A constitutional vote in Kenya could end Muslim courts

By July 9, 2010

Kenya (MNN) — Some are calling it "Islamophobia." Some believe it's a prudent move as radical Islam is on the march. Whatever the case, Kenyans will be going to the polls August 4 for a constitutional referendum that could affect Muslims around the country.

Currently there are 17 Islamic Courts in Kenya that administer sharia, or Islamic law, in civil matters for Kenya's Muslim minority. They've been acknowledged by Kenya's constitution for years.

However, Director of Media Development for Voice of the Martyrs Todd Nettleton says Christians there are asking important questions. "Do we want Muslims to have a separate court system in our country? Is that a good thing? Does that promote radicalism? Does it promote peace? The people of Kenya are really looking hard at this issue as they approach this referendum on August the 4th."

While the courts only apply to civil matters like marriage, divorce, and other similar cases, Nettleton says many in the country are concerned it will expand with Islam's growth, especially when they see what's happened in Somalia. "They see the anarchy that has grown up there around the issues of sharia law as Islamic radicals have taken control of that country. They say, 'We don't want to go there. Is this Islamic court system a step in that direction? And if it is, we don't want to go in that direction.'"

While Kenya is a secular state, some believe allowing Islamic Courts — civil or otherwise — equals state-sponsored religion.

Nettleton says this division could cause difficulty with outreach. "There [are] very clear lines of demarcation being drawn with Muslims on one side and Christians often on the other side. That could have a tendency to make the Muslims stronger in their position — maybe a little harder to reach."

Many around the world wonder if this could send the country into more political violence, similar to what happened following a country-wide vote in 2008.

Nettleton isn't so sure that will happen. "Much of the violence in 2008 was around ethnic and tribal lines, rather than around religious lines. Is it possible that could happen? Yes, but I think it's too early to say."

He's urging Christians to pray for peace in the lead up to and following the election. Nettleton is also encouraging people to pray for evangelism efforts that are going on in Kenya. "There is a significant mission field there to reach into the Muslim community and share the Gospel and share the LOVE of Christ and to show that love and demonstrate it in practical ways."

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