'Mosques are springing up everywhere', Congolese bishop says amid fear of Islamization

Children displaced by the conflict in D R Congo Credit Stuart Boulton Shutterstock CNA Stuart Boulton/Shutterstock.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has seen an increase in attacks that target Christians in what a Catholic bishop in the central African country has described as a path towards Islamization.

Bishop Melchisedec Sikuli Paluku of Butembo-Beni spoke May 3 to the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need International, discussing the abduction of Christians and the widespread construction of mosques in the country.

Bishop Paluku, who has been Bishop of Butembo-Beni since 1998, said that those behind the persecution of Christians have “a grand scheme to Islamize or expel the local populations.”

When asked why he spoke of Islamization when the main organization involved in the abductions and the attacks in the region is the Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamist rebel group, the bishop said: “All those who have been kidnapped by these terrorist groups and who have escaped alive from them report the same thing.”

“They (victims) were given the choice between death and conversion to Islam,” Bishop Paluku said, adding that “they are given Muslim names to cement their identity. Besides, even those who live in the diocese and haven’t gone through this traumatic experience can tell you that mosques are springing up everywhere.”

He says that for many years Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi had a lot of interest in DR Congo and gave generously toward the building of mosques in the country.

The Bishop of Butembo-Beni added that today “other sources” have taken over the funding of the construction of the buildings.

He said the militant groups are involved in mining to expand their sources of funding.

“It is plain to see that Islamization is not their sole motivation,” he said, adding: “This region abounds with natural resources and they are being exploited completely illegally.”

“How else can you explain those coltan refineries that are operating in Rwanda, when the country has none of this resource?” the bishop posed. “Instead this rare mineral is extracted here in our region and exported quite illegally across the other side of the frontier. And I see no sign of the Congolese government being concerned.”

The Islamist groups have faced opposition within the Muslim community. Ali Amini, a Muslim religious leader, was shot dead while praying in Beni's main mosque May 1. He was known as an outspoken critic of Islamic militancy.

ACN reported that since the beginning of April, a wave of demonstrations calling for an end to insecurity have taken place in DR Congo

Justifying the protests, Bishop Paluku said, “You cannot ask people who are being slaughtered like animals to simply shut up and do nothing. They have every right to demand security, every right to demand freedom. We simply urge that this should be done with respect for the law, peacefully and without violence.”

The people, the bishop said, are protesting what he describes as “the completely ineffectual nature of the UN peacekeeping mission” amid heightened conflict.

“When I became bishop, 20 years ago, people were already talking about the balkanization of the region. I can only say that the expression still applies today!”

He says that the National Episcopal Conference of Congo calculates that there have been over 6,000 people killed in Beni since 2013, and over 2,000 in Bunia in 2020 alone.

There are also at least 3 million internally displaced persons and around 7,500 people who have been kidnapped, the bishop said.

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He denounced what he refers to as weakness and complicity on the part of the government of president Felix Tshisekedi and said that he is not afraid to call out the country’s leadership for allowing violence in the country.

When ACN asked whether he thinks he is taking a risk in denouncing the government, Bishop Paluku said, “The Congolese Catholic Church is not concerned in this respect. She has done so much for the construction of the country and she manages so many schools and hospitals!”

“Congo would not be the Congo without the Church. So, we are fortunate in being able to speak out quite freely,” the bishop said.

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