Moderate sheikh murdered in Kenya in latest of high-profile killings

Chairman of the Council of Imams and Preachers, Sheikh Mohammed Idris, was shot dead in Mombasa (PHOTO: Assist News)

Originally published in Assist News 

Sheikh Mohammed Idris, chairman of the Council of Imams and Preachers and previous leader of Mombasa’s Sakina Mosque, was assassinated by unknown gunmen on his way to morning prayers on June 10.

According to a news release from human rights organisation Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Sheikh Idris was pronounced dead at 5am on June 10 at Pandaya Hospital. He was buried on the same day, following a service in the Sakina Mosque where he served as an imam for 35 years. His funeral was attended by thousands of mourners, including prominent political and religious leaders.

Sheikh Idris was a leading critic of religious extremism and the radicalization of youth in Mombasa by certain religious leaders, and respected nationally for promoting peace and understanding between different faiths.

The Sheikh was forcibly removed as chairman of the Sakina Mosque after radicalized youths stormed evening prayers in Nov. 2013, took over the service, and renamed it Mujahedeen mosque. According to Sheikh Ali Mwinyi, imam of the mosque Sheikh Idris was attending, his life was under threat and he had been changing locations in the Lakini area for some time. CSW said Sheikh Idris’ death follows a series of high profile assassinations of clerics in Mombasa.

In August 2013, the controversial radical preacher Aboud Rogo Mohammed was killed by gunmen, while his equally hardline successor, Sheikh Ibrahim Isamil, was gunned down in a similar manner in October 2013.

In April 2014, Abubakar Shariff Ahmed, another radical hard-liner who described the al Shabaab attack on Westgate Shopping mall in Nairobi as “100 percent justified,” was also killed by unknown gunmen.

On each occasion the killings lead to violent protests. However, Sheikh Idris was the first moderate cleric to be assassinated, indicating a shift and possible escalation in tactics by radical elements in the area.

CSW said that in a tribute to Sheikh Idris, President Uhuru Kenyatta said he “was at the forefront in the fight against the radicalization of the youth and therefore his death is a big blow to the country’s efforts to stop religious extremism.”

Christian Solidarity Worldwide Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in the news release, “Our sincere condolences go out to Sheikh Idris’ family and colleagues at the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya. The targeting of this influential and moderate religious leader is a loss not only to Mombasa, but to the nation as a whole.’

He added, “We urge the Government of Kenya to ensure his killers are brought to justice and to address robustly the root causes of the religious violence which threatens to undermine national security and rule of law, so as to ensure the full enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief for all citizens.”

Christian Solidarity Worldwide works for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

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