A single week in February 2013 saw two church leaders killed in separate incidents in Tanzania. Pastor Evarist Mushi was shot dead on 17 February as he arrived to take a Sunday evening service at his church in Mtoni district, Urban West region, on the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar. As the pastor arrived, he was blocked from entering the church by two young men. He was shot twice in the head and pronounced dead on arrival at hospital.
Six days earlier, a group of youths armed with machetes and sticks attacked a Christian butcher’s shop in Buseresere, in the Geita region of mainland Tanzania. Tensions were running high in the area; Muslims were demanding the closure of Christian owned butcheries. Pastor Mathayo Kachila was caught up in the ensuing violence and was beheaded at the scene. Several other Christians were assaulted, and five people were hospitalised.
Christians make up over 50% of the population of Tanzania, and the government safeguards religious freedom. The conditions in Zanzibar, however, are very different. With Muslims forming 98% of the island’s population, there is increasing pressure from Islamist groups to apply sharia law to all aspects of legislation and to Islamise the island.
Violent attacks by Islamists on Zanzibar are becoming more frequent as tensions heighten. The killing of Pastor Evarist followed the wounding of the Rev. Ambrose Mkenda, who was ambushed and shot in Tomondo on Christmas Day in 2012. Another way in which Muslim extremists on the island put pressure on Christians is by mob violence against churches. Several churches were destroyed during rioting on two occasions in 2012 by members of the separatist group UAMSHO (Association for Islamic Mobilisation and Propagation).
Mainland Tanzania is embroiled in an ongoing debate about whether to introduce sharia alongside the existing secular law. Christians from the Masaai people group may also face pressure from their communities to conform to traditional practices such as the circumcision of children.