Malawi: Catholic Church observes growing Islamisation with concern

Bishop Monfort Stima talked about the growing trend towards Islamisation in the Mangochi diocese of southern Malawi while visiting Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) international headquarters in Königstein, Germany. He did say, however, that traditional Islam is rather moderate in Malawi and has always coexisted peacefully. Furthermore, in the Mangochi diocese, which has a predominantly Muslim population, communication between the religious leaders is good. The bishop talked about the establishment of a Christian-Muslim committee that meets when there are problems and searches for solutions. However, the bishop then regretfully said that a growing radicalisation has recently become apparent in the Muslim population. 

According to the bishop, Muslim preachers are increasingly coming into the country from Sudan, and these preach a more radical Islam and are difficult to control. He said that these preachers were “dissatisfied” with traditional Islam and wanted to bring “true Islam” to Malawi. In the last few years, this has already led to attacks, which mostly occurred after Friday prayers. Bishop Monfort said that he had asked Islamic religious leaders why this was happening. They answered that the imams were inciting the people to violence. “They said to me, ‘You have to pray for the imams because they are poorly trained.’” The bishop emphasised that even the religious leaders were finding it difficult to control the imams because “anyone who has the necessary funds may build a mosque. And the person who built the mosque is also the one who controls the imam. Some villages have four mosques: a traditional one that has always been there as well as other, newly built ones.”

According to the bishop, the situation is exacerbated by the fact that a growing number of young people are receiving scholarships to study in Sudan or Saudi Arabia and returning home radicalised. He continued, “Furthermore, many Muslims have several wives, which increases the number of their children and thus the proportion of Muslims in the population. These families often cannot provide that many children with regular schooling and can only send them to the Koranic schools, the madrasahs.”

In his experience, polygamy is also a factor for the followers of traditional African religions who want to join one of the large religious communities. While the Catholic church does not accept polygamy, the people may keep this family form when converting to Islam. The bishop believes that this makes them “easier to convert”. He also said that Muslim men were being called upon to marry Christian girls because even should the wife not convert to Islam, the children would automatically be Muslim.”

According to Bishop Monfort, the duty of the church is to deepen the faith. “We encourage priests to be close to the people and, as Pope Francis says, to leave the sacristy. For many faithful converting to Islam is very tempting – especially when the only school in the area is a Muslim institution. They need help and encouragement.”

While, at approximately 80 per cent, Malawi itself is majority Christian with Muslims making up only 13 per cent of the population, the Mangochi diocese is between 50 and 90 per cent Muslim, depending on the region. On average, Muslims make up approximately 75 per cent of the total population.

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