Attacks Shouldn’t Pit Christians vs Muslims
If all al Shabaab or their sympathisers are responsible for the July 1 attack on two churches in Garissa where 17 worshippers died and over 60 were injured, then this would go down as the militant group’s most audacious and deadliest retaliatory attack on Kenyan soil. As security officers try to piece together what happened and who was behind this heinous attack, I want to join other Kenyans in sending my most prayerful condolences to the families of those who perished or were injured.
But as we condemn this senseless attack on innocent people who had presented themselves before the mercy of God in prayer, there is a growing feeling, and justifiably so, that some people might be intending to cleanse Garissa of people from other parts of the country. All similar attacks in Garissa since Kenya sent her troops into Somalia bear the signature of militants killing in the name of Islam. But as a Muslim myself, I ask whether Islam permits shedding of innocent blood in the name of defending the faith?
The answer is a big ‘NO’, and that is why all right-thinking Muslims should join their counterparts from other faiths in standing up against people who kill innocent people in the name of religion. The term ‘Islam’ itself means peace. Those who attacked churches in Garissa cannot claim to have done so in the name of Islam because Islam abhors violence.
The Koran, the holy book of Islam, says, “There is no compulsion in religion, for guidance and error have been clearly distinguished, so whoever refuses to be led by those who transgress and believes in Allah, has surely grasped a strong handle — one which knows no breaking.” (2:256).
I have cited this verse because it looks like those who call themselves Muslims and persecute other people in the name of Islam seem to be totally ignorant of the essence of religion. This verse teaches Muslims that once truth (religion) is known, it is our choice to accept or reject it — hence Muslims have no obligation to impose their religion on anyone.
It is surprising that anyone could possibly still think that Islam supports the use of force. Indeed the last line of chapter 109 of the Koran sums up the basic principle of true religion, saying; “…for you, your religion and for me, my religion.” There is absolutely no reason for Muslims and Christians to become enemies because of religious differences.
However we also need to be critical about the capacity of our security apparatus to deal with this threat. When one reviews eye-witness accounts of what happened in the Garissa attacks, it seems someone is sleeping on the job or is simply not interested in doing the job effectively. Garissa is a garrison town and hosts a military barracks just 500 metres from the AIC church that was attacked by masked men and where majority of casualties occurred.
Given that the grenades hauled into the church did not explode, the attackers must have resorted to high calibre firearms. To kill 17 people and maim more than two dozen others, the attackers must have fired more than 1000 bullets fired from rifles like AK 47s or G3s, and the attack must also have lasted well over 10 minutes.
How could security officers at the nearby military camp or police station fail to hear the sound of sustained gunfire? If they heard the gunfire, did it not occur to them, as people trained in the use of firearms, to find out what was happening? If there was proper coordination among our security apparatus, military personnel from the barracks could have responded promptly. Instead we left criminals to have a field day killing innocent worshippers.
Al Shabaab or their sympathizers are the main suspects in the Garissa attack but it is also important for us to think outside the box. What if the attack had nothing to do with al Shabaab as unconfirmed but persuasive intelligence reports seem to suggest? We are headed towards a very competitive general election with very high political stakes. And given the political undercurrents in Garissa county, politics of clanism are rearing their ugly head. And since politics is a game of numbers, some people could be out to ensure that communities that provide the swing vote are expelled.
Many non-indigenous people, who bore the brunt of the said attacks, have already started fleeing from the ‘dangerous zones’. Many more people are likely to flee for fear of vicitimisation before the anticipated crackdown by security forces. This will displace many voters with the capacity to change the political arithmetic of Garissa politics.
This is food for thought, and that is why our security agencies should be open-minded and prove to Kenyans that they are equal to the task. The ease with which the attackers executed their mission is very worrying — the attackers must have been people who knew the town very well, and that is why they vanished in broad daylight.
The writer is the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance and Deputy Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.(SUPKEM).