Muslim and Christian leaders in Kenya are at odds over a court ruling that described as illegal and discriminatory a constitutional provision for Muslim courts - writes Fredrick Nzwili.
The Christian leaders said the ruling by Kenya's High Court would boost their campaign against a new draft constitution for the East African nation which would entrench the courts known as Kadhi that deal with matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance.
"This judgment reinforces our calls to Kenyans to reject the proposed new constitution at the referendum since the draft perpetuates and seeks to expand the Kadhi courts," said the Rev David Gathanju, the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa in Nairobi.
Muslim leaders however have said the court ruling may inflame tensions between followers of the two faiths.
A three judge bench sitting in Nairobi on 24 May ruled that the application of the courts in areas beyond the 10 mile (16 kilometre) coastal strip specified during their establishment in the era under British colonial rule is unconstitutional. The judges were ruling on a complaint about an earlier draft constitution that was rejected in a 2005 referendum.
"The spirit and message of this judgment will always be with us and will inform future constitutional and legislative processes," said Bishop David Oginde of the Nairobi Pentecostal Church.
The judges did not rule on the inclusion of the courts in the new draft constitution that will go to Kenyan citizens in a referendum scheduled for 4 August.
Many Kenyan church leaders have spoken out against the new draft constitution because of the clauses on the Muslim courts, as well as provisions that enshrine the possibility of terminating pregnancies where the mother's health or life is endangered.
Cardinal John Njue later said the verdict agreed with the view of Roman Catholic bishops. "We have indicated in the past that we are not against our Muslim brothers, but this is question of equity and justice," Njue told ENInews in a 25 May interview.
Muslim leaders urged their followers to remain calm, while others called for the scrapping of teaching of Christian religious education in schools.
"We also urge Christian leaders to exercise tolerance of other faiths and avoid issuing statements that incite their flock against Muslims," said Chief Kadhi Sheikh Ahmad Kassim.
[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.]