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April 7, 2004 12:15 PM   Subscribe

Rwandans turn toward Islam. A NY Times story (reg. req.) describes how Islam has become the fastest-growing religion in Rwanda, partly because people are disgusted with the priests and nuns who helped with the killing ten years ago, partly because Muslims saved many people at that time.
Muslim leaders credit the gains to their ability during the 1994 massacres to shield most Muslims, and many other Rwandans, from certain death. "The Muslims handled themselves well in '94, and I wanted to be like them," said Alex Rutiririza, explaining why he converted to Islam last year.
Food for thought for those who think of Islam as a "religion of violence."
posted by languagehat (29 comments total)

 
"The Muslims handled themselves well in '94, and I wanted to be like them,"

I heard they also had a lower intoductory rate and a cashback bonus award. Great time to switch, IMO.
posted by tirade at 12:36 PM on April 7, 2004


Registration not required.
posted by the fire you left me at 12:53 PM on April 7, 2004


Tirade, did you read the post? It's not really something to joke about. I would think long and hard before making light of those few individuals and institutions that did not turn their back on the genocide of 800,000 people. It's just not funny.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 12:56 PM on April 7, 2004


Boy. Sure had me fooled by current events...Why must we always go back to the middle ages to show how grand a religion/people were? Muslims, it seems to me, place their religion well aboive loyalty to a political state, and if they are in a majorty, they often want or prefer sharia law; and if in a minority, seldom speak out for violence perpetrated eleswhere by Muslims. Show me then a state with a mulim majority that has liberal democracy and is not in piss poor shape.
posted by Postroad at 12:57 PM on April 7, 2004


What I find interesting about this article is how Catholics are portrayed (rightly it would seem, but still) as cowardly killers. Given that, the Times not quoting any official from the Church rebutting said characterisation is shameful. And no, nameless "leaders" who have their points summarised don't count.

Church leaders acknowledge that attendance at many parishes dropped after the killing rampage. They have taken pains since 1994 to teach a message of healing and to distance the church from clergy members who were implicated in the killings.


posted by haqspan at 12:58 PM on April 7, 2004


Story doesn't mention the professed religious beliefs of the militia members wanting to kill the folks in the mosque, but I find it hard to believe an imam could talk anyone out of storming his mosque if they weren't muslim themselves.

I'm still waiting for more evidence of this "Islam is the religion of peace" propaganda.
Languagehat's selling, but I ain't buying.
posted by darren at 1:00 PM on April 7, 2004


i'm holding out until they offer a free George Foreman grill. It'd be handy to grill my sausage or pork ribs on.

....What?
posted by keswick at 1:05 PM on April 7, 2004


If (some) Catholics in Rwanda acted like cowardly killers, why is it shameful to point that out? Anyway, I didn't see the priest portrayed as a killer - he simply fled for his life, leaving the congregation to their fate.
posted by crunchburger at 1:16 PM on April 7, 2004


"Boy. Sure had me fooled by current events...Why must we always go back to the middle ages to show how grand a religion/people were?"

As a rule, I am cynical about any religion, but it seems like you are attacking a post WITHOUT reading it.

The point of this article is that Muslims DID react differently in Rwanda during the genocide, which was ten years ago, not ten centuries ago.

Rwanda has NOT been a hotbed of Muslim fundamentalism. I think the Rwandan Muslim community should be recognized for its actions. This isn't a Jesus/Mohammed game.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 1:17 PM on April 7, 2004


It certainly makes a fascinating counterpoint to the genocide in sudan, which is being perpetrated by Muslims against other Muslims, now doesn't it.

Maybe we can agree that those driven by the whole "my god has a bigger dick than your god" theory are asshats?
posted by swerdloff at 1:48 PM on April 7, 2004


I would think long and hard before making light of those few individuals and institutions that did not turn their back on the genocide of 800,000 people. It's just not funny.

