LILONGWE — Eight years after the destruction of nearly 200 mosques by angry Christian mobs, President Bingu Wa Mutharika, a devout Catholic, is championing a campaign for the reconstruction and renovation of the burned mosques.“The country’s leader has been moved by the state in which some of the mosques are in,” Presidential Press Officer, Chikumbutso Mtumudzi, told IslamOnline.net.Mutharika, the country’s third post-independence leader, is sponsoring a personal initiative towards the reconstruction of mosques burned by Christian mobs in 1999.
Through this initiative, the president is dishing out funds and other materials.
The initiative is also providing funds for the renovation of dilapidated mosques.
The aftermath of Malawi’s second democratic elections in 1999 brought the Southern African country close to the brink of civil strife.
Disgruntled Tumbuka, Ngoni and Nkhonde Christian tribes dominant in the north were irritated by the results which favored thee President Bakili Muluzi, a Muslim from the south.
They consequently unleashed a campaign of terror against Muslims of the Yao tribe, who were at that time working either as business people or tobacco tenants.
At the height of the violence, property, valued at over millions of dollars, were either vandalized or stolen.
And for the first time in the history of Malawi, mosques were torched down.
Records indicate that about 200 mosques were turned into ashes.
The umbrella Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) has welcomed the initiative, describing it as a step in the right direction.“We welcome this initiative. It would go down a long way in transforming the face of most of our prayer houses, which are in a sorry state,” MAM Chairperson Alhaj Yusuf Kanyamula told IOL.
Alhaj Likonde, who coordinating the presidential initiative, says it came at a time of desperate need for resources to reconstruct the burned mosques.
He noted that the burning of the mosques has deprived Muslims an opportunity to find a mosque within a short distance.
“A lot of them have to travel long distances to look for a prayer house for worship,” Likonde told IOL.
“This was not good. This project would therefore enable us to reconstruct the burned mosques so that people could still congregate in them for prayers.”
Islam is the second largest religion in Malawi, a secular country, after Christianity.
Official statistics suggest they constitute 12 percent of the 12 million population but the Muslim Mother body Muslim Association of Malawi say they are over 36 percent.
Likonde, who could not disclose how much the president has set aside for the project, said reconstruction of the burned mosques has started in some parts of the country.
A total of 100 dilapidated mosques in the northern and southern regions of the country are expected to be rehabilitated during the first phase of the project, which is going to run from January to October.
Out of the 200 burned mosques, about 150 are earmarked for reconstruction during this year, Likonde confirmed.
The presidential initiative on rebuilding and renovating mosques also aims to reconcile between the country’s Muslims and Christians.
“The president rolled off this initiative to act as a bridge towards reconciliation between the affected Muslims and Christians involved in the violence,” explains Mtumudzi, the presidential press officer.
He said the president was disturbed with the developments which led to the burning of the mosques in 1999 and is trying to demonstrate the need for religious and political tolerance.
“A mosque just like a church is a sacred place of worship, therefore, for someone to set fire at such a place is a deliberate ploy to ignite serious religious strife.”
In a surprise move, the initiative has also generated praise within the Christian community.
Rev. Muula Hara, a retired pastoral minister for the northern region based Livingstonia Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP), commended the project.
He hoped it would heal the wounds of bitterness among Muslims in the region and across the country.
Ajusa Kawinga, the imam of Mangochi Mosque in the southern part of the country, shares the same hope.
“The initiative would create bridges for dialogue between Christians and Muslims, whenever misunderstandings have arisen.”