Sunday, August 28, 2011

...Survive the Rwandan Genocides by Practicing Islam?

The following is part of the Foreword to Raheel Raza's book How Can You Possibly be an Anti-Terrorist Muslim?, now available on Amazon and Kindle.

Christian doctrine has never claimed that Christians, as a group, would necessarily be more righteous than people of any other faith would. In fact, it seems that the scriptures testify of quite the opposite: every group that has been called God’s “chosen people”, from Israelites to the early Christians, seem to be as plagued with sin as any other group.
However, perhaps Christianity imbues its people and cultures with a bit more awareness of their own lost and fallen state: their own sins and weaknesses. You can thank Christians for ending the accepted institution of slavery, worldwide. (Sowell, 2006, chap. 2)

Nevertheless, at the time of the horrible Rwandan genocides of the 1990s, as a percentage of the population, it was perhaps the most Christian country in all of Africa. This was an obvious case how Christianity failed prevent Rwanda from degenerating into a genocidal bloodbath, with neighbor against neighbor, teachers killing their students, and even clergy killing those who sought sanctuary. (Lacey, 2006)

Most people are under the impression that these killings were driven by ethnic hatred alone, specifically Hutu vs. Tutsi. However, the motivations for the killings were not so cut and dry. For example, while the country as a whole lost about 11% of its population, even in a village where everyone was Hutu, at least 5% of its population were killed in the genocide. (Diamond, 2005, p. 319)

Nevertheless, there were a few places, one in particular, where there were no killings whatsoever… and, chances are, you have never heard of it. There is a village just outside the Rwandan capital of Kigali. No one in that village did any killing or was killed. The place was called Biryogo. And many potential targets found safe haven there. What made that little corner of Rwanda an island of real peace and safety? There were a few factors, but they all seem to involve the fact that Biryogo was a Muslim village. The following excerpt tells the story:
For nearly a century, Muslims remained on the fringes of Rwandan society. The faithful in Kigali were restricted to Biryogo, a dusty neighborhood where the Al-Fatah mosque now stands. They needed permits to leave.

During the genocide, Muslims were among the few Rwandans who protected both neighbors and strangers. Elsewhere, many Hutus hunted down or betrayed their Tutsi neighbors and strangers suspected of belonging to the minority.

But the militiamen and soldiers didn't dare go after Tutsis in Muslim neighborhoods like Biryogo, said Yvette Sarambuye, a 29-year-old convert.

"If a Hutu Muslim tried to kill someone hidden in our neighborhoods, he would first be asked to take the holy Qur’an and tear it apart to renounce his faith," said Sarambuye, a Tutsi widowed mother of three who survived the slaughter by hiding with Muslims. "No Muslim dared to violate the holy book, and that saved a lot of us." (Ngowi, 2002)
A 35-year old Tutsi convert to Islam, named Jean-Pierre Sagahutu said that the Muslims in Rwanda do not view the world through a “racial or ethnic lens.”

What remains a mystery to me still is why the Hutu extremists passed these Muslims by, while slaughtering others who were neither Hutu, Tutsi nor Muslim. Pygmies, for example, are a very distinct and ancient people throughout sub-Saharan Africa. They are only about 1% of the Rwanda’s population, with little political or economic power. Pygmies were hardly a threat to anyone, and yet, they were slaughtered at least as thoroughly as the rest of Rwanda’s population. (Diamond, 2005, p. 318)

What then saved the Muslims in Biryogo (and elsewhere) in Rwanda? I can’t say for certain. I'm sure luck was involved. But perhaps God protected the Muslims of Biryogo simply because they were practicing true Islam. Put more generally, perhaps these people were spared as a natural consequence of practicing "true religion".
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Revised Edition Diamond, Jared M. 2005. Collapse:How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. 1st ed. Penguin (Non-Classics).

Emel Magazine. 2010. “When Muslims Saved Jews.” Emel - The Muslim Lifestyle Magazine (64).

Lacey, Marc. 2006. “Rwandan Priest Sentenced to 15 Years for Allowing Deaths of Tutsi in Church.” The New York Times.

Black Rednecks and White LiberalsNgowi, Rodrique. 2002. “Rwanda Turns To Islam After Genocide.” The Herald Tribune.

Sowell, Thomas. 2006. Black Rednecks and White Liberals. Paperback. Encounter Books.

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