Mathew Limo* from Zanzibar:

“They want to convert my children to Islam”

Mathew Limo knows what to expect when he goes to church with his family. On the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, where 98 % of the population is Muslim, Christians are given the cold shoulder. The past year has been characterized by renewed violence against Christians. So far the violence remains aimed at religious, but the teacher has a great fear: that his wife and children may be forced to convert to Islam.

Church attendance

“If we go to church on Sunday, we have to go through a crowd of people who often try to intimidate us,” Limo explained to Aid to the Church in Need. “We have a relatively large parish, about four hundred people. Of these, usually two hundred come to Mass. But the houses around the church belong to Muslims. They often shout that we are fools to go to church or that our women are naked. In fact, the Muslim women are all covered from head to toe.” He himself does not feel intimidated, “but a lot of comments are directed towards our women and children.”

Murder of priests

Christians on the island have become even more cautious since a wave of violent attacks on churches and persons started in December of 2012. A Catholic priest and Protestant pastor have been killed and another priest shot and wounded sparking widespread fears among the Christian community. The Catholic priest Fr. Evarist Mushi (55) was shot to death with three bullets upon arriving in his car at the entrance of St. Joseph’s Cathedral to celebrate Sunday Mass. Fr. Ambrose Mkenda sustained serious injuries in a subsequent ambush. The perpetrators are still at large and according to many Christians, local police have sometimes obstructed the investigation distorting evidence at the crime scene. According to Limo the perpetrators are to be found among the inhabitants of Zanzibar: “They’re not outsiders, but local people who have been radicalized and have even been trained by Al – Shabab”. The Islamist terrorist organization is closely linked to the religious group Uamsho (Awake), which seeks the establishment of an independent Islamic state on Zanzibar.

Fear of conversion

Limo still feels safe enough to leave home and travel. “If there are elections, like next year, the atmosphere is often explosive. On the street, people try to embarrass you or to make you angry. In periods like that I come home early and do not go out in the evening.” He explains that although this is not the case at the moment, he still worries about his children. “At home we try to encourage and to teach them a love for Christ and the Church. But we are insecure about what others do. We often hear stories about Muslims trying to convert children. Sadly enough we need to tell our children to be careful in building friendships with Muslim children.”

(*For security reasons the names have been changed.)