Religious split: Why its a big lie Saturday, 22 January 2011 22:43 By Bernard James The Citizen Reporter Dar es Salaam. There is a growing concern that the religious harmony, peace and tranquillity the country has enjoyed for decades in a region ravaged by civil strife, could be under grave threat.However, interviewed by The Citizen on Sunday, some academicians and social commentators dismissed as political machinations, what some see as signs of emerging divisions between Christian and Muslim leaders.There are two schools of thought on what may be stoking the apparent intolerance, though both sides agree about the need to take immediate steps to stamp out any inkling of religious animosity and maintain national unity. While some blame religious leaders for the souring of ties between the faiths, others argue that the culprits are the politicians, deepening poverty that has led to a social class struggle and general leadership failure on the part of the State. A cross section of religious leaders, politicians, academicians and ordinary citizens interviewed overwhelmingly agreed that Tanzanians, who have co-existed peacefully since Independence nearly 50 years ago, irrespective of their different religions, ethnic groups and other factors, were being pushed into an arena fraught with danger. Dar es Salaam Catholic Archdiocese auxiliary bishop Eusebius Nzigilwa and the national chairman of the Civic United Front (CUF), Prof Ibrahim Lipumba, said they were concerned about the increasing friction between the faiths. But the Chama Cha Mapinduzi Secretary General, Mr Yusuf Makamba, said the matter should be left to the religious leaders themselves to address. They know about countries that have plunged into unrest due to religious intolerance. We have a committee of sheikhs and bishops. They will sort out these things themselves, he added. Mr Makamba said Tanzanians were clever enough not to let a few self-centred religious leaders play with the countrys peace and harmony. Since the run-up to the October 31 General Election, sheikhs and bishops have taken opposite sides in intense public debate, raising concern about a looming religious conflict. Some religious leaders have been accused of supporting certain presidential candidates on purely religious grounds, and the divisions have been even more manifest following shooting dead by police of three people during a demonstration by Chadema in Arusha two weeks ago in protest against the citys mayoral election. Following the killings, the Arusha branch of the Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT) issued a statement condemning the incident and vowed not to recognise and cooperate with the citys mayor from CCM, whose election Chadema had opposed over alleged irregularities. The statement sparked off waves of criticism by top Muslim clerics and intellectuals, who strongly accused the bishops of meddling in politics and undermining state authority. An academic, Prof Eginald Mihanjo, of St John University in Dodoma (see comment pg 2), says the religious divisions are a manifestation of the disharmony among the key ideological components and instruments of a working state. The core factor, he argues, is economic base of the people. The state is the organiser, force or provider for the community development, welfare, security, and freedom. If it fails to do so for many reasons it is weak - so the class, leadership and ideology is weak and that vacuum will be filled by other classes and ideologies including religion and religious leaders, he said. Prof Mihanjo says poverty creates a conducive environment for religious ideologies and leaders to rally behind the disadvantaged groups. He sees a real threat to national unity if the state does not properly play its rightful role. Chadema Secretary General Willibrod Slaa said it was wrong for the sheikhs and bishops to have a go at one another over issues that should instead unite them. The opposition leader, who was defeated by President Jakaya Kikwete in last years election, accused the government of inaction, claiming it was hiding its leadership weaknesses in the perceived religious conflicts. What you see today is an indication of a leadership vacuum. See the examples of Somalia, India or Pakistan. The problem is not with religious leaders but with inactive governments, said Dr Slaa. The former Karatu MP accused irresponsible religious leaders of blowing the divisions out of proportions. Anything that goes with emotions is illogical. We shall regret by playing with peoples emotions for political ends. The Muslim Council of Tanzania could not be reached for comment the whole week and were yesterday said to be in a daylong meeting. However, a week ago, a group of Muslims issued a statement in which they accused bishops of playing politics over the CCM and Chadema standoff in Arusha. Top Muslim intellectuals, who accused the bishops of meddling in politics and undermining state authority, also condemned the Arusha debacle. Religious leaders, leaders of major political parties and experts on inter-religious relations are now calling for President Kikwetes intervention to defuse the simmering tension. CUF leader Lipumba said: It is now crucial for the government, particularly the President to meet religious leaders and chart the way forward. It is time for him to show leadership. For his part, President Kikwete has repeatedly warned against what he said was growing religious intolerance. In his remarks following the hotly fought presidential election, he said that religious divisions had intensified during the campaigns. Bishop Nzigilwa said the Catholic Church would issue a statement, appealing to other religious leaders, politicians and ordinary Tanzanians to commit themselves to making the country a better place to live in. People make mistakes and defend them with force. But we cant make the world a better place by defending mistakes for personal interests. That is what is happening now, said Bishop Nzigilwa. We feel the level of mistrust among Tanzanians has grown to an alarming level. Expressing an opinion can today earn you unnecessary accusations. Your views can easily be interpreted to mean you are a puppet or you have been bribed to express them. We should let national interests and Gods glory guide us into making decisions, he said.