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World Press Review is a program of the Stanley Foundation.
January 2002 issue of World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 1)
World Press Review contributing editor
A move to legalize the post of the mufti, a
supreme Islamic leader, met with controversy on the island of
Zanzibar in late October, as two members of the islands
Islamic clergy found themselves in police custody after threatening
to hold demonstrations over the appointment.
The sheiks (as members of the clergy are called in Zanzibar)
contend that, since Tanzania is a secular state, the Zanzibar
government should not meddle in religious matters, wrote
Faustine Rwambali in Nairobis weekly The East African
(Oct. 29-Nov. 4).
They also wanted control over the choice of mufti, whereas the
Tanzanian government wanted the islands community to forward
a number of names for the post.
A section of Muslims are against the bill that they say
is aimed at oppressing them in the face of what is globally
misconstrued as the war between the West and Muslims,
read a story in Dar es Salaams Nipashe (Oct. 27).
Unlike mainland Tanzania, whose population is divided between
Christians and Muslims, Zanzibar is 96-percent Muslim, and the
leading clergy clearly felt uneasy about an alliance with the
mainland government. Government representatives, however, argued
that they were merely seeking to legalize a position that has
existed in an administrative capacity for the past eight years.
We do not intend to control Muslims, Zanzibar Attorney
General Iddi Pandu Hassan told The East African. We
suspect the current conflict is being fueled by politicians.
The Tanzanian government, which suffered a public-relations
blow last January after police killed 23 protesters at a post-election
rally, moved quickly to avert demonstrations that, given
the charged international situation...had the potential to turn
violent, according to The East African.
The arrested clergy members agreed to take their case to court
rather than protesting but told their followers that they would
organize demonstrations if they lost the case. Though the threatened
demonstrations did not take place, the arrest of the two sheiks
and the evident pressure brought to bear on them left a bad
taste in some commentators mouths.
If...all the Zanzibar government is trying to do...is
to give legal force to the office of the mufti...then
it should use public forums and the voice of reason to explain
its position and calm Muslim fears, read an editorial
in The East African.
Arresting...religious leaders and hinting darkly at a
replay of the January violence...is certainly not the way to
win hearts and minds.