Wijsen & Frans – Seeds of Conflict

Wijsen, Frans and Bernadin Mfumbusa. Seeds of Conflict – Religious Tensions in Tanzania. Paulines
Publications, 2004 booklet, 88 pages, –

This Occasional Paper presents both research and reflection on the fundamentalist crisis in
Tanzania over the past 25 years. Newspaper and questionnaire analysis (of 250 responses in both
urban and rural areas) have been combined with an attempt to explain the situation as it is from a
historical, political and religious point of view. Special attention is given to the mainland towns of
Mwanza, Dodoma, Kondoa, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar island. Exploring some missionary and
expansionist trends in Islam both past and present then leads to a final evaluation and
recommendations for the future. To pack all this into 17 brief chapters within the space of less
than 70 pages demands a high level of brevity from the authors.

As one who has lived in East Africa throughout most of the period described one is impressed by
the vivid description of various eruptions of religious intolerance during the 90s reaching its tragic
peak during the 2001 demonstrations on Zanzibar island were 29 people were killed in clashes
between police and rioters. The role of the media is highlighted in several chapters. Not surprising
the use of the media is listed as one of nine strategies in promoting Islam. Interestingly, another
one is “Influencing Manners” that is propagating Islam through socio-cultural means such as
“promotion of wearing hijab (face covering) for women, banning pork and alcohol being sold in
areas where the majority is Muslim. In short, Arabisation is seen in clothing styles and Islamic
rituals in food and drinks.

The description of Islamic Organisations and Movements, although brief, is quite useful to
understand the dynamics of Islam in Tanzania, whereas the chapter on “Revivalism and
Modernization in Islam” attempts too much in trying to describe the pluralist or secularist
movements in Indonesia, Tunisia and Turkey along with the founders of various Islamic
movements (Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Shah Aga Khan III, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Abu’l-Ala Maududi,
Hasan al-Banna).

In the concluding two chapters the two Catholic authors amiably try to show fairness to Muslims’
complaints and grievances while pointing out the dire consequences of denied justice, whether
real or imagined, as witnessed during the genocide in Rwanda. One appreciates the call for a
“better understanding among Christians for the basic principles that underlie the Muslim attitude
towards Christians”, but notes with utter unbelief the more than generous characterization of
Ahmed Deedat, founder of the Islamic Propagation Center, Durban, South Africa, as one who
“dedicated his life to defend Islam from distortions of Christian missionaries.”

The authors’ hope, as expressed in the introduction “to move beyond a Christian perspective by
real empathy and sympathy with Islamic concerns” clearly shows in some of their final
recommendations such as “affirmative action in favour of Muslims should be taken”, “a
comparative theology should be constructed, both from a Christian and a Muslim point of view” or
“promoting common ideals and practices by praying and fasting together”. It is hard to imagine
that either Catholic or Protestant Christians reading this booklet would be eager to heed these
recommendations.

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Categories: Book Reviews and Reviews by Walter Eric.