Kenyan Catholics Urge Support for Shari’ah Courts

The Catholic denomination in Kenya has urged the Council of Churches and all Christians in the country to support expanding powers of the Shari’ah courts under the new constitution.

The Catholic Parish said in a statement, a copy of which was obtained by, that Shari’ah courts were nothing new to Kenyan society and are enshrined by the constitution since the post-independence era.

“They neither sparked political nor sectarian tensions in the country,” it said.

The missive said that the move enhances peaceful co-existence between Kenyan Muslims and peoples of other faiths in the country, urging Christians not to listen to calls of restricting the role of Shari’ah courts.

“A negative reaction runs the risk of a fatal sectarian sedition in the country,” it warned.

There has been much controversy over a proposal to augment the powers of the Shari’ah courts in the amended constitution.

Christians strongly opposed the idea, arguing it would be an advantage to Muslims, discrimination against other religious communities and endangering of the country’s secular system.

Kenyan Muslims, for their part, fired back, saying Shari’ah courts are part and parcel of Kenyan history as they date back to one thousand years with the advent of Islam.

They maintain that their powers are only limited to personal and family matters like marriage, divorce and inheritance, which is an inalienable right under a constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion according to an international agreement signed by the government before the 1963 independence.

They also asserted that such courts would help resolve some disputes lingering on in courts.

No Threat

The statement further said that the move posed no threat to national security as claimed by some Christians.

“Make no mistake: Shari’ah courts never sowed seeds of sectarian sedition in a country characterized by remarkable religious tolerance. We must not let the West drive a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims,” it read.

Muslims make up 10 percent of Kenya ’s 32 million population. Some 45 percent are Protestant and33 percent Catholic.

The statement further hit out at “unfair” stereotypes against Muslims, which link them to terrorism.

It urged Christians to allay fears of their Muslim brothers in view of a series of anti-terror agreements singed recently by the government and the US administration.

A leading Kenyan Islamic body has called on the government to close anti-terrorism offices opened in cooperation with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in predominantly Muslim areas.

The CIA presence followed the 1998 bombing of the American embassy in Nairobi and a car bomb attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombassa, which killed 14 people.

After the 1998 bombing, many of Muslim houses were raided by the Kenyan police together with FBI agents.