Human Rights Group Urges Kenya Against Expanding Power of Islamic Courts

A human rights group focused on Christian persecution is urging Kenyan officials not to enshrine Islamic law into Kenya's constitution, noting the negative effects of such moves in nearby countries.

"Such a move will lead to further violence and discrimination against Christians in the Muslim dominated provinces of Kenya," commented Jonathan Racho, the Africa regional manager for International Christian Concern.

Though Islamic courts, known as Kadhi, have existed for a long time at district levels in Kenya, they have been limited to settling divorce, inheritance and marriage disputes among Muslims.

Presently, however, Muslim leaders are pushing for a new constitution that, if approved, will expand the power of the Islamic courts to include settlement of civil and commercial disputes. They are also pushing to elevate the courts to the national level and give them the same privileges as the secular courts.

Such moves are being opposed by Christian leaders who fear that they will lead to greater persecution, as similar legislation has done in Sudan and Nigeria. They argue that recognizing Sharia courts in the constitution gives special privileges to Kenya's Muslims.

"We oppose the entrenching of Kahdi in the constitution of Kenya because religion and state should be kept separated in a secular state," the Rev. Dr. Wellington Mutiso, the general secretary of the evangelical alliance of Kenya, told Christian persecution watchdog group International Christian Concern.

"Thus, entrenching Islamic principles in the Kenyan constitution violates constitutional principles of equality and non-discrimination," he added.

Currently, a majority of Kenyans are Christians and Muslims make up about ten percent of the population. In the coastal and the northeastern provinces of Kenya, however, Muslims are the majority.