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‘Can Christians be butchers?’ Tanzania’s Islamist tensions continue

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A Christian butchers in Mbeya, Tanzania. 'Wakristu' means 'Christian'. World Watch Monitor

A Christian butchers in Mbeya, Tanzania. ‘Wakristu’ means ‘Christian’.
World Watch Monitor

Over 90% of the population of Tanzania’s island of Zanzibar is Muslim, with a small Christian and indigenous minority. Addressing complaints by Christians because they are not allowed to slaughter animals for consumption, an authority told World Watch Monitor,

“Our national policies are silent on who deserves to be a slaughterer. But we have experienced seeing Muslims as our animal slaughterers, mainly because they have been directed by their holy book to eat meat slaughtered by Muslims, while for Christians there is no such condition stating that meat must be slaughtered by a Christian. What this means is that Christians can eat meat slaughtered by anyone.

“This is our custom. We will not allow Christians to engage in this business, as we feel that it will create violence in society. Christians are allowed to sell meat, including to their own butchers; the only problem is around slaughtering the animal.”

WWM reported the recent attack on a mosque in Mwanza, northern Tanzania, has highlighted the area as one [undergoing] pressure from political Islam.

More than three years have passed since the murder of a Tanzanian pastor, killed when rioting Muslims protested against Christians working as butchers. Tanzania is believed to have equal numbers of Christians and Muslims, although no official census figures are available. As Muslims are only permitted to eat meat that has been ritually slaughtered, while almost all Christians have no such restraints, it is typically considered acceptable for only Muslims to work in the trade, even though there is no official legislation to enforce this.

On 11 Feb. 2013, after Christians in the north-western city of Buseresere had arranged for a non-Muslim butcher to prepare meat for a Christian funeral reception, Mathayo Kachila, the pastor of the local Assemblies of God church, was hacked to death by rioters.

For six years before, tension had been building between Muslims and Christians in Buseresere over the issue of animal slaughter. The local government had forbidden non-Muslims from working as butchers, but Christians in the Geita district had begun to do so.

When Muslims heard that a non-Muslim was providing the meat for a funeral reception, they began looting Christian butcheries, urinating on the meat, and assaulting other Christian businessmen. Several were injured. Kachila was on his way to a friend’s house, when he was caught in the riot and received fatal machete wounds. Another nine people were injured.

Police arrested six suspects, but those cases have since stagnated due to lack of evidence and witnesses.

Hundreds of people attended Kachila’s funeral. Although they live in a Muslim-dominated area, it was the first time anything like this had happened there and the Christians were stunned.

Following the riots, police arrested and charged two local pastors, Obadiah Mlokozi Madini (who has since died) and Isaiah Rutha Ikiri (now 56), for “slaughtering animals without considering the law on food, medicine and law about livestock diseases”. Their cases lasted for almost two years, before being dismissed early in 2015.

Geita’s Regional Police Commander, Mponjoli Mwabulambo, told World Watch Monitor: “It has been our custom since the establishment of Tanzania – and even before – to see Muslims slaughter animals for public use, and we have not seen any problem. We have to care for our traditions and customs, which is to see Muslims doing this. If Christians slaughter animals, Muslims will not eat them. We feel that it will create violence in society, especially on the Muslim side.”

But some Christians believe that the eating of halal meat goes against their religious beliefs.

There is also an economic element. The halal slaughtering service costs TShs500 (US$0.22) per chicken, 1,500 TShs (US$0.67) per goat/sheep and TShs2,500 (US$1.12) per cow, and customers are issued a receipt from the Tanzania Supreme Council of Muslims, to whom the remittances are paid.

Local Muslims also complained over losing income to Christian butchers, as demand for non-halal meat increased and more Christians took up the trade.

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