The head of the National Christian Council of Kenya (NCCK) has called for the removal of provisions for Islamic courts from a draft constitution for the east African country, saying this contradicts the principle of equality for all religions - writes Fredrick Nzwili.
"We have said they [Islamic courts] have no business being in the national constitution," the church council General Secretary, the Rev Peter Karanja, told journalists on 3 December in Limuru near Nairobi.
Karanja said that Christians fear the maintenance of the Kadhi courts, as they are known locally, in the latest draft constitution will be a further step towards Islamic rule in Kenya, where Muslims account for 10 per cent of the 39 million people and Christians almost 80 per cent.
Kadhi is an Arabic term that in Kenya designates a Muslim magistrate who has the power of adjudicating on matters according to Islamic law.
Kenya's current constitution has the Kadhi courts as a section of the judiciary. A Chief Kadhi is provided for and the courts are used to determine issues of personal status, marriage, divorce or inheritance for Muslim faithful. The draft constitution makes similar proposals.
Since 1991, when Kenya started a debate on writing a new constitution, church leaders have protested against including the Islamic institution called Kadhi courts in a basic law.
The draft for a new constitution was published in November 2009 by a committee of experts selected by the national parliament. The experts had stated when they published the draft that the Islamic courts had not proved contentious in meetings held throughout the country to discuss the constitution.
"The NCCK considers the experts were not absolutely honest in claiming Kadhi courts were not contentious," countered Karanja. "Everywhere the experts went they received memoranda from Christians which said they had an issue with entrenching private matters and affairs of one religion in a national constitution."
This is a second attempt to write a new constitution for Kenya. In 2005, reports said that many Christians voted against a draft that recognised Kadhi courts.
In July, Muslim leaders had stepped up calls for inclusion of the courts in the new laws. The leaders said the followers of Islam had specific needs that could only be addressed by their own courts.
"The courts will deal with marriage, divorce and inheritance among the Muslims, which have nothing to do with Christians," said Sheikh Mukhtar Khitamy, of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims. "We will defend the presence of the courts in the constitution by all means."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]