Muslim and Christian leaders meeting in Mombasa on Thursday failed to break an impasse over the inclusion of kadhi’s courts in a new constitution.
The participants at a one-day forum organised by Coast Interfaith Council of Clerics were split down the middle, with Christians digging in their heels against the inclusion of the courts in the constitution while Muslims declared the issue was non-negotiable.
The Coast branch chairman of National Council of Churches of Kenya, Bishop Pius Kagwe, said Christians became wary about including the kadhi’s courts in the constitution after the September 11, 2001, terror bombings in the United States.
He said the perception most Christians had was that the courts would propagate extremism, leading to anarchy.
“This issue started immediately after the 2001 bombings in America and many Christians fear a similar situation in this country,” he said.
Evangelical Association of Kenya preacher Erick Simiyu said using taxpayers’ money to run the courts was favouring Islam.
He said other religions did not get handouts from the national budget.
“Christians are being taxed to run kadhi’s courts and pay their salaries, which is unfair,” he said.
Bishop Jembe wa Mumba of the East Africa Pentecostal Church said Christians solved their marriage and divorce disputes in their churches and Muslims should do the same.
“We use our churches to resolve marriage and divorce cases and Muslims should follow suit,” he said.
Supreme Council of Kenya Muslim Coast branch chairman Sheikh Mukhtar Khitamy reproached the Christian leaders, saying the courts only handled disputes between Muslims and should not be interfered with. Warning that the debate could degenerate into anarchy, he said Muslims would not tolerate further oppression.
Sheikh Khitamy said Muslims had tolerated many historical injustices but the kadhi’s courts issue would determine future relations between Christians and Muslims.
“For the sake of peace, review your hardline stand against these important courts as we are already sitting on a volcano,” he said.
Sheikh Mwinyi Ali of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya said the kadhi’s courts could not be dismissed offhand as they dealt with crucial matters pertaining to Muslims. The Chief Kadhi, Sheikh Hammad Kassim, said Christians raised most of the issues out of ignorance.
He disputed claims that the courts were to blame for growing extremism in parts of the world.
“People with hidden agendas misinterpret sharia law to support their causes. Sharia governs Muslims on various issues including environment conservation and relationships between married couples,” he said.
Sheikh Kassim denied the courts were gobbling public funds, saying they fall under the High Court and there was little expenditure on salaries.
“It is not true that we consume huge sums of public funds. Muslims are also taxed but they do not complain that their money is spent on state parties where wine is taken.”
Despite the heated arguments, the clerics agreed to continue with consultations.