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Slaughtering of Animals: A Bone of Contention between Muslims and Christians in Tanzania – Dr. Moshe Terdiman

March 27, 2013


Slaughtering of Animals – A Bone of Contention between Muslims and Christians in Tanzania

by Moshe Terdiman

Research fellow in the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 1 (2013), Number 8 (March 2013)


On February 11, 2013, Muslim youths clashed with a group of Christians, who had slaughtered a cow and two goats to be sold at a local market in the Tanzanian town of Buseresere and attacked a butchery owner at the same town, which is located in Geita region – on the southern shores of Lake Victoria. The clashes resulted in the beheading of Pastor Mathayo Kachili of the Tanzanian Assemblies of God Church, the injury of several others and significant property damage.[1]

In the aftermath of the clashes, the police arrested three people: Pastor Isaya Rutta, who slaughtered the animals on church grounds, and two other people who were part of Pastor Rutta’s church. The three people under arrest will be charged for breaking health laws, inciting the public, and causing the death of Pastor Kachili. According to the Geita Acting Regional Police Commander, Paul Kasabago, “the law requires that any slaughtered animal be certified by a qualified veterinarian [to ensure] it is fit for human consumption. Short of that, you risk consumers’ health”.[2]

The Tanzanian President, Jakaya Kikwete, condemned these interfaith clashes in Buseresere. He said that “it is barbaric to fight for the right to slaughter”. He added that “we have lived for more than 50 years without having quarrels related to our beliefs as Muslims and Christians. We have lived peacefully and helped one another in times of need. So we should ask ourselves, ‘Why now?’”. He further said that the “main responsibility is on religious leaders who should be very careful of what they are preaching. If they preach love and peace these things will never happen but if they preach hate they will never end… it is their duty to determine what they preach”.[3]

Following these clashes, on February 16, 2013, the Tanzanian Prime Minister, Mizengo Pinda, issued a decree which temporarily prohibits Christians from slaughtering animals for consumption until government-appointed interfaith committee finds a solution to this issue. The Tanzanian Prime Minister said that “traditionally Muslims have been [the ones who slaughtered animals] in this country, but we have this conflict and I have formed a committee of religious leaders to look for a permanent solution. Therefore, [while] the committee will be working hard to get a permanent solution, Muslims will continue to do this for us all”.[4]

That was not only the first clash between Muslims and Christians in the Lake Victoria Zone which led to bloodshed but also the first clash between followers of Islam and Christianity in Tanzania over the issue of how and by whom livestock should be slaughtered.

The Slaughter of Animals – A Cause for an Interfaith Conflict

Indeed, throughout the history of Tanzania from the colonial rule up to 2012, the issue of how and by whom livestock was slaughtered had never been a bone of contention between Muslims and Christians. Muslims used to have a monopoly over the meat industry. Thus, it has been customary for slaughterhouses, which are owned by town councils, to be staffed by Muslims and to follow Islamic guidelines. Following the livestock’s slaughter, the meat has been sold to butchers for retail. It seems like non-Muslims just did not mind that only Muslims were engaged in slaughtering livestock.[5]

There are few obstacles in slaughtering animals only by Muslims. First, for Christians, it is very expensive to slaughter pigs at the slaughterhouse. Also, after the pig is slaughtered, the veterinarian has to certify the meat by stamping it. In case the veterinarian decides that the meat is unfit for human consumption, it has to be buried.    Therefore, Christians prefer to slaughter pigs at home although it is illegal. Then it costs less money and they don’t need the certification from the veterinarian. Second, slaughtering is a big industry that generates employment. Therefore, its restriction to Muslims only denies the Christians employment opportunities.[6]

Therefore, it is no surprise that during the last year or so Christians have entered the butchery trade, causing not only outrage amongst Muslims but also fracas between them and the Tanzanian government, which has backed the Muslims in the ensuing debate.

The first incident took place on May 6, 2012, when Pastor James Moses was detained by the authorities in Singida, central Tanzania, for slaughtering animals for consumption at a funeral of a follower of the Pentecostal Evangelistic Fellowship of Africa (PEFA) at Kalakala Village in Kiomboi District without following Muslim ‘halal’ rituals. The Pastor was detained as a result of a formal complaint filed against him by “Sheikh Hamza Thabit, a Muslim village leader”.[7]

Since that incident, and especially in recent months, a debate has been raging throughout Tanzania as for how and by whom meat should be processed for public consumption. Tensions grew even more when Christians started to own butcheries in the Geita and Mwanza regions and Muslim leaders demanded its immediate closure.[8]

The Tanzanian government has backed the Muslim side in this debate. Thus, in order to allay the Muslims’ fears and to make sure that the meat is prepared in pursuance of the Shari’ah, the Supreme Council of Muslims in Tanzania registered the Halal Bureau of Tanzania in January 2013. The aims of this body are not only to supervise and alert Muslims on all unlawful foods and beverages according to the Shari’ah, but also to inspect all kinds of cosmetics unlawful to the Shari’ah.[9]

Moreover, on January 12, 2013, the Mwanza Regional Commissioner, Evarist Ndikilo, banned Christians from slaughtering animals for their food and ordered that the whole process must be done by Muslims only. He further warned the Christians not to disobey his order.[10]

Despite this order, tensions between Muslims and Christians continued to escalate. Therefore, in early February 2013, the Minister of State in the President’s Office responsible for social relations, planning coordination, Stephen Wassira, travelled to Mwanza to meet with Christian and Muslim leaders in an effort to defuse tensions. Stephen Wassira categorically directed that the task of slaughtering animals for public consumption should be executed only by Muslims. He said that followers of other faiths may slaughter animals if the meat is solely for family or private consumption – but certainly not for sale to, or consumption by, the general public.[11]

The Mwanza regional government prevented Christian religious leaders from making a public statement on the matter for fear of agitating their followers against the ‘Wassira Proclamation’. Therefore, Christian religious leaders called upon their followers to ‘retaliate’ by boycotting ‘Muslim-oriented’ butcheries and were planning to seek judicial intervention through the court system. They suggested that since the Tanzanian government had registered a Muslim body to supervise Islamic laws in foods and beverages, it is also necessary to register the same to the Christians to reduce crisis in society. On February 11, 2013, Muslim fury over the Christian boycott of ‘Muslim-oriented’ butcheries along with the Christian leaders’ threat to have the discrimination addressed through the courts erupted into clashes.[12]

A Religious Conflict or An Economic Conflict?   

