Kenyan Churches Protest Shari'a, Abortion, Same-Sex Marriage

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Church leaders in Kenya are unhappy that increased recognition is to be given to Islamic (shari'a) law in a new constitution due to be adopted in the East African country next year.

They are also unhappy that the draft constitution aims to allow for abortion and same-sex marriages, which are banned under the present constitution. In this respect, they have the support of Muslim religious leaders.

Under the current constitution, "Kadhi's courts" administering shari'a law for Kenyan Muslims are a division of the national law administration hierarchy, without a proper structure of their own.

Kadhi is the name given in Kenya to a religious official of a shari'a courts.

Their courts currently deal only with matters of personal law, such as marriage and succession disputes, and are located only in areas with a predominantly Muslim population.

As such, not all Muslims have access to these courts.

Drafters of the new constitution want to integrate shari'a law fully into the constitution and establish a clear structure for its administration, including Kadhi's courts at a district and provincial level, along with a Kadhi's Court of Appeal.

The draft proposes that the Chief Kadhi's judge should have the status and privileges as a High Court judge.

Christian leaders say the new constitution should unite Kenyans and not divide them along religious lines.

Another concern relates to funding for the new court structure.

"The Muslim community should fund the administration of their legal system because they cannot expect Christian taxpayers to fund what is not relevant to them," said Fr. Emmanuel Ngugi of the Catholic Nairobi Holy Family Basilica.

Muslim leaders say they are hoping to introduce shari'a law in Kenya, as is the case in Nigeria, where certain regions are exclusively governed under Islamic law. In that country, the move has led to tensions and conflict between Christians and Muslims.

"All we are trying to seek is a more defined administration procedure of Islamic law. The whole purpose of this is to make life easier for everyone in Kenya," said Ahmed Khalifa, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.

Another issue of concern to some Kenyans is whether the envisaged expanded network of Kadhi's courts will deal only with personal disputes, or be extended to deal with criminal matters too.

Criminal prosecutions under shari'a law are usually controversial because the law provides for punishments such as stoning to death and amputation of limbs.

About 10 percent of Kenya's 30 million people are Muslims, 45 percent are Protestants, 33 percent Roman Catholics, and 12 percent profess indigenous or other beliefs.

While the shari'a issue threatens to divide Christians and Muslims, leaders from both faiths are united in their concern about changes in the draft constitution to restrictions on abortion and same-sex marriages.

"This is an African state and such rights are against the African traditions," said Ngugi, the Catholic cleric.

"The rights to being a gay or a lesbian will lead to moral decay," he said, adding that abortion "is not allowed in the Bible or the Koran."

"The draft constitution is promoting a society that does not have traditions, and this is putting religion in danger."

Under the current constitution, same-sex marriages are illegal, while abortions are only permitted for the preservation of the mother's life.

The draft constitution was initially to be adopted by a constitutional assembly before the end of the year, but because of general elections being held on Dec. 27, the assembly's sitting has been postponed until next year.

How soon into the new year that will happen will depend on the willingness of the new government to push through the constitutional review process.

The main feature of the draft constitution is a proposal to trim massive presidential powers and establish an office of the prime minister to run the government.