LONDON PRAYER TIME DAWN: 04:19 SUNRISE: 06:00 ZOHR:: 13:03 MAGHRIB: 20:20
Central Africa Republic Muslims, Christians Sow Peace Hopes
As sectarian violence rips Central Africa Republic, some regions in the capital Bangui remain as oases for coexistence and hope for an inclusive future for Muslims and Christians in the war-torn country.
"Here, we have a mixture of populations that do not exist in other areas,” said Bash, a 28-year-old Muslim resident who wished to be identified only by his nickname for security reasons. “This diversity has prevented us from sinking into violence.”
As Bangui descends into chaos with the recent wave of religious conflict, areas Boulata and Ramandji neighborhoods were still save from divisions.
The neighborhoods, where a mixed population of Christians and Muslims co-habit, have remained calm over the past months.
“We grew up together, people have intermarried,” Bash explained.
“Here, you can find a child with a Muslim name in a Christian home because the father is Muslim,” he added.
At least 450 have been killed and hundreds more injured since the beginning of December when Christian militias, loyal to the CAR's ousted President Francois Bozize, launched multiple attacks from the north, according to the UN humanitarian office.
The country has been thrown into violence after President Michel Djotodia declared himself the country’s first Muslim leader after ousting Bozize on March 24.
Taking the helms of power, Djotodia has struggled to rein in members of the now-dissolved Seleka group that swept him to power nine months ago.
According to news reports, rogue former rebels turned warlords have set up little fiefdoms and sown terror in villages.
As a result, Christian militiamen known as "anti-balaka" launched reprisal attacks against Muslims, killing scores of Muslims and forcing thousands outside their villages.
Residents in both regions believe that the religious conflict in CAR has been fuelled by 'exaggerations'.
"We work in perfect harmony here," said Bash.
"I work closely with the pastor in this neighborhood, seeking ways to ease tensions," added Bash who is trying to keep his tolerance.
Although both Boulata and Ramandji were reported to be the safest areas in Bangui, half of the Christians have fled their homes to join thousands of displaced citizens at the airport.
Muslims have been guarding their Christian neighbors' homes from looting by forming 'overnight patrols'.
"Along with other young Muslims, we organize patrols every night because at night, people try to loot the houses," Bash stated.
Muslims too were terrified by the increasing violence in their country which forced thousands of Muslim residents to leave their villages.
Others, however, preferred to stay in door, praying to Allah to restore peace in their country.
"We arm ourselves with knives and sticks, but so far we haven’t used them because when the robbers see so many of us, they flee," Bash added.
According to Roland Marchal, a senior research fellow at the National Centre for Scientific Research, based at Sciences-Po in Paris, the turmoil marking Bangui today is not the true-face of the city.
“In normal times, it’s just peachy: rather than fight, Muslims and Christians drink a beer together,” Marchal explained.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), nearly 108,000 people were displaced to stay in thirty locations across Bangui.
UNHCR said the internally displaced persons (IDPs) are staying mainly in churches, mosques, public buildings and the airport.
The increasingly sectarian nature of the violence has heightened international fears that the nation was on the brink of all-out civil war.
The country of nearly five million people is mostly Christian, with about 15 percent Muslims who are concentrated in the north where the rebellion started.
The different religions have always coexisted peacefully and leaders from both sides have urged people not to confuse the fact that there is a Muslim leader, with the “Islamization” of the country.