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PERSONAL CHOICES

Respect freedom of religion and belief

It is the cornerstone of all other rights and freedoms.

In Summary

• Religion is between an individual and their God. It is never between different persons or each other.

• Forcing an individual to a certain way of worship itself contradicts the concept of belief.

Freedom of religion and belief is one of the fundamental human rights recognised under international law. It is the basis and foundation of all rights as it is anchored on the very notion of consciousness and belief.

An individual’s every action is based on their belief in what they are doing. We all go out of the way to exercise and enjoy our rights because we believe that we have those rights. The freedom of religion and belief, therefore, is the cornerstone of all other rights and freedoms.

This week, billions of Muslims across the world and millions in Kenya marked the end of Ramadhan and celebrated Eid ul Fitr - loosely translated as the Festival of Feast.

During this Eid, many joined families, relatives and friends to thank God for seeing them through the holy month of Ramadhan safe and sound. Eid was also celebrated to share with the poor and needy and to remember the less fortunate in the society. In all towns across Kenya, there was joy and happiness in homes, mosques and entertainment joints as Muslims celebrated Eid.

Despite the joy and happiness all around, there was the ever-controversial issue of when the actual day of Eid was. There were those who celebrated Eid upon the announcement of sighting of the moon by Saudi Arabia and there were those who celebrated Eid upon the sighting of the moon in Kenya itself.

Freedom of religion and belief dictates that each person be allowed to worship what they want. Religion is about self-consciousness. Whether an individual feels like worshipping a tree or a rock or nothing for that matter, that is their personal decision, which should not be interfered with.

For years, this has been the age-old debate amongst Muslims in Kenya that has seen the Umma divided on when to start fasting Ramadhan and when to end Ramadhan for Eid celebrations. This year again, Eid was celebrated on two different days.

Freedom of religion and belief dictates that each person be allowed to worship what they want. Religion is about self-consciousness. Whether an individual feels like worshipping a tree or a rock or nothing for that matter, that is their personal decision, which should not be interfered with.

So even on matters of a certain religion, a person should be allowed to believe in what is right and what is wrong to their personal satisfaction. Religion is between an individual and their God. It is never between different persons or each other.

That is why it is saddening to note that in Mombasa this week, Haki Africa received complaints about youth attacking each other with pangas over the issue of when to celebrate Eid. The attack led to at least three persons getting injured and hospitalised at the Coast General Hospital.

All religions, including Islam, denounce forcing others into worshipping in a certain manner. It is wrong for any person to want to force another into practising religion in a specific manner. Religion is about belief. Forcing an individual to a certain way of worship itself contradicts the concept of belief.

Despite the widespread debate on when to celebrate Eid, the general Muslim population must be commended for keeping peace and not harming each other over the controversial issue. Those who choose to use the global moon have done so without qualms and those who have chosen to use the local moon have also done so without fear.

Although it would have been best for all to agree and move as one, it is commendable that in general, peace is maintained and celebrations are always full of love, care and compassion.

The onus now is on the Muslim religious leaders to unite and lead Muslims as one. As leaders of their communities, Sheikhs, Imams and Ustadhs owe it to their God, themselves and their followers to make attempts to unite their people.

While there is nothing wrong with Muslims marking Eid on whichever day they deem fit, it is better when they unite and do so as one. The continued division is an indication of weak leadership and all attempts should be made to support unity and agreement on special days of the religion.

For Haki Africa, we call on the international community to recognise the importance of freedom of religion and belief by setting a day in the calendar to mark international day of religion and belief. This will fortify the importance of religion to mankind and ensure continued strengthening of the right to religion and belief.