GRIEF dominated the mood of Christian worshippers of the destroyed churches in Mbagala area in Dar es Salaam on Saturday evening, as women wailed uncontrollably in front of President Jakaya Kikwete who visited the area and issued a strong warning against the perpetrators who burnt and destroyed the churches.
The visit by the president followed riots reportedly by a group of individuals said to be Muslim believers, who reacted in opposition to a boy said to have urinated on a Holy Quran on Friday. Tight security was mounted in the area as President Kikwete, who appeared disturbed by the unruly act, inspected the destroyed churches.
The churches affected included those belonging to Lutheran, Agape, TAG Pentecost, Gospel Miracle, Anglican, Seventh Day Adventist (SDA), Christ The King, all located in Mbagala area in the city. When he arrived at the MbagalaLutheran Church, President Kikwete went straight to inspect the extent of the destruction of the church and offices. Half burnt papers, broken benches and glasses were scattered on the floor.
As he walked out towards the church compound, the congregation that gathered outside singing hymns started crying in pain. He consoled the gathering, saying that the acts were disturbing and would never be tolerated. "People should have exercised restraint as the matter had already been reported to police.
There is no justification to destroy the churches whose leadership did not send out the boy to urinate on the Quran," President Kikwete, vividly annoyed and stressed told the gathering. He said it was a shame for the country that has for many years cherished peace and religious tolerance to have such events happening in the neighbourhood.
The police commander for Dar es Salaam special police zone, Mr Suleiman Kova, told the President that so far 122 suspects had been arrested in connection with the incident, out which 36 are believed to be the ring leaders in the destruction and looting of the churches.
"No one implicated in the scam will be spared. Relevant authorities will make sure that all those proved to be involved are brought to justice, saying such incidents should never be allowed to happen again," President Kikwete assured.
The president, who was accompanied by the Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner, Mr Sadick Meck-Sadiki, the Minister for Home Affairs, Dr Emmanuel Nchimbi and the Dar es Salaam Special Zone Police Commander Suleiman Kova, urged Christians to live in harmony with Muslims as has been the case for many years.
The Assistant Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT), Eastern and Coastal Diocese, Rev George Fupe, calmed the wailing women, saying President Kikwete was touched by the incident and devoted his time to visit the churches that were affected.
"We need to uphold peace and harmony in this trying moments, the leaders of the country have the full report of what happened and it is in their hands now," he explained.
Meanwhile, the Lutheran Church congregation Pastor in Mbagala Zakiem, Frank Kimambo, said the riots caused great loss to churches and called on relevant authorities to come up with lasting solution to avoid recurrence of similar situations. "I have no idea how we are going to renovate the destroyed infrastructure.
We are not going to clean up the mess at the moment to allow all worshippers to witness the extent of the damage. I really wonder if the perpetrators have the fear of God," Rev Kimambo said. The priest at Saint Antony of Padua Church at Mbagala, Father Constantine Baraka, said those behind the mayhem had no reason to overreact, bearing in mind that the root cause was a childish act which could have been handled in a dignified manner.
Father Baraka further noted that Christians should not generalize and blame all Muslims, but rather condemn those who misled others to act indifferently because there is no hate among religious denominations in the country. Giving details of the incident, the Dar es Salaam Special Zone Police Commander, Mr Kova said that the scuffles started when a 14 year old boy in Chamazi in Temeke district on the outskirts of the city joked with a Christian age mate on Friday.
"It was on Friday when a boy coming from an Islamic (Madrasa) class met a friend at a jobless corner, where they usually met for recreation. The boy was holding the Quran and said to his friend that if he urinated on this book he will turn into a cat or a snake immediately.
They boys agreed to put it into a test. He urinated but did not turn into any strange creature," RPC Kova explained. He said the boy reported to his father that a friend had defiled the holy book. The families met to iron out the differences. However, the offended party decided to report the matter to the police at Chamazi and quickly referred to Mbagala police station.