Burundi is a small landlocked country in the middle of Africa. Muslims constitute 12 percent of the country’s eight-million populations. It covers an area of 27,830 square-kilometers. Bujumbura is the capital city. The country gained its independence from Belgium on July 1, 1962. Kirundu and French are the official languages. Elected to the post in 2005, Pierre Nkurunziza is the country’s first president to be appointed through democratic elections over the last 12 years.
Burundi witnessed in the near past fierce clashes between Burundi tribes of Hutu and Tutsi, which were triggered by European countries. Steps have been taken recently for a permanent peace in the country. Burundi is advantaged in terms of abundance of potable water resources. Therefore, Burundi people can cultivate their lands to provide food.
We reached Burundi following a 20-hour exhaustive journey with connecting flights in three countries. We got excited when we reached the capital city of Bujumbura since we were going to give the trusts to their owners and meet with our Muslim fellows. This was the first visit the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) had made to Burundi. Mohammed el-Amin, President of our partner association Burundi Islamic Community, accompanied us throughout our journey in Burundi.
We held a meeting to plan our activities in Burundi on the night we arrived. We were going to visit 17 regions and meet our Muslim brothers to deliver meats of sacrificial animals we brought with us from Turkey to old, young, widow or orphan Burundi Muslims.
It was Eid day
We couldn’t perform our Eid Prayer at a mosque whose roof was not leaking; we couldn’t go back to home after prayer to kiss the hands of our parents nor could we eat delicious feat candies. But we spent the first day of the feast with a Burundi old lady who was seemingly over 70. It was her hands that we kissed and that caressed our heads. It was worth all beauties of the world.
We traveled to the village of Nyanzalak on the shore of Lake Tanganyika where we carried out first slaughters. Then followed Makamba, Kayogoro and Ruyugi. Our last stop for the first day of the feast was Chankuzo where we reached there after sunset and slaughtered sacrifices in the car’s head lights.
‘We are your brothers!’
During slaughter of every animal, we felt the expression “thanks to God” in the depths of our hearts. Despite tedious journeys we made and a number of problems we faced, we successfully distributed meats of 200 sacrificial animals to over 1,000 families and met our Muslim brethrens in every region we visited to ease their suffering as much as possible. We were the first Muslims some locals had ever seen and in every region we visited people called greeted us with the expression “Muzungu,” used to refer to white and rich people.
Although we live in different countries, speak distinct languages and even were of different colors, we repeatedly told Burundi people the same thing: “We are your brothers!”
Education is a significant problem for Burundi Muslims
Education is undoubtedly one of the most serious problems facing Burundi people. Generally, Muslims and Christians coexist in peace and they share similar problems. However, Muslims suffer more from educational problems. Unlike Christians, who are supported by missionaries, Muslims have not received significant support from the Islamic world in educational fields so far. Muslim children mostly are educated in state schools where only Christian is taught in religion classes and in Catholic schools in many regions. There are few Islamic schools in the country and the existent ones are providing education in roughly-completed buildings. Many lack electricity and water networks. I think the most luxurious demands of students attending Islamic schools would be to have their separate coursebooks and sections from the Quran.
During our trip in the country, we came observed a number of social institutions with plaques attached to their front reading that the European Union had supported these intuitions without giving any detail about the amount of support. We came across such a plaque on the front of an Islamic primary school, which we contributed to completion of its building, in the city of Gitega. School officials told us that the EU had undertaken building of only a toilet which collapsed after two months in the school where 500 students were educated. They showed us the collapsed toilet behind which newly-built toilets stood. These new toilets were built with support of local Muslims. As far as we were told by officials of our partner association, the EU hanged plaques to the front of other social institutions following insignificant financial help. Since there is no mention of the exact amount of the help, foreigners who visit the country cannot help thinking that these institutions are financed by the EU.
We were deeply affected top have observed that none of the houses we visited had the Quran. We were also told that even certain Burundi mosques didn’t have the Quran. People are really having problems about learning Islam. They don’t have translations of the Quran in their native language. We are preparing a project about translating the Quran into Kirundi, Burundi’s indigenous language, and we will present it to the IHH Project Department.
Monthly expenditure of an orphan is $25
In a remote corner of Bujumbura we visited an orphanage, where 70 orphans aged between two months and 15 are looked after. “If only the sole problem of these children was their orphanage,” we told ourselves when we learned that the 70 orphans hadn’t eaten enough for months. We presented some gifts to orphanage residents and left after taking some note about the orphanage.
We worked out a project in cooperation with the Burundi Islamic Community for the orphans. We agreed on the idea to place each orphan, living in the unhealthy conditions of the orphanage, in a Muslim family, which will provide orphans with familial love and compassion. Although the amount might sound very small, the monthly expenditure of an orphan is $25 in Burundi. We moved immediately to carry out our project.
We feel obliged to ask for God’s forgiveness on behalf of Turkish Muslims when we see barefoot children in the muddy streets of Burundi. The lesson learned in Burundi is: To give our thanks to God for his blessings and to regard all Muslims as our brothers and sisters, no matter where in the world they live.