ICC NOTE: Zanzibar is an island in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of East Africa .
Radical Islam Finds Fertile Ground on African Island
By George Thomas
CBN News Sr. Reporter
For the full article go to: http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/world/060224a.asp
CBN.com STONETOWN, Zanzibar – At first glance, Zanzibar is a picture of paradise: the tropical weather, palm-fringed, white sand beaches, and spectacular views leave visitors feeling they have journeyed to the very edge of the Earth.
But this vision of an island paradise is only half the story. In recent years, another side to Zanzibar , often hidden to outsiders, has emerged: the face of radical Islam.
Islam’s roots along Africa ‘s east coast go back more than 1,000 years. Intelligence officials believe that the stretch of land from Sudan to this island off the coast of Tanzania is now fertile ground for fundamentalist militants.
Zanzibar ‘s shift towards radical Islam is led, in part, by Sheikh Azzani Khalid Hamdan.
He heads up a group that wants to turn Zanzibar into an Afghanistan-like island — the kind of island where Sharia law, which includes punishments like amputation, stoning and beheading, would be the law of the land.
“Sharia law is the basis of all law, Hamdan stated. It allows us to render judgment based on the Koran against those who don’t follow the laws of Allah.”
Fully 97 percent of Zanzibar ‘s population practices the Islamic faith. The remaining mix is a combination of Christian and Hindu. But Hamdan is not satisfied. He wants everyone to convert to Islam.
“It is our duty to spread Islam, and to especially try to convince the Christians to change their faith, Hamdan said. A man has the right to choose his religion, but once he is a Muslim, then he has lost that right. If he changes, under the laws of Sharia, he should be put to death.
While not all Muslims on the island share his radical ideology, a growing number are attracted to the allure of fanatical Islam.
Life for Zanzibar ‘s tiny Christian minority has become increasingly difficult, as a segment of this island’s Muslim population pushes for a stricter and more radical interpretation of Islamic law.
The Zanzibari constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but recent converts to Christianity in particular, feel the constitution cannot protect them.
One Christian convert named Juma said, “The Muslims are teaching people to hate Christians, that if you behead a Christian you will go to heaven. After I became a Christian, the Muslims excommunicated me.”
She added, ”They call me a Kafir, which means an infidel.”
Meanwhile, other Christians say they face constant threats– for example, just walking to church on Sunday morning.
“When I go to church, Muslim men along the way hurl abuses at me, said Christian convert Venessa. They call me an infidel. They call me a prostitute because I do not cover my face like other Muslim women do. Even the Muslim friends I have, told me that this island belongs to them and that Christians are not welcome.”
The hostility has gone far beyond insults and threats. In recent years, several churches have been attacked and burned down.
Rodney Lobow pastors a small church on the Island . “The people are made to believe that Christians should not worship in Zanzibar , because Zanzibar is Muslim,” Lobow said.
Lobow and others here worry that what is happening in Zanzibar is just part of a bigger agenda by radical Muslims to turn Africa into the first Islamic continent.
Despite the tensions, the tiny evangelical church in Zanzibar is growing. Dickson Kaganga has witnessed this first-hand, as pastor of one of the fastest growing churches on the island.
“There is a big revival all over the island,” he explained. Fueled in part, he says, by miracles.
Kaganga said, “Most of the miracles I’ve been seeing here are people being set free from demonic powers. I’ve seen people come here with deaf ears, and when you pray, you realize that there are demons that are oppressing them. So when we pray, they are being set free!”
And apparently, the healings are creating such a stir on the Island that even the Muslims are being drawn into the church services.
“The Muslims come to the service, stated Kaganga, and I have seen God healing them and setting them free.”
According to Kaganga, it is not only the miracle service that is bringing crowds, but also the sound of praise.
“Some are attracted by the music, the kind of music we are playing — and that way they listen to the message and they get saved,” he said.
But as the churches on the island grow, so does the hostility.
Hamdan said, “The biggest threat to our Islamic faith today is the influence of Christianity and Western culture.”
Yet in the face of persecution, Christians in Zanzibar say they will continue to spread the message of Christ.