How Kenya’s radical mosque became a centre of peace

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The Masjid Musa mosque in the Kenyan city of Mombasa, which was once associated with Islamist extremism, has become a centre for reconciliation and peace building.

In 2014, police raided the mosque saying it was recruiting youths to join the Somalia-based Islamist militant group al-Shabab.

They impounded grenades, propaganda audio, video disks and black flags with painted rifles associated with al-Shabab.

After more than 100 people, mostly young men, were arrested, it was shut down.

Community elders and regional leaders met to reform the mosque’s leadership, expelling radical imams and replacing them with new, moderate ones.

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A few weeks later, the state handed the mosque back after being satisfied with its reforms, which included the delicate process of reintegrating the radicalised youth.

Masjid Musa mosque in Mombasa, Kenya

Shabi Islam, the new man put in charge, told the Leakblast about how this was achieved:

We did not use guns. We prayed and used kind words. Village and mosque elders engaged the entire community to convince the young people to change their ways. Today they have. No-one can say they came back by the way of the gun. They changed due to prayer and engagement.

Muslims at prayer in Mombasa, Kenya

Salim Karama, who says he was recruited to join al-Shabab and joined in riots at the time of the closure, is among those who have been reintegrated.

But he believes that without jobs people like him remain vulnerable:

The chronic issue is… unemployment and idle minds. If one has a job, he leaves home early morning, goes to work and returns in the evening. The government needs to look at our plight. A lot effort goes into removing a wrong without plugging in something good.

There are still some unanswered questions about the police crackdown.

Tailor Saddah Suleiman says her husband was among those arrested, but who has never been seen or heard from since.

A tailor in Mombasa, Kenya

A judicial inquiry said the police might have killed him. But Ms Suleiman wants a conclusive answer:

I am not satisfied at all. The government is supposed to tell us where he is because they are the ones who took him. We saw them taking him. So they need to at least tell us where is. We have never been told that.

The police told the inquiry he jumped off a lorry and ran off while he was being taken to a police station.

Nonetheless, six years on, people no longer fear walking or living near the Masjid Musa mosque and tenants are flooding back into its neighbourhood.


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