Malawi is a secular state though some people claim that it is a Christian country because Christians constitute about 80 percent of the population according to the official government statistics.
However, Muslims who are second from Christianity with 36 percent according to the Muslim sources have been facing a lot of challenges because of their minority.
Of course, Islam is the first religion to be introduced in the country but due to lack of formal education it has advanced at a slower pace. The high illiteracy rate has made them to have low representation in government which has heavily affected them because there is no one in government’s key positions who can protect their rights.
The current burning issue is about Muslims being denied a right to own land in Blantyre despite being the citizens of the country.
The Muslims’ mother body Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) is being victimised at its 973-hectare of land situated at Chazunda, found in the country’s Commercial city of Blantyre. The villagers, who are 90 percent Christians were renting the land called Gada Farm which MAM bought from National Bank of Malawi in 1981.
However, when MAM informed the villagers of its interest to develop the area and that it is no longer wish to rent the premises, the villagers refused to leave. The villagers claim that the land belongs to their ancestors and that Muslims have no right to own land in area which is predominantly Christians yet, the country’s constitution allows anyone to own land anywhere regardless of faith or tribal background.
The constitution of Malawi guarantees the right to own property. Section 28 (1) stipulates, “Every person shall be able to acquire property alone or in association with others” while subsection (2) says “No person shall be arbitrary deprived of property.”
Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) has been using the land peacefully without anyone claiming the ownership or any right to the land until in 2012 when they noticed that some people were encroaching on its land. To make sure the matter is resolved peacefully, MAM on many times have been engaging the Traditional Authority Somba, Police Authorities and the District Commission office on formal discussions but this yielded nothing.
This forced the association to go to court where it instituted the proceedings against the villagers where each party gave their positions through their lawyers. On 11 June 2013, The High Court of Malawi issued an order in favour of the association after presenting necessary arguments and documents to prove their land ownership.
According to the court order which Malawi Muslims Official Website is in possession, the defendants claimed that they have been occupying the land for over 12 years (the period which they were on tenancy agreement with Speedys Limited, the company to which MAM leased the land) and therefore have been an adverse interest in the plaintiff’s land as is allowed under the law of adverse possessions.
However the Court dismissed the defendant’s claims after failing to convince the court of law as they were only giving contradictory statements.
“The defendants allege that there are 27 villages of the defendants on the plaintiffs’ land who have acquired adverse interest in the said land. At the same time, the defendants state that five villages are located in the plaintiffs’ land. There is a serious question about the credibility of the defendants. How can they say in one breathe that there are 27 villages of the defendants on the plaintiffs’ land and another breathe alleged again that there are actually five villages? The consequence of this is that the defendants cannot be believed as to the facts that they allege to set up their defence of adverse possession.
“In these circumstances this Court finds that the plaintiffs’ assertion that the defendants only cultivated on the plaintiffs’ land to be more probable than not. And so, this Court notes that in such a case the defendants would not be in a position to claim adverse possession against the plaintiff’s legal title to the land here in given that the defendants only used the land for cultivation which would not be sufficient to support the claim of adverse possession as was similarly found in the decided case of Mbekeani v Nsewa  16 MLR 295,” reads part of the Court Order signed by Acting Registrar M.A Tembo.
Nevertheless, despite the Court Order, the villagers still continue cultivating the land insisting the land belongs to their ancestors and that Muslims have no right to own land in that area. They have been carrying out criminal acts against MAM and its employees like trespassing and assaults.
Notable victims include Sheikh Muhammad Silika Deputy Principal at Blantyre Islamic Mission (BIM) owned by MAM situated within the land, Sherrif Kananji who escaped death after the villagers hacked him with Machete and others who were seriously injured.
“All these incidents have been reported to [the nearest] Milare police station and its headquarters. These acts are clearly criminal and the police needed to take action by arresting the culprits and protecting Malawian citizens, namely MAM officers, employees and their tenants as well as their property,” reads part of Press Statement released by MAM which Malawi Muslims Official Website is in possession.
The statement further says MAM is compelled to suspect that some personalities in the police are conniving with the villagers to deprive Muslims of their rights in the country.
“We have heard the villagers and some police officers saying that Muslims are not supposed to have land in Blantyre. There were also statements being made linking MAM and its members to terrorists groups [such as Nigeria’s Boko Haram] being made by some police officers and the villagers. We find these sentiments to be segregatory.
In fact, going back to the history, Christians are the ones who have committed serious terrorists attacks against Muslims in the country.
For example, immediately after the country’s democratic elections in 1999, Tumbuka, Ngoni and Nkhonde Christian tribes dominant in the north were irritated by the results which favoured the re-election of a Muslim President Dr Bakili Muluzi. Muluzi is of Yao tribe from the southern part of the country.
They unleashed a campaign of terror against Muslims of the Yao tribe, who were at that time working either as business people or tobacco tenants where property worthy over millions of dollars were vandalized and stolen.
Reports indicate that about 200 mosques were turned into ashes by Christians.
“It should be noted that MAM is a bona fide corporate citizen of this country and is entitled to own land and is at liberty to enjoy all the rights enjoyed and accorded to all other religious organisations and groupings in the country,” says the statement.
Ironically, Christians mainly of Catholic faithful have acquired a huge hectares of land in Muslim predominantly areas notably in Mangochi where they have built several structures. However, no single Muslim have chased them claiming that the land belongs to their ancestors.
“We are therefore dismayed that some elements in authority are discriminating MAM and its general membership based on their religious beliefs. As Malawian Muslims we believe that we are free to buy land anywhere in this country just as our Christian counterparts enjoy freedom at any place including where Muslims are in Majority,” worried MAM.
“Unprofessional Conducts” by Malawi Police
One of the country’s Muslim bodies Islamic Commission for Justice and Freedom also expressed its anger by issuing a strong-worded statement condemning the police’s “unprofessional conduct” after “innocent” Muslims were arrested while protecting their land.
The commission was referring to a case where about 79 Muslims were arrested on Friday last week as they went to peacefully ask the villagers to vacate the land. However, the villages started again attacking the Muslims which resulted into clashes.
“In 2010 some Muslim officials were badly beaten up when they were protecting their land at Blantyre Mission. But no-body was arrested in connection to that saga,” said Hassan Chimwala, General Secretary for the Commission.
“And this time some Muslims were also victimized earlier in the week to the extent of being hacked as they were still trying to protect the same lands which even the ministry of lands officials say it belong to the institution. The victims are still battling with their life in hospitals, but no one has been arrested,” added the highly charged Chimwala.
Meanwhile, Sothern Region Police Commissioner Wilson Matinga told Malawi News on Saturday that he was aware of the situation at Chadzunda.
“I am aware of the situation and we are doing everything possible to make sure that we arrest those who assaulted members of the association. After I heard about the tensions, I went to see the District Commissioner because this is a land issue which falls under his jurisdiction,” he was quoted as saying.
These are among other human rights violations Muslims in Malawi are facing on their day to day lives. Previously, Muslims were not allowed to wear hijab when taking their passport photos and in hospitals until Muslim authorities had to fight hard to reclaim their rights. But still, some institutions reject the women to wear hijab in their work places.