In Malawi, Church Eyes Islamic Radicalization With Concern

By Eva-Maria Kolmann 

Mass in Malawi; ACN photo

Mass in Malawi; ACN photo

NEW YORK—A bishop from Malawi has expressed concern about the growing trend towards Islamization in his Mangochi Diocese, in the south of the country.

Speaking with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Stima Monfort stressed that traditional Islam in Malawi has been moderate and that Christians and Muslims have been co-existing peacefully. A national Christian-Muslim committee has regularly tackled problems. But there are indications of foreign influences that are worrisome, the prelate said.

Muslim preachers are increasingly coming into the country from Sudan, proclaiming a more radical form Islam and these imams are not easily controlled by established Muslim leaders, who have labelled the newcomers as poorly trained.

The bishop said that these preachers were “dissatisfied” with traditional Islam and wanted to bring “true Islam” to Malawi. In the last few years, this has already led to attacks on Christians and moderate Muslims.

The bishop said that “anyone who has the necessary funds can build a mosque. And the person who built the mosque is also the one who controls the imam. Some villages have four mosques: a traditional one that has always been there, as well as other, newly-built ones.”

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that a growing number of young people are receiving scholarships to study in Sudan or Saudi Arabia, returning home radicalized.

The bishop added that “many Muslims have several wives, which increases the number of children and thus the proportion of Muslims in the population. These families often cannot provide that many children with regular schooling and can only send them to the Koranic schools.”

Muslim tolerance of polygamy is also a factor for the followers of traditional African religions who are considering conversion to either Islam or Christianity. While the Catholic Church rejects polygamy, the practice is accepted in Islam.

The bishop also said that Muslim men being urged to marry Christian girls—“because even when the wife does not convert to Islam, the children would automatically be Muslim.”

As to the Church’s response, the bishop said: “We encourage priests to be close to the people and, as Pope Francis says, to leave the sacristy. For many faithful converting to Islam is very tempting—especially when the only school in the area is a Muslim institution. They need help and encouragement.”

Malawi’s population is 80 percent Christian, with Muslims accounting for only 13 per cent of the population. However, in the Mangochi Diocese there are easily as many Muslims as there are Christians.

Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action. Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world. The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide. For more information contact Michael Varenne at michael@churchinneed.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384. www.churchinneed.org