Abba Eban Fellows


Area:  Africa
Phone:  02-588-2310
Fax:  02-582-8076

Research Abstract

Islam and State and the Rise of Islamic Extremism in East Africa

In the last two decades East Africa (E.A--Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania) has witnessed a severe crisis between the Muslims, who form an increasingly important minority groups, and the mainly Christian governments. Riots and violent disturbances encouraged by militant Muslim leaders have occurred in E.A. The research will study the historical background and the current reasons for the tension between Islam and State in E.A.

Islam was introduced by Arab traders who subsequently controlled the Coast (Sahil) for hundreds of years. In the 19thcentury the Muslim traders penetrated into the interior of E.A and reached Congo and Uganda. The trade-routs and trade-centers on the way became the foci of Islamic expansion.  During the British and German colonial era and later after independence the rulers in E.A were mainly Christians and Islam lost its prominence.

At the beginning of the 1990s a political awakening of Muslims was noticed. This was a response to the process of democratization and the introduction of a multi-party system in Kenya and Tanzania.  These developments enabled the Muslims to express publicly their frustration and deep rooted feelings that for a long time they have been victims of discrimination. But their request to establish Islamic parties to promote their interests and achieve equality with the Christians was rejected on the ground that the state is "secular" and no political party should be based on religion.  Consequently, Muslim anger and desperation have been exploited by local Muslim radical leaders, religious and political.   They organized militant movements and preached that the redemption of Muslims can come only by Jihad. During 1992-1995 violent disturbances broke out in the three countries. Eventually the governments took control of the situation and crushed the militant groups.

Nevertheless, indignation among Muslims continued and was exploited ,this time, by al-Qa'ida that with the assistance of militant local Muslims perpetrated in 1998 and 2002 serious acts of terror in Nairobi, Mombasa and Dar es-Salaam in which hundreds were killed and thousands were injured, mainly Africans. These terror acts aggravated the tension between the governments and Muslims (although the majority of Muslims were against violence).  The research will study the personality of the militant Muslim leaders and the sources of their ideology and inspiration and also assess the future of Islamic extremism in Africa South of the Sahara.