In 1994, the winds of ethnic hatred were blowing across the lush mountains and fields of Rwanda, a small African country sandwiched between Uganda, Tanzania, Zaire and Burundi.
After the winds, came the blood. In a carnage which lasted 100 days, about 800 000 innocent people, mostly members of the Tutsi minority, were killed by the majority Hutus.
Neighbours were killing neighbours. Friends were killing friends. Co-workers were killing co-workers. Priests were killing their own congregations. It was a genocide of the worst kind. No one was spared. Not women, not children, not the elderly. Such was the brutality of the killings that some of the victims had offered money to their killers in exchange for being killed quickly and mercifully.
The Tutsis were Christians as were their killers, the Hutus, and most were members of the same church, the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, Rwanda was at that time the most Catholic country in the whole of Africa. Yet churches and monasteries became killing grounds as those who seek shelter there did not find the sanctuary they were hoping for. There was even one instance of a priest instructing his own church to be bulldozed to the ground while 2000 Tutsis were still hiding inside it.
However, in the midst of this madness, there was sanity. Numerous lives were saved by complete strangers.
While Hutu Christians were hunting down and slaughtering innocent Tutsi Christians, Muslim Hutus were providing thousands of Tutsi Christians with sanctuary. Muslim homes and mosques throughout Rwanda in those 100 days were filled with Tutsi Christians.
The Muslim community in Rwanda constituted a very small minority at that time, and like the Roman Catholic majority, the Muslim community had both ethnic Hutu and Tutsi members.
The Muslim community is the only religious community which had survived the genocide virtually intact because Muslim Tutsis were protected by Muslim Hutus. In fact, it is only in the Muslim community that ethnic lines were essentially ignored. Muslim Hutus, by and large except for a few individuals, were not influenced by Hutu racial extremism and its call to murder.
While some Hutu Christians did put themselves in danger to protect and save Tutsis, the only community which has acted together as a unit to protect and save as many Tutsis as it could was the Muslim community.
What makes what happened especially remarkable is because traditionally in Rwanda, Muslims were looked down upon by the Christian majority. However, the decades of being placed on the fringe of mainstream society apparently did not stop the Muslims from sheltering those they could from certain death.
The various acts of life-saving on the part of the Muslim community are astounding and deserve to be read and shared with others. For example, some Christian Tutsis were saved when Muslims paid ransom money for them. Some Muslims died because they refused to give up the Tutsis they were protecting. In some places, Muslims set up road blocks in their areas and thus saving the Tutsis who came their way.
The Muslim community handled itself so well during those 100 dark days that within ten years, the numbers of Muslims in Rwanda grew twice as much as before 1994. Hundreds of mosques had to be built in order to accommodate the swelling Muslim population. Now, there are mosques in almost every district, town and city in Rwanda. Alhamdulillah.
Some converted to honour those who had protected them. Some got acquainted with Islam for the first time and saw its beauty. Some converted to protect themselves from future genocides ( since Muslims protected each others and also others ). Some converted when they discovered that Muslims had saved their family members. Some converted because they could not go back to the Roman Catholic Church for its complicity in the genocide and had to find God somewhere else. Even some Hutus converted to Islam as a way of showing that they did not have any role in the genocide.
The role of the Muslim community during the genocide and the subsequent conversions to Islam are unfortunately not well-publicised records. While there are few articles here and there such as “Islam blooms in wake of Rwandan genocide ” by Laurie Goering ( Chicago Tribune ), ” Rwanda’s religious reflections ” by Robert Walker ( BBC) or “Ten Years After Horror, Rwandans Turn to Islam ” by Marc Lacey ( New York Times ), they are essentially unknown events especially among Singaporeans, Muslim or non-Muslim despite these being more than ten years old.
The life-saving actions by the Muslim community in Rwanda were the teachings of Islam being put into practice. The genocide had started about a few weeks after the end of Ramadan, and during the Ramadan of 1994, Muslim religious leaders especially imams had openly preached against local Muslims getting involved in any ethnic conflicts in Rwanda.
As though being prophetic, the Muslim religious leaders repeatedly told Rwandan Muslims that “murder is a sin”. In fact, Muslim religious leaders were the only ones among the various religious groups in Rwanda to continue openly calling on their followers to reject the killings during the genocide.
The Rwandan Muslim experience needs to be told. Here is a great example of Muslims practising Islam in motion. This is a great example of what Islam actually is, as opposed to what the media wants everyone to believe.
(This abstract was taken from the internet in conjunction with the Holy Ramadan. It illustrate the fact that Islam teaches tolerance and does not condone terrorism)
Happy Celebrating Eid Mubarak.