Islam held in high esteem in Rwanda
Courtesy Arab News
DUBAI, 30 September 2007 — The life story of Umugwaneza Sulaiman, a contestant for the Dubai International Holy Qur’an Award, is truly inspirational since he has risen from rubble to create a renaissance.
Even though he is only 19, this young man from Rwanda has survived a life of hardship. As a young child he survived the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. He still has horrific memories of hiding in forests from militias that were killing people. The rivers and roads they walked through were littered with bodies. Later on he lost his father and had to lead a harsh life in one of the poorest countries in the world.
Despite all his hardships, Sulaiman was determined to become a hafiz and was rewarded by becoming the first Rwandan to take part in the Dubai International Holy Qur’an Award competition. Sulaiman’s quest with the sacred book started when he converted to Islam at the age of 11.
“Even though my family were Catholics I was never interested in the church. The Azan from the mosque in my neighborhood fascinated me and I started attending classes there,” he said.
When asked if he faced any resistance from his family, Sulaiman said that his family had no issues with him becoming a Muslim, as Islam is a held in high regard in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. His whole family followed him a few years later and converted to Islam.
Since the genocide, Rwandans have converted to Islam in huge numbers. Muslims now make up 14 percent of the 8.2 million people in Africa’s mostly Catholic nation, twice as many as before the killings began. The reason behind the conversions lies in the fact that Rwandan Muslims did not take part in the genocide and played a key role in the humanitarian efforts that followed.
Muslims have been honored by the national government for their roles in saving the lives regardless of their faith. Many people attribute the recent spread of Islam to these humanitarian acts.
It took years of dedicated work for Sulaiman to memorize the Qur’an. The lack of qualified teachers in Rwanda made him make up his mind to travel to Kenya as there are good Qur’anic schools there.
“I was 15 when my five friends and I decided to travel to Kenya to seek knowledge. Two of my friends were converts like me,” he said.
The six young men packed their bags and traveled to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to find the school. They enrolled themselves in a free boarding school, which accepts students from all over East Africa. There they studied under the tutelage of Qur’an scholars. It took Sulaiman two years to memorize the whole Qur’an.
Now back home in Rwanda, Sulaiman works as a part time Imam and Qur’an teacher to supplement his income while studying at the only Islamic seminar in Kigali.
Masha Allah, there are so many Muslims now in my country. We are working hard at teaching the Qur’an to the new generation of Muslim children,” he said.
After finishing his education, Sulaiman hopes to get a scholarship to study Islam. “We get Muslim scholars coming from Uganda to spread the word of Islam in Rwanda. I hope that through my knowledge of Islam I will be able to help spread peace in my country,” he said.