From the ashes of genocide, Islam rises in Rwanda

Light of truth

A handful of Muslims took a stand during the hundred days of slaughter. Their stance inspired thousands of Rwandans to become Muslim in what was once called Africa’s most Catholic country. “I was a Catholic pastor before genocide,” Matabaro Sulaiman told TRT World on a chilly in Kigali, dressed in a flashy purple jilbab – a long loose-fit dress worn by Muslim men.

When the genocide in Rwanda began in 1994, the 49-year-old, suffered a crisis of faith watching the churches, in which he preached peace and unity became slaughter houses.

“Christians were killing people in the church,” Sulaiman said.

“The [victims] went to churches thinking they will find peace but instead, they were killed. “Meanwhile, I saw Muslims take people inside the mosque.” Since the advent of European colonialism in the country in 1884, Roman Catholicism has been the dominant religion in Rwanda. But in the last 25 years, Islam has become an alternative for thousands of Rwandans who lost their faith in Christianity during the genocide.

Muslims made up one percent of the population before the genocide. Although no census has been conducted, today “12% to 15% of the total population is Muslim,” according to Salim Habimana, a former Mufti of the country. The 1994 genocide began after a decade-long systematic dehumanisation campaign against the Tutsis turned into full ethnic cleansing. The hatred was so deeply implanted in ordinary society that neighbour turned on neighbour, friend against friend, as people joined the slaughter of those closest to them.

Many went to churches as a last resort to seek refuge but death eventually found them, even in what they hoped were houses of God.

Thousands were killed inside churches across the country, including Rwanda’s largest Catholic Church, Sainte Famille.

More than 2,000 people who sought shelter were killed after Pastor Wenceslas Munyeshyaka collaborated with the attackers instead of protecting those in need.

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