Freedom of religion and the paradox of worship in Tanzania

Christians gather in Arusha for a special prayer service to fight Covid-19. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • If we do not harmonise faith and reasoning, we cannot break through ethically

On the subject of freedom of religion or belief, Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that “everyone has the right to freely manifest their religion, to change it, and to practice it alone or with others.”

The critical question that arises in connection to the worship practices of some of the Christian churches in Tanzania is “is it morally right for a person or group of people to shout all night in a residential area, supposedly because he is praying and praising in the name of freedom of religion?”

I am not against this article, and I’m not trying to refute it in any way, but I am against the frequent abuse of this right by religious Tanzanians. A person can be a believer without having a religion.

On the other hand, a person or a group of people can use a certain religion as an umbrella to achieve their secret agenda, which basically distorts the free exercise of this right. Religion as an institution, I think, stands on a particular faith and has a procedure for how, where, and when to worship.

The perception of the concept of ‘freedom of religion’ against the concept of freedom of worship’ in Tanzania needs philosophical scrutiny.  

I agree that everyone is free to subscribe to the religion of their choice, but where the practice of worshipping a particular religion infringes on other human rights or causes inconveniences to other people, it becomes an ethical issue. It would therefore need ethical and logical discussion for consensus.

The famous poet Alfred Gardiner once said “a person’s freedom ends where another man’s freedom begins”. I believe this quote has its foundation in the ‘harm principle’ postulated by philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill, which says “people should be free to act however they wish unless their actions cause harm to somebody else”.

Here I am trying to show that if the practices of our religions harm other people, government organs must not hesitate to intervene, and government actors must be very objective and act with a high level of impartiality in preventing this harm, even if they belong to the same religion.

It is to my knowledge that the laws of Tanzania prohibit nuisances among people. But since religious beliefs are deeply instilled in most Tanzanians, many may think that freedom of religion exists above the laws of the country and that causing nuances in the name of religion is not a crime.

Don’t Tanzanian citizens who live in an environment where there are all-night-long churches have the right to rest and get better sleep so that they don’t, in the long run, get sleep disorders?

Strangely enough, it is also possible that even those who have the obligation to oversee the just practise of freedom of religion by a person or a group of people may intrinsically find it difficult to separate their religious beliefs from professionalism.

Here I remember the words of the late Prof. John Mbiti, who wrote in his book African Religions and Philosophy that “an African is a notorious religious”. 

There is an exponential mushrooming of Christian churches in Tanzania.  Each one is trying to come up with its own creative way of worshipping to create its own identity in order to attract followers.

This faith investment, or ‘Jesus Industry, as Prof PLO Lumumba aptly terms it, is rapidly accelerating in Tanzania and Africa at large. 

It is unquestionable in Tanzania that nightclubs and bars must be operated under government regulation. For instance, if they are close to people’s residences, the noise they might produce is limited to regulated decibels, guaranteed by using soundproof materials. Why should this not also be applicable to all-night churches? Someone may think that because in nightclubs and bars there is alcohol, which is common among stupefying agents, as the philosopher Immanuel Kant would say, But “isn’t religion, on the other hand, a stupefying agent?”

Is it not because of the way religions inebriate people that led another philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, and political theorist, Karl Marx, to say “religion is the opium of the people?”

The Tanzanian government should closely monitor the worship practices of different religions. I am not against the presence of multiple religious sects in Tanzania, but it is my humble opinion for Tanzanians that in the practice of their freedom of religion through worship, they should do it in a way that causes no harm to their fellow Tanzanians and disturbance to their neighbours.

If we do not harmonise faith and reasoning, we cannot break through ethically.  The application of critical thinking in all of our actions is very important to the prosperity of Tanzania and generations to come.