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An Inspiring Story: Rwanda Turning to Islam


A very inspiring story, from Arab News (follow link for photo).

What really inspired me – more than the story of this orphan teenage convert who memorized the Quran in the midst of a civil war, which in iteslf is a beautiful story – is that the percentage of Muslims in Rwanda has doubled following the horrible massacres of 1994-6. Why? Because Muslims did not participate in the massacres, established a reputation of peace, and were active in humanitarian aid in the aftermath. Hence, Rwandans actually respect Islam for its beautiful image.

It’s just nice to know that somewhere, someplace, Muslims are doing a good job and actually giving the correct image of Islam :) .

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DUBAI, 30 September 2007 — The life story of Umugwaneza Sulaiman, a contestant for the Dubai International Holy Qur’an Award, is truly inspirational since he has risen from rubble to create a renaissance.

Even though he is only 19, this young man from Rwanda has survived a life of hardship. As a young child he survived the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. He still has horrific memories of hiding in forests from militias that were killing people. The rivers and roads they walked through were littered with bodies. Later on he lost his father and had to lead a harsh life in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Despite all his hardships, Sulaiman was determined to become a hafiz and was rewarded by becoming the first Rwandan to take part in the Dubai International Holy Qur’an Award competition. Sulaiman’s quest with the sacred book started when he converted to Islam at the age of 11.

“Even though my family were Catholics I was never interested in the church. The Azan from the mosque in my neighborhood fascinated me and I started attending classes there,” he said.

When asked if he faced any resistance from his family, Sulaiman said that his family had no issues with him becoming a Muslim, as Islam is a held in high regard in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. His whole family followed him a few years later and converted to Islam.

Since the genocide, Rwandans have converted to Islam in huge numbers. Muslims now make up 14 percent of the 8.2 million people in Africa’s mostly Catholic nation, twice as many as before the killings began. The reason behind the conversions lies in the fact that Rwandan Muslims did not take part in the genocide and played a key role in the humanitarian efforts that followed.

Muslims have been honored by the national government for their roles in saving the lives regardless of their faith. Many people attribute the recent spread of Islam to these humanitarian acts.

It took years of dedicated work for Sulaiman to memorize the Qur’an. The lack of qualified teachers in Rwanda made him make up his mind to travel to Kenya as there are good Qur’anic schools there.

“I was 15 when my five friends and I decided to travel to Kenya to seek knowledge. Two of my friends were converts like me,” he said.

The six young men packed their bags and traveled to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to find the school. They enrolled themselves in a free boarding school, which accepts students from all over East Africa. There they studied under the tutelage of Qur’an scholars. It took Sulaiman two years to memorize the whole Qur’an.

Now back home in Rwanda, Sulaiman works as a part time Imam and Qur’an teacher to supplement his income while studying at the only Islamic seminar in Kigali. “Masha Allah, there are so many Muslims now in my country. We are working hard at teaching the Qur’an to the new generation of Muslim children,” he said.

After finishing his education, Sulaiman hopes to get a scholarship to study Islam. “We get Muslim scholars coming from Uganda to spread the word of Islam in Rwanda. I hope that through my knowledge of Islam I will be able to help spread peace in my country,” he said.

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Sh. Dr. Yasir Qadhi is someone that believes that one's life should be judged by more than just academic degrees and scholastic accomplishments. Friends and foe alike acknowledge that one of his main weaknesses is ice-cream, which he seems to enjoy with a rather sinister passion. The highlight of his day is twirling his little girl (a.k.a. "my little princess") round and round in the air and watching her squeal with joy. A few tid-bits from his mundane life: Sh. Yasir has a Bachelors in Hadith and a Masters in Theology from Islamic University of Madinah, and a PhD in Islamic Studies from Yale University. He is an instructor and Dean of Academic Affairs at AlMaghrib, and the Resident Scholar of the Memphis Islamic Center.



  1. Amad

    September 30, 2007 at 3:47 PM

    mashallah, great story.

    When we act as Muslims, dawah becomes so easy…

    Another lesson of the story is that the indigenous/residents of a nation can have the most affect on the nation’s opinion of them, esp. in the absence of popular media. I imagine Rwandans were out of touch with most of the world, so they did not have the biases against Islam being fed to them on a daily basis, as opposed to much of the Western world. Of course, our extremist brethren have a lot to bear for this coloring of opinions regarding Islam.

    So, here in America, we have the media and the right-wingers to bias opinions, but all of us, individually and collectively can have a greater affect on opinions and opinion-makers if we put in the effort.

  2. Omer Choudry

    September 30, 2007 at 4:01 PM

    NYT actually had an article 3 yrs ago abt the growth of Islam in Rwanda post genocide…

  3. Yasir Qadhi

    September 30, 2007 at 4:03 PM

    I was wondering where that ‘other’ Rwandad story was – Jazak Allah khayr Omer for sending the link.

  4. Islam Blog

    September 30, 2007 at 11:09 PM

    Very inspiring indeed. It’s tales like these that get me going and keep me motivated.

    Jazakallah for sharing this.

  5. Moiez

    September 30, 2007 at 11:19 PM

    Subhanallah this just makes me boost my islamic metabolism and want to eat as much as I can, in a non-literal way, I like the fact that he has his core group of friends around him for that support and togetherness one needs and its fun too plus its for the sake of Allah how much better can it be

  6. Omer Choudry

    October 1, 2007 at 2:25 AM

    Your welcome Shiekh :)

    theres also this report from the bbc from around the same time…

    What made the situation worse for the Catholic church is that not only were they not helping the civilians, they were actually actively on the forefront of this genocide. There were numerous accounts of priests inviting in their fellow congregants from a particular tribe, only to call in gangs from their own tribe to come and slaughter the refuge seekers in the church. There is the case that has become symbolic of this scenario in which a priest promised the Tutsis refuge in his church. As thousands gathered he called in the Hutu militia that guarded the exits while bulldozers were brought to bring down the church on top of the congregants. The priest then proceeded to shoot anyone that survived, bringing the death toll from that single incident to 2,000.

    When many priests were “recalled” by the Catholic church regarding the situation years later it wasnt to condemn them for their active participation in the massacre but rather to condemn them for allowing Islam to spread in the land. The Vatican to this day refuses to blame the church for any wrongdoing claiming that it was individual faults that are to blame and not the institution.

    It brings to mind the tragic events of Sebrenica where Serbian soldiers were openly blessed by Orthodox priests before undertaking their mission to massacre the Bosnians – something for many years taken as baseless accusation until it was painfully proven in the video that leaked some years ago.

  7. Shama

    October 1, 2007 at 2:32 AM

    Two days ago, I met a Rawandan Muslim sister and this was my first time meeting a Muslim from Rawanda so I was particularly excited.
    This sister lived through the genocide and was 16 yrs old at the time. I had seen the movie Hotel Rawanda and I was terrified of what I saw so I asked her if the movie depicted the tragedy accurately which she told me it did except that it was only the tip of the iceberg. The gravity of the genocide could never be reflected in a movie.

    While she talked about the horrors of the genocide she took more interest in giving me another perspective. She told me that before the genocide Muslims were a minority in Rawanda and it was very difficult to practice the religion. If you took a day off from work for Eid, the next day you would be fired.

    During the genocide, while a select few got involved into the genocide, the majority of this minority was busy rescuing people in their masjids.
    People were killed inside churches, the new borns were killed inside hospitals, wives were killed by their husbands inside their homes and vice versa yet at the same time people were rescused, protected and looked after inside masajids. This happened on such a massive scale that after the genocide, the efforts of the Muslim minority were recognized by the Rawandan government.

    Today that minority religion has become the religion of 50% or more of the country and is growing. People practice Islam without any difficulty and few Muslims have been appointed on government positions which was unimaginable before the genocide.

    Something else she told me that reflected the maturity of the people of Rawanda was that every year the Rawandan government marks the anniversary of the genocide by using media to remember the tragedy. But she said the Rawandan people don’t want to be reminded of the tragedy over and over. They want to move on and not get stuck in that moment.

    And I thought, if only we learn to not exploit our sufferings.

  8. Shama

    October 1, 2007 at 2:37 AM

    Just to clarify, the statistics of 50% of Muslim population was given by the sister – wallahu a3lam what the true statistics are

  9. Abu Adam

    October 1, 2007 at 4:30 AM


    That’s really nice to know…

    I guess there is a lot that can be read into this – the role of the media for and against Islam; grassroot vs. top down movements; simlarities of events in Western countries, but different results etc etc…

    But I wonder if it should just be taken at face value, and be looked into too deeply??

    Wasalaamu Alaykum,

    Abu Adam

  10. Tariq Nelson

    October 1, 2007 at 7:13 AM

    It’s just nice to know that somewhere, someplace, Muslims are doing a good job and actually giving the correct image of Islam


  11. Sis Shaykha

    October 1, 2007 at 11:33 AM

    Asalamau Alaiakum

    Well, how beautiful masha’Allah!!

    Hopefully Islam spreads through all of the African nations, insha’Allah!

    ..and the whole world.

    Really touching story Sheikh, thanks for posting.