The question asked in this context is whether this conflict simply revolves around Muslim fears of mistakenly eating non-halal meat, or whether Muslims are attacking and killing non-Muslims for being business competitors, while articulating their hostility in the garb of Islamic piety, or whether it is just another conflict in the sequence of religious conflicts that have rocked Tanzania recently.

In order to answer this question, some details about Muslims and Christians in Tanzania are due. Accurate information concerning religious identification of the Tanzanian population has been difficult to find since the Tanzanian government does not collect this kind of information as a matter of policy and many religious bodies do not or are reluctant to do it as well. Still, according to the International Religious Freedom Report for 2011, “there were reports that the population is 50% Christian and 50% Muslim. A Pew Forum survey conducted in 2010 suggests that approximately 60% of the population is Christian, roughly 35% Muslim, and around 3% adhere to other religions”.[13] Yet, according to the CIA Factbook, as of March 15, 2013, 30% of the population in the mainland is Christian, 35% of the population in the mainland is Muslim, and 35% of the population in the mainland adheres to indigenous beliefs. On the other hand, in Zanzibar, more than 99% of the population is Muslim.[14]

According to the International Religious Freedom Report for 2011, the Tanzanian Constitution proclaims freedoms and rights regarding religious preferences and practices. The Constitution also promulgates that Tanzania is a secular nation-state.[15]

Indeed, Tanzania has enjoyed a long history of good relationships between Muslims and Christians, but in recent years, enmity between the followers of these religious groups has increased, especially in Zanzibar, but also in the mainland. For instance, on September 21, 2011, Muslims burnt three churches of the Tanzanian Assemblies of God Church in the Mwanza region because they claimed that four Christians from the Lumala Parish had burnt the Qur’an.[16] As of May 2012, about 25 churches and convents were destroyed in Zanzibar.[17] On October 19, 2012, Muslims burnt five churches on the outskirts of the Capital, Dar es-Salaam, following reports according to which a young Christian boy had urinated on the Qur’an.[18] On March 2, 2013, unknown assailants, most likely Muslims, launched an attack on the residence of Archbishop Valentino Mokiwa, the Bishop of Dar es Salaam and Primate of the Anglican Church of Tanzania.[19]

Hence, the clashes which resulted in the beheading of Pastor Mathayo Kachili can be seen as yet another interfaith clash in a series of interfaith clashes which have rocked Tanzania in recent years and which have the Christians bear the brunt of the violence.

Still, the clashes which resulted in the beheading of Pastor Kachili were different than other interfaith clashes in Tanzania, which were usually caused by the defamation of Islam or desecration of the Qur’an. These clashes erupted as a result of another reason, which seems to have more to do with the poor economic growth and the high unemployment in Tanzania.

Tanzanian Analysts suggest that poor economic growth and high unemployment in Tanzania have aggravated the recent rise of religious fundamentalism in the country. According to Issa Musoke, a researcher and lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam, the interfaith clashes “are more about the communities’ discontent with the economy than about each other’s religious beliefs. Religious fundamentalism always emerges when communities are facing economic crisis”. He further said that “Muslims and Christians in the country are increasingly under pressure due to financial hardship and use religion to cope. Under these circumstances, individuals are more likely to fall prey to fringe groups that advocate extreme ideologies to which they would otherwise not subscribe”. He suggested that in order “to create a stopgap in the short term, national leaders need to reconcile the conflicting parties and stop tensions between the communities. In the long term, the government should focus on economic development. Failure to do so will provide terrorist and extremist groups fertile ground to advance their misguided ideologies”.[20] Desudedith Mushi, a lecturer of sociology at Mzumbe University, said that “unemployment among youth is a time bomb. Most rioters are unemployed youth who have nothing else to do. In Dar es Salaam, 57,000 youth aged between 15 and 24 are unemployed, corresponding to an unemployment rate of 16%, according to the World Bank”. Therefore, he said that “the conflict can only be put off once economic problems are solved”.[21]


The clashes which resulted in the beheading of Pastor Kachili stress the direct link between dire economic situation and unemployment and the prevalence of interfaith clashes between Muslims and Christians in Tanzania. The entry of Christians into the meat industry after many decades of Muslim monopoly, as a result of economic reasons, has not been received well by the Muslims, who have seemed to feel that their religious rights have been violated. This violation resulted in the beheading of Pastor Kachili.

These clashes may also mean that unless improved, the current situation prevalent nowadays in Tanzania of dire economic situation and unemployment coupled with the rise of radical Islam and religious fundamentalism will most likely result in more interfaith conflicts and more bloodshed.

This delicate situation may also give one of the answers to two questions which bother many Tanzanians and people who follow the events in this country: who or what stands behind these interfaith conflicts and why do they erupt in recent years.

To sum up, this situation is true also to other countries in Africa — Muslim countries and countries with big Muslim minorities — as well as to other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. Dire economic situation and high unemployment rate may exacerbate religious radicalization processes  and interfaith conflicts.

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