A new crop of Muslim leaders is emerging, keen on changing the status quo and provide alternative direction to the faithful.
Gravitating around Association of Muslims Organisations of Kenya joint secretary Fazul Mohamed, the group which is against the continued terrorist attacks in the country says its main aim is to bring the faith leaders together to speak with one voice.
“We, for instance, want to soul-search and analyse where the problem of youth radicalisation emanated from,” Mr Mohamed said.
In an interview with Saturday Nation, Mr Mohamed, who recently convened a meeting of top Muslim leaders with Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku to discuss the security swoop in the country and youth radicalisation, regretted that the leaders have been engaged in reactionary leadership.
“They have only been reacting after a problem has occurred. They usually come out to condemn then do nothing to follow up on the matter,” Mr Mohamed who is in his 30s, said.
During the meeting at Harambee House, Majority Leader Aden Duale and other leaders were castigated for failing to provide “proper” leadership to Muslims.
Mr Duale and some other Muslim leaders have come under heavy criticism for suggesting that the government was targeting Muslims in the ongoing security swoop in the country to weed out terrorists.
Mr Mohamed, who is also a director at National Campaign Against Drug Abuse, said another meeting of Muslim political and religious leaders will be held in next two weeks “to soul search among ourselves’’.
and come up with a multi-faceted approach to radicalisation.”
“Youth radicalization is an ideological problem which requires ideological approach to issues. We want to meet as Muslim leaders because radicalization affects specific regions like North Eastern, Coast and Upper Eastern. Instead of attacking the government all the time, why can’t the leadership come up with a long lasting solution?” Mr Mohamed said.
Among the issues the Muslim Leaders Conference is expected to address is why radicalization was now coming up yet “we have been having harmonious inter-religious relationship.”
“We would also want to know the underlying factors that promote radicalisation. Is it economic, political or religious. Religious leaders will make us understand whether radicalization is grounded in any doctrine or why it is manipulated to advance extremist agenda,” Mr Mohamed said.
There are 69 elected Muslim leaders in the country in both the National Assembly and the Senate.
The Muslim leaders are to also deliberate on what role the community can play to address radicalisation at an early stage and whether “community, political and religious leaders have a role in arresting it.”
Mr Mohamed said institutional and structural framework to address radicalisation including proposals for the establishment of a department of religious affairs by the government to address unique religious needs in the country.
If established, Mr Mohamed said, the department would have a council consisting of Muslim, Hindu and Christian scholars and leaders to address conflicts and advice the government on matters relating to religion.
He said a joint communiqué will be issued after the Muslim Leaders Conference and a presentation given to the government on how to handle radicalisation and other activities in the country.
“Once we finish the retreat we will embark on a tour of various sub-locations to talk to our people on way forward. We want to find a solution to radicalisation from the mosque to top leadership,” Mr Mohamed said, adding that MPs, religious leaders and governors are among those expected to attend the conference.
He added: “The Quran states that if you save one life you save the whole humanity and if you kill you kill the whole humanity.”
Mr Mohamed said religious institutions should play a major role in preventing radicalisation.
He said leaders should talk openly against radicalization and that they should not leave the matter to religious groups alone.
Mr Mohamed said Muslims feel some of their organisations and leaders had let them down by failing to provide direction to prevent radicalization and help combat terrorism.
He said the government should not be left to fight radicalization alone as this would strengthen the belief by some Muslims that the community was being marginalized.
“Muslim leaders should take charge,” Mr Mohamed said, adding that the use of guns to fight radicalization could also only strengthen the extremists belief.
The government has raised alarm over increased radicalization of youth and their recruitment into al-shabaab especially at Coast province.
Radicalised youths have taken over the running of a number of mosques in Mombasa, heightening fears of increased terrorist attacks in the country.
Apart from radicalization, the new crop of Muslim leaders is also working to address consumption of miraa that has become a menace in some areas.
Mr Mohamed said plans are underway to regulate miraa trade, a topic which few wanted to talk about before he joined the organisation and commissioned universities and other research organisations to look into its use.
Mr Mohamed’s group also want change of leadership in key Muslim organisations like Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims where “leaders have stayed in office for more than 10 years and did nothing to address issues affecting the community.”
“We want more engagement of youth leadership,” Mr Mohamed said.
Mr Mohamed’s group has however been met with opposition with critics saying they wanted to overshadow the old guards and questioned their mandate and who was behind their rise.
Mr Mohamed said discussions were underway with miraa growers and consumers for the leaves to be sold at specific times and chewing time limited just like alcohol drinking hours. Premises selling miraa are to also meet certain hygienic standards and legal age limit set for consumption.
Nacada chairman John Mututho Mr Mohamed met Muslim MPs, Senators, governors, members of county assemblies, Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims and Imams last week to “find a common ground on miraa consumption.”
They later met Meru leaders and Council of Elders-Njuri Njeke.
Mr Mohamed said the Muslim leaders whose regions are the major consumers of miraa and the Njuri Njeke had already agreed on need for regulations and that what was remaining was how to do it.
“Miraa consumption is a political problem and needs political process. This is because while region benefits a lot from miraa sale, the other is suffering from broken families. It is not good to have a substance that is not regulated. That is why we are going to have the informal meetings to agree on formal regulations,” Mr Mohamed said.
He said Mr Mututho has been in forefront formal regulations and held a meeting with some Coast MPs led by Mvita’s Abdullsawamad Nassir where the issue of regulating miraa cropped up.
“We don’t want to ban miraa which is a bedrock of economy in some areas. What we want is some way of decision made to regulate it. Just like alcohol which is one of the biggest tax payers in the country, miraa should also be regulated,” Mr Mohamed said.
Mr Mohamed said Nacada was discussing with stakeholders whether selling and chewing of miraa should be done from 5 pm to 10 pm or from 4 pm to 10 pm.
“The premises where miraa is going to be sold should be licensed by county governments, a thing that will provide revenue to the counties.
Premises where miraa is sold should meet certain public health and hygiene standards. Miraa should be sold on an organized way, not just be sold on the road side or under trees,” Mr Mohamed said.
Since alcohol and drug abuse fall under county governments’ docket, Mr Mohamed said the units will have a big role to play in regulation.
Research done by Nacada last year shows 1.6 million are miraa abusers.
In North Eastern and Coast regions, Mr Mohamed regretted that children aged as low as 10 years consumed miraa due to lack of regulation.
“The regulations will also ensure people don’t just chew miraa for 24 hours although it is their right to chew, thus affecting work and burdening the economy,” Mr Mohamed.
The regulations are to further address calls by some Meru leaders for miraa to be classified in law.
Nacada, which is the government’s official drugs advisory body has argued that there was little evidence of health problems arising from miraa consumption.