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Home Articles Articles A cry from Africa

A cry from Africa

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The Arabs came to East Africa long before the Europeans ever thought of it. In fact the first European to come to Uganda-Speke came in 1862 and the missionaries followed ten years later on the invitation of the Kabaka Mutesa I. Till the missionaries came there had never been any active missionary work by any religious group, Christian or Muslim. Despite the fact that Arabs came long before, they did not give the the word of God to the people until after seeing the missionaries here for that purpose. They had all the time been preoccupied with trade.

So the conversion of early Muslims was just by association and individual admiration. After the arrival of the missionaries from the Church Missionary Society in UK and the French missionaries two years later, in 1879, there started the hottest scramble for the African soul ever seen. Everyone vied for the King's influence for political legitimacy, and King Mutesa I on his part distrusted all the groups and wanted his subjects to do the same. Those who did not paid in blood, as the King ordered their execution, later consecrated as martyrs.  Mutesa I observed the Islamic fast and prayer for over 10 years and adopted the Arab juba or dress and cap as his official attire but was never circumcised. He is supposed to have put over 100 Muslims to death for refusing to eat meat slaughtered by him as they said it was not halal since he was a mixer. Ugandans went through religious wars started by the enmity between the opposing groups, viz, the Anglicans, the French and the Arabs. Each wanted the King's preference and therefore political supremacy. At one time the Arabs ruled the palace and installed a young king, Kiwewa, to the throne but on refusing to be circumcised he was removed and his younger brother Prince Kalema was put on the throne. He ruled for about six months until the combined forces of the Anglicans and the French drove the Arabs and Muslims out of the palace. He later died at a young age and is buried at Mende.

The story of Islam in Uganda is one of persecution and disenfranchisement. The Muslims were denied all rights even education because if they took their children to school they were forced to be converted and taught other creeds instead of their own. They did not own schools of their own and lacked qualified people. So when Amin came to power in 1972, it was God's answer to their prayers and their only hope of putting right what had been so wrong for so long. They were encouraged to build their own schools, take their kids to school, feel good about themselves etc. The Muslim community felt vindicated and remembered when Amin fell from Allah's grace it was a blow to all of them as those who knew and those who did not all suffered equally. In some towns blood flowed, prompting one Muslim leader to comment that , 'Although the whole country had been liberated, Muslims were still waiting for their liberation as they were still being tortured everywhere'

As of now it is 19 years since the overthrow of Amin and if you come to Kampala you will see what Islam is faced with. There are more churches in the city than the Vatican and Rome put together. You find temporary shelter churches, papyrus churches, canvas churches, etc.,  and they make a lot of noise day and night. Most interesting that if they had been mosques they would have been closed down. All these churches are built by  groups from Europe and America and get their funding from there and the big question is what are we to do?

Thinking 10 years from now when these temporary structures have become a permanent part of the landscape it will be harder to tackle the problem. We need as Muslims to realise this now and do some forward planning instead of leaving things to happen in the normal course of business. We need to establish community centres, hospitals and other community care institutions so that our youths do not get caught unawares by going to somebody else's centre but come to their own. This is what I call awareness. We do not need to be in government to realise this but we need the spirit and philanthropists to be able to do it.



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