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As the province of Cabo Delgado in Northern Mozambique continues to struggle to contain violence, religious leaders released a statement underlining that acts of terrorism should not be attributed to Islam.
“Our province is in a deep humanitarian crisis caused by terrorist violence, while indicators of holistic development are declining, which is made worse by the consequences of restrictive preventive measures against the pandemic,” reads the statement released by several religious leaders this week.
In their appeal, Christian and Muslim leaders reject that “terrorist acts are attributed to the Muslim religion and any assertion that links such acts to the principles of Islam.”
“We repudiate and distance ourselves from acts and people who distort religious doctrines to justify any type of violence,” it reads.
The 15-point program they propose is the result of a week-long gathering held in late December, where religious leaders, inspired by the Abu Dhabi declaration on human fraternity, came together despite their differences to work in dialogue in re-building the region’s peace. The seminar was held under the premise of religion being part of the solution for the regional conflict.
The leaders recall that the province is experiencing “a profound humanitarian crisis caused by terrorist violence,” in which development is strongly conditioned by restrictive measures to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic and several other worrying factors, “such as social inequalities, high illiteracy rates, the crisis of ethical-moral values and ethnic and religious polarization that threaten the current context and social coexistence, which violate human dignity.”
Religion, it is stressed, is not a cause of conflict and the reference is especially to Islam, “the religion most affected by prejudice.” Religion – the leaders write – “aims to create happiness, reconciliation and peace in society.”
Hence the commitment to dialogue with other confessions, overcoming distrust and promoting mutual understanding because “all religions are part of the design of God the Most High” and “no true religious leader or prophet has ever taught violence.”
Insurgents with ties to the Islamic State have been increasingly active in the province of Cabo Delgado since 2017, when they began attacking towns in the region.
The militants call themselves al-Shabab, but it is not linked with the Somali group of the same name.
According to the United Nations, fighting in the Cabo Delgado province of northern Mozambique intensified during 2021, with at least 3,100 people killed and over 815,000 forced to flee their homes.
Though the perpetrators are often labeled as “jihadists” because of their link with extremist Muslims from abroad, locals insist that the conflict is not religious in nature, but just another representation of mankind’s greed. Among the natural riches of the region is a series of natural gas projects worth $60 billion.
The religious communities said they are willing to “collaborate with the government, institutions and good organizations dedicated to the cause of establishing Peace in the Province of Cabo Delgado.”
“We declare our strong unity in the face of any threat of rupture and our unanimous repudiation of terrorist and extremist acts, as well as our commitment to walk side by side towards peace and brotherhood”, write the Christian and Muslim leaders,” the statement said.
The joint statement lists several “worrying factors” for the population, such as “social inequalities that the province has historically attested to, the high level of illiteracy, the crisis of ethical-moral values and ethnic and religious polarizations.”
Leaders also call for the dissemination of messages that “discourage adherence to extremism and any type of violence” and emphasize the need to accompany adolescents and young people who have suffered the impact of violence, “to achieve their reconciliation and social reintegration.”
Labeling Islamists militancy in Africa one of the 10 conflicts to watch this year, the magazine Foreign Policy said in December: “Mozambique’s government, which long resisted outside involvement in Cabo Delgado, finally agreed last year to let in Rwandan troops and units from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional bloc. Those forces have reversed insurgent gains, though militants appear to be regrouping. Rwandan and SADC forces risk a protracted war.“
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma