Despite much gloom and doom, there were a few silver linings in the report. Religious freedom and harmony have improved in Cyprus, resulting in greater access to houses of worship across the Green Line separating north from south. Nigeria witnessed its first peaceful democratic transfer of power earlier this year when Muslim northerner Muhammadu Buhari ousted Christian southerner Jonathan Goodluck at the polls. And Sri Lanka’s new government has taken positive steps to promote religious freedom and unity in the face of violent Buddhist nationalism.
central african republic
Although Congo-Brazzaville has not witnessed violence like neighboring Cameroon, it is now the first country in the region to ban the veils.
In Cameroon, Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgency has carried out deadly attacks in villages and towns. Female suicide bombers in veils have committed some of Boko Haram’s attacks.
“Muslim women can now only wear the full veil at home and in places of worship, but not in public places,” El Hadj Abdoulaye Djibril Bopaka, the head of Islamic Supreme Council of Congo-Brazzaville told Agence France-Presse.
“Since you are believers, I will speak to you as believers,” the archbishop told us, before explaining how he and his two colleagues — a Muslim imam and an evangelical pastor — have drawn on their faith in order to work for peace and reconciliation in Central African Republic (CAR). “If we want our hearts to be … like the heart of God, we need to learn to love other people, we need to learn to live in peace with them and to take them in. This is the only way we will be true children of God."
When the Seleka, a loose coalition of predominantly Muslim rebels, overturned CAR’s government in 2013, the anti-balaka, a loose coalition of predominantly Christian fighters, began to retaliate. At face value, the conflict seemed to be a religious one, event though Christians and Muslims in CAR have co-existed in relative peace for much of its 50-year history. Yet the twin forces of political instability and lack of economic opportunity have created an environment in which militias and rebel groups can prey upon young, unemployed men who see no hope for a future unless they fight for it.
Despite the chaos and conflict that have raged throughout CAR since March 2013, Dieudonné Nzapalainga, the Catholic Archbishop of Bangui, Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, President of the Central African Islamic Community, and Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou, President of the Evangelical Alliance of the Central African Republic, have united to teach their flocks what it means to be “true children of God.” As news reports have focused on the violence and displacement of some 800,000 Central African Republicans, these three faith leaders have instead focused more deeply on what their faith traditions tell them is true. And that faith has propelled them to seek peace and reconciliation in their war-torn country.
For their work, the three leaders were jointly listed among TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in April and received an award from Search for Common Ground last week.
“When politicians wanted to use the religious fibers to divide the people, whether to maintain power or to conquer it, we stood up as if we were a single man to say ‘non’ to this war and ‘yes’ to peace,” the archbishop said in his acceptance speech.
As the number of Muslims in Bangui, the Central African Republic capital, dwindles to an estimated 900, the head of a global alliance of churches has urged tackling the conflict from a political rather than a religious angle if the Muslim exodus is to be reversed.
The alliance is one of the agencies providing humanitarian assistance in the country, where chaos erupted last year after the mainly Muslim rebels toppled the government.
The Seleka rebels looted, raped, and killed mainly Christian civilians, prompting the formation of an equally brutal pro-Christian anti-Balaka (anti-machete) militia.
Churches in Central African Republic are caring for thousands of Muslims who have been trapped in a cycle of revenge attacks, perpetrated by a pro-Christian militia.
Since December, Anti-Balaka militias have been emptying Muslim quarters and avenging earlier attacks by the Seleka, an Islamist militia. The Seleka rampaged through the country in early 2013, terrorizing Christians and ransacking churches, hospitals, and shops.
Now that the Muslim president Michel Djotodia has stepped down, Seleka is being forced to withdraw from its strongholds, as the center of power shifts, amid a mass exodus and displacement of Muslims.
African religious leaders are appealing for an end to violence against Muslims in the Central African Republic as thousands flee to neighboring Chad and Cameroon.
In recent weeks, a pro-Christian militia known as anti-Balaka (or anti-machete) has killed and mutilated Muslims as they have tried to leave the capital Bangui by the truckload.
Muslims had enjoyed some protection when Michel Djotodia, the country’s first interim Muslim president, was in power. Djotodia resigned under pressure in January and Catherine Samba-Panza was appointed the interim president.