Freedom of worship is enshrined in the constitution, but within the law

The Mufti of Rwanda, Sheikh Salim Hitimana leads Eid prayers at Kigali Regional Stadium yesterday. Sam Ngendahimana.

The Islamic community yesterday ended the Holy month of Ramathan with the usual prayers. One message from the Mufti - the head of the Muslim community - that stuck out was the return of unity among their sect.

In the past few years, Rwanda was not spared by the infiltration of extremist Islamic ideology but it was nipped in the bud and quite a number of extremists are on trial. They had put a heavy toll on cohesion in the community that led to a lot of wrangles and infighting. Thankfully, that is now a thing of the past.

In a related piece of news, religious leaders in the Eastern Province finally began to see the wisdom of closing some worship centres, some of which unashamedly thrived on extortion of the gullible. Many had operated in tents or in forests with hardly any hygienic or safety facilities.

When the government embarked on a nationwide crackdown, thousands of churches and mosques were closed down. There was a lot of uproar with accusations that it was an infringement on religious freedom, but the government was simply putting some order in a sector that was spiraling out of control. 

The Eastern Province had 4,296 churches and mosques, after inspection, nearly half were shut down. One of its districts, Bugesera saw over 600 churches given the red card but now over 50 have reopened after meeting conditions.

Now clerics are beginning to see the benefits of the crackdown, legitimate worship places that had been closed were quick to meet conditions but briefcase churches have fallen silent. As the old Marxist phrase goes, “religion is the opium of the people” but it should not be subject to substance abuse.