6/4/2013 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Tanzania has seen a dramatic escalation in Christian persecution over the past seven months. Much of the violence has originated from the small island of Zanzibar, located off of Tanzania’s east coast. With a population that is almost 99 percent Muslim, Christians are a small minority on the island and easily targeted by extremist elements. With the Church on Zanzibar increasingly under attack, many are beginning to wonder if extremists are attempting to drive Christians off the island all together.
Persecuted Pastor Speaks About Persecution on Zanzibar
In an interview with ICC, Pastor Dickson, whose church on Zanzibar was attacked by extremists, helps shed light on the increased persecution of Christians on the island. “[The] attack at my church occurred on May 26, 2012,” Pastor Dickson said. “Radical Muslims, who are growing in number in Tanzania, set fire to my church building. They set fire to all of the chairs, musical equipment and our PA system,” the pastor explained. “They even [burned] our Bibles and set my car on fire.”
“I don’t exactly know why my church was targeted, but I think one reason is that my church congregation was growing very fast,” the pastor went on to say. “God has been using me mightily. Many people, including Muslims, have come for healing and some of them are converting to Christianity.”
“In general, there is an increased hatred of Christianity on the island now,” the pastor responded when asked about the recent increase in Christian persecution. “Attacks against churches have increased.”
“There have been other incidents. A young boy of about 22 years was jailed when he was falsely accused of burning a Quran. Two pastors have been killed in separate incidents,” the pastor continued.
“The reason behind this is an increase in the number of fundamentalist and radical elements in Zanzibar and Tanzania in general,” the pastor said. “In the case of Zanzibar, this is fueled by separatists who are advocating for the [island] to break away from the [mainland].” Separatists want to break away from Tanzania because many fundamentalist Muslims believe that being tied to the mainland is causing Zanzibar to become “Christianized.”
“It is very difficult to know who exactly is behind this [increase in persecution],” the pastor observed. “But it is obvious these people are well funded and they have strategized their campaign of persecuting Christians, aiming to their specific goals.”
A New Trend in Persecution
This testimony provides a personal element to the disturbing trend seen across Tanzania. Attacks on churches and the Christians who worship there have increased in both frequency and intensity. According to ICC’s source on the ground, the Anglican Church has recorded that at least six Christian girls were raped by Muslim extremists on the island of Zanzibar in the past couple of months.
“We are concerned that no one wants to speak about this [persecution],” said the Anglican bishop of Zanzibar. “Sometimes Christians on Zanzibar are treated as second-class citizens. We need the cries of these [persecuted ones] to be heard and helped. The aim of the attacks [on these girls] is to shake [their] Christian faith,” the bishop went on to explain.
Violent attacks against Christians aren’t limited to the island of Zanzibar. In February, two Christian pastors, Pastor Mathayo Kachili and Father Evarist Mushi, were brutally murdered by extremists. These incidents took place within six days of each other, separated by hundreds of miles. On May 5, the opening service of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church was violently brought to an end when a bomb was tossed into the crowded church from the street.
Although the number of Christian deaths has been relatively low in comparison to countries like Nigeria, where over 900 Christians were killed in 2012, the fact that the number of these violent incidents are increasing is disturbing. Much of the violence continues to flow out of Zanzibar, including a threatening text message sent to many Christian leaders after Father Evarist Mushi was killed. “We thank our young men, trained in Somalia, for killing an infidel. Many more will die. We will burn homes and churches. We have not finished: at Easter, be prepared for disaster.” Though no attacks took place over the Easter holiday, many Christians on Zanzibar are still afraid to attend church regularly and are beginning to wonder if abandoning the island would be their safest option.