ZANZIBAR, Tanzania, June 22, 2015 (Morning Star News) – Hard-line Muslims on the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania have driven a pastor and father of five into hiding and taken over his church’s rented worship hall, he said.
“I have changed my place of residence four times since 2012” due to threats from area Muslims, said Pastor Philemon, whose full name is withheld for security purposes.
Once a congregation of 100, his New Covenant Church has shrunk to 25 members. Intent on removing his church from the undisclosed area, the Muslims cajoled a landlord into renting the congregation’s worship hall to them before the term of church’s lease ended, the pastor said.
“The church faithful are so scattered,” he said. “Some members are always knocking at my door requesting a place for worship.”
The remaining members now rotate among their homes for worship. At times they discuss joining other churches.
The pastor said the church has identified a safe place for worship that would cost about $15,000, of which he already has already raised $5,000. Getting land for churches is difficult in Zanzibar, and initially he must purchase it as private property; were he to mention that it will be turned into a church building, the seller on the Muslim-majority island would decline to sell, he said.
While Tanzania’s population is 34.2 percent Muslim and 54 percent Christian, according to Operation World, the Zanzibar archipelago is more than 97 percent Muslim.
The pastor is helping to care for several converts from Islam who have fled their homes because of persecution, he said, and he has been struggling financially to help them and provide for his family. He is married with five children ranging in age from 6 to 16.
“We urgently request financial support from friends so that we can restore back our members to the fellowship,” he said.
Awash in Legal Costs
In Chukwani, outside Zanzibar City, hard-line Muslims have forced another church to incur monthly legal costs for eight years in an effort to take over its property, sources said.
Since 2007, pastor Amos Lukanula of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God has been battling area Muslims who obtained a court order to stop construction of his church building, asserting that the party that sold it to the church was not the rightful owner. The church has legal ownership papers.
The church is spending $100 dollars in legal charges every month for a monthly court hearing.
“The Muslims are waiting for the time when we shall fail to attend the court hearing, implying losing the case and subsequently having to pay a substantial amount of money,” Pastor Lukanula said.
Harun Gikaro Wanzo, a policeman from Musoma, Tanzania, had bought the land from Amina Binti Saleh and Saleh’s son, Sadik, and another relative in 2003, according to court documents. In 2004 Wanzo sold part of his land to the church, and construction of a worship building began immediately. After six months, however, the Muslims demolished the structure, saying it was located in a residential area.
The pastor then erected another temporary church structure despite the opposition, leading the leader of a mosque in Chukwani to tell him, “We do not want to see a church building here in Chukwani.”
The church prayed and fasted as building continued. But in 2007, the area Muslims demolished the structure under construction.
The pastor went to the land commission and paid the legal fees necessary for construction of a permanent church building, and permission was granted. When construction began, however, the area Muslims took the matter to court on Feb. 15, 2007. On Feb. 21, 2011, the court ruled in favor of the church.
The church continued with the construction, but after the death of Amina Binti Saleh, the seller of the property to Wanzo, the area Muslims and Saleh’s daughter, Jilubai Binti Saleh, filed another appeal to stop construction in 2011. The Muslims claimed that Saleh’s son, Sadik, was not the blood son of her late husband, Abdul Shakar, and hence did not have the right of ownership of the land that was sold to Christians. They held that Saleh’s daughter, Jilubai Binti Saleh, had been the rightful heir.
The church then hired a lawyer from mainland Tanzania, which has become an expensive monthly cost.
In 2009, Wanzo, the policeman who had bought the land from Saleh and sold it to the church, died, leaving his widow, Annah Philippo Barihuta, and seven children. In the church’s bid to show that her late husband had the right to sell the land to the church, the impoverished widow and her family have borne much of the costs of the court case.
Barihuta, a member of the church, risks losing all her land, including the part her late husband sold to the church.
The Muslims claim in court that Barihuta invaded Saleh’s land in 2004 and uprooted 20 coconut trees, then put up a house illegally; that in 2007, Pastor Lukanula illegally put up the church building within a residential area and destroyed trees worth 2 million Tanzanian shillings; that Amina Binti Saleh has been unable to develop the land and should receive 3 million Tanzanian shillings for the alleged losses; and that the church disobeyed a court order to stop construction and should pay 8 million Tanzania shillings to Saleh.
Thus the Muslims are not only seeking the land and the removal of the church building, but 13 million Tanzanian shillings (US$5,670).
The church of 50 members receives no denominational help and has been paying for the monthly legal costs, the pastor said.
“We have been strengthening the members by having home fellowships, which has kept the church spiritually strong,” he said.
Photo: Part of church land sought by hard-line Muslims outside of Zanzibar City. (Morning Star News)