Religion in Mathare

Religion, the binding of people to a particular belief and consciousness: it is vital to every human being not only to believe in God as a creator and religion’s Mr. 15 percent man (prophets) but the belief in a higher power above us, to believe that human being were created for a particular reason and purpose. Religion in Mathare is something that is clearly evident. There are streams of churches which give spiritual fulfillment to the dwellers here.

All you need to set up a church in Mathare is a small twenty by twenty room, six benches, a bible and a little spiritual inspiration and Walla! Not forgetting the important offerings sack because it is what boosts the preacher’s morale, fills his stomach, puts his children to school and fills his cell phone with airtime. Preachers taking the offering would rather call it a `blessing’ which sounds fair enough because the money is not stolen, it’s willingly given out, giving a clear indication that Churches are businesses in this side of the tracks. Many would argue that the offering is what made the churches in Kenya not to endorse the newly promulgated constitution; the constitution states that churches in Kenya will be subjected to taxation of the tithe and offerings.

Mathare is predominantly Christian. I am not sure if Christianity was initially preferential or it was forced down to people by missionaries who made Christianity a basis of formal education. Mathare has churches spread out from Mlango Kubwa to Mabatini, Kosovo to Moradi [all villages in Mathare]. There is a wide range of churches in all denominations from African traditional churches like the Legio Maria, Roho Fuweny, Jopolo and Dini ya Musambwa, to the religions which were brought by the European missionaries such as Protestant, Catholic, Anglican and the Salvation army, all different but with one common agenda. On any given Sunday, the Faithfulls of mathare would colorfully dress to attend church. This is mostly popular with children, married couples, and older folks. Teenagers and young men seldom go to church, it’s not the `in thing’ I suppose.


In mathare there is a new kid on the block. The world’s most fastest growing religion has not left Mathare slums out of the action. It’s the talk of the town and its one of its kind here in Mathare: I am talking about the newly opened masjid ul nur mosque in Mathare area 4B. The first day I heard the call to prayer from the new mosque, I, just like all Mathare residents was amused because Islam is very rare in this side of Nairobi. Islam is a religion in which the followers believe in the ideals taught by the prophet Muhammad and the teaching of the holy book The Quran. The 4B mosque was built by peasants who migrated from the North Eastern part of the country to their newfound home of Mathare in search of education, employment and a new life.

Due to strict Islamic teachings Islam could not thrive in Mathare in the earlier years because of sanitation conditions and social restrictions set in the Islamic code of conduct. In the 80’s and 90’s when there was an increase of people moving into the slum, this was not in line with the planning of the city, people were crammed in to an small area without toilets and sanitation centers. That’s where the infamous technique of the `flying toilet’ was discovered. As the name suggests, it is the act of doing your business in paper bag and taking your best swing. This, together with the fact that changa is brewed and sold here, this is at loggerheads with a conservative Islam religion. In the long run, this would leave the poor Muslims as non-practicing-muslims, and they may sometimes lose their religion. The fact that Islam is a new religion in the slum is something that should teach us tolerance and not religious violence. It is also such a shame that religion has not been used as a tool to maintain the peace in Mathare because is a powerful element in a person’s life.

– Jeff


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