    Wa’alaykum Aslaaam

  12. Dawud Israel

    October 2, 2007 at 12:09 AM

    You can view images of the Rwandan event narrated by Marc Lacey here (number 40) :

    Also there are some other hard to find multimedia there such as Islam in China, Match-making Muslims, Muslim Marines and even an interview with NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar!

  13. iMuslim

    October 2, 2007 at 1:38 AM

    Jazakallah for this inspiring and amazing story.

    Shama’s comment reminds me of the Seerah. I have heard some scholars say that the reason the people of Medina took to Islam so quickly was because their main leaders had been killed in a big battle between the two tribes of Medina years before, and so the people were more free to choose for themselves what and who to follow. Perhaps Rwanda has become another Medina… may Allah fill it with the blessings of Medina! Ameen.

  14. Tahsinthree

    October 2, 2007 at 12:43 PM

    Don’t forget Capt. Mbaye Diagne, a Senegalese Muslim. He played a courageous role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. See the websites:


    i would like to think that this man’s courage contributed to Islam spreading in Rwanda – Allah knows best.

  15. AnonyMouse

    October 2, 2007 at 1:30 PM

  16. Pingback: Injil » Blog Archive » Islam Doubles in Rwanda

  17. Abu Muhammad

    October 3, 2007 at 10:34 AM

    As much as I differ with you guys. It’s reasons like this that I love you so much: that you have a love for Allah and His Deen.

    May Allah increase your love Qazi saheb!

  18. UAS

    October 3, 2007 at 12:25 PM

    “Another lesson of the story is that the indigenous/residents of a nation can have the most affect on the nation’s opinion of them, esp. in the absence of popular media.”

    So very true..
    The ‘after-shock’ of Rawanda took place because we followed the true Prophetic tradition of brotherhood:

    Anas relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim

    Until we go back to the days of Bilal RA, when all Muslims were given equal and utmost respect, and character was the main advancement and token of Imaan for the believers, we will not see the true identity of Islam manifested in the believers.

    Do we embrace the indigenous African Americans as our dear brothers?

    When we truly stand together, with our indigenous brothers, then will savor the glorious days. The ‘happy days’ will come once again.

    This was also the hot topic at ISNA 2007

    Islam is indigenous to America and the African Americans brought this to light. We can see what happens when indiginous Muslim(s) such as al-Hajj, Malik al-Shabazz gather to progress, and we can see what has happens when our efforts are diluted by Muslims who associate only with a certain mindset/ group of people.

    The eyes tear and the heart aches, but the limbs stay limp.

    We see in Rawanda what happens when faith is coupled with action..

    “…Until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself”

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  20. Solomon2

    October 11, 2007 at 9:48 AM

    The Arab News story, while inspiring (to me as well) is woefully incomplete, as it omits the unhelpful history of Belgian colonialism and the local Roman Catholic Church’s role, actively undermining economic development (rejecting modern agriculture!) and exacerbating racial tensions and retarding social development (by continuing to support the traditional Tutsi/Hutsi master/slave relationships in exchange for elite support for the Church).

    They need something new over there. Maybe Islam will help.

  21. Amad

    October 11, 2007 at 1:37 PM

    You are right Solomon. There was misuse of Christianity in play, just like the Bible was used for a long time by bigots to justify slavery.

  22. Pingback: » How Abu Bakr (Ruben) Came to Islam

  23. AbuAbdAllah

    April 12, 2008 at 2:51 AM

    bismillah. this article deserves to be on the front page carousel, mashaAllah.

  24. blackbelt9226

    April 12, 2008 at 8:48 PM

    i second that :)

  25. Riadh Sridi

    April 15, 2009 at 5:52 PM

    “اذا جاء نصر الله و الفتح و رأيت الناس يدخلون في دين الله أفواجا فسبح بحمد ربك و استغفره انه كان توابا”
    It’s really stunning to be a witness of this miracle of God. Nobody expected that the most catholic country in Africa will be overrun by Islam,but when The All-mighty choose a land to touch His Light,nothing can stop it.God bless Rwanda and make It a new spring for the spread of Islam in Central Africa and beyond it and make It a land of erudites and scholars well-known in the whole Islamic world by they well understanding and representing of Islam. Amen.

  26. SAm

    January 17, 2011 at 1:47 AM

    i wonder why the international community didn’t award the muslims of rwanda the nobel prize for peace. any group who conducted themselves with such great nobility and honor in the face of horrors would hand down got at least wide media acknowledgement and few prizes not to mention the nobel prize. let the rwandan muslims get their nobel prize of peace, it is longtime overdue.

    (from a nonMuslim)

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