By Danstan Asif Kaunda, IOL Correspondent
The government in the southern African country Zambia is currently commencing the deregistration of the umbrella Islamic Council of Zambia (ICZ) on continuous leadership struggles and violating its constitution.
“Yes, Zambian Islamic Council faces deregistering but they have made an appeal against that decision,” Home Affairs Minister Lameck Mangani told IslamOnline.net in an interview on Thursday, February 18.
ICZ was established in 1988 as an outcome of a National Islamic Convention to promote and support the Islamic community in the country.
It is a loose Islamic organization whose establishment was supported by the government as a way of uniting various Islamic individual associations within the country.
It is most dominated by native Muslims and that is why some other Islamic societies with diverse race do not feel the need to affiliate to it.
Various Islamic associations, like the Lusaka Muslim Society, a main representative body of Muslims in Lusaka, and other Islamic professional associations, like the Muslim Lawyers Association of Zambia, refused to join the council.
The decision to deregister the ICZ was based on complaints from within its members, such as the Matero Islamic Society, Muslim Youth Forum –Zambia, Koomboka Mosque and B. Diawara Islamic Centre.
“Efforts to call for elections within ICZ have failed and member bodies have been threatened with expulsion if they tried to call for election,” claims Sheikh Shaban Phiri of the Matero Islamic Society.
He insisted that article two of the ICZ constitution stipulates that the executive committee would have elections every five years but this had not been the case.
Leadership quarrels and claims of violating the ICZ’s constitution had forced the government to re-look at its registration.
“We are currently looking at their appeal,” said Minister Mangani
He asserted that under the law, associations facing deregistering by the Registrar of Societies have the right to appeal within 21 days to the Ministry of Home Affairs, which the ICZ has done.
This is the second time the ICZ had been threatened with deregistration.
The first was in 2003 when Christian televangelist Dr. Nevers Mumba, who opposed minority religious group, was appointed vice-president.
Sheikh Shaban Phiri said there had been gross violation of the ICZ’s constitution by its current leadership.
Salim Dawood a Muslim at the Omar Mosque in Lusaka states that all those matters within the Islamic Council of Zambia are based on politics and race.
“There is racism within the leadership of the Islamic Council of Zambia, some prejudiced groups inside the council have been controlling the ICZ for some time now,” he told IOL.
“But despite this leadership struggle within the Zambian Islamic community, our Islamic faith for most of us Muslims in the country will not be shaken. The only challenge or worry is with the image of our religion in the country.”
Felix Phiri, a member of ICZ, expresses little hope of re-launching the Islamic Council of Zambia after what it had gone through.
“Repeated internecine power struggles within the ICZ have undermined its efficiency and its credibility, leading to the defection of most of the affiliated associations. It is not the overarching body it would like to be.”
ICZ President Rashid Phiri declined to discuss the issue because it is before the Ministry of Home Affairs.
But ICZ national co-coordinator Aadam Judas Phiri insists that the ICZ is still intact and operating to promote Islam and its tents in this country.
He encouraged Muslim community in Zambia to continue advocate of peace and unity.
“Those in-fighting in the Islamic Council of Zambia are just created by some of the disgrace Muslim brothers within the Islamic community in Zambia,” Phiri charged.
“And others making those claims over the council’s constitution are not even members in the Islamic Council of Zambia.”
He insisted that such infighting does not serve the interests of Muslims in the African country.
“There are other fundamental issues to talk about in the Islamic community in the county instead of those making those claims in the public.”
Islam first reached Zambia during the middle ages and the Omani rule in Zanzibar by way of Muslim merchants who extended their business from the Muslim cities which were established in the East African coast to the interior regions.
Muslims are estimated to constitute over 12 percent of the country’s 12.5 million people.
In 1991 then president Fredrick Chiluba declared Zambia a Christian state and amended the Constitution declaring Christianity as the official religion of the country.