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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 November 2005, 15:26 GMT
Burundi celebrates Muslim holiday
African Muslim praying on Eid al-Fitr
This is the first time a public holiday has been granted for Eid al-Fitr
Post-war Burundi has declared the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr a public holiday for the first time.

Information Minister Karenga Ramadhani told the BBC the government wanted to redress an injustice against the minority Muslim community.

He said it was initially thought only 1% of the population was Muslim, but Muslim groups had conducted a census to discover it was between 8% to 10%.

The new government has some prominent Muslims in it, including Mr Ramadhani.

President Pierre Nkurunziza, who was elected in August, is a born-again Christian and more than 90% of the population is Christian.

The new constitution - approved in March - ensures a balance of power between the ethnic groups and stipulates that Burundi should be a secular state.

'More work'

The BBC's Prime Ndikumagenge says Muslims gathered early on Thursday morning at open-air prayers in the capital, Bujumbura.

We felt very much frustrated before because we were obliged to have holidays that didn't belong to us
Yussuf Sindayigaya

"This new government is probably trying to join people and reconcile people," Yussuf Sindayigaya, a Muslim in the capital, told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

"I'm really feeling very happy. We felt very much frustrated before because we were obliged to have holidays that didn't belong to us," he said.

Mr Ramadhani said that Burundi's problem is often seen as one of ethnicity only, but the government was trying to tackle religion and gender too.

Our correspondent says most Christians he spoke to were happy to have another public holiday.

But one man told him that there were now too many of them and people needed to spend more time working to make up for time lost during the 12-year civil war, in which some 300,000 were killed.

Do you think countries in Africa should make all religious festivals public holidays? Would this ease or increase religious tensions? What about countries with many religions - would they ever get any work done?

Let us know your views using the form on the right.

A selection of them will be broadcast on the BBC's Focus on Africa programme on Saturday 5 November 2005.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

Holidays for religious festivals should be given to prominent religions that have a wide follower ship. It should not be a blanket holiday for all people. However, economic consideration should be considered as well, to forestall adverse effects on the economy of the country.
Dr. Isma'il A. Alarape, Ibadan, Nigeria

How about giving the Muslim community a day off and let others do theirs jobs?
Alexis S, UK

The way forward that the governments should clarify - all over the world not only Africa - is to separate the state and religious laws and regulations. I am from Sudan, a country where many religions are being practised, there are Christians, Muslims and as well as other small religions. I think the best idea is that every community in every country in the world to be allowed the right to exercise its religion. But I would also urge all governments everywhere in the world to maintain certain laws that protect small communities and individuals. Burundi will make headway as far as the development and democracy are concerned. I believe the system of cultural relativism is the best way to rule countries, the way to appreciate other ways of life rather than simply asserting that certain ways are right.
Peter Tuach, Minnesota, USA

After meeting with religious and ethnic leaders to find which festivals/occasions it is desired to honour, if the number is too great to support, the issue might be put to a vote. With, for instance, 20 festivals up for consideration, the 10 which received the most votes, plus two for poorly represented groups, could be made official holidays. The balance could be officially recognised in some fashion so that no group would feel marginalised.
Tom Visel, Prescott Valley, USA

It's nice that Muslim community feels inclusive among Burundian communities. But having seen the state of economy, how many days of holidays can the country afford to loose? How about giving the Muslim community a day off and let others do theirs jobs?
Alexis S, Reading, UK

I don't believe that African countries should make all religion festivals national holidays until the Muslims countries worldwide grant other religions national holidays in their countries.
Skipper, St Maarten

You cannot tackle religious conflicts alone without tackling other problems with socio-economic dimensions

You cannot tackle religious conflicts alone without tackling other problems with socio-economic dimensions
Christian Garuka, Rwanda

I am very much pleased that the government has decided to make Eid al-Fitr a public holiday. I am sure the Muslims will feel proud to be citizens of Burundi which shows that it values everyone no matter who they are.
Manzoor Ashraf, Cambridge, UK

Freedom of worship is a right that should not be tampered with by any government; Africa governments should recognise all religious festivals unconditionally even if they are minority in the country. It will create a sense of belongingness in the country and make them feel recognised, that's when they will work with determination to develop themselves and the country which is theirs.
Akankwasa Alex, Entebbe, Uganda

The idea of public holidays to celebrate all festivals held by the major faiths works very well in countries, like Singapore, where there is a diverse mix of religions. This helps develop an understanding of others views and helps to reduce prejudice and bigotry.
Gerry Sugars, Hitchin UK

We need to work and earn our own vacation not government-paid vacations. How can you justify a poor country like Burundi having more than six religious holidays from imported religions and none for the indigenous ones? You do not cure past injustices by passing other acts of injustice.
Bikayamba, Washington, DC, USA

It's a big mistake for Burundians to voluntarily allow in these foreign practices that are NOT indigenous to Africa. These foreign practices have served to cause more than enough division and destructiveness among African people. Africans have had their OWN spiritual practices, which are superior since they were never imposed by invaders.
Mawu, Burundi

I celebrated Eid for the first and only time in NW Tanzania two years ago. Everybody had a day off in the town we were in (mainly Christian) and then we all went back to work on Friday. Same thing happened at Christmas a few weeks later.

So why not have a few public holidays set aside for everybody Eid, Christmas, Good Friday and one or two others. The rest can be national days. You celebrate them in the style of your choice. Live and let live, open accepting minds rather than narrow closed ones.
John Murray, Nepean, Ontario, Canada

By making religious festivals public holidays in Africa, this can be seen as a positive progress in the recognition of the importance of religions. As far as religions are concerned, it should be born in mind that Islam and Christianity are the predominant religions in Africa. In a state where one of the two is predominant, it seems like it gets advantages to the detriment of the other, so by making all the two at the same level, there is a hope of reducing religious tension. However, we should not forget that religious conflicts in Africa go sometimes with ethnic and tribal tension. You cannot tackle religious conflicts alone without tackling other problems with socio-economic dimensions.
Christian Garuka, Kigali, Rwanda

Related to the percentage of the population, main religious festivals only, should be declared public holidays.
Lionel Pereira, Mumbai, India

I'm a Burundian living in the USA and I was very happy to see Muslims in Burundi celebrate Eid al-Fitr. I agree with idea to make public holidays for the major religions celebrate their festivals, I don't think this will create any tension unless for those who already have tensions, because the work of religion is to create peace and love. We have seen Rwanda trying it before for about 10 years now. Hopefully this will help to bring people together and for new generation that will love one another. May God bless Burundi.
Alimasi Omari (Burundian), New Jersey, USA

If a constitution embraces freedom of worship, then there is no reason why a major religious holiday should be denied. There are a handful of these and therefore wouldn't cost the economy a big deal. After all, communities still work over Friday, or Sundays irrespective of them being recognised days of worship where one shouldn't really go to work. Much as these holiday days say little about ones devotion to their faith, they speak a lot when it comes to eradication of religious tension in Africa. Being politically correct is an issue in Africa as it is in the UK. Let all people embrace their God.
David Ziwa, Bedford, UK

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