Kenya: Muslims, Christians disagree over draft constitution

 As it nears its final stages, Kenya's constitutional review process has entered a bumpy stretch, following disagreements among the faiths over a section in the draft constitution that provides for an Islamic legal system - the Catholic Information Service Africa report. On the one hand, some Christian organizations and Churches are arguing that religion should not feature in the constitution. Some Pentecostal and Evangelical churches have even gone further to demand that the new constitution should declare Kenya a Christian state, a suggestion dismissed by their mainstream counterparts. Muslims, on the other hand, have stated that the inclusion of the said section in the constitution is not negotiable. They said it has to sail through and appear in the final version unchanged. The National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), through its Secretary-General Rev Mutava Musyimi, said that no religion in the country should be elevated to special status in the constitution. The Catholic Church has also expressed its rejection of the sections through three archbishops: John Njue (Chairman of the Kenya Episcopal Conference KEC), Raphael Ndingi (of Nairobi), and John Njenga of Mombasa). Bishop Cornelius Arap Korir, Vice-Chairman of KEC spoke out against the courts. Ironically, the constitutional review process has been successful this far thanks to the joint effort of the faiths and the civil society organizations in Kenya, under the 'Ufungamano Initiative'. The Muslims on Tuesday, April 22, 2003 pulled out of Ufungamano, the faiths-led review process that brought together Christians from mainstream churches, Muslims and Hindus, as well as civic organizations in Kenya. The draft constitution provides for the strengthening of Kadhi's (Islamic) Courts, which have been in Kenya's constitution since the country's independence from Britain in 1963. Kadhi,s Courts cater for certain needs of the Muslim community, where all parties subscribe to that faith. The Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC) acknowledges and explains this. "The current constitution," CKRC says in Chapter 3, Section 8 b of the Draft Constitution, "provides for Kadhi's courts for the application of Islamic law on matters of personal status, marriage, divorce and inheritance in proceeding in which all the parties profess the Muslim religion [as in Section 66 of the current constitution]." As the CKRC says, "The constitutional status of Kadhi's court is based on a treaty to which the British, Kenya and Zanzibar governments were parties in 1963 when the Sultan of Zanzibar agreed to cede his sovereignty over the coastal strip to Kenya. On its part the Kenya government undertook to implement various measures for the protection of the former subjects of the Sultan, among them the system of Islamic law and courts." A constitutional conference is due to open next Monday April 28. Members of parliament are this week meeting with the CKRC in the coastal city of Mombasa for an orientation through the Draft Constitution. Source: CISA

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