I quipped because this is a sad demonstration that religion is a social club. If you are a Christian you profess to have great faith in Jesus as the son of God, and your only savior. That other Christians may commit atrocities, even against you, should have nothing to do with this. If you can change your mind about the Bible and pick up the Koran, which specifically refutes the central idea of Christianity, were you ever really Christian? Or were you just doing what everyone else was doing? Might as well hold out for the free toaster then, since the mythology clearly is unimportant.
posted by tirade at 1:59 PM on April 7, 2004


Show me then a state with a catholic majority that has liberal democracy and is not in piss poor shape.
posted by seanyboy at 2:48 PM on April 7, 2004


Opinion: Islam is as good and as bad as the other religions out there. I think the point of the post was to highlight the fact that Islam isn't about terrorism, it's a religion with a strong moral stance and a set of rules which preach tolerance, virtue and compassion. That people have decided to piss on the post doesn't suprise me; this sort of racism is pretty much rampant everywhere. What does suprise me is the implicit "uhh. But what about the Terrorists" reaction from people who really should know better.

Heh - And good on 'ya for making light of the deaths of nearly 1,000,000 people. I can't wait for your posts come the next time we get to talk about September 11.
posted by seanyboy at 2:58 PM on April 7, 2004


An interesting article; thank you, languagehat. Chris McGreal's article in the Guardian last week made a similar point:

Islam found new adherents because the imams refused to draw a distinction between Hutu and Tutsi, and called on Muslims to oppose the killing. It was the only practising religion in Rwanda uncompromised by the genocide.

This is not to say that "Islam is a religion of peace". But it does suggest that Islam is not as inherently violent as some people would have us believe. The day after I read McGreal's piece, I read this, by Melanie Phillips (a British journalist who writes for the right-wing Daily Mail):

The fact is that Islam is the only religion for which jihad, or holy war against all unbelievers, is a duty. That is why it is historically a religion of conquest .. the problem is rooted in the religion.. (my emphasis)

The lesson I draw from all this is that Islam is highly diverse, and all generalisations about it need to be treated with the utmost suspicion.

(Incidentally. McGreal's piece makes another point overlooked in the NYT article, which is that Islam is not the only religion picking up converts in Rwanda. American Protestant denominations such as Pat Robertson's Assemblies of God are also doing well, apparently. Religion in Rwanda is evidently in a state of ferment, and what the situation will be in ten years' time is anyone's guess; but the combination of Islam and Protestant fundamentalism could be a very unstable one.)
posted by verstegan at 3:06 PM on April 7, 2004


""But after the genocide, converting to Islam was also seen by some as the safest option.

"For the Hutus, everyone was saying as long as I look like a Muslim everybody will accept that I don't have blood on my hands.

"And for the Tutsis they said let me embrace Islam because Muslims in genocide never die. So one was looking for purification, the other was looking for protection."

Finding comfort

It was not only Islam that disillusioned Catholics turned to after the genocide. Evangelical churches have also flooded into the country in the past 10 years, and found many new recruits.""
posted by clavdivs at 5:36 PM on April 7, 2004


Seanyboy, just how bad is it in Eire?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:15 PM on April 7, 2004


That hate fits you well, Postroad.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:32 PM on April 7, 2004


There is a lot going on in this thread. Islam is among the fastest growing religions in the world, in part because they have convinced many of those who feel they have no voice, that Islam cares for the down-trodden. This has been exploited brilliantly by some very bad Muslims, but it has also inspired some very good Muslims to act courageously in Rwanda and other places. I take it for granted that we should all see large groups (Christians, Jews, Homosexuals, Green-Eyed Irish Americans) as diverse.

I joined Metafilter because there are some very smart, very witty people who read other people's threads carefully and respond thoughtfully. I might have been a little hard on Tirade (I too have a dark sense of humour), but I think it's pointless to respond posts with ad hominem attacks, particulaly without reading them.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:41 PM on April 7, 2004


I might have been a little hard on Tirade (I too have a dark sense of humour), but I think it's pointless to respond posts with ad hominem attacks, particulaly without reading them.

