SHAFAQNA - Mombasa County Commissioner Nelson Marwa has threatened to shut down two mosques in the city - - Masjid Mussa and Masjid Sakina - -following clashes between police and Muslim youths
last week. " The mosques we suspect are not only acting as a training ground but also recruitment ground for al - Shabaab terrorists, and the only way we can deal with them is to shut them down, " Marwa told Sabahi, although he did not specify the exact date of the potential closure. Religious leaders and activists oppose the government ' s plans, however, warning that closing the mosques may further radicalise the youth. " That is an unacceptable move and it can only exacerbate the situation by annoying the youths more and cementing the feelings among them that the government is against them, pushing them more to radicalisation, " Nairobi Jamia Mosque committee member Ibrahim
Lethome told Sabahi. Lethome said shutting down the mosques indefinitely would amount to a violation of freedom of worship and would be seen as issuing blanket punishment on the entire Muslim community. The government ' s plan will " make Muslims view the whole war against terrorism as unfairly targeting Muslims which will deter co - operation between the community and the government ", he said. To avoid further radicalisation in the mosques, Lethome advised that the government use intelligence to pre - empt any incidents of crime or terrorism - related activities in places of worship.
Christian, Muslim leaders united
Christian religious leaders also opposed shutting down the mosques. " That is a hasty move which is ill - advised and can easily be counterproductive by inflaming religious emotions which will complicate the situation, " Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of Mombasa Julius Robert Katoi Kalu told Sabahi. Kalu called on the government to address unemployment and poverty in the area, which is also a factor pushing youths to extremism. Catholic Archdiocese vicar - general Willybard Lagho said that instead of closing the mosques, the government, along with Muslim religious leaders, should focus on changing the mosques ' management. " Both Sakina and Mussa mosques had their committees toppled by clerics whose interests are to propagate an extremist agenda, " Lagho told Sabahi. " A wise decision would be that the government assist these committees to retake the management of these mosques rather than shut them down. " He condemned the police ' s use of force and the way they
stormed Masjid Mussa, going inside while wearing their shoes, saying it was disrespectful to a place of worship. " The government approach is wrong, " Lagho said. " Use of excessive force when responding to these radicalisation incidences by police as one witnessed during the raid on Sunday, is itself radicalisation. The government should embrace dialogue and community engagement,[which] we are sure can reverse the situation. " To deal with radicalisation in Mombasa and other parts of the country, Lagho called on the Muslim community to look for moderate clerics and scholars who can preach to youths in the affected mosques.
Calls for inquiry, dialogue and lasting solutions
On Friday(February 7th) a working committee comprising nine Muslim scholars and political leaders were dispatched to Mombasa on a fact - finding mission to " engage with leaders and the youth on measures to address existing problems at the root of the crisis ", said Mandera Senator Billow Aden Kerrow, who represents the Muslim political caucus and is a member of the committee. " On Thursday, Muslim religious, political and opinion leaders from Nairobi and Mombasa met at Jamia Mosque in Nairobi to deliberate the sad and regrettable incidents at Masjid Mussa that left eight people dead, " he told Sabahi. Kerrow said the team would be in Mombasa for five days before returning to Nairobi where a leaders ' forum would be convened to announce the way forward. " At this moment we cannot give you any details on the fact finding mission, " he said. " We are on the ground to familiarise ourselves with what is happening[and] we have commenced urgent intervention measures to
bridge the divide and provide necessary guidance to the youth and Muslim community in general. " For his part, Chairman of the Muslim Human Rights Forum(MHRF) Al - Amin Kimathi called for an independent investigation into the causes of violent extremism and police abuses that have resulted in the deaths of clerics and youths suspected to be members of al - Shabaab. The establishment of a commission of inquiry will help uncover the root causes of violent extremism and suggest lasting solutions, he said. " As we talk today everyone, be it state or non - state actors, is culpable and is to blame for what is going on, " Kimanthi told Sabahi. " It is only through self - re - evaluation through an independent commission of inquiry that we can look at this issue wholesomely to give us a true basis for intervention. " " Therefore, we want the government to commission an independent inquiry into the causes of the extreme violence at Masjid Mussa and other places and put in place civil
and legally acceptable measures of detecting and dealing with manifestations of violent extremism from any quarter, be they religious or secular, state or non - state actors, " he said. The inquiry commission should be headed by an individual equivalent to a High Court judge and have members who have social, political, economic and religious expertise. He said the MHRF had demandedthe immediate release of children who were caught in the fracas and arrested during raid on Masjid Mussa
. The organisation also called for prosecution of police who might have engaged in use of excessive force that led to deaths and injuries of innocent people. "[The government should] commit to and open channels ofdialogue and engagements with all concerned to stamp out the dangerous growth of
violent extremism in society
, " Kimanthi said.