Grand Mosque in Kigali

The story of Muslims who risked their own lives to protect others is now an important part of Rwanda’s still difficult history. The stories in this blog and elsewhere indicate a surprising and disproportionate number of Muslims were rescuers during Rwanda’s genocide. It may be relevant that Muslims typically did not see themselves primarily in terms of ethnicity. Likewise many Muslims were not identified by others as either Hutus or Tutsis. Thus those who were marginalized in the conflict managed to function with less intensive scrutiny from the Hutu perpetrators. Regardless of how individuals were identified, anyone who was suspected of harboring Tutsis put their own lives at risk. Yet many did risk their own lives in order to save those who were most vulnerable. Why did so many do so? Some rescuers testified that they were motivated by their sense of Islamic values and concern for humanity. Others were vague or unsure. Whatever the reasons, many Tutsis were sheltered and hid in Mosques and the homes of Muslims (Wax).

One example in this blog of a Muslim woman who risked her own life to save many Tutsi victims was Mama Sania. Another on this blog who was a man who fought heroically to protect vulnerable Tutsi was Rwangabo Yusafu.

The story of Yahya Msengiyuma in the Kigali area was another story of a Muslim rescuer (interview, August 9, 2009). It is now one of more than a dozen rescue stories documented at the Gisozi-Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. Msengiyuma’s heroism in saving as many as 50 Tutsis was confirmed by researchers at the Centre. He testified that he converted to Islam as a young man long before the genocide happened. His parents had raised him as a Seventh Day Adventist Christian but he was influenced by the example of his uncle, whom he greatly respected as a child. Years later when the mass violence broke out in his neighborhood, Msengiyuma secretly took many Tutsis into his home.

 Hadj Bazirake Jumaine also testified here about his own role in rescuing Tutsi victims of the genocide. Yet another on this blog is Bizimungu Mubarak. Finally my 07Aug2009 interview with Sheikh M. Yusufu provided the context for many stories of Muslim rescuers. Prior to 1994, Muslims who were marginalized to the degree that they were not respected nor considered as fully Rwandan citizens in the country called their feeling a “Swahili complex”.

According to some sources, Rwanda has experienced conversions to Islam in “huge” numbers, and the number of Muslims has reportedly more than doubled since the genocide [ii](Wax).  New converts cited several reasons why they decided to embrace Islam. One Tutu stated, “When I realized that the people I was praying with killed my parents, I preferred to become a Muslim because Muslims did not kill” [iii](Walker). “For the Hutu, everyone was saying ‘as long as I look like a Muslim everybody will accept that I don’t have blood on my hands’ ” (Walker).

Now, in post-genocide Rwanda, many Muslims are taking it upon themselves to promote change in Rwandan society. It is considered a jihad amongst many Muslim Rwandans to positively re-educate the nation in an effort to prevent any possibility of another genocide, and ensure a better future for all.  “We have our own jihad, and that is our war against ignorance between Hutu and Tutsi. It is our struggle to heal,” said Saleh Habimana, the head mufti of Rwanda. “Our jihad is to start respecting each other and living as Rwandans and as Muslims (Walker).”


Research by Professor Jennie E. Burnet published since 2014 has documented many more of the Hutu rescuers. One story she included was of Felicite Niyitegeka, a Catholic lay worker in Centre Saint Pierre in Gisenyi. Felicite refused to leave more than a dozen of the Tutsi she had protected and was then murdered herself. Another story was of Muslims in the city of Mugandamure where countless numbers refused to participate in the genocide, sheltering many Tutsi who were endangered there.


Elizabeth Svoboda, “In a Genocide, Who Are the Morally Upright?” SAPIENS, 23Feb2017 https://www.sapiens.org/culture/rwandan-genocide-rescuers/

       Timothy Longman, Church Politics and the Genocide in Rwanda

      Journal of Religion in Africa, Vol. 31, Fasc. 2, Religion and War in the 1990s

(May, 2001), pp. 163-186 http://www.jstor.org/stable/1581515

 Emily Wax, “Islam Attracting Many Survivors of Rwanda Genocide” in Washington Foreign Post Service. September 23, 2002: A10 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A53018-2002Sep22.html

Robert Walker, “Rwanda’s Religious Reflections . . .” 2004, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3561365.stm

Alana Tiemssen, From Genocide to Jihad:  Islam and Ethnicity in Post-Genocide Rwanda, Paper to Canadian Political Science Association (CPSA) London, Ontario, 2-5 June, 2005.

LINK to Conway essay on Rwanda Genocide Rescuers essay in

International Journal of Social Science Research





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: