NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) A Muslim man who shielded Christians after a passenger bus was ambushed by suspected al-Shabab militants is being saluted as a symbol of unity.
Salah Farah, a schoolteacher, died Monday (Jan.18) in Nairobi, where he was airlifted after being shot in the arm and hip when he resisted militant demands that he identify Christians on the bus during the December attack.
He was buried Tuesday in the northern city of Mandera in accordance with Muslim traditions.
The Kenyan government described the teacher, who told the militants to kill all 62 passengers or leave, as a true hero.
The gunmen panicked and left, but not before shooting him.
Al-Shabab militants are known for separating Christians from Muslims and then killing Christians.
“He laid his life as a ransom for the Christians who would have been killed,” said the Rev. Wellington Mutiso, an official with the Baptist Convention of Kenya. “This is a good gesture (for which) Christians will forever be grateful.”
Mutiso said Farah’s action demonstrates that not all Muslims support al-Shabab, the militant group based in Somalia.
The group’s attacks in neighboring Kenya have escalated since 2011, when Kenyan troops rolled into Somalia to help beat back Muslim extremists.
“This is a clear statement that terror acts in northern Kenya are not supported by religion, and religion is not going to be used to separate the people," said the Rev. John Musyoka, a Roman Catholic priest who works in Mandera.
Farah’s action will change how people from the two faiths view each other, Musyoka added.
Sheikh Juma Ngao, chairman of the Mombasa-based Kenya Muslims National Advisory Council, said Farah acted according to the teaching of the Quran.
Ngao said the Quran teaches that saving a soul is like saving the whole of mankind.
In December, while being treated in a hospital, Farah told journalists: “I do not know what got into me, but I knew these were bad people and had to be stopped.”
(Fredrick Nzwili is an RNS correspondent based in Nairobi)