By Simba Tian – Compass News Direct
Muslim extremists on Saturday (July 30) burned down a church building on Zanzibar island off the coast of Tanzania, church leaders said, just three days after another congregation’s facility on the island was reduced to ashes.
In Fuoni on the south coast of Zanzibar (known locally as Unguja), Islamic extremists torched the building of the Evangelical Assemblies of God-Tanzania (EAGT) at around 2 p.m., said Pastor Leonard Massasa, who oversees Zanzibar’s EAGT churches. The assailants were shouting, “Away with the church – we do not want infidels to spoil our community, especially our children,” Pastor Massasa said.
The EAGT church is about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Zanzibar town.
“Tomorrow is Sunday, and my members numbering 40 will not have any place to worship,” Pastor Paulo Magungu of the Fuoni EAGT church said. With fear in his voice, the pastor added, “We have reported the case to the police station. I hope justice will be done.”
He reported the case at Fuoni police station immediately after it happened, he said.
In Kianga, about 10 kilometers (six miles) from Zanzibar town, another church building was burned down on Wednesday (July 27) at about 2 a.m., said Pastor George Frank Dunia of Free Evangelical Pentecostal Church in Africa. The fire destroyed 45 chairs.
“I have 36 members, and it will be very difficult for them to congregate tomorrow,” the pastor said on Saturday (July 30). “The members are afraid, not knowing what other plans the Muslims are out to do. We request prayers at this trying moment.”
Church officials have reported the case to the chief of Kianga, as well as to police.
Tanzania’s Zanzibar archipelago is 99.9 percent Muslim.
On neighboring Pemba island, suspected Muslim extremists in Konde on June 17 razed a Seventh-day Adventist Church building, a witness said.
“It was at 1 a.m. when I saw the church burning,” said a neighbor who requested anonymity. “There have been issues that the Muslims have been raising about the existence of the church.”
The Seventh-day church owns a large property near Chake-Chake town but has been unable to erect a building due to hostility from Muslims, sources said.
“If we do not stop the growth of the churches here in Pemba, then soon we are going to lose our people to Christianity, especially the children,” Sheikh Ibrahim Abdalla of Chake-Chake Mosque reportedly said.
The June 17 attack took place at about 1 a.m., the witness said. Konde is 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Chake-Chake town.
A case has been filed in Konde police station, but at press time no suspects had been arrested.
Tanzania Assemblies of God (TAG) Pastor Yohana Ari Mfundo said he has witnessed a series of attacks on Christians on Pemba island.
“It is even becoming extremely difficult for Christians to exercise their faith like praying or singing in a Muslim-owned rental house,” Pastor Mfundo said.
The pastor had bought a half-acre of land for a church building some three kilometers (nearly two miles) from Chake-Chake town, but when area Muslims learned of it they arranged for a road to be built through it, he said. The smaller size made it fit only for residential use. The road passing through the land today makes it impossible to erect a church building, he said.
Pastor Mfundo then bought another site, close to the town center, on which to construct a church building in 2005. After making the necessary agreements and payments, he had placed boundary markers on the site when he received a court injunction against beginning construction, on the pretext that the area was waterlogged. When Compass recently visited the site, there were other structures that had been built on the land supposedly too wet for construction, and new buildings were being erected.
“It is not true that the area is waterlogged, but a calculated move to stop the church being set up in this location,” Pastor Mfundo said. “We are here in Pemba because God wants us to be. But Muslims always point a finger at us – especially at my house, and we have been receiving several threats. But great is our God who is always ready to protect us.”
He added that Muslims have openly vowed in their meetings not to make friendship with “infidels.”
Another church building on top of a hill about 20 meters from the site where Pastor Mfundo wanted to build is also facing government obstruction. A court case challenges the existence of the Redeemed Gospel Church, said Pastor Yohana Shigalile, on the basis that the site was intended to be a burial site. Compass found only three graves there.
The church had reached an agreement of 20 million Tanzania shillings (US$12,750) with the seller to purchase the land, but Muslims have offered 50 million schillings, the pastor said, and therefore the land is likely to be sold for the construction of a mosque.
Pastor Mfundo said this is one example of how difficult it is to buy land for churches in Pemba.
Pemba has a population of about 500,000, and Zanzibar island’s population is estimated at 700,000. There are only 60 Christian congregations on the archipelago, according to Operation World.
Zanzibar is the informal designation for the island of Unguja in the Indian Ocean. The Zanzibar archipelago united with Tanganyika to form the present day Tanzania in 1964.
Muslim traders from the Persian Gulf had settled in the region early in the 10th century after monsoon winds propelled them through the Gulf of Aden. The 1964 merger left island Muslims uneasy about Christianity, seeing it as a means by which mainland Tanzania might dominate them, and tensions have persisted.