BY THEOGENE NSENGIMANA
As Rwandans celebrate 22nd Liberation anniversary, a day observed every year on 4th July to commemorate the defeat of the genocide regime by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1994, the Muslim community in Rwanda say Islam owe all the current achievements to the liberation.
Islam was introduced in Rwanda by Arabian merchants who were coming from neighboring countries.
Since the inception of the Rwanda Muslims Community (RMC) in 1964, the body has until now been the legal representation of Muslims in Rwanda. Since then, the history of Muslims in Rwanda classifies itself in two periods namely the pre-liberation and post liberation periods.
The pre-liberation period was characterized by underestimation of Muslims, marginalization in education and decision-making institutions.
According to Sheikh Salim Hitimana, the current Mufti of Rwanda, Muslims were deprived of their rights in that period.
“This can be explained by the fact that Muslims were settled in camps called ‘Amabereshi’ to isolate them from other Rwandans, marginalization in education system and deprivation of other social infrastructures.
Concerning right to religion, Islam was not considered while believers were considered as odd persons and given names that aimed to marginalize them from the rest of the community. The best example is the name Abaswayiri (Swahilis or Sawahili which means people from the side) that people used to characterize Muslims as foreigners and hypocrites”, explained the Mufti.
With the post liberation period, Muslims affirm that whatever they have achieved so far is due to a conducive and rightful environment brought in the country after the liberation.
“With liberation, Muslims, like other Rwandans, have so far registered several achievements that they owe to good governance and unity among Rwandans”, said the Mufti.
Some of the factor Muslims say make them feel liberated include the fact that they ae no longer called Abaswayiri, right to investments like any other person, two important days that have been declared public holidays—Eidil Fitri and Eidil Adh’ha—and participation of Muslims in national development as well as other socio-economic activities carried out in collaboration with other religious groups.
According to the Rwanda Muslims community (RMC), liberation has granted Muslims like any other Rwandans, their right to worship.
Muslims are no longer marginalized within the current education system as a big number of Islam believers have so far completed studies at different levels depending on their capabilities.
Concerning marginalization in decision-making institutions, Muslims affirm that they are no longer discriminated against as they participate at different levels in taking decisions in administration including the central government, legislature, diplomacy (ambassadors) and other government institutions and parastatals that spur national development.
“Rwanda’s liberation, through the government of unity of Rwandans, brought good governance and abolished injustice in our country. That’s why we have regained our infrastructures that we were deprived of by the dictatorial regimes that have for several years underestimated, oppressed and ignored Muslims,” the Mufti explained.
Repossessed infrastructures include a primary school in Nyarugenge district (Intwali Primary School) and a land in Gacurabwenge, Kamonyi district among other infrastructures.
Restructuring the Rwanda Muslims Community (RMC)
Currently, the Rwanda Muslims Community [RMC) has restructured by adopting five new rules governing the community, through the high council. The rules include; amended basic rule governing Muslims and the rule governing the use of RMC’s funds and properties.
Currently, Islam in Rwanda is presided over by Sheikhs who are assisted by other believers equipped with other skills and knowledge needed for the smooth running of the religion.
A new management system has also been adopted to avoid recurrence of management malpractices and fund misappropriation experienced in the past.
Commitment to national socio-economic development
To enjoy the rightful and conducive environment that the liberation of Rwanda granted to Muslims and Rwandans in general, the Rwanda Muslims Community focuses on building unity among believers and Rwandans in general, curb and fight extremist ideologies, building sustainable development projects to benefit the believers and streamline cooperation and collaboration with stakeholders and partners.