Outside of their differing theological orientations, Christian and Muslim societal values are remarkably similar on any number of issues.
Listen to the views of any Sheikh on secular music, micro pants, prostitution, drugs, homosexuality, pre-marital sex, divorce and abortion and he will be in direct competition with your nearest Pastor or Priest in vehemently condemning any of these things.
Which is why condemnations by both Christian and Muslim leaders of the campaign by Health Development Initiative to legalise abortion were hardly surprising.
For better or worse, a lot of Rwandans learn a lot of their morals from the Church or Mosque lending the country a conservative tinge.
Presidents Kayibanda and Habyarimana professed to being good Catholics throughout their time in power and despite some distinctly un-Christian tendencies they were never at odds with the Vatican.
For proof, look at the high population growth rates in Rwanda resulting from decades of barely any sensitisation of Rwandans on family planning [the Catholic Church frowns on most forms of contraception].
From 1994, the government has taken a more secular approach to many issues but even they cannot completely ignore our society’s conservative mindset.
Witness the balancing act on the question of whether to criminalise homosexuality. It has become seriously unfashionable to persecute homosexuals – as seen by the flak received by neighbouring Uganda on the issue – but at the same time, many did not think that Rwandans were ready to grant them positive rights like marriage.
A compromise between global trends and the sensibilities of many of the voters was struck and homosexuality is not a crime under the new Penal Code [currently still a bill in Parliament] but gay couples cannot get married. On the question of abortion, our lLegislators seem to have caved in to their conservative constituents.
The current Penal Code is a Decree-Law, which means that it was a Presidential Order passed by President Habyarimana that was later ratified by whatever passed as a Parliament in 1977.
Besides making abortion a crime, it has other choice provisions on the archaic crime of adultery whose maximum sentence was 6 months longer for women than for men. I like to think we have progressed since then.
On the issue of abortion, a parliament with more women than men strangely prefer to follow the counsel of the mostly male religious leaders and pass a law that will ensure that several young women will face two choices when pregnant with a child that they are in no position to bring up – a risky procedure with the possibility of complications, infertility and a long prison sentence or lifelong labelling of the ‘scarlet letter’ variety and inadequate care for a child that she did not want and was not prepared for. In the meantime, the father of the child has the option of assuming fatherhood or not.
I have a friend whose constant refrain to this debate is ‘they should bear the cross’, which is as Christian a reference as you can get. He believes that everyone should face the consequences of their actions.
Except that when Jesus Christ was carrying his cross through the streets of Jerusalem on the way to getting pinned on it, he was fulfilling the mission he had been sent for in the full knowledge that he would resurrect after the whole ordeal.
The reluctant mother forced into bearing ‘the cross’ was not fulfilling destiny and in many cases will be faced with a bleak future while the dead - beat father may easily go through life with no consequence for his actions.
The Sheikhs, Pastors and Priests are unelected officials who answer to Allah/God so they can be tolerated for their views but our legislature is beholden to the public interest and the net result of any law criminalising abortion is a silent group of ruined mothers and poorly raised children.
I strongly believe that women should have the option to decide whether or not to bear a child. My friend’s catchphrase while memorable should not be the basis for any law making.