Celebrating Sheikh Munir

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Since this is an inaugural article on this column, allow me to start by celebrating a hero that drove me to human rights. He is Sheikh Munir Mazrui. Apart from being founder of MUHURI and Haki Africa, Sheikh Munir was a Trustee and founder of CICC. He has been in the board since 2001 when the organization was formed. Sheikh Munir is an Islamic Scholar and human rights activist. He was one of the pioneers who started the Ukumbi wa Kislaamu TV show in the KBC. Sheikh Munir is not only the father of Human Rights at the coast region but also the doyen of interfaith and interreligious tolerance. He remains the pinnacle and doyen of democracy and civil liberty at the Coast and Kenya at large. Though old age has caught up with him, at 82 he is still strong and ardent in his quest for freedom and equality.

He has been instrumental in community, women and youth empowerment. The dictatorial KANU regime failed to break his resolve in fighting for the less fortunate members of the community. They would throw him in the cells many times but that never deterred his thirst in fighting for the marginalized.

I first got to know Sheikh Munir when I was in primary school –thanks for my dad’s addiction to newspapers. He would send me the Daily Nation and then in the evening he will give it to me to read. It was a good source of news for us since Television and Radio was out of most people‟s reach then. It is here that I would read and get to know about this man with his undying passion for human civilization.

In early 1990s during the clamour for multi-party democracy, Sheikh Munir became the face of the struggle here. He was our Orengo, Muite and Mutunga all rolled into one. Munir did not wait for that donor to give money or for that requisition to pass before taking action. He did not need a fuel guzzler or a 5star hotel to implement human rights. . He did not need the polished Queen‟s English or quotes from Karl Max, Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi which most of the latter day activist intimidate us with.

Munir was not of this caliber. He believed in people‟s power and instant justice („tea is best served when hot‟, he would state). I remember when one connected MP from Coast who tried to grab Mama Ngina Garden at Kizingo (or is it Likoni?) and started erecting a perimeter wall. Munir had only to get to Likoni Nakumatt Supermarket adjacent to the road with two of his colleagues to buy Nyundos.

When he started to bring down the wall, community members joined and scrambled for free building stones. Through his simple but courageous action, ensured that we still enjoy the breeze of the sea as we watch the passing ships. This as expected led to his arrest and arraigning in the court the following day as he appeared before Aggrey Muchelule who was the presiding magistrate then. „Waume! ‟ the Magistrate will often refer to them as reference to their bravery. Munir has slept in many cells than he can count and appeared in court many times than he can recall. All in ensuring freedom for us and our future descendants.

Then there was this private developer in Kwale who wanted to bring down a mosque as he was building a world class golf course whose 18th hole will land at the Mihrab (mistakenly refered as Qibla by most people) of the mosque. The private developer offered to give them another land to build the mosque. Sheikh Munir will never hear of a Mosque being brought down. He has and will always be top Islamic scholar. I have benefitted a lot from his teaching and advice. I still treasure the signed Holy Quran English translation copy he gave me. I have always admired his grasp of scriptures.

When others accused him for interacting with non -Muslims, his answer was swift. He told them that the Prophet (PBUH) had many friends who were none Muslims and that at one time he gave them space in Mosque to pray. That is Sheikh Munir for you. If half of the clergy had half the knowledge he had, I think radicalization and extremism will be a thing of the past.
Allow me to celebrate him as veteran religious scholar, human rights practitioner and mentor of many of my colleagues. Munir did not have time for tribal talk nor was he a racist. Your religion, tribe, colour of your skin etc did not matter to him. He cared more about one’s passion. He allowed us to have contrary opinion from his as he passionately defended our rights to disagree with him.

He was and still remains a father figure. Munir was always caring and compassionate unlike some of his colleagues. He handled us not as employees but as his children. He always invited us for a meal of “Mchikicho” at his residence. Are you wondering what Mchikicho is? Please ask for invite and make sure its Tuesday.

Despite coming from a privileged family, Munir has always had time for the less fortunate. He will give to the last coin. Many times I saw people taking advantage of this, but to him he trusted he had helped. There were times his close comrades would several times betray him, but Munir was not and still does not hold grudges. He forgives and moves on! Munir is truly living egend and may be our local Mandela.

As I finish I can only thank God Almighty for the time he gave us and continues to give us with Munir. Long live Sheikh Munir!

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