No worries. But I did read the link, and what I posted was what I was left thinking afterwards. And I'd like to point out that I was not making light of the genocide, nor even those Muslims who stood against it. This post was about those switching to Islam because of the actions of other Muslims during the genocide, and that was what I commented on. These are two different things, just as MeFites taking delight in putting down all the "Let's Roll" flag-waving post 9-11 is not equivalent to making fun of the catastrophe.
posted by tirade at 7:23 PM on April 7, 2004


Thanks, languagehat. I came away feeling proud that people helped others during horrific circumstances, and I'm not at all surprised that people turned away from the religion that didn't help them, and towards the one that did--it all comes down to people.
posted by amberglow at 7:36 PM on April 7, 2004


I second the thanks to languagehat; I was very moved by the article. I think I owe an apology to you, Tirade. I definitely see where you were coming from now. I am getting involved in a Rwanda memorial, and don't want to use you as a scapegoat for my angst.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:17 PM on April 7, 2004


"I joined Metafilter because there are some very smart, very witty people who read other people's threads carefully and respond thoughtfully." (gesamtkunstwerk) - and so you shall help to make it!

I like the post too. Muslims as nonviolent samaritans? - Oh no! Our assumptions turn to Jello-o!

(thanks, languagehat)
posted by troutfishing at 8:43 PM on April 7, 2004


Seanyboy, just how bad is it in Eire?
Probably as bad as it is Morrocco.
Which sort of makes my point really.

Actually it's been a while since I was in Southern Ireland, so the whole Anti-Abortion / Collection Jar at the end of the bar / paedophilic cleric thing might have died down a bit by now.
You've got me on the attack here, and that's not something I want to do. Ireland's a fine place, and it's a country I'm proud to be neighboured with, but unfortunately, there are Fundamentalists and terrorists there.
posted by seanyboy at 1:02 AM on April 8, 2004


it's been a while since I was in Southern Ireland

Perhaps that's why - it's just Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.....
posted by brettski at 1:36 AM on April 8, 2004


Islam is no more a homogenous monolith than any of the other world religions - there are a number of different interpretations to those which lean towards the completely metaphorical/spiritual, to those which adopt a harsh and literal reading of the texts.

In the end, the majority of practising muslims would be construed as good "christians", if one considers the main teaching of christianity not to be "I'm the son of God, fear me", but rather to do unto others as you would have done unto yourself and have forebearance unto them in the name of a higher cause/being. Loving for the sake of Allah (swt) as it were.

I saw the Panorama documentary on Rwanda on Sunday and it made me sad once more - killing in a church? Sigh.. Inna li'Allahi wa inna ilayhi rajioun.
posted by Mossy at 2:25 AM on April 8, 2004


seanyboy, do you also have a down on Portugal, Spain, France and Austria?
posted by biffa at 4:08 AM on April 8, 2004


There's no down... I don't have a down on anyone.
postroad said ... "Show me then a state with a mulim majority that has liberal democracy and is not in piss poor shape.", so I said "Show me then a state with a catholic majority that has liberal democracy and is not in piss poor shape."

My statement was meant to highlight the futility of such generalisations, and how they could easily be attached to other religions. The fact that I took the bait re: Ireland was stupid, and I was pretty much off the mark with the tack I took, and what I said.

I should just have said - "Show me ANY state that has a liberal democracy and is not in piss poor shape."

So. I don't have a down and I probably don't know enough about world politics to be making such sweepingly dismissive statements. Plus, personally, given the Catholic attitude to Africa/Contraception, I'm glad there are Rwandans moving from Catholicism to Islam.
posted by seanyboy at 6:29 AM on April 8, 2004


Seanyboy:I followed the argument, I just thought your argument was silly. I thought Postroad's argument was also silly but for more complex reasons than the religion involved.
posted by biffa at 7:10 AM on April 8, 2004


This official report supplies some useful background information:

A 2001 study by a foreign university reported that 49.6 percent of the population were Catholic, 43.9 percent Protestant, 4.6 percent Muslim .. This study indicated a 19.9 percent increase in the number of Protestants, a 7.6 percent drop in the number of Catholics, and a 3.5 percent increase in the number of Muslims [since 1996] ..

Following the genocide in 1994, a number of citizens reportedly converted to Islam, either for protection or in search of meaningful reconciliation. Conversions tapered off in 1997, and according to the mufti of Rwanda, the Islamic community has not seen any increases in conversions over the past year [this in 2003]


So it looks as though the big story is the growth of evangelical Protestantism at the expense of Catholicism. The growth of Islam is comparatively insignificant, though still interesting.

(Via The Revealer, "a daily review of religion and the press".)
posted by verstegan at 3:55 PM on April 8, 2004


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