By BosNewsLife Africa Service
ZANZIBAR, TANZANIA (BosNewsLife)-- Christians on the predominantly Muslim islands of Pemba and the Comoros archipelago faced another tense day Monday, December 8, amid fresh reports that believers have been beaten, detained and banished for their faith.
Christian news agency Compass Direct News quoted church leaders traveling to the region, off the east coast of Africa, as.saying they fear for the "the survival of Christianity on Pemba and the Comoros", with fewer than 300 Christians in a combined population of 1.1 million people.
Leaving Islam for Christianity is reportedly one of the main reasons why Christians are increasingly persecuted, following the conversion in August of Sheikh Hijah Mohammed, who was leader of a key mosque in Chake-Chake, capital of Pemba.
Pemba, with about 300,000 people, is part of Tanzania, while the Union of the Comoros is a nation unto itself of about 800,000.
HUNTING FOR MOHAMMED
News of Mohammed’s conversion spread and Muslims began hunting for him as leaving Islam warrants death under their strict interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law. An Assemblies of God Church in Pemba reportedly initially moved him to a hideout in the village of Chuini, 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the airport, before moving him to an undisclosed destination after his whereabouts were leaked.
Others suspected to have converted from Islam to Christianity face travel restrictions and confiscation of travel documents, while missionaries are expelled, local Christians said.
In one recent incident this year, a missionary from the Comoros was deported after authorities discovered he was conducting Friday prayer meetings. "The police broke into the prayer meeting, ransacked the house and found the Bibles which we had hidden before arresting us," Compass Direct News quoted a source as saying on condition of anonymity. "We were detained for three months."
Among others targeted was a 25-year-old Christian, whose passport was reportedly confiscated hisin July at a time when he attempted to leave the country to pursue theological studies in Tanzania.
LAW STUDENT "BEATEN"
Law student Musa Kim from Comoros, who left Islam to receive Christ nine months ago, was allegedly beaten by family members with sticks and blows, and they even burned his clothes. Neighbors rescued him, and Christian friends rented him a house at a secret location while his wounds healed. On October 15, however, Muslim islanders discovered his hideout and razed the house he was renting, Compass Direct News quoted him as saying. Asked if he reported the case to the police, Kim reportedly said: "No – reporting these people will get you into more trouble."
Muslim traders from the Persian Gulf first settled in this region early in the 10th century, after monsoon winds propelled them through the Gulf of Aden and Somalia. Pemba and the Comoros are part of the Zanzibar archipelago, which united with Tanganyika to form the present day Tanzania in 1964.
This uneasy merger, with island Muslims seeing Christianity as the means by which mainland Tanzania would dominate them, has stoked tensions ever since, according to church observers.
A large Arab community in the Comoros, the world’s largest producer of cloves, originally came from Oman. The population consists of Arabs and native Waswahili inhabitants. The Comorian constitution provides for freedom of religion, though it is routinely violated. Islam is the legal religion for the Comoros people, and anyone found to be practicing a different religion faces persecution, according to rights watchers.
CHRISTIANS BEING MONITORED
One Zanzibar Christian was quoted as saying that Comoros has turned into a "horrifying environment for one to practice Christianity," adding that it was not long after his arrival to the main island that he realized he was being monitored. He cut short his trip early last month.
"I planned to take three different taxis to the airport" to evade authorities, he said. "But thank God on that day I met a Catholic priest who gave me a lift together with some Tanzanian soldiers to the airport," the Christian said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Christian left the island quickly even though he had been issued a professional visa for 45 days. In late October, a contact had warned him that Comoros authorities were looking for him as one of the island’s "most wanted" persons, Compass Direct News said.
In May 2006 four men in the Comoros were sentenced to prison for three months for involvement with Christianity. There has long been widespread societal discrimination against Christians, but this level of persecution had not been reported in the Comoros since the late 1990s, according to church observers.
Officials were not immediately available for comment.