Nairobi mall attack and the rise of Islamophobia in Kenya

The Nairobi mall attack is the deadliest act of terrorism since the 1998 US embassy bombing

Despite prominent Muslim leaders condemning and distancing themselves from what they described as a “massacre of innocent civilians” at Nairobi West gate mall on Saturday, Kenyan Muslims fear an increase in Islamophobic attacks, writes 5Pillarz East Africa correspondent Mohammed Kahiye reporting from Nairobi.

28-year-old Saada Abdi recalls how a public transport conductor described her Islamic attire like those of the attackers that besieged West gate mall.

He said: “You’re dressed like a terrorist, do you have a grenade in your hand bag.” Saada replied – “Come and search my bag before I detonate it.”

Fatuma Mohamed, a member of Kenyan Muslim Youth Alliance (KMYA) who mobilised Muslim youth in donating blood and distributed food and drinks says a group of non-Muslim men called her “Al-Shabab”. She stated that men like these wanted to cause religious chaos in a peaceful country just moments after she donated blood in Uhuru Park.

Ms Mohamed said: “It is Al-Shabab that is causing this menace in our peaceful country.” She added that she “does not care since they did not harm her.”

Anti-Muslim sentiment is not new in Kenyan society. Whenever terrorist attacks occur in the country, though not all Kenyan non-Muslims share such feelings towards Muslims, a considerable proportion expressed their views that they think “all Muslims are sympathisers of terrorist activities”.

Wendy Otieno is of this opinion. She believes because of the importance of “Jihad” as a fundamental concept in Islam, Muslims cannot be peaceful people since their religion permits killing of innocent people in the name of “holy war”.

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She said: “A Muslim cannot be a Muslim unless they believe in the concept of jihad, so how can you say Islam and Muslims are peaceful?”

Her Christian colleague, Mary Faith added: “Many Muslim men believe if they die in Jihad they will get 72 heavenly virgins.”

However, hotelier Rebeca Wanjiru stressed the need to avoid generalisation whenever terrorist attacks occur in Kenya or anywhere in the world. She said: “It is not wise to point fingers at the whole community when such things happen. That will not solve the problem but instead it will increase tension, ignorance and bigotry which could lead to animosity between various dominions in our country.”


Three days after the Nairobi mall siege began, Somalis in the capital said they feared retaliation of attacks directed against them by non-Somali Kenyans.

Yahya Roble, who is a student at the University of Nairobi, said he was worried about a re-run of last December’s xenophobic attacks against Somalis after a grenade assault by Al-Shabab in the Nairobi suburb of Eastliegh, which killed nine people and wounded scores.

He said: “Since the attack was reported at the West gate mall, I held my ears high in case of anything because I know what happened last December, I need to be careful.”

Mohamed Nur Hussein who owns a furniture store in Eastleigh said he does not want to see the recurrence of last December. He added: “It is an ugly memory, I pray to Allah that it won’t happen again here or anywhere in this country.”

Mr Hussein and his friends participated in contributing to mobile money donation that was established by the government in conjunction with the major telecommunication companies in the country to financially assist those affected by the terrorist attack. He said: “Our participation in this initiative shows our good will not only as Somalis but as Muslims, following what Islam teaches us. It will be so sad to see the repeat of the horrendous attacks against Somalis like last December.”

Several others like Mr Hussein in Eastleigh hope that they do not see a violent repercussion against them by Kenyan security forces, which will result in illegal arrests and extortion of money from Somali refugees suspected of “sympathizing” with Al-Shabab.

Deputy Secretary General of the Supreme council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM), Mr Hassan Ole Naado said to 5Pillarz: “I urge all Muslims in Kenya to pray and keep vigilant to the possible repercussions of the West gate mall attack.”

So far six Muslims have been confirmed in Saturday’s attack.

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