backs up this 10% donation,. Interestingly large part of Christian churches ignore one of Jesus’ teachings in which he also urged his followers to give their money to the poor. "Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven" (Matthew 19:21) What I find interesting in these teachings of donations or religious based support activities are the stark differences between the Church and Islamic charity.

It was quite interesting to note that in most Christian denominations ,large amounts of money are left with individuals in Christianity organizations often called church workers, therefore opening the opportunity for corruption, while in Islam, the principle beneficiary of religious contribution is the "poor" In simple terms, a poor person in the street looking for food from God is more likely going to see his/her prayers answered by God from a Muslim believer than he would from Christian who if anything will only provide hope. The benefit from giving the money directly to the poor as prescribed in Islam, is that you can connect with the people in need. You can enjoy and share in their happiness when you help them. I was baffled with this Islamic generosity when I came across a real story from Mrs. Malonda (a non muslim)a nurse at Chilomoni clinic whose daughter (also non muslim) is studying medicine in TURKEY -all funded by the a Muslim charity and yet she is not a members of the faith.

Honestly this cannot happen in any church that I know to be part of the Christian kingdom. You have to be a member to be exposed to scholastic opportunities. In fact in churches like seventh-day Adventist church and CCAP, membership alone cannot earn you a scholarship. You must be a church worker or child of church worker to receive a form of bursary.


Another area of interest is the behavior of the beneficiaries of the said scholarships. Here comparisons were drawn between Christians and Muslims who were recipients of religious scholarships. Out of 15 medical student recipients of Islamic scholarships,14 of them returned to Malawi and are working in Malawi where as a combination of 30 medical students from Christian funded scholarships only six returned to Malawi with Seventh-day Adventist Church as the worst case where all medical students opting not to return back to their country upon finishing their courses. What was more surprising is that all the recipients of Islamic medical scholarships were in fact working in government departments.

In other words, offering scholarships to their members or general public are solely done to assist the government. We can go on to extend the enquiry to cover those that have chosen to remain in Diaspora after receiving government funding which I did not but I am pretty convinced that the rate of return to Malawi will be high on the Muslim side than us Christians. What is it that makes followers of Islam to stick to their promises than us Christians? Or what is it that Islam or the Muslim association of Malawi can teach the government and their Christian partners in order to redress the brain drain. May be each one of us will need to conduct an introspective soul searching.


Any major Christian organization you can think of in Malawi has a network of medical and to some extent hospital establishments with CCAP,CATHOLIC ,ANGLICAN AND SEVENTH-DAY Adventist churches leading the way. Again with the latter being the most expensive service provider. What I find shocking is that despite these establishments being instrumental in their quest to help Jesus in his mission to redeem humanity, their response to the current HIV epidemic is rather disappointing.

I say disappointing because they are charging the public to administer the ARV HIV drug disbursement while Muslim clinics are offering the same service for free. Again here from a point of view of a poor person, he will see God in a Muslim clinic and pure commerce in any Christian manned establishment. On this point alone, Islam has proved to far excel Christianity with its care and discipline towards the country and the love for poor people whom Christ died for. Last but not least import is that what is common among Christian Churches while absent among Islamic Mosques is that the Ministers in Christianity take a salary for themselves where as in Islam, the Ministers consider preaching the words of Allah, a reward in itself.


From this discussion it seems that Islam has been, is, and probably will be making a dynamic impact in Malawi whether we will have another Muslim president or not. Many people are coming into contact with Islam for the first time, and are finding that there is something appealing for them. Before you start thinking that I will soon change my name from Bright Malopa to YUSUFU MALOPA It will be imperative that we take this area of attraction, and discuss it from the perspective of a Christian. I realize that Islam is making an impact in Malawi even after Dr Muluzi's departure. In terms of statistics, there seem to a marginal 3-4% increase in Islam converts since UDF came to power and close to 45% increase in development programs during the same period.

The charge that Dr Muluzi wanted to islamise the country is therefore largely exaggerated.
I am sure the impact of Islamic influence will continue to grow in Malawi' social development. While at that, I think converts to Islam are appraising Islam incorrectly, or even, at times, dishonestly. There are, I feel, errors of perception, as well as errors in interpretation which makes most followers to pick areas where they feel marginalised in society instead of capitalizing on the good work they are doing to the public especially to the needy.

Of late, there have been calls from some Muslim quarters suggesting that the government is victimizing Muslims especially those that are in politics. This is the main area that needs immediate attention from most Islamic followers. It must be established here that many people who find themselves in politics often join politics on as individuals. If certain calls from the Muslim societies are to be entertained, they harm the good work Islam is doing in Malawi. If anything they should avoid being used by politicians who in many times do so for selfish gains. Frankly speaking I don’t share the idea of mixing religion and politics. "

Religion and politics are a deadly, explosive mixture. Religion becomes more important than individual rights and political power provides belief enforcement. History is replete with examples of over zealous religious beliefs becoming the law of the land because that person had the power to enforce those beliefs. Do not get me wrong, I am not against religion in favor of government or government in favor of religion. In fact I am a practicing Christian. Government and religion are both highly desired by the majority of people.

The type of government or religion varies but both are usually deemed necessary in some form. Government is necessary to prevent chaos, to provide services, to provide some form of justice, and to provide direction for the individual but more so for the group through its laws and rules. Religion is necessary to provide hope, to provide direction, and to control the individual as well as the group through its tenets. Government and religion are often a mirror image of each other and one can to some degree substitute for the other in bringing a just society However, my understanding of the two is that they should be kept separate and should not share platforms at any cost for the simple reason that religion and politics often promote a narrow view of life while promoting absolute concepts.

In order for one to be right in religion or politics, opposing views must be wrong or at the very least not as correct. Combining religion and politics in one person only serves to narrow the view even more; add power to enforce and you now have a dictatorship of thought, deeds, and actions." There are also misconceptions of Christianity's position which must be redressed especially where prejudices and generalisation are concerned. And finally, many of these categories are those which, I feel, Christianity has a stronger claim to, than does Islam. If Muslims were to be judged on what they are doing to society and not what society think of them, I believe the case of refusing people to take or pick certain roles on the basis of their religion will be impaired. What I propose is that other than seeking destruction of each other's faith, we should try to see GOD in each other.

Remember higher than the highest human thoughts can reach, is god's ideal for his children. Godliness is the goal to be reached

Bright Mac Everson Malopa References:

Welch, Alford T. "Islam " in Hinnells, John R. (ed). A Handbook of Living Religions,Muslim Education Trust organization ,the nation news paper,Lane, Martha S. B. Malawi (series: "Enchantment of the World, Jarvik, Elaine. "Challenges daunting in Malawi,Dr stambuli's essay on Dr Muluzi, David S. Bone,Malawi'smuslim,christianity today,malawitalk,ellen g.white,messages to young people

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