[Anglican Communion News Service] When Muslim bus passengers thwarted an attempt by Al Shabaab terrorists to single out and massacre Christian passengers in Kenya in December last year, they not only saved lives, but they may have also “given terrorism-weary Kenyans new inspiration to defy Al Shabaab and pursue peace,” the new issue of the Christian Muslim News Digest, produced by the Anglican Communion’s Network for Interfaith Concerns (NIFCON) suggests.
“Al Shabaab has been at war with Kenya since 2011 when Kenyan forces crossed into Somalia, partnering with the Somali military to fight the terrorist organization,” the digest reports. “Successive retaliation attacks have intensified over the past two years and Al Shabaab has been responsible for hundreds of deaths in Kenya, often singling out non-Muslims.
The day after the incident Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery said heroic Muslims who stood by the Christians ‘showed the terrorists cannot separate us using religion [and] cannot cause a religious war’ in Kenya.
“The same day, Adan Wachu, General Secretary for the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, made a similar statement and called upon ‘all Kenyans to emulate the stand of the Madera bus Muslims [in order to] be each other’s true keepers,’ the digest reports. “Eldoret Diocese Catholic Bishop Cornelius Korir also made a public statement, describing the incident as an excellent example of Muslims and Christians partnering to ‘fight tribalism and [extremist] doctrines’ that could plunge the ‘whole world into interdenominational war’.
“Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta connected the event to the Christmas holiday. He said ‘the Christmas story is a story of a family’ and called for unity and brotherhood among Kenyans of different religions, races, and communities. He praised the unselfish acts of those who ‘stood with their Christian compatriots against attackers’, saying ‘This is the Kenyan spirit that we must uphold and honour.’”
The digest says that, in the attack, “Al Shabaab militants sprayed a Mandera-bound bus with bullets, killing two people and injuring three others. When the gunmen boarded the bus and attempted to single out Christian passengers, the Muslims refused to split away from the Christians and some even gave them their religious attire so they would not be easily identified. Eventually the militants gave up and fled the scene.”
The digest also looks at a number of joint events held to mark the rare coming together – it last happened in 1852 – of Christmas and Mawlid al-Nabi – the Islamic celebration of Muhammad’s birthday.
“The doctrinal and liturgical arguments around these festivals are significant, and – particularly among Muslims – they both reveal and consolidate major fault lines within faith communities,” the Bishop of Woolwich, the Rt Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave, says in a commentary published in the Digest. “But the co-celebration of two great devotional currents is also significant. This is a genuine calendrical co-incidence: rather than being manufactured as a project to bring Christians and Muslims together, it arises from the established patterns by which the life of the faith traditions are organised.”
NIFCON produces the Christian Muslim Digests to report on areas where Anglicans and Muslims regularly encounter one another.
“The dark trickle of horror stories that emanates from so-called Isis and their affiliates, and the broad torrent of accounts of inhuman dignities suffered by the millions fleeing from Syria tend to obliterate impressions of Islam as a religion of compassion and peace,” Professor David Thomas, the Nadir Dinshaw Professor of Inter Religious Relations at the University of Birmingham, said. “But the two reports and accompanying reflections in the current issue of The Christian-Muslim Digest should serve as reminders that the majority of Muslims seek to follow the way of peace and mutual tolerance and to challenge wrong where they see it.
“The humanity of Muslims is brought out here, showing the faith has a wealth of resources that Isis members could not imagine.”