RUHENGERI, Rwanda, September 24 (IslamOnline & News Agencies) – Ever since the state-sponsored Rwandan genocide started in 1994, in which ethnic Hutu extremists killed 800,000 minority Tutsis and Hutu, Rwandans have converted to Islam in huge numbers, a U.S. newspaper reported Monday, September 23.
Muslims now make up 14 percent of the 8.2 million people here in Africa’s most Catholic nation, twice as many as before the killings began, reported the Washington Post.
According to the newspaper, many converts say they chose Islam because of the role that some Catholic and Protestant leaders played in the genocide.
“Human rights groups have documented several incidents in which Christian clerics allowed Tutsis to seek refuge in churches, then surrendered them to Hutu death squads, as well as instances of Hutu priests and ministers encouraging their congregations to kill Tutsis. Today some churches serve as memorials to the many people slaughtered among their pews,” said the paper.
Four clergymen are facing genocide charges at the U.N.-created International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and last year in Belgium, the former colonial power, two Rwandan nuns were convicted of murder for their roles in the massacre of 7,000 Tutsis who sought protection at a Benedictine convent, it added.
During the genocide, many Muslim leaders and families are being honored for protecting and hiding those who were fleeing, reported the Post.
“I know people in America think Muslims are terrorists, but for Rwandans they were our freedom fighters during the genocide,” said Jean Pierre Sagahutu, 37, a Tutsi who converted to Islam from Catholicism after his father and nine other members of his family were slaughtered, the paper reported.
“I wanted to hide in a church, but that was the worst place to go. Instead, a Muslim family took me. They saved my life.”
The Post quoted Habimana, the chief mufti in Rwanda saying: “Islam fits into the fabric of our society. It helps those who are in poverty. It preaches against behaviors that create AIDS. It offers education in the Koran and Arabic when there is not a lot of education being offered. I think people can relate to Islam. They are converting as a sign of appreciation to the Muslim community who sheltered them during the genocide.”
Imams across the country held meetings after September 11, 2001, to clarify what it means to be a Muslim, the paper said. “I told everyone, ‘Islam means peace,’” said Imiyimana, recalling that the mosque was packed that day. “Considering our track record, it wasn’t hard to convince them.”
This worries the Catholic church. Priests say they have asked for advice from church leaders in Rome about how to react to the number of converts to Islam, the Post added.
“The Catholic church has a problem after genocide,” said the Rev. Jean Bosco Ntagugire, who works at Kigali churches. “The trust has been broken. We can’t say, ‘Christians come back.’ We have to hope that happens when faith builds again.”
In July 2000, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), said that Rwanda should receive financial reparations from the international community for the community’s failure to prevent the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis in 1994.
The OAU committee accused the United States, France, Belgium and the U.N. Security Council of failing to take steps to stop the genocide when they had the means to do so.
Security Council “members could have prevented the genocide taking place. They failed to do so,” said the committee in a 318-page report.