When al Shabab militants stopped a bus in the northeastern Kenyan town of Mandera last year and then demanded that the Christians in the bus be handed over, no Muslim on the bus had agreed.
In a quick show of solidarity, some of these Muslims had passed along their headscarves to the Christians to disguise them. The al Shabab militants were eventually forced to let the bus go. That is the type of spirit that engineered the colour in faith movement that an artist recently undertook in Kenya.
Colombian artist Yazmany Arboleda and Nabila Alibhai, founder of a Nairobi-based civic group inCOMMONS, were hoping to start a civic art project where local communities paint mosques and churches across the country a bright yellow.
Their project, called Colour in Faith, just got completed earlier this month. At its end, the colour in faith movement has seen a total of five churches and four mosques or Muslim religious buildings bathed in what they call optimistic yellow.
The Colombian artist Yazmany Arboleda spoke to Quartz telling them that;
“The idea is that these buildings are landmarks that celebrate pluralism and unity,”
“The idea was to explore religion and find commonalities with the hope to create a space for reflection.”
Volunteers who worked on the colour in faith project were often a mix of Christian and Muslim residents who painted the buildings with donated paint. Kenya has a predominantly Christian community but it is also home to longstanding Muslim communities.
Although clashes between the two religious groups are pretty rare in Kenya, Kenyan Christians sometimes suffer attacks from al Shabaab who retaliate against the Kenyan government for allowing Kenyan troops participate in the African Union forces fight against the group. For that reason, there has been a growing risk of divide among the two religions.
Nabila Alibhai, founder of a Nairobi-based civic group inCOMMONS explained it to Quartz this way;
“We chose to start in Kenya because the country is at a point where things could get much worse. We have unique history of religious pluralism, a reality that is changing very quickly as the country withstands acts of terror over the last ten years.”
Getting local Muslim religious leaders to agree to change their mosques from the traditional white and green to yellow had not been easy and on the side of the churches, some pastors said they would only participate once ‘appreciation,’ or ‘sitting fees’ (payments that NGOs often give residents for participating in their workshops), were paid.
Finally, however, Arboleda and Alibhai managed to get a group of churches and mosques to commit to participating. It is a laudable project especially considering the national elections are next year and pluralism must be encouraged to stem any sudden acts of violence.