|Al Faisal (in spects): Controversial muslim cleric Photo courtesy|
While at University in Asia, I did join the Nation of Islam. This is a form of nationalist Islam practiced by African Americans. It is an Afro-centric interpretation of Islam which (in my anger at the “the system” and with my young impressionable mind) I felt stood for everything I stood for at the time, both politically and religiously.
I was Islamised and took up the name Farrakhan. I stocked in my house a huge collection of books on Islam and the Nation of Islam as well as CDs and audio tapes of speeches of Elijah Muhammad, Malik El Shabhaz (Malcolm X) and Louis Farrakhan among others. However, after three years as a Muslim, I reverted to Christianity.
While an adherent of the Nation of Islam, I was more into its political nature than its religious nature. Much as I prayed five times a day, observed Zakat and the Holy month of Ramadhan as well as all other Muslim practices, to me, the Nation of Islam was more of a political movement than a religion. Nevertheless, it provided me with a front row seat to study, analyze and decipher Islam beyond the usual myths and stereotypes that cloud the understanding of most non-Muslims.
I watched the events around the Sheikh Al Faisal drama as they played out in Kenya with the benefit of a clear understanding of the beliefs and motivation of all the actors. But even without having ever been a Muslim, it is easy for any honest commentator to see that everyone involved in the events that preceded Al-Faisal’s deportation contributed to turning an otherwise straight forward immigration matter into a dangerous and messy ethnic and religious contest. These include government that held the Sheikh in custody without charging him of any offence, the cops who allowed civilians to stone the Mosque, used live ammunition against demonstrators and lobed teargas canisters into a mosque, the “protester” who shot and wounded a policeman as well as those who hired the group that fought alongside the Police – everyone.
The fuss about Al-Faisal and the Jamia Mosque demonstrations were both unfortunate and unnecessary incidents that have left our social fabric and our national security status far worse than many of us realize. It will be tragic if we do not draw any lessons from these events. That is why I feel compelled to place a few matters in their proper perspective.
I am not a conspiracy theorist but I find the rumours doing the rounds difficult to ignore. A lot of things about the Al-Faisal saga just don’t add up. After traversing six African countries on tourist visas and doing pretty much what he did in Kenya - obviously under the hawk eyed watch of the international anti-terrorist security apparatus - how did his activities suddenly turn so dangerous that he had to be incarcerated without charges being preferred against him? Why was he suddenly persona non grata even in countries he had so freely roamed days earlier? Why did airlines that had ferried him around the world suddenly realize that he was a passenger too dangerous to carry? Were we being set up to act as a buffer and shield for the US in its war against terrorists in Somalia? Was it a planned attempt by the US to banish the Sheikh to the anarchic Somalia and possibly assassinate him later? We may never know the truth but these two are real possibilities.
Any of these speculations might or might not be true but whichever way, did some local interests opportunistically jump onto the bandwagon to take advantage of an otherwise harmless immigration issue and cause it to inflict painful and ugly wounds on our social fabric?
To get to the bottom of this, some sections of the media should spare us that crap about that organized gang that fought the Muslim youth alongside the police being traders around the mosque who feared for their property. That was evidently a hired gang whom the Police had instructions not to raise a finger against. Should rumour be believed, they were hired by Assistant Minister and televangelist Hon. Bishop Margaret Wanjiru. Of course she denied any involvement but it is no secret that the vigorous opposition to the inclusion of the Kadhis courts in the draft constitution by the evangelical churches here was calculated to catch the eye of the ultra conservative churches in the US and the rest of the West as a means of attracting financial support to help “ward off the Muslim invasion.” Would it not therefore be in her financial interest to create the impression that Christians and Muslims in Kenya are at war with each other? Those of us who believe this is what might have happened could be wrong, but then again, we could be right.
Then there is the political angle. Because the backgrounds and credentials of some of our politicians are wanting, they have had to rely on divide and rule tactics for political survival. However because ethnicity is losing its influence on our voting patterns and “Wanjiku” isn’t dancing to the tribe tune any more, new ways must be found to divide us so that we don’t have the luxury of looking at a leader’s qualities. They have been trying ageism but that too doesn’t seem to be working. Young people have been asked to vote only for young leaders but they are - if opinion polls are anything to go by - not listening.
In the run-up to the 2007 elections, Mvita constituency ODM-Kenya candidate Taib Ali Taib’s strategy was to play up ODM leader Raila Odinga’s close ties with the West. He’d tell the people of Mombasa not to vote for a party whose leader was with them during the day but would be with the Americans at night. This is a manifestation of the frustration of the Prime Minister’s political opponents who wonder how he can eat his cake and still have it. They feel it is unfair for him to have the support of the Muslims, Christians and the West. The speculation that it is these politicians who staged those events to drive a wedge between the two “opposites” and to force the PM to commit to one side cannot be too far-fetched. What for example was PNU’s “Government Spokesman” Alfred Mutua’s role in the saga?
But what should worry us most is how easily we were manipulated into seeing our Kenyan brothers and sisters who profess the Muslim faith – and with whom we have lived in harmony for all the years we’ve been a nation - as the enemy. Maybe it is because we failed to acknowledge the fact that the Muslim population in Kenya is comprised of three – or even four – distinct racial/ethnic groups and whose historical, cultural, social, economic and political profiles are as diverse as their ethnicities.
The Swahili and Kenyans of Arab descent have expressed their resentment for the manner and rate at which the Somali have been acquiring property in not just the historically significant old town of Mombasa, but in the entire City of Mombasa. The Mijikenda at the Coast and pockets of indigenous African Muslims upcountry are very likely as miffed by the “Somali invasion” as the rest of us are.
Kenyan Muslims of South East Asian origin cannot be happy with the manner in which the Somali are busy upsetting the country’s economic order by using such less than legal means as gun running, printing of fake currency and documents, tax evasion, poaching and so on. A clear distinction must be made between the interests – and transgressions - of the Somali Community and those of the wider Muslim Community.
Before the sudden influx of illegal aliens from Somalia, the Muslim population in Kenya had never been associated with Al Qaeda, Al Shabab or any such other “Al.” We only begun to associate the Muslims in Kenya with the fundamentalist and radical versions of the faith when the Somalis came pouring in. Majority of the Somali who were born and brought up in Kenya also detest the presence of and activities of their kin from across the border. Certain traits similar to those of radical Muslim organizations that I saw in the Nation of Islam drove me back to Christianity and which, I am sure feel equally alien even to the Kenyan Somalis.
I was particularly concerned by the unnecessarily adversarial stance with which the Nation of Islam sought to confront “Zionism.” Many of its beliefs, dogmas and strategies were at variance with the teachings of the prophet and Islam which as I understood it, was a religion of peace. One other important lesson I drew from being a member of the Nation of Islam was that it is futile to attempt to address political issues using religion. On that note therefore, let us learn to isolate the chaff from the wheat instead of condemning the whole sack.
By Onyinkwa Onyakundi.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org